Iconic horror filmmaker John Carpenter has claimed there are two types of horror movies, describing to Vulture in 2011, "In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don't understand. Internal [horror] is the human heart."
While many audiences might be afraid of the monster trying to invade your safe space, many other audiences are more frightened by the revelation that the safe space has already been invaded and those people you most trusted are plotting your demise in hopes of appeasing a higher power.
The concept of cults has long played a part of horror movies, with films like 1922's Häxan exploring the history of witchcraft, while the Satanic Panic of the 1980s led to a resurgence in the belief that individuals performed ghastly sacrifices in hopes of appeasing the Devil.
As cult-themed movies have gotten a slight resurgence in recent years, scroll down to see some of the best the subgenre has to offer!
Ahead of films like The Exorcist and The Omen, Rosemary's Baby helped break new ground for what could be accomplished in the horror genre with its tale of betrayal in service of Satan himself.
When Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) move into a new apartment building, they set their sights on starting a family. After befriending their eccentric neighbors, they begin to experience drastic changes to their life, in ways both disturbing and beneficial. As complications arise with Rosemary's pregnancy, she begins to raise doubts about the intentions of those aiming to help care for her.
Adapted from Ira Levin's novel, Rosemary's Baby brought together an impressive combination of cast and crew, lending an air of legitimacy to a genre crowded with monsters and otherworldly encounters. The film is not only an impressive horror offering, but a masterclass in tone and performances in the paranoia-driven tale of the kindness of strangers.prevnext
'The Wicker Man'
After receiving a mysterious letter, a detective heads to a remote island community to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. In a stark contrast to his own Christian beliefs, the sergeant is both revolted by the community's Pagan beliefs while also becoming inexplicably infatuated with the liberation the population seemingly reflects.
As his investigation continues, the sergeant uncovers more and more bizarre behaviors, leading to a completely unexpected and disturbing finale that audiences could have never expected.
Far from a traditional horror film, The Wicker Man plays out as a murder-mystery while never being afraid to inject humor and absurdity to heighten the more frightening elements. While the film's atrocious remake starring Nicolas Cage has become more familiar in recent years, it doesn't sully the good name of the original tale.prevnext
'Children of the Corn'
After a couple's car breaks down in a seemingly deserted town, they discover that the entire community is only inhabited by young children with no adults anywhere in sight. As the children begin to offer "help," the couple continue to ask about the lack of adults, only for a literal interpretation of a religious text to present the terrifying answers.
Understandably, Children of the Corn has become a go-to reference when describing nefarious youngsters, though the story has little to do with the dangers of these children and more to do with religious fanatics taking staunch beliefs that pose a threat to those around them. Based on a story by Stephen King, the core concept of the film is reflected in our society every day, even if fanatics across the world aren't necessarily carrying out evil deeds for the sake of a supernatural force.prevnext
'Eyes Wide Shut'
Thanks to disturbing films like A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, Stanley Kubrick developed a reputation for never shying away from taking on controversial subject matter, a tradition he continued up until his final film, Eyes Wide Shut.
A married couple who seemingly has it all, from wealth to successful careers to a beautiful family, can't help but feel trapped in their situation. When Bill (Tom Cruise) reunites with a college friend who tells him of a sex-fueled party he will attend, he can't help but invite himself along, despite the bizarre rituals and outfits associated with attendance. After discovering Bill was never invited, the cult behind the event shows just how far their power stretches, permeating Bill's "boring" life as threats loom closer.
Much of the discussion surrounding Eyes Wide Shut around its release focused on then-married couple Cruise and Nicole Kidman tackling the sexually-charged subject matter and the film being Kubrick's final effort, yet that didn't stop it from becoming a compelling thriller that shows the dangers of pursuing superficial thrills.prevnext
Filmmaker Ben Wheatley has proven himself as one of the most diverse and ambitious genre filmmakers who regularly tackles unconventional stories to deliver audiences memorable movies with films like High-Rise, A Field in England, and Sightseers. Amongst his many accomplishments, his more straightforward horror film Kill List might be his most successful endeavor.
Two contract killers have seemingly normal lives, with the exception that they get paid to kill people for a living. As they take on a series of contracts, a strange pattern begins to emerge, making the duo wonder if there's a larger plan at play in which they are unwilling participants.
Much like The Wicker Man, Kill List delivers audiences plenty of familiar genre elements that crescendo into a horrifying and unexpected climax which will have you immediately re-watch the film to identify all of the story's clues.prevnext
Filmmaker Ti West is no stranger to devil worship, as his House of the Devil offered audiences a preface detailing the belief of cults in the '80s, though his film The Sacrament might be a more effective approach to what we would all consider a "cult."
A documentary crew investigates a remote community full of individuals who all seem level-headed and merely wanted a way to escape their toxic cultural climates. The individuals all contribute to their way of life, yet the documentary crew can't help but be wary of "Father," the man who seemingly commands everyone who he has brought together. As tensions between the crew and Father heighten, his plan becomes clear, making the documentarians realize they should never have come in the first place.
While the film isn't a direct adaptation of the Jonestown Massacre, their are quite a few similarities, making the film a horrifying reminder of the power of persuasion and misdirected belief.prevnext
After the reclusive grandmother of a family passes away, her daughter and their family begin to experience a variety of strange experiences. As they start to investigate the many unexplored corners of the grandmother's life, a series of unexplained connections begin to make clear that she was mixed up in bizarre activities, ultimately setting this family down a dark and deadly path.
Harkening back to the effectiveness of Rosemary's Baby, Hereditary plays out like a traditional, albeit depressing, family drama that has supernatural elements sprinkled in. Despite a majority of the film being relatively conventional, the film's final act offers some of the best scares of the decade with disturbing images that viewers will have a hard time shaking from their memory.prev