Demonic possession has been the theme of many a horror film over the years. However it was really William Peter Blatty’s best-seling novel THE EXORCIST (inspired by the real-life exorcism case of Robbie Mannheim) that ensured the idea was ingrained into popular culture. A film was eventually adapted for the screen by a top-of-his-game William Friedkin, who was just coming off his Oscar-winning cat-and-mouse crime classic THE FRENCH CONNECTION. After THE EXORCIST went on to break box-office records with queues around the block and audience members reportedly fainting in aisles, the 1973 controversial shocker was ripped-off, parodied, and sequelized by imitators wanting to capitalise on this new form of terror.
So with the imminent release of the new found-footage horror hit THE DEVIL INSIDE, THN has decided to take at look at the best five films to feature the battle between good and evil for the souls of humanity`… as a wise old man once said “The power of Christ compels you!”
Scott Derrickson’s slow-burning tale is based on the case of Anneliese Michel. More courtroom drama than horror film, the story is carried by great performances by Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney, and an eye-catching Jennifer Carpenter. The focus is Laura Linney’s defence lawyer, who represents Wilkinson’s priest, charged with homicide after an excorcism leads to the death of Emily Rose (Carpenter). As the story unfolds in flashbacks, viewers are shown stages of Emily’s disturbing breakdown and the chain of events that ultimately led to her death. The film deserves credit for never pushing the viewer in either direction, allowing them to make their own mind up whether Wilkinson’s actions contributed to Emily’s demise.
Music video director Francis Lawrence’s feature film debut CONSTANTINE is still his best work by a mile. The film sees Keanu Reeves as the gun-toting cursed detective and paranormal exorcist John Constanstine. Reeves’ usually wooden acting is perfect for this character, and gives the viewer a hybrid action-horror with some impressive visuals and set-pieces. Walking the earth as a moody hero and rooting out evil from souls under demonic possession, CONSTANTINE really is an enjoyable blast. The film was based on the comic book ‘Hellblazer’ and is aided by a terrific supporting cast including Tilda Swinton, Rachael Weisz, Peter Stormare, Djimon Hounsou, and Shia Laboeuf.
John Boorman, an acclaimed director who up until that point in his career had given us absolute classics in DELIVERENCE and POINT BLANK, dropped the ball with dire sequel EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC. Not much was expected from a third film in the series, even with legendary Oscar-winner George C. Scott headlining as Lt. Kinderman (previouly played by the late Lee J. Cobb in THE EXORCIST). Making his directorial debut and adapting his own novel ‘Legion’, was William Peter Blatty, who crafted a pretty great horror film, that if paired with Friedkin’s first, makes for a riveting follow-up. Stand-out of course was the always-brilliant Brad Dourif, playing the imprisoned serial-killing Gemini killer, who shares a significant link to events from THE EXORCIST’s finale. Definitely an underrated gem.
Found-footage films have found a niche in the market since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT struck box-office gold in 1999. Primarily used by the horror genre for the cheap thrills, Daniel Stamm’s THE LAST EXORCISM was a feature that tried to push the limits, certainly in terms of gore and bloodshed. The plot surrounds a priest who makes a living conning religious devotees into believeing their loved ones are possessed by evil spirits. That is, until he happens upon the real thing. THE LAST EXORCISM is an effective horror made all the more unsettling by Ashely Bell’s performance . Bell will also be back for the sequel, expected next year. Still, for all the blood and bone-snapping, there’s no way it can compete with our number one and grandaddy of them all…
The original and best was always going be the one to beat, and no film has come close to even matching Friedkin’s malevolent masterpiece. The exorcism itself is a lengthy one that builds tension to extreme intensity. Featuring impressive headtwisting (literally) make-up effects from Dick Smith, and a jaw-dropping performance from a young Linda Blair (aided by Mercedes McCambridge’s creepy voice work). It does however owe a great deal to both Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, whose quiet, nuanced performances remain iconic, even while all hell is breaking loose on-screen. And that’s not forgetting Ellen Burstyn as Reagan’s traumatised mother and the great Lee J. Cobb as the suspicious Lt. Kinderman. Even to this day the artwork seen on posters and DVDs (one that my mother still refuses to allow in her house) remain as vivid as ever. Anyone for a bowl of pea soup?
THE DEVIL INSIDE is directed by William Brent Bell and stars Fernanda Andrada, Simon Quartermain, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley and Bonnie Morgan. It possesses cinemas Friday 16th March.