Cults have always fascinated me: if there’s a movie about a group of fanatics out there then you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ve either seen it or have it in my DVD collection waiting to be watched. I have a special fondness for Satanic cults; the hysteria surrounding them during the 70’s was capitalized by many a filmmaker, and as cheesy as some could be, the image of a group of people in cloaks chanting for the dark lord has always sent a chill down my spine. Growing up on a steady diet of horror films, I was always suspicious that my neighbours were Satanists, part of a secret sect, sacrificing virgins at the altar of Lucifer. During my walks into the forest, I used to worry about bumping into a group of nudists dancing around a fire. But the only naked person dancing around fires was me, I’m afraid. Not for Satan though: I done it for the ladies.
There have been various cults reported throughout the years; it’s a farfetched notion to acknowledge the existence of extreme sects living on the outskirts of society – or secretly within it. With all of the ideologies out there, cults come in many shapes and forms. And so do the movies based on them. Here are some of my favourites I believe everybody should see at least once if the subject interests you.
Holy Ghost People (2013)
Mitchell Altieri (one half of indie horror experimentalists The Butcher Brothers) directs this Southern Gothic thriller, which focuses on a religious commune of snake charmers in the Appalachian Mountains, led by the charismatic Brother Billy. On the surface it looks like a hard working community for healing and worship; but there is something sinister going on just waiting to be uncovered, leading to a twisted finale.
‘’Holy Ghost People’’ is a huge departure for Altieri, whose previous work included genre-bending efforts such as ‘’The Violent Kind’’ and ‘’The Hamiltons.’’ Focusing on a more by the book drama, this is easily the most accessible feature involving The Butcher Brothers – and the best. Stunning scenery, fractured characters, a constant sense of dread and a thrilling climax makes for a simple but effective experience.
Lord of Illusions (1995)
‘’Lord of Illusions’’ is a criminally overlooked and underrated chiller from the demented mind of Clive Barker. Based on his short story, ‘’The Last Illusion’’, Barker also directs this haunting blend of noir mystery and occult horror, which follows a private detective hired to protect an illusionist from a fanatical cult who plan on resurrecting their leader.
‘’Lord of Illusions’’ isn’t a perfect movie like Barker’s previous film ‘’Hellraiser’’, but it’s still one of the golden nuggets from the sea of mediocrity that was 90’s horror. For the most part, it’s a mesmerising mystery that’s morbid, violent and frightening with a few nightmarish images sure to lurk in your mind afterwards. Barker mind is a chest full of treasures to be cherished, and this is ample proof that he’s a master of his craft when it comes to storytelling that’s scary, original and large in scope.
Red State (2011)
”Red State” is the first venture into horror from Kevin Smith. Inspired by religious hate mongering idiots of The Westboro Baptist Church, it follows a group of teens who accept an invitation for sex online, only to be taken hostage by the Five Points Trinity Church – a group of Christian fundamentalists led by Alvin Cooper, portrayed by the world’s most unappreciated character actor Michael Parks.
What makes ‘’Red State’’ so effective is the notion that it could happen. Although the Westboro Baptist Church haven’t murdered anybody that we know of (yet), who’s to say they won’t inspire an even crazier bunch of loons in future. Social commentary aside, ‘’Red State’’ was a huge change of pace for Kevin Smith, which ultimately rejuvenated his career. It works both as a horror and action thriller, with a career best performance from Michael Parks – who makes monologues of hate speech sound like poetry with how amazing he delivers it. You might hate the words he’s saying, but he delivers such an impressive acting master class you’ll want to watch it over and over again.
Daniel Day who? Michael Parks is the world’s finest actor.
Jug Face (2013)
‘’Jug Face’’ is a horrific coming of age story about a pregnant teenage girl who must escape from a backwoods commune who worship a creature that lives in a hole in the ground. To appease a supernatural force, a sacrifice must be made to the creature or else the community shall perish and this time, Abby has been chosen.
‘’Jug Face’’ is an offbeat indie feature that puts an interesting and unusual spin on backwoods horror. Larry Fassenden is outstanding as the clan leader; completely believable in his role as a societal outcast living in the woods, worshipping a hole. This is one of the best indie horrors in recent memory.
Black Death (2010)
Christopher Smith’s ‘’Black Death’’ is a period piece set during the first outbreak of the Bubonic Plague. It follows a young monk (Eddie Redmayne) and a group of religious mercenaries (led by Sean Bean) as they are tasked by finding out the secrets behind a village unaffected by the outbreak, where the dead come back to life.
Part man-on-a-mission adventure, part folk horror, ‘’Black Death’’ is an excellent movie. It explores themes such as consequences of trying to force your beliefs on others; something which has led to trouble in modern day society which we read about daily in the news. It also explores the nature of arcane religious concepts which stunt progress.
A shameless homage to ‘’The Wicker Man’’ at times it may be – but that’s no bad thing. This is the type of film with ambition I’d like to see more of. It has battles, an array of interesting characters and a splendid climax where beliefs are questioned and violence ensues.
