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Go to the Dark Side of the Soul With These Controversial and Searing Possession Films

Ready for a deep dive into horror? Each week, acclaimed director, writer and producer Eli Roth compiles a curated list of films that best exemplify horror’s various sub-genres. Whether you’re a new horror fan or a die-hard expert, “Eli Roth’s Deep Cuts” has a recommendation ready for you.

The Devil is no stranger to controversy, and these latest installments in Eli Roth’s Deep Cuts stirred up social frenzy wit their themes of frenetic madness. Featuring torture, orgies, killer kids, tales based on a true story and more, these possession films will take viewers to the dark side of the soul.

Make sure to check out Eli Roth’s recommendations for more gems of the demon possession genre, plus take a deep dive into some of the sleazy, sillier films that demon horror has to offer.

The Bad Seed (1956, dir. Mervyn Leroy)
There are no supernatural demons possessing perfect, pigtailed eight-year-old Rhoda; she’s just evil. When those who do her wrong (including another kid!) turn up dead, her mother suspects that she’s behind it. Is Rhoda a killer, or is her mother going crazy? If you didn’t think movies could be twisted in the allegedly idyllic ’50s, The Bad Seed will prove you wrong.

The Devils (1971, dir. Ken Russell)
A controversial priest protects his city from bloodthirsty, evil royals during the inquisition. A nun’s erotic obsession with him drives her insane, and he gets blamed for her “demonic possession.” Total madness ensues, including graphic torture, convent orgies, human target practice, and much more. Derek Jarman did the stunning production design. The movie, directed by perpetual enfant terrible Ken Russell, stirred up enormous international controversy, and remains hard to get in its original 117 minute version.  It’s nasty, chaotic, beautiful, ugly, and exhausting. You kind of have to see it, if only once.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971, dir. Piers Haggard)
When a young farmer finds a strange skull, his small village goes to the dark side: people grow claws, a woman has a psychotic break, and local children form a murderous cult. The town judge must fight the evil forces that have possessed the town. The Blood on Satan’s Claw hits the ’70s British horror sweet spot: it is at once charming, quaint, sick, and twisted.

Amityville II: The Possession (1982, dir. Damiano Damiani)
A semi-prequel to The Amityville Horror which fictionalizes Ronald DeFeo’s mass murder of his family. The Montellis are already dysfunctional when they move into the infamous Long Island house: dad is abusive, mom doesn’t know what to do, and the kids are unhappy. The demon that haunts the house takes advantage of the family’s vulnerability and enters the oldest son. Supernatural horror, incest, and graphic violence ensue. Amityville II is by far the most stylish, disturbing, and frightening of the Amityville films. Its cast gives the characters’ relationships—and the horror that befalls them—painful intensity.

Demons 2 (1986, dir. Lamberto Bava)
This time demons emanate from a documentary on TV. They take over a teen girl right before she throws a birthday party in her high-rise luxury apartment building.  Before long, the building becomes a raging hive of the undead. Demons 2 is actually more fun, surreal, and crazy than the original, and it has a killer post-punk soundtrack, including songs by The Smiths, The Cult, The Art of Noise, and Dead Can Dance.

Beloved (1998, dir. Jonathan Demme)
After the Civil War, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a former slave, tries to live a peaceful life in Cincinnati. She is haunted by trauma, but also by more supernatural forces: her house is aggressively possessed by the spirit of her baby, Beloved, who she killed rather than subject her to the terrors of slavery. One day, the spirit manifests itself physically in the body of a young girl who appears at Sethe’s house. Based on the Toni Morrison novel, this is a dense, unconventional film that uses a non-linear narrative to convey the unrelenting, shattering trauma of slavery and racial oppression.

The Rite (2011, dir. Mikael Hafstrom)
A thoughtful exorcism film based on the real experiences of Father Gary Thomas, a priest who studied exorcism at The Vatican. Protagonist Father Michael Kovak is paired with a more experienced exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), and they perform an exorcism on a possessed girl. The movie makes the assertion that Satanic possession exists, but its characters are thoughtful and even ambivalent about it. Roger Ebert said that he suspected that the film was more accurate than The Exorcist (if not as effective), but apparently Gary Thomas found The Exorcism of Emily Rose to be more realistic!

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014, dir. Adam Robitel)
A medical student and her film crew make a documentary about Deborah Logan, who is struggling with Alzheimers. Her disturbing behavior begins to stretch beyond the boundaries of anything that can be explained with modern medicine, and it seems possible that she’s been possessed by a demon. The movie makes the upsetting case that the line between supernatural movie horrors and the horrors of aging can be thin.

Click here to see all of Eli Roth’s Deep cuts.

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