When it comes to scary, it’s not the monsters or ghosts that do it for me. The most terrifying thing is an individual who can convince an entire group of people to follow one belief. Even more terrifying than the leader are the people within the group, whose views are so extreme that they are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill a prophecy.
Recently, cults have made their way back onto our screens with the hit HBO series True Detective and the upcoming Ti West horror feature The Sacrament. In honor of my cult fascination, I take a look at some of the creepiest cults in the horror genre, and learn that evil always prevails. Want to be really scared? Check out these five real-life cults.
To the Devil…a Daughter (1976)
When a father is trying to save his daughter from Satanists, naturally he would seek help from a writer who specializes in the occult. Author John Verney finds himself in a scenario similar to one of his books, when he becomes the protector of an 18 year-old nun a part of an order called The Children of the Lord. The leader of the order is an excommunicated priest (horror icon Christopher Lee) intent on making the young woman the incarnation of a prince of Hell. Because becoming a nun and saving herself for the Lord just wasn’t enough.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
For Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), the hormonal mood swings and body changes caused by her pregnancy are the least of her worries when she suspects that her elderly neighbors are into witchcraft. As her pregnancy progresses and Rosemary’s mind seems to unravel, she quickly discovers that she cannot turn to anyone for help, especially her self-absorbed husband (John Cassavetes). In the end, Rosemary learns that her neighbors are the leaders of a Satanic cult, and that she and her baby are the key to bringing them closer to the Devil.
If horror movies have taught young people anything, it’s that they need to be safe when travelling... especially if they’re going to Mexico. But most young people are stupid, and they think that nothing bad will happen to them. For college buddies Ed, Henry, and Phil, they learn the dangers of traveling to a foreign place when one of them is kidnapped by a religious cult and used as a human sacrifice. The film is actually based on real-life cult leader Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo and his followers, who killed over 20 people in ritual sacrifices.
The House of the Devil (2009)
If you are ever hired for a babysitting job and learn that there are actually no children to babysit, you should probably leave. Unfortunately for the very broke and desperate Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), the money offered is too good to pass up. The levelheaded college student is hesitant and nervous at first, but she eventually lets loose in a very '80s dance montage. Eventually, Samantha falls prey to the strange Ulman family, who use her as part of their Satanic ritual, and her friend learns not to roll her window down for A.J. Bowen.
V/H/S/2: "Safe Haven" (2013)
In this segment from the found-footage anthology, a group of filmmakers set out to uncover the truth behind a cult in Indonesia. They are granted access to the compound by its leader and once they are inside, their curiosities get them into trouble. What starts out as a normal day becomes anything but when chaos ensues. Once the cult leader gives his orders to his followers, the images that appear on screen will leave you with your mouth on the floor as you feel just as panicked, confused, and terrified as the segment’s protagonists during the bloodshed.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
When Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) and a team of filmmakers set out to show that exorcisms are fake, they find themselves in an unbelievable situation that tests their faith and sanity. When the Reverend chooses a young girl named Nell (Ashley Bell) as his final exorcism, the situation spirals out of control as he and the filmmakers try to piece together the mystery surrounding her behavior. They discover that Nell is victim of a cult led by the girl’s local pastor when they stumble upon their Satanic offering in the woods. The cult, which includes Nell’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones), stops at nothing to keep their church a secret. The moral of the story: when you stumble upon a Satanic ritual, stop filming and run.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Not all cults worship the Devil, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. When Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) visits the island community of Summerisle to investigate a child’s disappearance, he learns just how far the residents are willing to go to celebrate a pagan god. During his search, Howie finds that the islanders, including leader Lord Summerisle (Chrisopher Lee), are hiding dark secrets, and they use the man’s faith to manipulate him into becoming their next sacrifice. The haunting final scene shows Howie hasn’t lost his faith as he burns to death for the sake of the harvest. Unfortunately for viewers, this version of the film does not include Nicolas Cage in a bear-suit punching women in the face.
Race with the Devil (1975)
While traveling across the country in an RV, two married couples witness a satanic cult performing a ritualistic murder... then things get crazy from there. When the couple tries to report the crime to local authorities, they learn that no one can help them, and they decide to investigate on their own. Their determination to unravel the truth only puts them in more danger as the cult tracks them down and threatens their lives in a high-speed car chase. Unfortunately for the cultists, one of the protagonists (Peter Fonda) is an easy rider who was born to be wild, and he puts up one hell of a fight.