The Best Satanic Movies You Probably Haven't Seen

Well fire and damnation, this week we're all going to hell.

Nicolas Cage is riding to your local theater on a motorbike fueled by Satan and there's little anyone can do to stop it. I've seen Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and, quite frankly, it ain't good. That said, if I hadn't seen it yet and twenty-five people told me it stunk, I'd still go. I love Crazy Nic Cage and I like fiery demons. What can I say, it's something that speaks to me.

With Lucifer on the mind I figured this week's column would be about Satan, Satanism, demons, witches, possession and whatnot. There's a whole world out there beyond the obvious (fantastic) Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and the color-saturated visions of Dario Argento. Such as. . .

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922); Benjamin Christensen, director

Oh, so there Hoffman goes – a straight shot to snootyville with a 90 year old Danish movie. Well, yes, you get tons of cred for watching this one. . .but it is also REALLY GOOD.

An "expose on witchcraft and satanism" done in a documentary style (think of it as very early America's Most Wanted-style reenactments) this macabre masterpiece is chock full of fantastic evil and nightmarish imagery. The film is partially an adaptation of an actual 15th century "guide for inquisitors" called the Malleus Maleficarum (somebody call Doctor Strange!) but concludes with a "modern" section explaining how studies into mental illness can explain away some possessed behavior.

Some, not all.

Haxan is in the public domain so you can watch it in its entirety right here. I do recommend, however, Criterion's fantastic release with its quite fascinating, scholarly commentary track. (Obviously the clip included above is a promo for a one-time event, but it gets the vibe right.)

Bedazzled (1967); Stanley Donen, director

Since we never quite got the "Derek and Clive" movie we all deserved, this is the best bet for people discovering the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

If you only know Dudley Moore from Arthur you should know that the diminutive Cockney had quite a few characters up his sleeve, and he could play a runt overwhelmed by lust just as well as Dustin Hoffman was doing in The Graduate at roughly the same time. Peter Cook pulls off an amazing, suave Satan who grants Dudley the wish of pure, animal magnetism in exchange for his soul. Lots of terrific set pieces in this one and a great window into swingin' 60s London.

Prince of Darkness (1987); John Carpenter, director

We've seen images of Satan as a red beast with horns or cloven hoods (or as Al Pacino in a 5th Avenue penthouse) but who is to say the Dark Lord won't manifest himself as. . . a large tube of bubbling green goo?

Yes, that's right, John Carpenter's most batsh*t of all movies features a group of postgraduate scientists holed up in a shoddy church fighting off liquid Satan as Alice Cooper and a band of thugs lay in for a siege. And that's just the set-up, once the fighting and the portals to other dimensions open up, things really get weird.

Prince of Darkness will never be mistaken for one of Carpenter's best films, but it has a dedication to its own warped vision that one can't help but respect. . .as well as some 80s synth grooves that seem to last for 20 minutes as the tension rises and rises.

Night of the Demon (1957); Jacques Tourneur, director

Jacques Tourneur is one of the great directors of atmospheric, expressive genre pictures from the 1940s and 1950s. Have you ever seen Martin Scorsese discuss his personal influences? He can't shut up about the guy. Tourneur's early collaborations with producer Val Lewton, such as Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, used their low budgets to great psychological advantage by keeping much of the tension off-screen.

Tourneur later moved on make a stand-out Western (Canyon Passage) and one of the five best film noirs of all time Out of the Past. When he came back to the world of horror with Night of the Demon fifteen years after Cat People he was firing on all the thrusters. Night of the Demon, about a psychoanalyst investigating a murderous Satanic cult, oozes ambience out of every gorgeous black and white frame.

Possession (1981); Andrzej Zulawski, director

Oh, if only I was writing this column a few months back, when I could've been certain that you haven't seen this movie!

I swear I was hip to this movie before it had its recent celebrated run at New York's Film Forum, where it was quickly dubbed "this year's Hausu." (Proof! I wrote about it on my blog close to six years ago! My cred is revived!)

It's pretty impossible to describe what this movie is "about," but I can tell you it involves a beautiful Isabelle Adjani, Satanic possession, bodily secretions, yelling, weird sex, more yelling, unmotivated camera moves and lots and lots of yelling. It is one of those "you have to see it to believe it" type things that isn't quite what I would label a "good movie," but has too much mastery of the craft (camerawork, music, performance, makeup effects) to ever be labeled shlock.

If you like having your mind blown, please, put this one at the top of your list.

Jigoku (1960); Nobuo Nakagawa, director

It's amazing to think that this movie was made in 1960. In Hollywood, people were freaking out about Pyscho, a masterpiece to be sure, but for shocking imagery, let's just say you can always count on the Japanese to kick it up a notch.

A simple morality tale of a man overcome with guilt for an accidental killing, what puts Jigoku on the map is an extended section of the film where our lead characters are tormented in a disturbing, violent vision of Hell's eternal punishment.

Jigoku has been remade three times, but I can only vouch for the original.

Deconstructing Harry (1997); Woody Allen, director

All right, all right. . .this one is a stretch. But hear me out.

First of all, Deconstructing Harry is brilliant – one of Woody Allen's best and one of the finest movies about how the artistic process can destroy lives. It arrived dead center in a dull patch in Woody's career and I'm worried that this one is getting swept under the rug of time.

Deconstructing Harry's loose structure of weaving in and out of fantasy and stories-within-a-story enabled Woody to work in material he'd been holding on to for quite some time. The "hell sequence" (embedded above) was actually something he initially wanted to put into Annie Hall but it and additional animation got cut for budget reasons.

So, okay, this vision of Satan is just six minutes of the movie, but also take a look at one of the "real" scenes like this one between Woody and Judy Davis and tell me other demons aren't at play.

The Ninth Gate (1999); Roman Polanski, director

Let's bring this home with another controversial pick. Yeah, maybe this isn't one that too many people haven't heard of, but I can safely say it is one that people don't think about anymore. I think it's time this one got a second look.

The Ninth Gate was always doomed to suffer comparisons to Roman Polanski's early devil masterpiece Rosemary's Baby. Another earlier film, the strange and witty The Tenant, doesn't deal with the Dark Lord himself, but does involve possession, visions and things that go bump in the night. The Ninth Gate doesn't come near these two milestones, but it is still a great, tense demon-hunting thriller with some whacked-out supernatural crap that really knocks it out of the park in the third act.

The Ninth Gate is also important because, in my opinion, it is one of the last good Johnny Depp performances that plays it straight. He followed this up with the entertaining Sleepy Hollow which is where the raised-eyebrow kooky Depp really started to break through. After that it was mostly stylized characterization or deep chameleon stuff – this was, in my opinion, the last worthwhile picture where Depp played a leading man.

Okay, I know I left off a lot of really good ones – please lay into me in the comments below.

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