Halloween Horror Primers: Satanic Panic!

Sean Smithson, Contributor
Need something scary to watch for Halloween? Look no further than this quickie series of primers where I will be recommending some of my favorites. Devil, Vampires, Werewolves, Slashers, Zombies, oh my!

Here we start with the Big Guy himself...Mr. Satan, the beginning and ending of all that is evil. I have taken the liberty of adding a general age appropriate recommendation, leaning towards the more conservative side of judgement. Personally, I saw all these films by the time I was 10 years old though, and um...I'm ok...right?

Don't answer that, just read on, then get down to your local dvd/bluray retailer or fire up those Netflix and Hulu accounts!  

THE EXORCIST -
For a "Monster Kid" like myself, this really is the pinnacle of the Satanic sub-genre. I was blessed (ha!) enough to have seen it on first release as a kid, and the film has crossed my mind at least once a day ever since. William Friedkin's masterpiece really needs no description, but in case you've been locked away in a monastery for the last 40 years, it concerns a young girl named Regan MacNeil who is possessed by a demon named Pazuzu, and must be saved by a young priest in a crises of faith. The Exorcist is not only my favorite horror film, but may be my favorite film of all time.
*Recommended for ages 16 and up.

THE SENTINEL -
In my opinion, Michael Winner's film about a depressed NYC fashion model model who has been earmarked as the next guardian of the gates of Hell by a secret cabal out of the Vatican is the single most unappreciated genre film ever. Christina Raines is alluring as the lead character Allison, who moves into a lovely brownstone (where the rent is far too cheap for there not to be a catch) inhabited by a gaggle of extremely eccentric characters. Made in the mid 70's, The Sentinel is also a who's who of familiar faces. We have Burgess Meredith as the kooky and fey man upstairs, and Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo as the creepy threadbare ballerinas. Then there is the silent, opaque eyed John Carradine as the mysterious old priest on the top floor, who stares in perpetuity out of his penthouse window over the city, keeping some kind of...vigil.
*Recommended for ages 13 and up.

ANGEL HEART -
Harry Angel is a detective in New Orleans sent by a mysterious, claw nailed client named Louis Cypher to find a welsher named Johnny Angel. Do the math. Dripping with atmosphere, this scary set in New Orleans is a slow burn killer with an ending that will leave your head spinning.
*Recommended for ages 16 and up.

ROSEMARY'S BABY -
The classic Roman Polanski film that put Mia Farrow on the map (and ended her May-December relationship with Frank Sinatra) was probably the first of the modern Satanic scare films. Farrow plays an impish (and kind of annoying) housewife to a struggling soap opera hunk (played by American cinema auteur John Cassavetes) who is convinced that strange dream of being raped by a hairy beast while her neighbors stand around chanting, actually does have something to do with her new pregnancy.
*Recommended for ages 13 and up.

THE OMEN -
A well-to-do politician and his wife miraculously have a late-in-life child, but their little sweetheart of a child may or may not truly be their own. With evidence pointing to a switched-at-birth situation, their little Damien looks to have been born of a Jackal, and may or may not be behind the unexplainable rash of deaths surrounding the affluent couple.
*Recommended for ages 13 and up.

THE EXORCIST III: LEGION -
Ignoring the incredibly inept first sequel (The Exorcist II: The Heretic) this takes it's story directly from the real sequel, author William Peter Blatty's novel Legion, which picks up a few years after the events that befell young Regan MacNeil and Father Damian Karras. Now it's all about that movie obsessed detective Kinderman (George C. Scott replacing Lee J. Cobb here) running afoul of that pesky Pazuzu once again. Truly creepy stuff here, and kept on track by the author Blatty himself, who sits in the directors' chair as well for this outing into Hell.
*Recommended for ages 16 and up.

