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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Demonic Horror Films

October 11, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Hellraiser: Judgment

Top 8 Demonic Horror Films

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Horror month continues here at 8 Ball Headquarters! We’re continuing our trip through horror topics for the month of October, which brings us to this week: demonic horror films. Demons are a common element of horror fiction, and in many ways make the perfect horror monsters. They are the ultimate in evil after all, and when handled right they can come off either menacing or charming, subtle or terrifying — and sometimes, often the best times, all in one. I’ve always had a big soft spot in my heart for demonic horror, making it a the best in demon-oriented horror films a great topic to examine this week.

Caveat: For the purposes of this list, I decided to focus specifically on films with demons as the primary antagonists. That left some films that carry demonic themes but lack actual demonic characters out. The Omen is about a Satanically-influenced child for example, but it is relatively demon-free so it didn’t make the cut. The same goes for Rosemary’s Baby, which is absolutely horror but doesn’t really have an overt demon character. The film obviously had to be a horror film as well, which left out some possible entries like Requiem, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the like out.

Just Missing The Cut

[REC] (2007)
Sinister (2012)
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Night of the Demons (1988)
Demons (1985)

#8: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

First up on our list is the best in a demonically-oriented franchise that, like most horror franchises, started off strong before eventually spiraling down into the dregs. Paranormal Activity was the film that started it all and while I ranked it higher on my list of found footage movies, the second entry makes for a better demonic film. Following the low-budget success of the original, Michael R. Perry delivered a script that solved many of the lingering problems of the first film and had a lot more fun with its infernal character “Toby.” The acting is somewhat better this time around and Perry’s story makes the characters more believable and less irritating than Micah was, while director Tod Williams does an excellent job of building tension. This film is less about the primal fear of what happens when you sleep and are most vulnerable than it is an exercise in suspense and tension, punctuated with some legitimate scares. The movie isn’t perfect by any measure, but this is certainly not as slow of a film as the first one and the mostly prequel, part sequel provides a good bookend for the first film. In most ways this is a better film that allowed the franchise to expand the storyline of its demon.

#7: It Follows (2015)

The last couple of years has seen a real renaissance in horror films and indy horror is leading the way. It Follows is at the forefront of that and stands as the best horror film with demonic themes in quite a long time. The second directorial effort from David Robert Mitchell excels by eschewing the Hollywood studio horror format of score-telegraphed jump scares and blood. Instead, Mitchell takes a sharp script of his own devising, redefines STD as “Sexually Transmitted Demon” for a tense and stunningly creepy tale. It Follows is bolstered by a fantastic performance by Maika Monroe as Jay, the young woman who goes on a date with a boy and finds herself pursued by a sinister force that can look like anyone and will kill her if it catches up. It’s a brilliant conceit, allowing Mitchell to turn ordinary people into terrifying potential monsters. That the entity can take on the form of her friends leaves the viewer wondering who will suddenly try to take her. It’s a moody, atmospheric film that doesn’t fall short in the tension and creepiness departments either. It’s a modern horror film that works on just about every level.

#6: Fallen (1998)

Fallen is, to be frank, one of the more underrated films in Denzel Washington’s resume. Critics seemed unsure of how to respond to this horror-drama when it opened in January of 1998 and audiences weren’t particularly swayed, which kept the film from being a real success. That’s unfortunate because it is a fun, stylish cat-and-mouse game where demonic possession is used as a tool to frame a very enjoyable horror story around. Washington plays Detective John Hobbes, a man on the hunt for serial killer Edgar Reese. Reese is caught and put to death in fairly short order, but the murders continue. As it turns out, the killing is actually being done by the demon Azazel who has the ability to transfer his lease on a body from one person to another with just a touch. Azazel decides to torment Hobbes because he is unable to possess him for some reason, and it turns into a case of man versus demon. There are a lot of great scenes here and director Gregory Hoblit does a fantastic job of building the tension. I love the way this movie plays out through the climax and enjoy watching it every time I get in the right mood.

#5: Insidious (2011)

Insidious came very close to not make this week’s list. Nothing against the film itself, but it can be tricky to truly define it as a demonic horror film because it’s more of a half-ghost story, half demon situation. However, one of the primary villains in the film is a demon so it was able to make its way on. James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s resume had a few lackluster films in the years leading up to this, with duds like Dead Silence and Death Sentence making people wonder if the Saw creators had lost their touch. Those doubts were blown completely away with Insidious, which is return to form for both men in their respective roles as director and writer. Whannell’s script of a family plagued by a demonic entity with an interest in their comatose son is much smarter than most would give a horror film credit for, conjuring actual characters instead of the one-dimensional cutouts that horror often settles for. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne both deliver good performances as the married couple and Wan makes the film legitimately creepy and scary without resorting to cheap jump scares or torture porn instincts. In fact, the film is largely bloodless but that doesn’t make it any less creepy. Sure, the sequels have not been great but this is a film that proves that Wan is capable of far more than he’d shown us up to that point, providing a good old-school fright flick with a very creepy demon right at the center.

