The holiday of chocolate eggs and Catholic guilt is upon us.
There are many ways to celebrate that mostly involve sleeping in for four consecutive days and consuming mass quantities of candy, but hey! Why limit yourself to only indulging in those delightfully guilty pleasures? Long weekends are also a great excuse for movie marathons and with the weekend of Jesus’ death upon us, why not enjoy some Christian horror classics? The most logical choice would be Mel Gibson’s Passion Of The Christ which turns Easter’s origin into torture porn with CGI demon babies. However, there are far more enjoyable ways to be scared silly by buckets of blood and the possibility of the Bible being real. So with that in mind, here are five of the finest horror films to ever be inspired by that best selling book and its iconic villain Satan. If you’re particularly dedicated to enjoying some cinematic religious scares this weekend, we’ve also provided some double bill options as well to take things to the next level.
Clive Barker became a horror movie legend after this demonically twisted directorial debut, even though he was never able to follow it up with anything even half as satisfying. Still, his tale of a mysterious box that unleashes S&M demons from hell called Cenobites remains one of the most disturbing and terrifying representations of cinematic horror hell to ever be splattered across screens. Barker delights in perverting Christian imagery and mythology as much as he enjoys dribbling blood around in large doses, with both of those elements of Hellraiser offering equal levels of disturbance for viewers. Sure, the script/acting can be a little cheesy at times, but just try to shake off that “Jesus wept” moment like nothing unusually horrific happened. It’s impossible.
City Of The Living Dead opens with a priest hanging himself and opening up the gates of hell in the process, unleashing all sorts of apocalyptic horrors. This being a movie by Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci, you can’t expect the plot to make much sense after that, but you can expect to see some of the most gruesome imagery any filmmaker ever dared to capture (including one poor actress who was actually convinced to spit real animal intestines out of her mouth…shudder…).
Religion is the horror in Bill Paxton’s directorial debut about a delusional religious father who is convinced he has been assigned a divine mission to murder demons in his community. The story is told in flashback from the perspective of a surviving son with too many great twists and turns to reveal here. It’s a vicious, nasty little thriller that doubles as a commentary on misplaced faith so strong that when it’s over you’ll wish the beloved 80s character actor who made “Game over, man” a catch phrase would start directing again already.
Kevin Smith’s unexpected horror movie takes a not-so-veiled version of the Westboro Baptist Church to a horrific extreme that imagines them as a cult of hardcore Christian zealots out to sacrifice sinners in time for the rapture. Smith may run out of steam towards the end, but the first hour of Red State is strong enough to make fans lament the fact that he’s decided to retire from directing just as he stumbled into something that stretched his skills as a filmmaker.
Roman Polanski’s Hollywood debut kicked off the trend of satanic horror movies that fill up the rest of this list. The tale of a Mia Farrow’s innocent Manhattanite waif whose actor husband (John Cassavetes) sold her womb to Satanists for a career and up market real estate might be the least graphic film on this list, yet it’s also one of the most terrifying. The scares are entirely psychological with Farrow’s pregnancy only gradually becoming frightening and the question of whether she’s incubating the antichrist or is just insane remains open until the closing scenes (of course the fact that it’s on this list is a bit of a spoiler, but if you don’t know the secret by now you’re really not paying attention to pop culture). Rosemary’s Baby is a classic for a reason and unless you’re someone who requires blasts of gore every few seconds to consider what you’re watching a horror film, it’s still one of the most terrifying movies ever made decades after it’s box office-busting release.
Polanski returned to Satantic horror late in his career with this film starring Johnny Depp as a rare book dealer trying to track down a demonic text with apocalyptic implications. It’s far more silly and graphic than Rosemary’s Baby, but also a rather underrated little horror flick from the director’s period of exile.
From an incubating antichrist to a cherub child of Satan, The Omen isn’t often remembered as one of the great 70s horror films because it’s a poppy romp in a time of intense socially conscious cinematic terror and that’s a real shame. Directed by Richard Donner just before her created the comic book movie with Superman, this is still a ludicrously entertaining horror flick and probably the best movie about the antichrist that will ever be made. It’s also a big sweeping blockbuster made shortly after the massive success of the top movie on this list and horror blockbusters sadly just don’t exist anymore. From the frantic opening to the creepy smile before the credits, Donner grabs the audience by the throat and plays off their primal demonic fears exquisitely. The sequels may never live up to the promise of the original and the remake is trash, but don’t let The Omen’s disappointing legacy detract from the tightly wound power of this genre masterpiece. Plus it also has one of the greatest decapitations in the history of cinema and that’s got to count for something, right?
It would be nice to put an Omen sequel on this list, but since they all suck let’s stick with the creepy kid angle and go with Children Of The Corn. This VHS classic might not have aged well and gets rather ludicrous in the last 30 minutes, but the concept of a religious cult of children who murder everyone over the age of 18 remains pretty damn creepy. If you feel like being frightened by kids and the concept of religion at the same time, this double bill will certainly scratch that itch.
Finally, if you’re going to make a list of the greatest religious horror movies (or even a list of the greatest horror movies for that matter), there’s only one possible option to top the list. Of course, I’m talking about the head-turning, pea soup vomiting, crucifix penetrating, and gravel-voiced horror joy that is The Exorcist. Even 40 years later, The Exorcist remains not only the highest grossing horror film of all time, but also quite possibly the most unrelentingly terrifying movie ever made. The film is visceral, cerebral, intellectual, and spiritual horror masterpiece so unique that the only movies similar are knock offs. It’s also a movie equally terrifying to Christians (for its uncompromising depiction of demonic possession) as well as atheists (because it digs into their deepest fear…that somehow those God-fearing folk are actually right). If there is a perfect horror movie out there, it’s The Exorcist and if you’re in the mood for Christian scares this weekend, there’s really only one choice.
The Exorcist II is so soul-crushingly awful that it even took the reputation of the pretty fantastic second sequel down with it. Written and directed by Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist III marks the return of police officer Kinderman (now played by a snarling George C. Scott) to the franchise and he’s investigating a serial killer who just might be possessed. It’s a very different film from the original, but also a rather brilliant and terrifying one that would be far better known if it didn’t have that pesky “Part 3” in the title.