THE DEVIL'S RAIN -
A pulpy tale of a book of evil, a clan of Pilgrims who have been cursed and persecuted for being in league with Satan, and a certain book of names that can banish them to the flames forevermore.  You can't truly call yourself a horror fan until you've seen the glory that is William Shatner nailed to an inverted cross with his eyes torn out, or the late Ernest Borgnine as a crimson garbed weregoat priest calling out to the Dark Lord to save him and his minions. Like The Sentinel, The Devil's Rain is a who's who of character actors as well, and incredibly goofy but insanely fun.
*Recommended for ages 12 and up.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL -
A bad ass hybrid of the Automotive Action sub-genre and the Satanic Panic sub-genre, two vacationing couples in a brand new RV (complete with new high end modern convenience gadgets like a microwave oven!) who run afoul of a devil cult after witnessing a human sacrifice, this movie is Hell on wheels...literally. A chase/conspiracy film with heavy supernatural overtones, and starring Peter Fonda and the amazing Warren Oates, this genre mashing flick is a total winner. Just remember, as the tag line says "You better be faster than Hell...if you want to race with the devil!"
*Recommended for ages 12 and up.

EVILSPEAK -
A dork who is the whipping boy at a military school decides to summon the Lord of Darkness to exact his revenge, and decides to use the latest and greatest in computer technology to do it...one floppy disc at a time. Who ever knew Wang PC's were so powerful? Good, cheesy, early 80's fun.
*Recommended for ages 12 and up.

THE BLACK CAT -
Going way back to the early masters here to pay proper respect, Boris Karloff plays the evil Hjalmar Poelzig, a devil-worshiping priest who gives a young couple shelter after their road accident while on holiday in Hungary. Factor in Bela Lugosi as Dr. Vitus Verdegast, an ex-POW turned troubled physician, and you have a classic example of the sub-genre that was there way before the Satanically scared 70's rolled around decades later. Quaint, yet layered and atmospheric (and having nothing to do with the Poe tale of the same name) this is a dues-paying must for any horror fan, and easily digestible for younger audiences.
Recommended ages 10 and up.
Around the Internet:
  • The cavalcade of demonic forces at the end of the Sentinel is amazing. Definitely a worthy addition to this list.

    Exorcist III is extremely underrated. It's great to see this given its due. Only real fault I find being the obligatory exorcism finale feeling forced. In the film's favor the great dialogue, creepy imagery and the strain of absurd humor. What really stands out for me with the film is the sound work particularly the scenes between Kinderman and the Gemini/Patient X (Dourif/Miller)

    Also thinking of Curse/Night of the Demon and/or the Seventh Victim.

  • West Wing Burger

    Roman Polanski: Recommended ages 13 and up.

  • James Dennis

    Race with the Devil is great - tripped over it on TV 15 years ago, and was amazed. Cracking chase movie.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    Evilspeak appropiate for 12 year olds? Finally, someone with my rating criteria! Sorry, but any film with a guy with a satanic Commodore 64 (Those loading times were indeed like something from hell) that summons pigs that butcher the poor people that harrased him is not particularly dense or scary.

  • Brian Clark

    It is however fascinating and completely singular. Clint Howard literally FLOATING IN THE AIR, decapitating people with a giant sword? No other movie has approached something like this!

  • mightyjoeyoung

    "Here we start with the Big Guy himself...Mr. Satan, the beginning and ending of all that is evil."
    I thought the big guy was...ahem....God...?
    Oh well.....
    "Harry Angel is a detective in New Orleans sent by a mysterious, claw nailed client named Louis Cypher to find a welsher named Johnny Angel."
    Great choice.....I always liked that one.
    "or the late Ernest Borgnine as a crimson garbed weregoat priest calling out to the Dark Lord to save him and his minions."
    Weregoat.....I´m going qoute you on this.....never have I read a better description.
    Nice list thanks, Mr Smithson.

  • heatbag

    I will second The Sentinel as "is the single most unappreciated genre film ever."
    I watched it for the first time last year and it rocked my socks off!

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    It is one hell of a scary film.

blog comments powered by Disqus
​​