The Last Exorcism Part II is heading to theaters on March 1st, and the expectation is that it will once again take the possession category of supernatural thrillers and bend it over backwards. To prepare ourselves for the graphic imagery that we soon won’t be able to erase from our minds with alcohol, we’d like to look at cinema’s scariest films about possession and wistfully recount the scenes that shake us to our cores. And then never sleep again.
Denzel Washington plays a homicide detective on the hunt for the most cunning killer he’s ever encountered – a demon named Azazel. Passing from host to host simply by touching them, Azazel makes a game of toying with detectives until their lives are in shambles. It’s hard to point out just one terrifying possession in this film, when the killer could be anyone at any time.
John Carpenter combines the themes that worked so well for him in The Thing and Assault On Precinct 13 for the possession film, Prince Of Darkness. A group of academic researchers become trapped in a church surrounded by possessed vagrants when the mysterious liquid they are studying becomes sentient and escapes. It soon becomes clear that the liquid is an evil ooze attempting to release the “anti-God” and bring about the apocalypse, possessing and melting the skin off anyone in its way in the process.
To this day, nobody is really sure what exactly Jason Voorhees is. Some say demon, some say mutant, some say smelly guy that walks around the woods and kills any sign of life he finds. In one of his alleged final appearances, the hockey-masked killer had his lore expanded with a supernatural twist. After being blown to pieces by the FBI in the film’s opening moments, Jason’s remains are sent off to a lab for autopsy. However, his heart begins to beat on its own, hypnotizing the pathologist which leads him to take a huge, gnarly bite from it. The killings begin again when Jason assumes the form of his host and embarks on a mission to kill and possess the last member of the Voorhees bloodline.
Presented as another found-footage horror film, naysayers who had grown tired of the device were pleasantly surprised to find a solid, twisted (literally) film in The Last Exorcism. The plot follows a sham exorcist who bites off more than he can chew when he takes on the case of a teenage girl named Nell. Of the film’s many terrifying and brutal scenes, one that stands out above the others is when the demon Abalam contorts and bends Nell’s body at angles that I still see when I close my eyes at night.
Though typically priced to move, no good can come of living in a murder house. As the Lutz family learned in The Amityville Horror. Based on a true story that is now widely dismissed as a hoax, the film follows the family’s account of the strange happenings they experienced after moving into a house that was once the scene of a mass murder. Like the family’s patriarch regularly awaking in the middle of the night and wandering out to the boathouse. My guess whether or not the dad was possessed depends on if they found a stash of Playboys in the boathouse.
Sam Raimi seems to have a thing for hands and that is displayed upfront in his most famous and iconic scene. From Evil Dead 2, Bruce Campbell’s Ash has lost control of his hand. It has become possessed by evil and is intent on murdering him. He literally cuts his problem off at the wrist thanks to a conveniently placed chainsaw. I’ve done far more grotesque things with my hand but this is still a really intense scene.
The most influential film in the genre. Maybe there were movies about demonic possession before “The Exorcist,” maybe there weren’t. Just like there may have been chocolate bars before Hershey, or rock bands before The Beatles. The Exorcist, with its absolutely and unbendingly realistic tone, is widely considered one of the scariest movies ever made. And it remains the first thing most people think about when they hear the words “demonic possession.” Unless of course they’re unlucky enough to actually know someone who’s been possessed by a demon.