Drive Angry (2011)
Nicholas Cage plays Milton, a vengeful father who escapes from Hell to hunt down the satanic cult and kidnapped his granddaughter to use as a sacrifice for the Devil. He is pursued by The Accountant, Lucifer’s right hand man. Along for the ride with Milton is Piper, a hot waitress he picked up after she left her down and out husband.
‘’Drive Angry’’ is one of the better neo-Grindhouse movies and Cage’s most enjoyable of his career in decline years. It has fast cars, sex scene shoot outs and Amber Heart sporting a pair of tiny shorts. What’s not to love? It’s pure popcorn entertainment, with lots of open road carnage and high octane action. I love this movie more than most.
End of the Line (2007)
Maurice Devereaux is arguably horrors most heartbreaking story. The guy just can’t get any projects off the ground, yet his imagination is just what the genre needs. In 2001, he made a little known film called ‘’Slashers’’, about a group of Americans on an extreme Japanese reality show trying to survive a deadly game. It’s well worth seeing if you can track it down. However, 6 years later he would unleash ‘’End of the Line’’ – an Apocalyptic thriller about a group of religious fanatics on a killing spree in a subway station. There is much more to “End of the Line’’ though; supernatural evil is present and Armageddon might actually be happening. It’s an ambitious effort which pays off – and one of the best unseen horror films you’re ever likely to see in your life.
The Manson Family (2003)
Has there ever been a scarier cult than The Manson Family? Led by Charles Manson, a group of young hippies committed some of the most notorious crimes to ever hit American headlines; including, but not limited to, the murder of Hollywood actress Sharon Tate while she was two weeks away from giving birth. Such crimes should never be celebrated, but Manson has become a cult icon in his own right; and the poster boy of the celebrity serial killer.
Jim Van Bebber’s ‘’The Manson Family’’ is a dirty movie; it’s grainy, nasty and downright trippy at times. A movie like this is always going to be polarizing, but no film about some of history’s sickest criminals should be presented as pretty. Shot in the style of a quasi-documentary, it shows Manson and his ‘’Family’’ engaging in sex, drugs and violence – as well as discussing their delusional beliefs and the figurehead who inspired them. It doesn’t glorify them like other movies have done: it’s an ugly, accurate depiction of a group of lost sheep succumbing to the beliefs of a madman.
Some might call it an exploitation movie. It’s not; it’s a stomach churning account of humanity at its ugliest: a reminder that these are people who should not be celebrated. I wouldn’t call it a morality tale; it’s just an honest portrayal.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an apartment in a building with a bad reputation. They discover that their neighbours are a very friendly elderly couple named Roman and Minnie Castevet, and Guy begins to spend a lot of time with them. Strange things start to happen: a woman Rosemary meets in the laundry dies a mysterious death, Rosemary has strange dreams and hears strange noises and Guy becomes remote and distant. Then Rosemary falls pregnant and begins to suspect that her neighbours have special plans for her child.
”Rosemary’s Baby” is a stonewall horror classic which has stood the test of time and remains fresh to this day. Very few films have successfully captured paranoia and fear at every corner quite like Polanski’s blueprint for crafting a perfect horror film. Although not my favourite film on the list, it’s probably the best. Very few films have replicated its ability not to trust a single character. When I saw this as a kid, I did not trust a single person for months. This is horror which gets under your skin and into your mind.
Race With The Devil (1975)
Frank and Roger and their wives take off for Colorado in a recreational vehicle, looking forward to some skiing and dirt biking. While camping en route, they witness a Satanic ritual sacrifice, but the local sheriff finds no evidence to support their claims and urges them to continue on their vacation. On the way, however, they find themselves repeatedly attacked by cult members, and they take measures to defend themselves.
”Race With The Devil” is one of the best movies of all time to ever blend horror and action. Coming out during the golden era of carsploitation films and satanic hysteria, it blends both to create a thrill ride with high speed chases and lots of smashed up vehicles; yet it manages to maintain a mood of dread and paranoia throughout that’s genuinely unsettling.
This is popcorn entertainment that’ll give you the willies.
The Sacrament (2013)
The journalist Patrick works at the Vice, a company dedicated to cover bizarre news. When his sister Caroline joins a community, she travels abroad with her new family. Out of the blue, Caroline invites her brother to visit her in an undefined country and Patrick travels by helicopter with his friends Jake and Sam that work with him at Vice. They find weird that the men that have come to guide them to the Eden Parish have guns. On the arrival to the camp, Patrick, Sam and Jake find a community of happy people that worship Father. They interview Father but soon they realize that people are not as happy as they seem to be.
Ti West returned to cult horror with this found footage thriller loosely based on the infamous Jonestown Massacre. It puts the viewer right in the midst of a mass suicide – but don’t think for one second just because it’s suicide that it’s optional. No one is getting out of this one alive.
