The Good, The Bad and The Terrible ; The Occult
Welcome to the The Good, The Bad and The Terrible in this feature we will take a well known horror movie trope and look at the films that excelled and did something wonderful with the concept, those that well, didn’t and those that monumentally cocked it up..Today’s topic, Occult Films
Haxan : Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922)
A documentary with dramatized scenes, this silent Swedish/Danish film was apparently terrifying in its time. Sharing knowledge about witchcraft and its origins it introduced audiences to a darker side of history. It’s still a fascinating watch.
The Woman Who Came Back (1945)
Walter Colmes horror film deals with a woman who believes that she is the reincarnation of a 300 year old witch. This is a wonderfully atmospheric film, that perfectly showcases Hollywood’s blossoming romance with the super natural.
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
It’s not a horror film but Bell,Book and Candle is worth a mention. An enjoyable fantasy tale that imagines Kim Novak as a modern day witch who casts a love spell on James Stewart, Bell has lots of witchy high jinks and Novak is great in her role as supernatural, meddlesome Gillian.
The City Of The Dead (Horror Hotel) (1960)
Starring an on top form Christopher Lee this enjoyably (now) retro thriller follows the fate of an innocent female co-ed who visits a New England Town and finds herself being sized up as a human sacrifice. The City Of The Dead was Vulcan Productions (later known as Amicus Productions) first film release. As Amicus Productions they released films throughout the sixties and seventies that competed with Hammer Film Production releases and they were the one film company that competed most successfully against Hammer.
La Maschera Del Demonio (1960)
Tim Burton has said that this is his favorite horror film and once you’ve seen it its easy to spot the creative inspiration it led to in his films. If you’re a fan of melodramatically fun good old fashioned horror, then Mario Bava’s masterpiece is a must watch!
The Witches (1966)
This is not the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s wonderful novel, but a terrifying tale of a woman who is haunted by the supernatural. Having left Africa after experiencing dark magic a teacher tries to recover in a rural English village but discovers that she moved into one of those ‘all the locals are devil worshipers’ quaint English villages..The film is still frightening and disturbing despite its age.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
The English Countryside really was rife with satanic chicken worriers during this period in film. And The Devil stands out as a brilliant tale of two men who accidentally stumble upon a satanic plot that is about unleash a dangerous demon. Polite English mannerisms juxtaposed with the dark arts always produces some wonderful horror moments and this film is no exception.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Beware of elderly neighbors who make you chocolate mousse, as they may just be sizing up your womb to hold the anti-christ for nine months whom they want to call Adrian. Story lines don’t come much barmier than the plot of this Roman Polanski classic, which as well as being an iconic masterpiece that delves deep into the terrifying aspects of a satanic cult, was also possibly the worst time of Mia Farrow’s life. The ink had barely dried on her marriage license to Frank Sinatra when furious that she had taken the role in the film instead of quitting work and becoming a full time housewife as they had agreed, he served her with divorce papers on set. Though Polanski was apparently sympathetic to Farrow’s pending divorce, he still asked a lot of his actress, such as telling her to walk out into real traffic while wearing her baby bump padding, exclaiming that “ No one will hit a pregnant woman”. Farrow’s committed performance stood out and makes the denouncement of the film (‘What’s wrong with it’s eyes!’ ) believably chilling.
Witchfinder General (1968)
This adaptation of Ronald Basset’s novel gave Vincent Price the vehicle he needed to undisputedly claim his crown as Horror’s leading man of his time. Price himself has said that he feels this was his greatest horror film role and the performance he is most proud of.
The Devils (1971)
This famously controversial Oliver Reed starring horror brought together nuns and satanism and the result was a barmy cult classic. The film was forefront in experimentation with horror and apparently director Ken Russell decided not to worry about what the censors would say until he had filmed the cut he wanted. It turns out they had a lot to say and the film has been cut so many different ways over the years, that’s its a real lucky dip of which version you’ll actually see depending on what copy you watch.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Oh those wacky Druids, naked dancing, human sacrifices, what will they get up to next? loosely based on David Pinner’s novel Ritual (which had actually begun its life as a film treatment intended for Michael Winner to direct) The Wicker Man brought much attention to occult practices and the topic proved to be very popular through out horror movies in the Seventies. Director Robin Hardy did meticulous research on Paganism and its practices so as to give a true representation of the ‘religion’ and the production received help from Scottish Anthropologist James Frazer. Despite being portrayed as bat crap crazy murderers the Pagan community has embraced the film and never openly derided it. The film itself is terrifyingly transfixing. Christopher Lee puts in a hauntingly powerful performance and you realize the true dedication of the actors portraying the Pagan Cult when you know that the film was set in May but filmed In October/November in South West Scotland in freezing conditions, with most actors clad only in very light clothing. Shout out also to those downright creepy animal masks, that were utterly shudder inducing. I’m sure you can guess which list the remake is on..
