Painful images of Hell were used to scare sinners into repentance in the olden days, threatening them an eternity of agony and suffering, most often at the end of a red hot poker. Filmmakers have added their own interpretations of Hell to the mix, with movie villains escaping from burning torture tunnels and spiked chasms to unfathomable voids and empty jail cells in the process.
In our opinion, we’d prefer the one in The Good Place (since at least Ted Danson will be there), but practically anything is preferable to spending any time in any of the Hells listed below…
1. Hell’s Bells (1929)
The very thought of Walt Disney producing a film about Hell is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. Rubber-armed imposters, playing music on a human ribcage with their rubber arms, may be to blame. What about the scenario where a cow’s udders are drained of their milk by a blazing fire? Satan feeds a demon to a three-headed dog, or is it the other way around? Perhaps the realization that Hell exists in the Disney universe, and that beloved villains like Captain Hook, Shere Khan and Sid from Toy Story are being tortured by infernal percussionists, is to blame.
2. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
By refusing to extend Christine Brown’s (Alison Lohman) credit, she is sentenced to eternal damnation in Sam Raimi’s ultimate nightmare of small overreactions. However, she does kill a kitten in the film, so she had every right to get her comeuppance. The demons desire Christine’s soul so they can “feast upon it while her body festers in the grave,” but we only see where she’s truly headed in the stunning last scene—pulled down beneath the earth of the railway tracks into a Hell that’s basically just all grasping arms and blazing fire. However, she did murder the kitten in the process of doing so.
3. Constantine (2005)
I have an easy one for you. A cat’s gaze can open up a doorway to DC’s Hell if you sit on a chair with your feet in a bucket of water and stare into its eyes. With a radioactive wind pouring over a decaying cityscape above an underworld full of screaming souls being tortured by long-limbed devils, Francis Lawrence’s film gives us an epic CGI picture of the hereafter. This was one of the most horrific yet different depictions of Hell in the movies, with the lowest portion seeming far worse than the collapsing metropolis on top.
4. What Dreams May Come (1998)
When Robin Williams stars in Vincent Ward’s heaven-set fantasy starring Robin Williams, the film’s brief excursion into Hell is one of the most aesthetically frightening (and horrifyingly restrained) moments ever. An infinite sea of open-mouthed faces; buried bodies crammed together to make the floor of living heads is all that can be found here. Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse, Robin Williams shows up and steps on you…
5. Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Initially, the descent of Bill and Ted seems cool: Satan drags the two into the jaws of a huge metal wolf head that looks like something out of a Judas Priest album cover. Afterwards, Bill and Ted both experience their own personal Hells, and things get a lot nastier. Military academy future and Bill’s horrific childhood past collide in a metal labyrinth, with characters from both hunting them. A Hell that punishes you with your own terrible memories and concerns rather than whips and chains is terrifying, even if it’s played for laughs.
6. All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)
To make things even more terrifying, Don Bluth tells us that our pets may also wind up “down there,” making this another example of a Hell vision that’s directed at children. In Doggie Hell, Charlie the German Shepherd isn’t the only one being dragged into a seething lake of fire filled with skeletal dragons and biting demons. Whether Charlie’s vision is real or not, the film’s plot focuses around the reality of Dog Heaven, therefore it stands to reason that the other place exists in Bluth’s universe, too
7. Jigoku (1960)
Jigoku (“Hell”), by Nobuo Nakagawa, is a savage assault on the senses. Extreme torture horror film (with a very odd, sublimely abstract, art-house edge) that revels in showing all the nasty things that happen in Hell. There is no shortage of gruesome punishments, such as torsos being sawed in half and victims being forced to drink from a bubbling sea of hot pus. One scene shows one of Dante’s “circles” in Hell as an actual swirl of individuals with their wrists bound in wooden stocks, racing around in an unending cycle. The colder, calmer and more surreal vision lingers the longest. You can’t stop seeing it once you’ve seen it thanks to Nakagawa’s hallucinatory style of filming.
8. Event Horizon (1997)
This sci-fi horror film by Paul W.S. Anderson is scarier than Hell itself, yet only containing a few seconds of genuine Hell. A video recording of Anderson’s Hell shows a spherical torture chamber modelled on the spaceship itself, interrupted with computer feedback. The gouging of eyes, the eating of flesh, and the driving in of spikes into the heads of the actors are all horrifying, but it pales in comparison to what the filmmakers had in mind when they made the picture. According to Anderson on the commentary track, scenes were shot that showed screws being drilled into teeth, legs being ripped off, and a lot more cannibalism. As a result, we are able to fill in the blanks in the original cut because of the fleeting intensity of the image in the original cut.
9. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
We finally get to see Pinhead and the other Cenobites in Hell in Tony Randel’s sequel to Clive Barker’s legendary film, Hellraiser: Hellworld. While Dr. Channard’s transformation into a savage Cenobite is well-known, the film’s production design is as chilling, depicting hell as a huge, monochromatic maze with no exit. Despite the presence of Hell’s infernal inhabitants, the world of Clive Barker’s nightmares is frighteningly devoid.