Best & Worst: Exorcism Movies

Best: The Last Exorcism (2010)

Fresh on the scene, produced by horror maestro Eli Roth, and starring that bloke off TV (Patrick Fabian). Though it suffers a let-down ending, Exorcism has its shocks in the right place, dragging us into a deeply disturbing exorcism being carried out by conman demon eradicator Cotton Marcus. Going the mock-doc route gives Exorcism an added layer of tension, and breathes new life into way-stale genre conventions. Slow burn at its best.

Worst: Abby (1974)

Blaxploitation at its most ridiculous. Clawing at controversy, Abby is the minister’s wife. A shy, unassuming wee lass, her personality gets a radical overhaul when she is possessed by a demon unleashed by her father-in-law, who is on an archaeological dig.

Before you can whisper “get this woman a priest”, Abby develops a horrific temper, butchers her friend and gets down and dirty with the local men. Filth! She then turns into a low-rent version of She-Hulk...

Best: The Exorcist (1973)

Well, yeah, duh. The grandaddy’s granddaddy of exorcism movies, this chilling, iconic scare-‘em-up retains its crown of creepy near 40 years after it first had people vomiting in cinemas. It’s now so ingrained in the collective consciousness that if anybody even so much as mentions pea soup, some wiseguy makes an Exorcist crack. Even today, it remains the yardstick against which all other exorcism movies must be measured.

Worst: Possessed (2000)

Ex-Bond Timothy Dalton gets in on the demonic action as a priest in this TV movie. He makes a good go at it, his Father Bowden attempting to free an 11-year-old boy from, you got it, possession. Trouble is, he’s got his own problems to deal with – not least his alcoholism, and nightmares that plague him like demons.

It basically tries to be a new Exorcist (heck, it even re-uses the same real life last case of exorcism as a plot crutch), but falls short in just about every category – not least its see-through budget and backward screenplay.

Best: The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

Twisting a horror flick through the tropes of a courtroom drama, Emily Rose may not quite come together to make a suitably scary whole, but there’s no denying it has its moments.

Told through flashbacks, it’s the story of a newly-turned believer who attempts to defend a priest on trial for exorcism-homicide. Cursory Exorcist pinches are present and correct, but director Scott Derrickson keeps things tight and taut.

Neither: Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

This one’s perched neatly on the fence, and depends entirely on your movie tastebuds. Like Flashdance ? Take a point. Want a serious ninja flick? Deduct a point. Like ‘80s visuals and air clouded with dry ice? Take a point. Hate big-haired heroines? Deduct a point.

As ridiculous as it is sublime, Ninja III comes after Enter The Ninja and Revenge Of The Ninja , and has a plot that sees a female aerobics teacher possessed with the spirit of a bad ninja. Soon, she’s carrying out the flippy one’s unfinished business for him. Nutty as a pub floor after closing time.

Best: [Rec] 2 (2009)

A continuation of the original [REC] , this follow-up springs over sequel pitfalls with a story that keeps things shrieking along nicely, even if it never quite manages to better its forebear.

The plot follows a SWAT team being led by, oddly, a scientist-slash-priest. They storm an apartment complex to collect a blood sample from the original host of a deadly, savage-breeding virus, and discover that the bug itself is in fact a strange form of possession. A different kind of exorcism movie, and all the better for it.

Worst: Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Better than the original Amityville flick by a mile, Amityville II ups the ante with a devilishly dirty possession story that has a teen boy taken over by an evil entity. He then butts heads (and then some) with his dad (a never-better Burt Young), before making uncomfortable advances on his virginous sister.

Why so bad, then? Well, the ending’s a duffer, and it’s still a creaky affair that hasn’t aged particularly well.

Best: Poltergeist (1982)

This time, it’s the house getting possessed by evil entities. Which makes for one heck of a wild ride, as Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg tease out a family drama turned horribly wrong as restless spirits from an Indian burial ground seize control of the Freeling clan’s new abode.

Great special effects (the tree! Oh God, the tree!), creepy clown toy, ever-quotably dialogue (“They’re heeeere!”) and an awesome Zelda Rubinstein as psychic Tangina… Add to that the rumours of an on-set curse, and you’ve got yourself a classic skin-crawler.

Worst: Beyond The Door (1974)

With an interesting twist on the possession mould, this horror from Egyptian director Ovidio G. Assonitis has a pregnant woman about to give birth to the devil’s spawn (it’s a plot that would later occur in The X-Files ). When her ex-boyfriend pitches up to help her out, could he really be there for nefarious ends?

Suitably daft premise with a promise of shocks galore, but Assonitis’ flick falls short when it comes to genuine chills. Worse still, many of its scenes come across as badly-staged comedy…

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.