Halloween is a time for all things spooky, sinful, weird and otherworldly. It is a time when even mainstream culture celebrates ghosts, ghouls, and witches. Speaking of witches, we can’t forget about their diabolical master, the Accuser, the Deceiver, Angel of the Pit and Bringer of Light: Satan. The Lord of Darkness is a popular subject for horror cinema from Hollywood blockbuster to more obscure European cult fare.
Personally, I think the Devil should have a place in every Halloween horror marathon, but it’s hard to know where to start. I will watch any kind of deplorable garbage that features Satan, Satan worshippers, satanic possession, or satanic rituals. Sometimes it’s pretty disappointing, which is why I’m here to give you a quick guide to my favorite thirteen satanic films.
1. ALUCARDA (Juan Lopez Moctezuma, 1978) is one of the best satanic films of ALL TIME. This Mexican release got little critical acclaim, but remains a cult classic. Two orphaned teenage girls living in a convent establish an incredibly close bond. Unfortunately one of them unleashes a diabolical force when she becomes possessed by Satan (who may also be her father). It is lush, surreal and, in my expert opinion, is the perfect satanic masterpiece.
2. HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) – Amazing documentary-style silent film about Satan, evil, and witchcraft. It’s wonderful and beautiful and would make an excellent backdrop for any Halloween party. Definitely go with the restored Criterion DVD.
3. THE DEVILS (Ken Russell, 1971) – Russel’s opus about a sinful priest (the wonderful Oliver Reed) who is the victim of a country-wide conspiracy perpetrated by the crown, a famed witch hunter, and a local convent. Based on Aldous Huxley’s equally wonderful non-fiction book The Devils of Loudon. The best film you will ever see that blames it all on Satan, plus my favorite film of ALL TIME. Not yet on DVD because Warner can’t get their shit together. Make sure to track down a version with the blasphemous “Rape of Christ” scene that was believed to be lost until fairly recently.
4. THE EXORCIST (William Friedkin, 1973) – I don’t need to describe this one. Probably the greatest film about demonic possession ever made and something I watch every Halloween. And if one EXORCIST film isn’t enough, avoid EXORCIST II, which features a constantly-drunk Richard Burton chewing on scenery the entire film. EXORCIST III, though different in tone from the original film, is a wonderful and shouldn’t be as neglected as it is. Avoid any of the prequels.
5. THE OMEN (Richard Donner, 1976) – Again, I shouldn’t have to describe it. Probably the greatest film about the antichrist and still holds up after thirty years. Unlike the sequels, which get persistently worse.
6. HORROR HOTEL aka CITY OF THE DEAD (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1960) – Creepy, effective film about a young girl who visits a New England town and stumbles into a satanic cult. It is fortunately in the public domain and you can watch it here. Definitely a classic of British horror.
7. THE BLACK CAT (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934) – One of my favorite horror films. Lugosi-Karloff classic about the showdown between two old war buddies and a satanic cult. For the time period, it has a number of shocking subtexts like genocide and necrophilia. Boris Karloff has never been as evil and Expressionist-influenced set pieces have never looked so foreboding.
8. THE DEVIL’S RAIN (Robert Fuest, 1975) – Shatner vs Satan. What more do I need to say? Plus the great Ernest Borgnine, blood rituals and a mess of Satan worshippers. Some people find this cheesy, but I think it’s a load of fun.
9. DON’T DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Joel Seria, 1971) – French film about two girls who become friends and immerse themselves in debauchery and evil. This flick has definitely been banned, partly because of the young age of the two stars. It was loosely based on the same New Zealand murder case that inspired Peter Jackson’s wondrous HEAVENLY CREATURES.
10. SATAN’S BLOOD aka ESCALOFRIO (Carlos Puerto, 1977) – Sleazy Spanish film about a couple who goes for a visit in the country and winds up playing with a Ouija board, having an orgy, and getting kidnapped by Satan worshippers. One of the first films in Spain to receive the infamous “S” rating, which stands for sexy, satanic sinema (or should).
11. SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (Greydon Clark, 1977) – One of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen, also with some of the most ineffectual Satanists ever committed to film. Slutty cheerleaders are kidnapped by a sexually frustrated cult member, but with a little help from the Father of Lies, they accidentally kill him and find their way into the heart of the cult. Luckily Satan sides with the girls.
12. ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK (1976) – Slow, creepy, atmospheric Sergio Martino film about a woman’s descent into madness. Is she being persecuted by a Satanic cult or just losing her mind? Stars the lovely Edwige Fenech and is also a successful giallo.
13. ROSEMARY’S BABY (Roman Polanski, 1968) – Last, but surely not least is Polanski’s great, great film about a woman’s descent into madness during her pregnancy, mostly due to the suspicious activities of her neighbors.
Here are some runners up:
FAUST (F.W. Murnau, 1926)
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (Terence Fisher, 1968)
TOBY DAMMIT (Federico Fellini, 1969)
I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (David E. Durston, 1970)
BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (Piers Haggard, 1971)
DRACULA AD 1972 (Alan Gibson, 1972)
PSYCHOMANIA (Don Sharp, 1973)
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (Peter Sykes, 1976)
THE RETURN OF WALPURGIS aka CURSE OF THE DEVIL (Carlos Aured, 1977)
FEAR NO EVIL (Frank La Loggia, 1981)
ANGEL HEART (Alan Parker, 1987)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (John Carpenter, 1987)
DAY OF THE BEAST (Alex de la Inglesia, 1995)
Watch and enjoy. Also, if you want to read my full zine, which is a 69+ film guide to all things satanic horror, you can find it at Atomic Books.