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10 Religious Horror Films About Catholicism and Beyond

In this list, religious horror isn’t just about God, the Devil, and a vial of holy water.
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By  · Published on October 24th, 2021

5. Carrie (1976)

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There’s nothing scarier in Carrie than Margaret White’s prayer closet. Deeply fearful of her daughter’s descent into sin, Margaret imprisons Carrie beneath their stairway. Inside those cramp walls, Carrie’s only company is the most demented crucifix you’ve ever seen, a nearly demonic doppelganger of the mom that begat her. Its eyes burning, its scowl penetrating. After such punishing physical and psychological judgment, the telekinesis suddenly thrust upon Carrie appears as a karmic gift. Now, her wretched, wrathful, fearful mother will experience a power only previously imagined in her bible. Carrie is an Old Testament entity, compelled to lash out at those that wronged her, especially Margaret, a person poisoned by twisted ideology. (Brad Gullickson)

4. [REC]

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I have little to no room in my life for religion. Listening to someone tell me how I’ll burn in hell if I don’t follow a very specific and arbitrary set of rules isn’t my thing. With that said, using religion effectively in a horror film is something I can get behind because I enjoy some fictional scares. Found footage masterpiece [REC] is more effective than most. A late-night television show follows a group of firefighters out on a call to check on an old woman strapped in an apartment building. As the firefighters attempt to help her, she becomes aggressive and attacks. The entire evening spirals out of control as everyone in the apartment becomes trapped as an infectious enzyme spreads, bringing with it symptoms commonly associated with demonic possession. [REC] is a rapidly moving fright-fest, sure to get under your skin regardless of your religious affiliations, concluding with one of the most chilling final shots in horror film history. (Chris Coffel)

3. The Wailing (2016)

With the arrival of a mysterious Japanese stranger in a small South Korean village, a rash of brutal violence erupts. Families are tearing each other apart, leaving the murderers in a catatonic state before succumbing to an agonizing death days later. Is it a mysterious illness making everyone lose their minds, or has the stranger brought an even greater evil into the village? The Wailing delivers what many expect of a South Korean film including a long-ish runtime, unflinching despair, and revenge motifs. What sets it apart is an intentional focus on religion, and the historical legacy of abuse that occurred during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 20th century. 

In the decades before World War II, Christianity became a symbol of resistance to Japanese cultural assimilation, which is why director Na Hong-jin smartly interweaves tropes associated with Catholic horror films, like priests-in-training and demonic possessions, with elements of rural folk horror to explore the question of faith at the core of all religious practices. Does police officer Jong-goo have faith in the shaman he hires to rid his daughter of an evil spirit, or should his faith be in the mysterious woman in white who claims to want to save his family? Does he believe the Japanese man is innocent of what he’s been accused of, or does he believe in the lingering specter of historical distrust that is at the root of his animosity towards the man? The Wailing examines the thin line between faith and uncertainty through a complex web of horror iconography that is as effective as it is nihilistic. (Jacob Trussell)

2. Exorcist III (1973)

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If you’re going to return to the world of the most iconic religious horror movie of all time, you’ve gotta be packing a punch to go with it. William Peter Blatty, writer of the novel The Exorcist, helms the film as director and screenwriter. Utilizing his own material, Blatty delivers a truly off the wall and genuinely frightful franchise entry. With Regan’s exorcism and the death of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) still looming large in the Catholic church, the lingering effects of the first film clearly haven’t disappeared. Add in some spiritual thorniness, a Zodiac-inspired serial killer, and the return of an old demonic friend, and you’ve got one hell of a fantastic religious horror film that can properly stand on its own even when compared to William Friedkin’s legendary 1973 original. (Anna Swanson)

1. God Told Me To (1976)

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God told me to tell you that this is Larry Cohen’s masterpiece. God also told me to tell you that few horror films, religiously inclined or otherwise, are this diabolically imaginative. Struck by the astute observation that the biblical God is one of the most violent characters in literature, Cohen’s frenetic terror trip intermingles the sweaty procedural pulse of a 70s New York crime drama with the batshit insanity of a twisted second coming.

A plague of violent murders has struck New York City. Otherwise normal people are snapping and only one thing connects the litany of crimes: a chillingly similar confession that seems to be guiding their collective hands. God told them to. Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), a devout Catholic NYPD detective, is hounded by the impossible mystery of the identity of this so-called “God.” Steeped in a thick soup of Catholic guilt and a third act twist so inspired, it’s divine, God Told Me To is unlike anything else out there. Oh, and God told us to tell you to avoid spoilers, if you can. The faithful will be rewarded with one of the most ecstatic rides genre film has to offer. (Meg Shields)

Say your prayers, then check out more of our 31 Days of Horror lists.

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Mary Beth McAndrews thinks found footage is good and will fight you if you say otherwise. When she's not writing, she's searching for Mothman with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @mbmcandrews. (She/Her)