The Exorcist (1973)
The Godfather of satanic and possession horror films and considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. The adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel shocked and terrified audiences. We were shown (presumably) Satan conversing with a Catholic priest through an innocent little girl, it was a set up that could not be easily forgotten.
Beyond The Door (1974)
It has been a accused many a time of trying to cash in on the success of (the far superior) The Exorcist but the film still retains an iconic status. The tale of a young pregnant possessed woman who may be carrying the Devil’s baby, rises above being a simple rip off by providing some genuine scares.
The Devil’s Rain (1975)
Continuing the 70’s love affair with the Devil, this shock horror couldn’t have been any more fun if it tried! With barmy satanists and some epic face melting, it had it all! Gross, silly and well deserving of it’s cult status!
To The Devil A Daughter (1976)
Yes this is the film with a butt naked Christopher Lee (if that sort of thing interests you) expect of course it isn’t Christopher Lee in the buff but his long time stunt double Eddie Powell (it wasn’t the only nudity), though it took a while for that fact to become known. ANYWAY Lee wrestles this truthfully over wrought silly satanic film away from B movie disaster by basically being brilliant.
The Omen (1976)
Following The Wicker Man and The Exorcist, the seventies continued its filmic exploration of the devil and the dark arts with The Omen. The definitive anti-Christ film, was interestedly enough culled by director Richard Donner of all supernatural references that screen writer David Seltzer had included in the script, a coven of witches was removed as was the idea of cloven hoofs being shown in a chase scene, Donner did this so that the true nature of Damien would remain a mystery.
Part one of Dario Argento’s ‘Mother Trilogy’ (with Inferno and Mother Of Tears) is a startling piece of horror cinema. A ballet company is the setting for a tale of building terror. Argento originally wanted the girls in the company to be under twelve years old but this idea was vetoed by everyone he suggested it to due to the presence of disturbing horror, so their age was raised to twenty. But Argento kept the dialogue that he had intended for young children to speak as he liked how it increased the girl’s innocence and naivety. Argento created a cult hit and made his name as a gifted horror director with this seminal film.
Argento returns with the second film in his ‘Mother Trilogy’ it’s a twisting mystery that deals with a murderous witches’ coven. Perhaps not as well received or iconic as Suspria Inferno is still a important film for the Occult genre. Mario Bava (the Italian director who Argento has referred to as being a huge influence in his work) helped Argento with the film’s special effects, he sadly passed away before the film was released but his presence is felt in it’s striking horror visuals.
Prince Of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter’s creepy, tightly wound tale about evil goo in a church’s basement didn’t do well upon its release, at the time the critics overlooked it and it didn’t find an audience. But it has since become a hidden gem in the Carpenter back catalogue.
The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)
This oft overlooked Voodoo horror from Wes Craven deserves a lot more praise then it received. The DVD release has the words ‘From The Director Of Scream’ emblazoned on the front, seemingly put there in the vain hope of linking the two films (they couldn’t be more different) I would have imagined that stamping ‘This Was Directed By Wes Craven’ on the cover would have done the trick. Anyhow with solid performances and an interesting take on Zombies, this film is well worth a watch.
Steve Miner gives us a tale about a Warlock from the the 17th Century who flees to the present day. The film is darkly played (no fish out of water hijinks here) and while it takes itself a mite too seriously, its still a enjoyably creepy supernatural thriller.
The Witches (1990)
A children’s film it may be but this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book is frankly terrifying. We were introduced to witches who trapped children in paintings, turned them into stone and mice when they felt like it. A lot of childhood’s were forever scarred.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Another kid’s film that deserves a mention, this Disney Halloween favorite was a great spooky adventure, that fully showcased the creepiness of witches.
