The Top Five Exorcism and Possession Films
For ages mankind has held the belief that in the aether resides an evil with the ability to enter our physical realm and possess a human being, occasionally giving it superhuman abilities: ESP, or knowing the unknowable, and telekinesis being the most commonly documented examples of this most hostile of takeovers. During the 20th century, as well as the 21st, the theme of possession by an evil entity has become one of the most popular and lucrative themes of the horror film genre.
One of the reasons films dealing with demons or the devil has been so widely appreciated is because across most religious and cultural groups there is a belief in a malevolent force, beyond the likes man is capable of fully comprehending, dwelling amongst us. Because of this belief, ingrained in our minds from an early age, we have the innate drive to immerse ourselves in a situation of supernatural origins. Like when our friends dare us to enter an abandoned house (which this writer does not recommend doing) or to stand in front of a mirror and recite “Bloody Mary” three times. We accept these possibly horrifying challenges because we want to see if the evil we’re led to believe exists, does in fact exist. It’s that same drive which makes us hunger for films where man is forced to do battle with our most ancient foe(s): the Devil and his minions.
5. The Last Exorcism
In this faux documentary/found footage film we follow Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he attempts to expose possession by a demonic force and the procedure of exorcising said force as a fraud. A fraudulent exorcist himself, he knows the tricks of the trade and intends to use them. However, after “exorcising” Nell (Ashley Bell) a number of odd things occur and some very disturbing revelations are made. Yet, what I find to be the satisfying element of the film is the terrific acting of both Fabian and Bell. Fabian (known only to me previously as Professor Lasky from Saved by the Bell: the College Years) does an admirable job, playing the conniving southern minister very well. But, it’s the tremendous physical acting of Ashley Bell which really makes this film worth watching. Performing her own stunts, Bell managed to contort her body into a number of cringe worthy positions, all the while managing to remain in her possibly psychotic/possibly possessed, character and give the film a very creepy feel.
This is most definitely not a scary movie but, as far as possession movies go, this is one of the most entertaining ones. Previous possession survivor Nancy Aglet (Linda Blair, The Exorcist) once again succumbs to the will of the Devil while watching an evangelical TV show, and there is only one person who can save her, Father Jedediah Mayii (Leslie Neilsen). As always, Nielsen gives a great performance as the goofy, yet renowned exorcist and Blair also shows she can deliver laughs as she pokes fun of the role which made her a star.
3. Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi’s return to horror was highly anticipated after his absurdly successful Spider-Man series and, despite his years away from the genre, he didn’t lose his skills as a director who can doll out scares and laughs simultaneously. Drag Me to Hell isn’t a traditional possession movie, in the sense that the protagonist isn’t under the influence of a demonic force, rather she, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), is tormented by a demon after being cursed by a slighted gypsy woman. Brown seeks the help of mediums, hoping to banish the demon. Anyone who is a fan of the Evil Dead series will not be disappointed by the great physical acting of Alison Lohman, who appears to have been punished by Raimi just as much he has punished Bruce Campbell over the years.
2. Paranormal Activity
It’s amazing, now, to think this instant classic spent a couple of years on the shelf at Paramount before being released. It then went on to become the most profitable film of all time (based on investment). The film, another found footage piece, follows a young couple (Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat) as they try to capture evidence of what is spooking them at night. The captivating, and unnerving, elements making Paranormal Activity something that sticks with you long after the credits roll, is the fact that we never see what is terrorizing Katie and Micah. At one point in the movie the couple is sleeping when ever so slightly the blanket covering them lifts, and ripples across the bed in a wave that manages to flow off the screen and down the spine. It’s the simple and practical nature of the manipulation of physical objects in a cozy suburban home that makes this one of the best possession films of all time.
1. The Exorcist
It may seem cliché to place The Exorcist as the number one exorcism/possession film, but it’s extremely difficult not to. The film is made of one iconic moment after another. Die hard cinephiles even make pilgrimages to, what is commonly referred to as, the “Exorcist Steps” on the campus of Georgetown University. This film is the yardstick by which all other films dealing with the devil, demons or possession must measure itself. While the other films on this list are good, some even great, they all fall short of the mark this masterpiece has kept firmly in place for nearly 40 years.