7. The Exorcist (1973) – William Friedkin
The Exorcist is based on the novel The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. The idea for Father Merrin came from a meeting Blatty had with a British archaeologist in Beirut who was present at the excavation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A 1949 exorcism of a young boy by a Jesuit priest had some influence on the possession aspects of this novel.
The film begins with the unearthing of ancient relics by an archaeological team in Northern Iraq. We are then transported to the United States into the home of a single mother and daughter. After playing with an Ouija board and making contact with a spirit named Captain Howdy, the 12-year-old Regan begins to act strangely as well as attracting paranormal phenomena around her. Her behaviour becomes increasingly more disturbing and destructive, which convinces her mother to enlist a priest’s help.
The head of an Assyrian demon named Pazuzu is one of the items found by the archaeologists. It is to become a pivotal point in the development of the movie. Pazuzu was the king of the demons of the wind. He brought the southwest wind and with it famine according to some sources. Others claim that he protected against disease-bearing winds.
Pazuzu used his powers to cast the goddess Lamashtu down to the underworld. Due to her tendency to steal newborns and babies from mother’s wombs, having amulets of Pazuzu was generally considered a good thing in Assyrian households. Exactly the same real bronze head of Pazuzu can be found in The British Museum.
8. The Omen (1976) – Richard Donner
This movie is a British/American collaboration. It is the first in a series of Omen films and received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Although it is generally considered to be one of the greats, not all critics were impressed with some even describing it as one of the worst films of all time.
This is the story of the family of an American diplomat who move to Great Britain following the tragic death of their newborn son. However, the father Robert, adopts another baby in the deceased infant’s place without telling his wife Katherine that her real baby died.
Strange happenings occur around their adopted son Damien with most animals running scared in his presence. Katherine is convinced Damien has sinister intentions towards her and is witness to displays of his disturbing behaviour. Robert tries to find out the true origins of Damien’s birth and this leads him to discover the unthinkable about the boy.
When Robert travels to Israel in order to find an archaeologist who is also an expert on the Antichrist, he is told that only the seven daggers of Megiddo can kill the Devil’s offspring. Megiddo is located in northern Israel in the Megiddo National Park. It is a large man-made mound that is a site for many archaeological excavations although no daggers have ever been found there. According to the Book of Revelations Megiddo is the location of an apocalyptic battle.
In Hebrew, “Mount of Megiddo” is “Har Megiddo” which is where its Greek name, Armageddon is derived. Almost every story involving the birth of the Antichrist tells of the apocalyptic horrors that will be unleashed upon the world bringing about final judgement and essentially, our ultimate end.
9. The Sentinel (1977) – Michael Winner
This film is based on Jeffrey Konvitz’s 1974 novel of the same name. The author also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Winner. Peppered with minor appearances by some notable actors and actresses, this film has a paranoid vibe with some effective performances.
Reminiscent of and quite possibly influenced by, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, this film begins with a young model looking for an apartment. She comes across a reasonably priced place in a nice New York City neighbourhood. Alison seems to be only one of two occupants in the whole building, yet she is convinced of the presence of other tenants. Her journey to discover what is really going on leads to a terrifying conclusion.
Despite of at the time having an impressive cast of up and comers as well as seasoned Hollywood veterans – among them Jeff Goldbloom, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner and John Carradine – this movie divides audiences. Some praise it for being a worthy entry into the 70s Satanic horror genre, and others think of it as merely piggy backing on the other features’ success.
The use of deformed people in one of the more chilling sequences of this film has been condemned as distasteful by some. It is interesting to note the similarities between this and Tod Browning’s use of physically disabled and deformed people in his masterpiece Freaks (1932).
10. Suspiria (1977) – Dario Argento
One of the heavy hitters on the list, Suspiria is truly a masterpiece. Carefully chosen soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin enhances the eerie fairy tale feel of this film. Suspiria is the first entry in Argento’s “The Three Mothers” trilogy along with Inferno (1980) and The Mother Of Tears (2007).
This movie is about Suzy Bannion, a young aspiring ballerina who begins attending a prestigious dance school in Germany. She becomes suspicious of the real goings on within the school and tries to expose the true nature of some of the key employees.
This movie is a dreamlike interpretation of a tale about witches for grown ups. There are elements of Brothers Grimm here and this is especially evident as we watch a young girl run through a dark forest made of only bare tree trunks to Goblin’s haunting melody.
What makes Suspiria unique is the stunning imagery and exquisite choice of colours. Down to the luxurious designer wallpaper featuring heavily in nearly every shot of this film, not one detail has been left up to chance. Suspiria lifted the bar for the giallo sub-genre of horror and showed once more that Italy is one of the most important contributors to World Cinema.
11. The Evil Dead (1981) – Sam Raimi
The Evil Dead is a true classic that has earned a solid place in cinema history. Shot on a low budget, it captured the eye of some prominent people in the horror business. Although initially lacking commercial popularity in the United States, it has since been a worldwide cult favourite for over twenty years.
Five young people get away to a cabin in the woods over Spring Break. They come across a Sumerian version of the Book Of The Dead and unwittingly unleash a legion of demons onto the forest around them. As the demonic spirits possess the friends one by one, all hell breaks loose in the woods. Bruce Campbell’s chainsaw-wielding Ash has become one of the most iconic horror characters of all time.
The text used in The Evil Dead was a version of the Necronomicon called Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. The myth of the Necronomicon brings us to H.P. Lovecraft. He has claimed on a number of occasions that this text is purely a form of fiction.
Despite this, there have been different imitations and variations of the Necronomicon written by a number of authors and occultist. Some have been taken more seriously than others. It is interesting to note that many followers of the Great Beast Aleister Crowley have believed that there was a psychic connection between Crowley and Lovecraft.
12. Poison For The Fairies (1986) – Carlos Enrique Taboada
This is one of Taboada’s Gothic style horrors and is a terrifying coming-of-age tale. The pseudo-supernatural element is only a tool in an attempt to show the horrors of an alienated childhood.
The orphaned Veronica lives with her disabled housebound grandmother and attends a religious girls’ school. Tales of witches told to her by her grandma fill Veronica’s head and she attempts to convince her peers that she also practices witchcraft. This further distances her from the other girls at school until a new student, Flavia arrives and the two strike up a friendship.
Flavia comes from a wealthy and well-to-do family and is much more naïve than Veronica. The two girls perform black magic “rituals” under the dominant Veronica’s instruction and as the games become more sinister in nature, their power-struggle inevitably comes to a disturbing end.
13. Hellraiser (1987) – Clive Barker
A unique film in many ways, Hellraiser stands apart from its 80s counterparts. Destined to become part of a franchise with some questionable entries, the original Hellraiser film delved deep into the dark corners of the mind and for some of us, stayed there forever. Written and directed by the same man, this movie allows us to get a real glimpse at the nightmarish world of Clive Barker.
Frank’s search for the ultimate thrill leads him to the world of the Cenobites where his soul is trapped. Frightening events unfold as he attempts to rejoin the realm of the living. This is a tale of dark desires and the fluid nature of the boundary between pleasure and pain. The practical special effects of this film enhance the horrific vision of Frank’s transformation.
We can see in Hellraiser an allusion to Barker’s own sexuality and his interest in sadomasochism. Interestingly enough, the terms “sadism” and “masochism” can be attributed to writers whose names and writing are synonymous with each i.e. Marquis De Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Hellraiser universe are the mysterious Cenobites. Traditionally cenobites are practitioners of cenobitic monasticism or simply put, “monkhood”. That would make Barker’s sadistic creatures some sort of order of perverse monks devoid of all empathy and remorse.