This is chock-full of suspense and dread, with a jaw-dropping climax that left me stunned – and in love.
House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West’s breakthrough hit was a return to the good old days of 70’s satanic horror. It follows a strapped for cash college student who accepts a babysitting job on the night of a lunar eclipse, which we all know is the night Satan likes to have his followers do nasty things to attractive young woman. From the moment she accepts the job we know she’s in danger. It’s all about waiting for it to happen.
What makes “House of the Devil’’ so harrowing is the general likability of protagonist Samantha; from the outset she’s somebody you root for. Most people who have been to college know how difficult it can be financially; she’s a sweet girl trying to make ends meet. Therefore, her plight into danger is most unwelcome – but so expertly done it makes for a modern horror classic.
‘’House of the Devil’’ is a very slow film, but it’s wracked with suspense from the start and doesn’t let up; this makes the horrific moments more effective when they do happen.
VHS 2 – Safe Haven (2013)
If there’s ever been a short film of an anthology series I’ve wished was a full feature, it’s ‘’Safe Haven’’. Co-directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto (Killers), it follows a group of reporters who infiltrate an Indonesian cult on the ‘’Day of Reckoning.’’ What ensues is a bat shit insane segment involving mass suicide, zombies and a giant goat demon; it’s very violent, thrilling and intense and I really don’t have anything else to say about it. Just go watch it.
Bill is a teenager living in Beverly Hills. He’s popular at school, an athlete and has a beautiful girlfriend. However, he feels like he doesn’t fit in: his parents and sister are close, but he suspects he might be adopted. With his sister about to join the “Society’’, a serious of strange events transpire and Bill finds out his suspicions might not be all that far-fetched at all.
Brian Yuzna’s first film as a director is a social commentary on class divisions with a cult and body horror twist. It’s a very funny movie; it’s also very disgusting and bizarre, with a climax that you’ll never forget. I have friends who won’t listen to my recommendations anymore because I made them watch this. I also know people who are eternally grateful for me putting them onto it. See it for yourself and make up your own mind.
The New Wave of French Horror during the 00’s was one of the best periods the genre has ever known. Movies like “Inside’’, ‘’High Tension’’ and “Frontier(s)’’ were, essentially, the horror movies fans of the extreme had been waiting for. However, the best of the bunch is “Martyrs’’ – deemed by many as one of the most disturbing films ever made.
‘’Martyrs’’ is a grim, bleak experience no person in their right mind would ever want to revisit. It’s incredibly violent, psychologically punishing and uncompromising. It’s also an intelligent movie which excels beyond the one dimensional torture porn films it shares elements with. This is horror that is devoid of humour and resolution; the experience is unrelenting and harrowing. It won’t entertain you, but it’s a true masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Sargent Howie travels to Summerisle in the Scottish aisles to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The locals are weird and unhelpful – he’s convinced that they’re hiding something and he’s adamant to get to the bottom of it.
“The Wicker Man’’ is one of very few movies that is as ridiculous as it is scary. Unabashedly camp, often silly and offbeat in every way, it incorporates strange musical numbers and left field humour into a suspense-filled, paranoid mystery thriller to great effect. It’s a strange concoction that shouldn’t work, yet it does – wonderfully well.
Christopher Lee gives the best performance of his entire career as the peculiar and imposing Lord of the Isle; his scenes are basically cameo appearances, but they’re so powerful and essential to the film it adds to the mystique of his character.
Chilling. Enchanting. Funny. Bizarre. Unsettling. Unforgettable. “The Wicker Man’’ is a one in a million cult classic that will never be replicated. This is magic captured on film unlike anything else.
Kill List (2011)
Ben Wheatley is the most exciting director working today and “Kill List’’ is my all time favourite horror film. Many would say that it’s three movies thrown into one – a Ken Loach style social realist drama, a hitman thriller and a horror film to put a cherry on top. Upon my first viewing, I felt this way; but subsequent rewatches have made me realize how it’s all tied together.
The story revolves around an ex-hitman with financial woes. He quit the business after a past event which is never discussed in detail, but we get the impression it was bad. Now, in desperate need for a payday, he agrees to help out his old partner in crime who has a lucrative job for them. It seems run-of-the-mill at first, but the organization who hired them have a hidden agenda for Jay. As his sanity starts to slip, he gets deep into a situation he can’t escape from.
“Kill List’’ is a movie you have to watch closely to see how the events which transpire are connected. Nothing is randomly thrown together; every single moment in Jay’s downfall has been premeditated. To sum it up: he didn’t take the job by chance. He was carefully chosen and lured without his knowledge.
This is an ambiguous movie, with no exposition to guide you. You’ll pick more up every time you watch it and make your own evaluations. It’s a fun movie to research and interpret.
‘’Kill List’’ is very grim and violent, with occasional moments of pitch black humour. Neil Maskell delivers a powerhouse of a performance and shows that he’s one of the best around for playing characters with violent tendencies. All in all, this film is perfect.
What are some of your favourites?