A Holy War: A Look at Exorcism Movies

“Insidious” is the latest exorcism movie added to the horror genre in recent years. With many recent attempts like “The Unborn” and “The Last Exorcism” falling short in many areas, questions arise to whether the exorcism sub-genre has run itself dry. In anticipation of this latest addition to the growing list of exorcism movies, here are five of the best movies in cinema history.

“The Exorcist”

The exorcism movie that stands heads and shoulders above the rest is this 1973 horror movie directed by William Friedkin. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, the movie tells the story of the true life exorcism of Robbie Mannheim in 1949. The film is one of the highest grossing horror movies of all time as well as one of the most critically adorned. “The Exorcist” stars Linda Blair as a girl possessed by a demon and the Church’s attempts to exorcise the spirit to save the girl’s life. The Library of Congress added “The Exorcist” to the National Film Registry in 2010 and the film received ten Academy Award nominations, winning two in 1973.

“Poltergeist”

Steven Spielberg produced this horror film, directed by Tobe Hooper (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). This exorcism movie follows a family who learn the home they live in is possessed and begin to fear for their daughter’s life when the demons begin to invade her psyche. While the end of the movie is pure hokum, the lead-up is still one of the more solid additions to the genre. The movie also features one of the most iconic exorcists in Hollywood history in diminutive actress Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons, the spiritual medium.

“Drag Me to Hell”

Sam Raimi returns to the genre that made him famous in this 2009 horror film. Raimi retraces the excess that he perfected in the “Evil Dead” trilogy in this exorcism movie about a woman who is cursed with a demon after humiliating an old gypsy woman. The movie harkens back to Raimi’s splatstick style filmmaking and even borrows elements from his “Evil Dead” movies where the demons are concerned. The movie takes the trappings of the exorcism films and adds a touch of humor while never skimping on the horror elements.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”

This movie is based on the true story of a girl who died during an exorcism and the priest who was criminally tried for her death. There were two movies based on the case, the other a more dramatic film entitled “Requiem,” but this movie remains grounded in the world of horror. The best way to describe this exorcism movie is “Law and Order” meets “The Exorcist.” What makes the movie unique are the court hearings where the jury must decide if the exorcism was real or it was a case of a mentally ill girl being allowed to die.

“Constantine”

Based on the Vertigo comic book series “Hellblazer,” this exorcism movie stars Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, an occult detective who shuns the influences of both Heaven and Hell. In the movie, we start off with a major exorcism scene where Constantine and his assistant Chas stop a demon trying to escape into the real world. The rest of the movie deals with a war between Heaven and Hell and a group of demons trying to break into the real world to carry on the battle. It is a bubblegum tale and is more schlocky action than horror but it is fun enough to remain an entertaining movie.