The Best Exorcism Movies Ever Made

Movies
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Few horror sub-genres are as divisive as exorcism movies. For some, they are silly to the point of high camp, outrageous stories about invisible creatures that can take control of normal people and make them do outrageous things. For others, exorcism movies reveal a hidden realm of evil that has a very real impact on our world. 

That tension allows a wide variety of approaches within the sub-genre, despite the dominance of one monumental film from the 70s. Exorcism movies can be ridiculous crowd-pleasers, stately dramas, or lowbrow comedies. Whether it’s because of the power of Christ or a really good script, you should feel compelled to watch these great exorcism movies. 

The Exorcist (1973)

Of course, it starts with The Exorcist, directed by the late, great William Friedkin. Friedkin wasn’t writer William Peter Blatty’s first choice to direct the movie, which first went to Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich. But Friedkin proved to be the perfect choice, as his religious scepticism provided the necessary balance to the script from devoted Catholic Blatty. Working together, the two provide a very grounded and human take on a spiritual struggle. 

As beleaguered mother Chris MacNeil, Ellen Burstyn shares the audience’s scepticism and desperation as she tries every form of cure for her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) before finally turning to an exorcist. Even better, Jason Miller plays Father Karras as a tired man who has lost his faith, who seems ready to turn away from the religion to which he’s devoted his life. It’s this tension that makes The Exorcist such compelling horror, the battle of belief and desperation that stays with viewers, even long after images of spinning heads have faded away. 

Abby (1974)

Unsurprisingly, the success of The Exorcist brought about many rip-offs, but few are as interesting as Abby. Like most Blaxploitation pictures, Abby features incredibly low production values and incredibly high talent. The former came from producer and director William Girdler, who also made the Jaws pretenders Day of the Animals and Grizzly. The latter came from the cast, starting with the great William Marshall as archaeologist and bishop Garret Williams, who must free the titular preacher’s wife (Carol Speed) from possession by the Yoruban trickster spirit Eshu. 

Despite its inspirations, Abby leans into the schlock that only made up part of The Exorcist. Most of the movie’s energy comes from watching the sweet Abby become more profane, soliciting men in vulgar terms. And yet, the cast brings legitimate gravitas to the proceedings, especially the quiet dignity of Bishop Williams. But at the end of the day, that wasn’t enough to prevent Warner Bros. from slapping the film with a copyright violation claim and getting it removed from theaters.  

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Technically, all of the mainline Amityville movies are about possession, as residents of the house at 112 Ocean Lane find themselves under the control of an evil source. And while exorcisms do occur in most of the entries, Amityville II is the most memorable. The predecessor The Amityville Horror rode the wave of post-Exorcist horror respectability to appear like a very grown-up film with grown-up concerns. Amityville II has no such pretensions, indulging in the sleaziness of the premise and pushing it to the farthest degree. 

Directed by Damiano Damiani and written by Thomas Lee Wallace and Dardano Sacchetti, based on the book Murder In Amityville by Hans Holzer, Amityville II retells the murder of the Dafeo family through the fictional Montelli family. As teen Sonny (Jack Magner) grows more disturbed, including eventually starting an incestuous relationship with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin), the Catholic Motellis reach out to Father Frank Adamsky (James Olson). Keeping with the movie’s overheated tone, Father Adamsky defies the rules of the church to perform his exorcism, leading to a ridiculous, but entertaining, conclusion. 

Repossessed (1990)

Anything good enough to be lauded is good enough to be mocked, so of course a parody of The Exorcist made it to theaters. Well, a few theaters, anyway, before being shuffled out to video after a couple of months. And, to be fair, video is where Repossessed belongs, a cheesy spoof that leans into its wonderfully corny jokes. How corny, you ask? Well, Leslie Nielsen’s Father Merrin-like character is called Father Mayii (say it out loud and you’ll get it). 

Helping Repossessed’s cheesy jokes is its commitment to verisimilitude. In the same way that Young Frankenstein gains power by using the set and props from 1931’s Frankenstein, Repossessed casts Linda Blair as Nancy Aglet, a meek housewife who gets possessed after watching televangelists, driving Father Mayii and Father Luke Brophy (Anthony Starke, but not that one), into action. It isn’t high art, but anyone who needs a break from the ideals of exorcism movies will find a lot to like with Repossessed

Requiem (2006)

This movie is based on the real-life case of Anneliese Michel, a German woman suffering from lifelong seizures who died of malnutrition after going through 67 Catholic rites within a year. Unlike the more heated Scott Derrickson film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, also based on Michel’s story, Requiem pulls away from the supernatural to make horror out of the exorcism itself. Director Hans-Christian Schmid, working from a script by Bernd Lange, takes a sober approach, employing a low-saturated yellow hue and using handheld cameras. 

