Nothing takes possession of my horror-loving heart more than a great demon movie, and these are four of my all-time favorites in the sub genre.
Like you, I’m a die-hard horror fan from way back, and my favorite sub genre of horror by far is supernatural horror — specifically tales of demonic hauntings and spine-chilling possessions. So I thought I’d pay tribute to the films of yesterday and today that haunt my nightmares and continue to scare me watch after watch. The supernatural sub genre is vast, and this list could have easily been much, much longer. But these are four demon films I consider absolute essential viewing, both for the frights they deliver as well as for their impact on helping shape the face of the genre.
Fair warning, these films may have you sleeping with the light on for some time after viewing. They may even have you convinced that something evil is lurking in your own home. So if you just couldn’t resist playing with that Ouija board you found in the attic of your new home, opening the strange looking antique box you picked up at a flea market, or picking up that creepy looking doll, you can always turn to the pros for help — perhaps order a spell casting on a website Magickal Spot — to rid yourself of that bad mojo or negative energy.
Now that you’re safe, let’s get into the list!
4. Annabelle Creation
If you have dolls in the house, you might consider getting rid of them after watching this 2017 film about a dollmaker and his wife who lose their seven-year-old daughter, Annabelle, in a tragic accident. No longer able to live in their house, the couple offers their home as shelter for a nun and six girls left homeless by the closing of their orphanage. When one of the girls opens a locked closet and finds a creepy porcelain doll, a powerful demon is unwittingly unleashed, which begins to terrorize the girls.
The film was directed by David F. Sandberg, who became well known among horror fans following the success of his frightening 2016 directorial debut, Lights Out, based on his 2013 acclaimed horror short of the same name. It was written by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote 2014’s Annabelle. He followed up his work on Annabelle Creation by penning two other films in The Conjuring Universe: The Nun (2018) and Annabelle Comes Home (2019), the latter of which also marked his directorial debut. In addition, Dauberman co-wrote the very successful 2017 version of It and solely wrote its follow-up, It Chapter Two.
Annabelle: Creation is the fourth film in the Conjuring Universe franchise and served as a prequel to Annabelle, the very successful spin-off of the blockbuster hit, The Conjuring. The film depicts the possessed origins of the notorious Annabelle doll and was widely regarded as a better film than its predecessor.
If there is one name that has become synonymous with modern supernatural horror hits, it is James Wan. Though this Malaysian-born Australian director, screenwriter, and producer has been making his mark on the genre since he co-created the wildly successful Saw film franchise, he became a household name after another huge hit that launched a popular franchise, 2010’s Insidious. This memorable supernatural horror film showcases demons as you’ve never seen before.
Directed by Wan and written by Leigh Whannell (who also wrote Saw and 2020’s critically acclaimed adaptation of The Invisible Man), Insidious takes viewers into the demonic world through the mind and dreams of a small boy named Dalton. Dalton lives with his father and mother, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert, and his infant sister Cali. On one particular night, Dalton experiences some frightening visions and falls into a coma. It is after this incident that he begins hearing strange voices through the baby monitor, followed by other terrifying paranormal activity.
Eventually, Renai calls in some paranormal investigators and a psychic named Elise Rainier, played by genre and film legend Lin Shaye (a fan favorite who later becomes a staple of the franchise). Insidious also features one of the most memorable and nightmare-inducing demons ever to grace the big screen. Trust me, once you lay eyes on him, the memory will be permanently engraved in your psyche.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, whose recent folk horror film Midsommar became another heavily buzzed about indie horror hit, this 2018 horror movie will likely leave you with cold chills down your spine. It was Aster’s feature film directorial debut — premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival — and it blew away both audiences and critics alike.
The movie stars Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, and the phenomenal Toni Collette in a career-defining role that many felt was more than deserving of an Academy Award nomination (sadly, her riveting performance failed to be recognized by the Academy). Collette plays Annie Graham, a wife and mother of two who has an estranged relationship with her secretive mother, Ellen. When Ellen dies, strange events begin to plague the family. With seriously upsetting and jaw-dropping scenes that you will not be able to get out of your head, a ferocious performance from Collette, and an absolutely insane ending, it’s no wonder this film topped so many critics’ “Best of the Year” list.
1. The Exorcist
It almost feels like cheating to include this film on this list because it’s so entirely expected. On the other hand, it felt criminal and disingenuous to omit it.
The 1973 film directed by William Friedkin is arguably one of the scariest movies of all time — and certainly one of the first films most people think about when discussing great demonic horror movies. Inspired by a true story, the film was based on a novel of the same name, written by William Peter Blatty, who also adapted the novel for the screen.
For those who don’t know, this essential horror film is about a 12-year-old girl named Regan (a young Linda Blair, who was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe and People’s Choice Award for her unforgettable performance) who gets possessed by a cruel and powerful demon. After both medical doctors and psychiatrists fail to help the tormented girl, Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) turns to help from two Jesuit priests, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow).
What follows are some of the most well-known, most parodied and replicated, and, to this day, scariest scenes in horror history. At the time, critics weren’t quite sure what to make of it, but audiences couldn’t get enough. Many viewers waiting in long lines in the freezing cold to see the film, over and over again. And nearly five decades later, it remains as relevant, as compelling, and as shocking as the day it debuted.