It’s easy to forget the true meaning of the Christmas holiday amidst all the bustle and forced calorie-laden cheer. At every turn, it seems we’re assaulted by sparkly displays in store windows, Perry Como songs on a loop, and those super annoying Gap TV ads with the blandly attractive dancing models. But see, all of that’s just a distraction – because the holiday was originally celebrated to commemorate the birth of this little guy named Jesus, you might have heard of him. Tall, bearded, long hair, white robes, Birkenstocks. Yeah, that dude. The one you’re supposed to accept into your heart if you’re to be saved from burning in hellfire for all eternity (or so I’ve heard). Ah, whatever. Forget Jesus – the Dark One is calling you. See, genre fans know what the holiday is really all about: bad-ass religion-themed horror films that utilize the fear of Hell and the Devil to leave us grabbing for those phantom rosary beads. Here’s a list of the ten best.
When you think about it, Lucio Fulci movies are sort of like top-shelf pornography for gore-hounds. The dialogue is terrible, the acting is sub-par, and the plots are something of an afterthought, but they look great. And the money shots, well…they don’t come much better. This one involves an old hotel in Louisiana that just so happens to be built over one of the seven gateways to Hell (get out your crucifixes!). My favorite kill is probably the one with the man-eating spiders, but there’s a host of other great ones here.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.” – Emily (Cinzia Monreale), reading from the book of Eibon
Think Models, Inc. meets Rosemary’s Baby, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s in store here. Cristina Raines (who?) stars as a supermodel moving into an old apartment building that just so happens to be the gateway to Hell. The final sequence – featuring a host of actual deformed people portraying demons – is kinda awesome in a horribly offensive way. Added bonus: it features the mom from National Lampoon’s Vacation masturbating through a leotard!
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “You are the chosen of the lord God, the tyrant and our enemy.” – Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith)
This period British horror movie – in the tradition of films like The Wicker Man and Eye of the Devil — concerns a group of youngsters, led by the seductive Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), who have taken to Devil worship. The movie is relatively creepy, with a good evocation of the period and some fine performances. While by today’s standards it’s pretty tame, there are a few genuinely unnerving sequences, one that concerns the brutal rape and ritual sacrifice of a young girl.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Spirit of the Dark, take thou my blood, my flesh, my skin and walk.” – Random Devil-worshipping chick chanting just before a virgin sacrifice
A special shout-out to this recent offering by auteur Ti West, which offers a period `80s horror film that looks as if it could have been shot during the early days of John Carpenter. Jocelin Donahue stars as Samantha, the unlucky girl who answers an ad for a babysitter and gets way more than she bargained for. The movie is a slow build, but the climax is a doozy. Particularly for children of the Satanic-ritual-abuse obsessed 1980s, this one is likely to stir up some long-dormant fears.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Talk to me, Lord. Talk to me.” – Mrs. Ulman (Mary Woronov), praying to that other God
Despite being burdened with the wooden presence of Keanu Reeves (although this is one of his better performances), The Devil’s Advocate is damn good fun, thanks to a boisterous over-the-top performance by Al Pacino (as Lucifer), a smart script, and some great visuals. Charlize Theron does her best Rosemary Woodhouse impersonation (complete with fab new short hairdo!) playing Reeves’ wife as she slowly descends into madness.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Who, in their right mind Kevin, could possibly deny the twentieth century was entirely mine?” – John Milton aka Lucifer (Al Pacino)
The hokiest and possibly the most dated of the three American-made late-`60s/`70s Satanic blockbusters (including The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby), The Omen still stands head and shoulders above most other horror films. Young Harvey Stephens is genius as Damien, the cherubic little boy with the big bad secret (he’s the Antichrist, in case you didn’t know). The final shot still chills my blood.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” – Nanny (Holly Palance), just before hanging herself from the roof of the house
This film is pretty much a literal interpretation of every God-fearing Christian’s worst nightmare – the pits of Hell opening up to devour their sinful asses. Yeah it’s PG-13, but there’s still plenty of gross-out material to rank with Raimi’s best. Overall the movie has a lot of fun with its premise, but the final twist is still liable to send all the good Catholics rushing for the confession box.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “I desire the SOUL of Christine Brown. We will FEAST upon it while she festers in the grave!” – Shaun San Dena [possessed by the Lamia] (Adriana Barraza)
Hellraiser may not be your typical Christian-themed horror movie, but any film where a character utters the phrase “Jesus wept” before being ripped to pieces is just begging to be included on a list like this. The main idea behind the film is that pain and pleasure (those two seemingly contradictory sensations functioning as tidy metaphors for good and evil) are essentially indivisible. Confirming the suspicions of many of us that all those hours spent seat-squirming in Sunday school were a total waste of our time.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “We’ll tear your soul apart!” – Pinhead (Doug Bradley)
Possibly director/child-rapist Roman Polanski’s greatest film, Rosemary’s Baby manages to do what most horror movies fail at: it gets right under your skin. It also functions as the blackest of comedies, helped along by a game cast including John Cassavetes as the actor willing to do anything – and I mean anything – to become a movie star. Not showing the Devil child at the end was a masterstroke (the film is a genius exercise in less-is-more filmmaking); Polanski understands that what viewers work up in their minds is more terrifying than any visual he could have come up with.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “God is dead! Satan Lives!” – Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer)
Not only the best Christian-themed horror film of all time, but one of the best horror films of all time period, The Exorcist retains its power to disturb and fan the flames of religious fear to this day. You’re all gonna gripe that this is an obvious choice, but it’s an obvious choice for a reason: because it’s a great film that holds up like a champion, 36 years after its debut.
Choice sacrilegious dialogue: “Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!” – Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), whilst masturbating with a crucifix