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The ten best exorcism movies

With the release of The Devil Inside, out Friday, the cinema gods are taking a moment to remind all of us that religion is scary -- It's all higher powers and judgments and abductions by beings of light and women turning into salt and beings of pure good offset by beings of pure evil, and all of that has one thing in common: scary.

Though maybe nothing in religious tradition is as unsettling as the idea of something nasty taking up residence in you, forcing you to do weird gymnastics and talk in a chopped 'n' screwed voice, while vomiting pea soup that you didn't even eat. If they want to remind us that religion is scary, they should remember they've done it well many-a-time before. The power of Christ compels you to check out the the ten best movies about exorcism.

The ten best exorcism movies

10. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005) The movie that almost wasn't, Paul Schraeder's original version of this Exorcist prequel was finally released after the universal realization that Renny Harlin's version was a piece a shit. Not so much a movie about exorcism as a look into the mind of a priest with PTSD, the movie actually gets weakest at the exorcism climax, when Schraeder decides to suddenly throw subtlety out the window and give us shoddy face-morphing possession effects as Father Merrick does battle in cave soundstage. It makes it onto the list at 10 if only for a haunting performance by Stellan Skarsgård and an awesome reference-to-The-Searchers final shot, as Merrick walks through fog, rosary at his side like a six-shooter. Exorcist cowboy (It's cooler than it sounds).

The ten best exorcism movies

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) The Exorcism of Emily Rose attempts to walk two roads, presenting a realistic courtroom drama about the death of a young girl who may have been possessed, while trying to scare the hell out of the audience in flashback. It somewhat succeeds, as the two pieces never jell entirely. At the very least it's an exorcism film that tried something new and presented a variety of complex ideas for discussion, which is often all you can ask for.

Anthony Hopkins catches Hannibal Rising on cable.
Anthony Hopkins catches Hannibal Rising on cable.

8. The Rite (2011) Like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, this movie is less a horror movie and more an attempt to look at the coming-of-age journey of a priest finding his faith and calling, dramatized when he has to use magic Catholic spells to rip a demon from its attachment to the soul of another priest.

The ten best exorcism movies

7. The Exorcist 3: Legion (1990) William Blatty, the author of the original novel The Exorcist was based on, wrote and directed this sequel from his own novel, and if not for studio meddling, it wouldn't even have an exorcism. As such, and like many on this list, the actual exorcism is the weakest part of the movie, which is an otherwise restrained and quiet supernatural thriller that should've been much worse (like part 2) as a sequel, and received much better (it should've never been a sequel).

The ten best exorcism movies

6. The Amityville Horror (1979) Yeah, a possessed house, y'all. This makes the list for being a not especially straightforward exorcism movie, considering it's a house that's possessed. What separates it from the standard haunted house flick however, is that a significant part of the plot is based on the family working with Catholic priests to exorcise the house. Again, something different. Parts of the movie haven't aged well, but the very idea of the house and the terror inside remains iconic.

 

The ten best exorcism movies

5. Constantine (2005) Look, I love this movie, and have already gushed about it a bit on this website. This is another case of genre-bending, as the possession enters (see what I did there?) noir and the exorcist becomes a hard-boiled, world weary, private detective. Into the light I command thee!

The ten best exorcism movies

4. The Last Exorcism (2010) A hybrid of most of the movies previously listed (some people call that cliché), with a dash of Rosemary's Baby thrown in for flavor (spoiler), this movie works really well if you can get past the found-footage conceit (how they always get such perfect coverage), and the ending (shocking at the expense of, like, everything that came before). But we've learned that like a lot of movies in this genre, you should sort of ignore the ending.

Ew.
Ew.

3. REC 2 (2009) Another found-footage movie, another sequel, but this one is Spanish! Notable for redefining the movie that came before it, as REC treats the zombie outbreak as a viral infection, and it isn't until this movie and the introduction of a new hero (an exorcist/hero priest sent by the Vatican) that we discover that it's actually widespread demonic possession. Extra points for the priest possessing Catholic rituals that set demonic blood on fire.

The ten best exorcism movies

2. Beetlejuice (1988) Why are exorcisms in other movies never fun? As the afterlife's leading bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice makes his living scaring the hell out of the unwelcoming living possessing your home. Sometimes he does it with DANCING and SINGING. It's fun, it's amazing, it's a classic.

The ten best exorcism movies

1. The Exorcist (1973) Duh. It invented it all, and still no one has done it better. No one has even used its techniques better, from the early cutting of every sequence to offset your internal rhythm, and the awful subliminal imagery, to the absurd use and mastery of practical fx, it's doubtful anyone ever well. I've heard people say this movie isn't scary unless you're Catholic. Just like how The Thing isn't scary if you don't believe in UFOs.

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