Cults in movies go back to the start of horror cinema. Whether they are Satanic, pagan, or just cults built around a charismatic leader, these are terrifying groups based on real-life horrors. Go back to the 1934 Boris Karloff film The Black Cat to see the earliest cults in movies and things just got scarier in the '60s and '70s on the heels of tragedies involving names like Charles Manson and Jim Jones.
Through the years, the cults in movies have taken many shapes and forms, but they are almost always the villains and usually get away with whatever evil they have plotted. With Midsommar, the latest in a long line of these sort of films, releasing soon, here is a look at the 10 creepiest cults in movies.
10 THE WICKER MAN
Released in 1973, The Wicker Man is a British horror film directed by Robin Hardy about a police sergeant named Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) who heads to a remote island investigating the disappearance of a little girl. When he arrives there, Howie, a Christian, finds things are not right as the islanders worship the pagan Celtic gods.
While they have this right, they are hiding something -- including the disappearance of the child, whose mother is part of this cult. What they are hiding includes sacrifices to the Pagan gods, and that is what Howie becomes when he crosses the island's cult leader, Lord Summerisle (Christoper Lee). Do everything you can to avoid the remake, starring Nicolas Cage.
9 CHILDREN OF THE CORN
Based on the short story by Stephen King from his collection Night Shift, the movie Children of the Corn arrived in 1984 by filmmaker Fritz Kiersch, followed by nine sequels/remakes/reboots, almost none of them worth watching. However, the original movie is a cult classic starring Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) and Peter Horton as a couple stranded in a small town next to the cornfields of Nebraska.
The cult in this movie is children who killed all the adults in the town and followed the demonic "He Who Walks Behind the Rows." When a child turns 18, they sacrifice themselves to the being, and in this film, they also plan to sacrifice the young couple to ensure a successful corn harvest that year. John Franklin is absolutely terrifying as Isaac.
8 ROSEMARY'S BABY
Roman Polanski directed one of horror cinema's most celebrated films in 1968 with Rosemary's Baby. The film, based on the novel by Ira Levin, tells the story of a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who lives in a building with several kind neighbors but soon starts to believe that something isn't right.
Clearly, she is right as her neighbors are members of a Satanic cult and her husband (John Cassavetes) sold their future baby to the cult in exchange for success as an actor. She then learns that the baby is not even her husband's, but that the Devil raped her in her sleep, and her child is the Son of Satan.
7 LORD OF ILLUSIONS
Clive Barker has several critically acclaimed horror novels to his name, and a few of them became wildly popular films, with Hellraiser and Candyman the most successful. However, while not as popular, Barker had two other movies that are criminally underrated, and he directed both of them.
Nightbreed came out in 1990 and told the story of monsters hiding in a world where humans want to kill them out of fear -- painting monsters in a positive light. In 1995, he returned with Lord of Illusions, a movie starring Scott Bakula as a private detective investigating a case that leads him into the crosshairs of an evil cult.
While it received a resurgence of popularity thanks to a remake in 2018, the original Suspiria remains a cult horror classic. The movie, an Italian horror film by legendary Giallo director Dario Argento was about a coven of witches who ran a German ballet school.
Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Bannion, an American who travels to Germany to study at the prestigious ballet school. As she studies at the school, she soon realizes something is amiss, and that is the fact that the witches who run the school will do anything to keep their coven strong no matter how many people they have to kill and sacrifice to do so.
5 THE DEVIL RIDES OUT
A lesser known movie about cults came in 1968 with longtime Hammer Films director Terence Fisher helming The Devil Rides Out. The film is one of the rare cases where Christopher Lee portrayed a hero in a movie.
Based on the novel from 1934 by Dennis Wheatley and with a screenplay by the legendary Richard Matheson, the movie has Lee star as the iconic Duke de Richleau. In this film, he is searching for answers when his friend's son starts acting strangely. He finds a house with Satanic symbols and learns a cult is there, trying to summon a demon from beyond.
While Nicolas Cage entered the cult genre before, starring in the remake of The Wicker Man, he also appeared in another cult movie—one that was actually good. In 2018, Cage starred in the indie film Mandy, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received widespread critical praise—rare for a modern-era Cage film.
Cage is Red, a logger, who lives with his girlfriend Mandy in the California mountains. A Charles Manson-styled cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) summons a demonic biker gang to kidnap Mandy and bring her to him. After she mocks him, he burns her alive in front of Red but makes the mistake of living him alive and angry. The movie becomes a revenge flick at that point, with Red systematically killing everyone involved.
3 THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
Ti West was one of a new breed of horror directors that popped up in the last decade and the movie that ended up as his calling card was the 2009 film, The House of the Devil. The movie was a period piece taking place in the '80s and used the slasher films of that era, as well as the fear of Satanic cults from that time, to craft a throwback horror movie.
Samantha is a college student who takes on a job as a babysitter to help pay the bills. When she gets a job offer from a couple to watch over their ailing mother at an old remote mansion, she reluctantly takes it. Soon, it turns out the entire job was set up by a cult with evil plans for Samantha and the world.
2 THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
The Cabin in the Woods might seem like a strange inclusion on this list, but the truth is that the bad guys in this movie are a cult. Instead of a cult that uses dark magic, sorcery or Satanic propaganda to achieve its goals, this cult uses high tech computers and are mostly scientist types.
Drew Goddard (Lost, Daredevil) directed the movie, based on a script by Joss Whedon, about a group of teenagers who head out to a cabin in the woods for a holiday weekend. While it looks a lot like the setup for Evil Dead, this turned out to be a trap set up to trick the kids into a ritual involving a blood sacrifice and this particular cult of scientists have an entire facility full of mythological monsters to set loose upon the world.
1 MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
Directed by Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a movie about an actual cult—not a supernatural horror movie but one that involves very real human monsters who warp the mind of the young and destroy people's lives. John Hawkes stars as the cult leader Patrick and Elizabeth Olsen enjoyed her breakout as the title character.
Olsen is a 22-year-old who escapes the cult and calls her sister Lucy to take her in to help her. The movie flashes back and forth between Martha's time in the cult and her current life, trying to adjust to the real world once again.