But Requiem’s real power comes from the lead performance by Sandra Hüller as Michel stand-in Michaela Klingler. Hüller never allows Michaela to be a victim or a lunatic, carefully balancing the pain of her epilepsy and the tatters of her faith. While Requiem lacks the thrills and fun of other films on this list, it most fully explores the hope and horror of religious belief. 

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Although absent from many best ‘found footage’ movie lists, The Last Exorcism deploys the concept better than most. Better Call Saul’s Patrick Fabian stars as Cotton Marcus, an evangelical pastor who admits that he has been a fraud. As a form of penance and/or image rehabilitation, Marcus invites a film crew to follow him as he performs his last exorcism, promising to expose the tricks that allow him and other hucksters to dupe rubes. But as he begins to investigate the case of farm girl Nell (Ashley Bell), Marcus comes face to face with the evil he only pretended to fight. 

The “I thought we were pretending but this is real” trope has been used many, many times before, but The Last Exorcism breathes life into the concept with strong performances and well-developed scares from director Daniel Stamm. Fabian channels the same mix of smooth-talking charm and unexpected vulnerability that he brought to Better Call Saul, and Bell makes for a believable suffering innocent. The script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland escalates the action to a ridiculous degree, making for a fun and thrilling experience. 

The Conjuring (2013)

Few movies capture the tension between hokey mythology and serious religious belief better than The Conjuring. Based on the fraudulent work of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring tells a genuinely chilling and exciting tale, while also engaging in some very earnest schmaltz. Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine as your slightly kooky but ultimately lovely grandmother, and Patrick Wilson gives Ed a quiet strength. 

As compelling as the movie’s portrayal is, director James Wan makes the movie work by focusing on the family experiencing the possession, salt-of-the-earth couple Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their children. Wan and his writers Chad and Carey W. Hayes effectively explain the stakes of Ed, not an official agent of the church, performing the exorcism. But the real stakes come from the chaos inflicted upon the Perrons. 

Demon (2015)

Although rarely mentioned alongside Get Out or Midsommar, the Polish film Demon belongs among the best of the so-called “elevated horror” greats. Directed by the late Marcin Wrona, who co-wrote the film with Pawel Maślona, Demon largely takes place during the reception for the wedding of Jewish Piotr (Itay Tiran) and Polish Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska). After seeing visions of a woman in a red dress the evening before the wedding, Piotr’s behavior grows increasingly strange. Zaneta’s family tries their best to distract the guests from the groom’s madness, especially her father (Andrzej Grabowski). 

As becomes clear when an elderly Jewish man (Wlodzimierz Press) arrives to do what a priest and doctor could not, Demon uses the dybbuk myth to explore the lingering guilt from Poland’s treatment of Jews during World War II. As weighty as those themes certainly are, Wrona never lets the film devolve into a history lecture. Instead, it stays focused on the human drama, the reality of people still dealing with the sins of the past. 

The Wailing (2016)

Most in the West associate exorcisms with Christianity, specifically Catholicism, but many cultures have their own stories about evil spirits taking control of people. Korean director Na Hong-jin uses those various influences to ratchet up the horror of The Wailing. Kwak Do-won stars as Jong-goo, a policeman whose daughter Hyo-Jin (Kim Hwan-hee) begins acting increasingly violent, shortly after the arrival of a mysterious stranger. The desperate Hong-jin seeks help from several sources, including his church-going nephew Yang I-sam (Kim Do-yoon) and a village shaman (Hwang Jung-min).

Like many of the movies on this list, The Wailing works by contrasting the innocence of a young girl with the depravities of the evil spirit. But the multicultural approach allows Director Na to build tension, making the viewers just as confused as the characters. With that confusion comes a search for answers that never come, for Jong-goo or for the viewers. 

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Directed by Oz Perkins, son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, The Blackcoat’s Daughter understands the primary appeal of exorcisms. In the face of inexplicable phenomena, an exorcism provides a solution and a priest provides an answer. The horror of The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes from ripping away those answers, letting exorcism attempts only compound the questions. 

Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka and Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton star as Katherine and Rose, two girls left alone with nuns at their boarding school during winter break. Rose believes she may be pregnant, but Kat begins having nightmares and strange physical reactions, drawing the two together. Perkins effectively captures the loneliness of the (almost) empty school but really emphasizes the lost feeling of the girls. No one can help them with Kat’s problems (or, by extension, Rose’s problems), especially not the church representatives around them.

The post The Best Exorcism Movies Ever Made appeared first on Den of Geek.

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