#4: [REC 2] (2009)

When we’re talking about found footage there are a good number of gems and a whole lot of crap. The first couple of entries in the [REC] franchise found itself a couple of those few gems. A lot of people like the first better but for my money the 2009 sequel is a just a wee bit better. Beginning immediately after the events of the first film, [REC 2] follows a S.W.A.T. team as they investigate the complex that has become home to demonic possession. The demonic mythology of the franchise is expanded upon here and unlike many horror films, the filled-in backstory doesn’t come off as weak. Instead the idea of demonic possession as a virus is quite logical and well thought-out. The presence of original star Manuela Velasco as reporter Angela Vidal is explained nicely and the protagonists are realistic without being irritating. The series spawned an American remake titled Quarantine which is inferior in almost every way and the sequel has nothing to do with this. This isn’t my first time recommending it by a long shot but it’s worth saying again: do yourself a favor if you haven’t and check this one out. It’s well worth your time.

#3: Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Evil Dead 2 is a unique film that helped set a new bar for low-budget horror. Sam Raimi’s gorefest is hallowed horror ground for many reasons. The film’s relation to the first Evil Dead has been described in many ways — sequel, remake and reboot being the most popular —- but I rather prefer the term “retcon sequel” for this one. One of the most influential men in horror fiction, Steven King himself, was actually instrumental in getting this film made, as he found out that Raimi was having trouble getting funding and talked Dino De Laurentiis into funding them. They got less than they expected, which meant that the planned medieval storyline had to be scrapped (only to be revived in Army of Darkness) and the result was this partial remake and continuation of the story. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Raimi is one of the relatively few people to revisit their own earlier work and come out with something stronger than he had the first time around. Bruce Campbell is absolutely iconic in the role of Ash and Raimi slickly shifts the franchise’s tone from horror to horror-comedy. The demonic forces that plague Ash, his girlfriend and the quartet are all memorably nasty and creepy, making for a great mix of scares and laughs. Few other directors would be able to handle some of the content in this film without seeming incredibly goofy; in Raimi’s hands it works (and continues to work in the sublimely fun Ash vs. Evil Dead series).

#2: Hellraiser (1987)

Just about every horror movie icon goes to hell eventually. It’s inevitable…if you keep coming back from the dead than some day, hell is going to come calling to collect. Jason went to hell his ninth time out; Freddy was revealed to be powered by “dream demons” in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Even Michael Myers got supernatural elements when he was brought back for Halloween IV. But Pinhead and his Cenobite posse did it right from the get-go. Hellraiser is an iconic horror film, putting a distinctly twisted feel on the whole Faustian theme thanks to the wonderfully sick mind of Clive Barker. Ignore the sequels beyond the first; they went off the rails when the Cenobites were turned into the primary villains. What makes them so great as demons is that they don’t create the evil. Rather, they are the classic demonic tempters that give out the Lament Configuration to lure in the depraved so they can be punished in Hell forever. The effects may be a little dated these days but they still hold up in stomach-churning glory and Ashley Laurence makes an excellent heroine as Christy. This one is iconic for a very good reason, and that’s because it has few equals in the field of demonic horror flicks.

#1: The Exorcist (1973)

I know, I know…The Exorcist is the obvious choice. But being the obvious choice doesn’t necessarily make it the wrong choice. William Friedkin set the bar for demonic horror films upon the 1973 release of this film, and that bar has not quite been reached since. The Exorcist was and still is terrifying, thanks in large part to Linda Blair. The story…well, if you don’t know the story then I frankly question your horror credentials. But for completeness sake, it involves the possession and corruption of a child, and there are few things as horrific as that level of innocence being turned into something so evil. Friedkin and William Peter Blatty created what is quite possibly the perfect horror film here. Linda Blair is jaw-dropping as Regan, the young girl possessed by the Babylonian demon Pazuzu, and there are few performances as shocking as hers in the history of cinema. Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller are top-notch in their roles as Chris and Father Karras and Max Von Sydow gives what is probably his best performance in a career full of great ones as Father Merrin. The Exorcist is one of the few films that still unnerve me every time I watch it, no matter how many times I do. The one negative you could possibly attribute to it is that it set the bar so high that no possession or exorcism film could ever hope to live up to it. When it comes figuring out what the best demonic horror film of all-time is, there is no debate for me. This one wins, end of story.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.