The Craft (1996)
The film that launched a thousand Goths gave us a wonderfully wicked story about a group of high school outcasts who start a coven and take revenge on their enemies, the film single handedly made witches cool again.
The Devils Advocate (1997)
Keanu does ‘serious’ in this endlessly rewatchable tale about a lawyer who realises that his boss might be Beelzebub. The film thankfully ditches the source novel’s heavy ending and plays this one as good clean fun, as Keanu and Al Pacino get great enjoyment taking turns chewing on the scenery and it never gets old!
Many may feel that I’ve put this adap of the Hellblazer comic book series in the wrong list. Fans of the comic certainly weren’t impressed. But Keanu is fighting the dark forces once again and I think he did a good job of it! The storyline does amble itself to no where and the dialogue isn’t stellar but it is a harmless, fun supernatural romp.
The Skelton Key (2005)
This New Orleans set occult thriller wasn’t very well received upon release but I feel the film deserves a chance. Filmed on location in Louisiana at the Felicity Plantation in St. James Parish, the film feels authentic as it explores the superstitions and mysticism of the area.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Sam Rami strode in, in that wonderful ways he does and gave the current horror market (that was clogged with bad remakes) the good hard slap across the face it needed with this fantastically gory, endlessly fun tale of a Gypsy curse. Oh Rami, My hero!
House Of The Devil (2009)
Ti West made waves his 1980’s set throwback horror, that is as unique as it is frightening. The story of a girl hired for a very strange babysitting job, plays out like a bloody love letter to 80’s horror. It’s a film clearly made with love, that is in turn easy to love.
The Covenant (2006)
Yay, Chase Crawford and his friends Hot, Hotter and Hottest are all magical ‘somethings’, (didn’t quite catch that bit) and they enjoy taking their shirts off! Wonderful! But as a supernatural thriller it doesn’t really work. But as Abercrombie & Fitch : The Movie it’s perfect.
The Unborn (2009)
At his showboating finest here, Gary Oldman doesn’t just try to save Odette Yustman’s soul he also tries to rescue the whole sorry mess of a film, he fails.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Thats a fine moustache you’re working Johnny but its just about the only thing that works in this limp adaptation of Aruto Perez-Reverte brilliant novel The Dumas Club.
With a promising beginning, a bizarre middle and a pointless confusing ending this end of the world dud, earned it’s place on the Bad List.
End Of Days (1999)
Arnie fights Gabriel Byrne’s Satan, who’s terribly excited about the approaching new Millennium. As a guilty pleasure the film delivers but as an epic battle between good and evil, not so much.
One name explains why this film is on The Bad List ; M Night.Shyamalan. That is all.
Shelter (6 Souls) (2010)
I haven’t a notion what was going on here and I have a theory that neither Julianne Moore or Jonathan Rhys Meyers knew what the heck this confused film was all about either.
5ive Girls (2006)
Unfortunately Satanic horror very often falls foul of soft porn tactics where attractive girls are dressed up as (naughty) Catholic school girls and try to resist evil temptation. This boarding school set nonsense falls (nay jumps into that trap). And Ron Perlman, I know they’re pretty but seriously go home, you’re embarrassing yourself.
The Wickerman (2006)
Maybe, MAYBE if this film wasn’t a remake of one of the most seminal films of the seventies, it could have snuck into just ‘The Bad List’, but it is an ill advised remake and it’s not bad, it’s terrible.
Nicholas Cage destroyed any chance the film had of even being passable when he screamed out ; “Oh, No! Not the BEES!!”. Honestly there are no words..
Season Of The Witch (2011)
Oh Nicholas, I can’t even. Cage and Ron Perlman quip their way through the 14th century as though they’re trying to recreate Lethal Weapon and the result is mind bogglingly awful.
Bless The Child (2000)
Ahhhhh wooden child acting and Kim Basinger doing such a good impression of cardboard there’s a danger that someone might try and flat pack her! Make it stop!
Satan’s School For Girls (2000)
Trying to pretend that The Craft never happened, this terrible rip off starring the always terrifying Shannon Doherty dives head first into that ‘soft porn satanic school girls’ trap I mentioned before. Just Awful.
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