The season of ghouls, ghosts, and witches is upon us! The things that go bump in the night have their chance to shine on the center stage during Halloween season. Horror aficionados will settle into their couches to watch horror movies both new and old. But there is one haunting experience that's been triggering goosebumps and the small hairs on viewers' backs to stand up tall for decades.
Demonic possession has captured the imaginations of filmmakers for years ever since Linda Blair twisted her head like an owl all those years ago. Demons continue to take a central role in modern horror and, quite frankly, it sells! Any fan looking to dip into the realm of the dark spirits and disturbing contortionists has a plethora of films to choose from this season.
10 The Exorcist
William Friedkin's seminal 1973 film The Exorcist is likely the first title anyone ever thinks of when discussing demonic possession. The film follows the gradual descent of a 12-year-old girl into madness as the demon known as Pazuzu takes hold of her. The film terrified audiences when it was first released.
The filmmakers framed the possession in a raw, terrifying light while sprinkling in blink-and-you'll-miss-it demonic images of Pazuzu's face. Many audience members in 1973 reported feeling nausea from terror.
9 The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead took a different approach to demonic possession. The film followed Michigan State University students who took a trip to a remote cabin. In the cabin, they found the Natural Demanto, an ancient book that would later be recognized as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis in future films. After playing a recorded tape of incantations demonic forces are unleashed upon the cabin.
Possession is a much quicker affair than the gradual terror that occurred in The Exorcist. The demons use possessed students to attack the living. The Evil Dead is quite graphic, including a scene involving a tree that would prove to be rather controversial. Succeeding films in the franchise focus more heavily on comedy alongside the horror elements.
8 The Conjuring
James Wan is a master of horror cinema and The Conjuring proves it. The film follows a family who moves into a new home where they experience supernatural activity. It sounds like any traditional ghost story, but the things eventually take a turn for the worse.
The family contacts the now world-famous demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren to help them understand what is happening in their home. The family learns the morbid history behind their new home as a demonic presence takes hold of the matriarch. The film spawned a sequel and several spin-offs. It was praised for its mastery in both scares and building suspense so expertly that the horrific moments felt truly earned.
7 Paranormal Activity
While found-footage style films had been around for some time, Paranormal Activity jump-started the genre again with it's low-budget but horrific scares. The film follows a couple who are experiencing strange occurrences within their home.
Eventually, they record the night-time "activities" of this presence. To their amazement, they discover something supernatural is actually occurring. However, it's not a typical haunting. A demon has settled into their home and wants to take possession of the occupants.
6 The Amityville Horror
Much like The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror was based on events that allegedly occurred in the home. The horrific murders of the DeFeo family by Ronald DeFeo Jr. in 1974 were central to the beginnings of this story. After the tragic murders, a new family moves into the home and -- you guessed it -- begin to experience strange unexplainable things.
The haunting escalates until the father is overcome with rage through some outside influence and seeks to murder his own family. Much of the horror is the family attempting to escape the wrath of the possessed patriarch.
5 Annabelle Creation
The be-deviled doll that earned its reputation at the start of The Conjuring received its own spin-off film – three spin-off films to be exact. Annabelle Creation was the second film in the Annabelle trilogy; however, canonically, it took place first within the doll’s timeline.
The film is centered around a dollmaker and his wife who lost their daughter, Annabelle, to a horrific car accident. Later in life, they allow a Catholic orphanage to use their residence. Eventually, one of the girls discovers a skeleton – or rather a doll – in their closet. Unfortunately, the doll is connected with an evil spirit seeking a host.
Another James Wan horror masterpiece, Insidious takes a different spin on the haunting/demon possession angle. In this film, a boy becomes mysteriously catatonic. It is learned that an evil spirit surrounds him and causes the strange occurrences in the home.
The boy has the ability to cross into another spiritual realm while dreaming. One night, he goes too far and other spirits hold him back from returning to his body. A demon as well as other spirits circle the catatonic boy and cause frights and terror for the family as they all try to lay claim to his body.
3 The Exorcism of Emily Rose
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is yet another film loosely based on real-world events. The movie is framed from a litigious perspective as the priest who performed an exorcism on Emily Rose is on trial for her subsequent death. Details of the entire experience are learned through testimonies heard during the trial.
Frequently, the actual occurrence of Emily’s possession is shown through flashbacks as the priest recounts the events in court. As with most possession films, this one was truly horrifying.
2 The Last Exorcism
This horrific adventure is seen through the lens of a found-footage film, as two individuals are documenting a reverend seeking to prove that exorcisms are one big hoax. In fact, the reverend reveals he has performed fake exorcisms on people who only thought they were possessed.
However, this film follows the trio as they answer the call for an exorcism by a farmer who claims his daughter is causing big problems – like killing his livestock. From this point forward, the story only gets more bizarre and disturbing. This is a horror film you don’t want to miss.
Hereditary is a shockingly disturbing depiction of a demon seeking to take possession of a host within an unsuspecting family. The film follows Annie Graham, a mother to an odd 13-year-old girl named Charlie and a 16-year-old son named Peter. After the death of Annie's mother, a sinister presence takes over the home and has a strong influence on Charlie.
Mid-way through the film, a disturbingly tragic event occurs within the family that is the catalyst for the escalating horror that ensues in the latter half of the film. The performances in this film are gut-wrenching and perfect. Hereditary should not escape your Halloween horror viewing line-up.