The Scariest Possession Movies Ever Made Ranked
The fear of losing control of your mind and body is one of the most potent plot devices in horror movies. Not just going going mad but actually having something else invade you and take control, bidding you to commit terrible acts against your will. The horror blockbuster The Exorcist stunned audiences back in 1973, with the sight of an innocent young girl transformed into a puking, cursing demon against her will. Since then, demonic possession has become a favorite subject for many horror filmmakers.
But it’s not just demon and devils that can possess the living. There’s buildings, ghosts, vehicles, and strange substances, and sometimes, it isn’t clear exactly what is invading the victim. Many movies deal with the ambiguity of possession, while others use it as a background to explore deeper themes.
With The Exorcist back on screens, remade as a popular TV show, and the acclaimed movie Hereditary now in theaters, it’s a subject that audiences keep returning to. So here’s some of the scariest possession movies ever made…
13. Burnt Offerings (1976)
Burnt Offerings may have been marketed as an The Exorcist copy, but it has a very different tone. It’s slow and avoids many of the noisy clichés of other possession movies, instead focusing upon creeping dread and a weird, dreamlike atmosphere. Hellraising acting legend Oliver Reed delivers an intense performance as a man under the grip of something evil in the house he’s renting, while Bette Davis plays an old woman who lives in the attic and might have something to do with it. It’s takes its time to get there, but the climax absolutely delivers, making this an underrated ’70s chiller worth seeking out.
12. Christine (1983)
While Stephen King’s novel Christine is ostensibly about a demonic ’50s Plymouth Fury, there is plenty of suggestion that the car’s evil power actually derives from its former owner Roland LeBay, whose wife and daughter both died in it. John Carpenter’s movie adaptation streamlines the plot to make Christine simply an evil car but still has LeBay possess its new owner, high school kid Arnold Cunningham. As the movie progresses, Cunningham transforms from nervous, nerdy teen to a badass, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed ladykiller, as LeBay takes control of his personality, all aided by a knock-out performance from Keith Gordon.
11. Night of the Demons (1988)
Horror in the 1980s was packed with partying teens, and while most ended up being hacked to death by masked maniacs, there were a few variations on the theme. In the very silly but highly entertaining Night of the Demons, a bunch of kids gather to party in–where else–a funeral parlor. Inevitably, they decide to have a seance, summoning an ancient demon who proceeds to take control of these idiotic kids. In this case, the possession is passed along by via physical contact, and these being teenagers in an ’80s horror movie, there’s plenty of that. Before long, they’re all a bunch of slavering, sex-crazed, fanged demons. Party’s over!
10. The Last Exorcism (2010)
Part of the found footage craze that followed in the wake of The Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism uses its handheld, documentary-style to impressive effect. It’s produced by Eli Roth, and like a few films on this list, it plays around with the possibility that its victim is simply disturbed rather than possessed. The movie focuses on a priest who has lost his faith and makes a living by performing fake exorcisms on the mentally ill. This leads him to a girl called Nell, who claims to inhabited by an demonic entity called Abalam. It’s a smart shocker that deals with questions of faith and belief, as well delivering some intense and scary scenes.
9. Shock (1977)
Mario Bava is considered to be the godfather of Italian horror, and he is one of the most important directors ever to work in the genre. Bava dabbled in most types of horror over his long career, including a couple of possession movies. There’s the post-Exorcist tale Lisa and the Devil (released in the US as House of Exorcism to cash in on the success of The Exorcist), and this final movie. The victim of Shock is a young boy called Marco, who has seemingly been taken over by his dead father, who died in an plane crash. As the movie continues Marco’s mum becomes increasingly convinced that Marco is being controlled by her jealous husband from beyond the grave, leaving to all sorts of nightmarish sequences and the uncovering of dark secrets. Like many of the best possession movies, the ambiguity adds to the mystery–is it all in her mind, or is Marco really being controlled by his dead dad?
8. Prince of Darkness (1987)
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of those horror movies that throws everything into the mix–there’s demonic liquids, evil cultists, mind control, scientific mumbo-jumbo, zombies, Alice Cooper, and, of course, possession. In this case, it’s a team of scientists who are investigating a mysterious cylinder than contains a strange green liquid. Turns out that the liquid is the essence of Satan himself, and one-by-one, it possesses members of the team, turning them into its murderous minions. Prince of Darkness is a bit of a confusing mess at times, but it’s huge fun, and who doesn’t love the sight of Alice Cooper impaling a man on a broken bicycle?
7. The Conjuring (2013)
One of the most successful scary movies of recent years, The Conjuring plays out like a horror greatest hits package. But while there might not be anything original going on, and it’s skillfully handled by director James Wan. There’s some impressive possession scares towards the end, when the spirit of the evil witch Bathsheba takes control of one of the daughters of unlucky homeowners Roger and Carolyn Perron. She is transformed into a screaming, convulsing, biting lunatic, with incredible strength and a desire to bites people’s faces off.
6. Possession (1981)
There’s no other film quite like Possession. Directed Andrzej Zulawski, this deranged, notorious Berlin-set movie combines arthouse filmmaking with full-on horror and includes a couple of the most unforgettable scene in the genre. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani play a couple whose marriage is imploding; he suspects her of having an affair, which she is, but it’s not with anything he (or anyone) could possibly expect. To say any more would spoil the movie’s many perverse surprises, but Adjani’s wild performance as she becomes by possessed by something truly terrifying must be seen to be believed. Two words: subway scene. If you’ve seen Possession you’ll know exactly what means. And if you haven’t–what are you waiting for?
5. Amityville II: The Possession (1981)
1979’s The Amityville Horror was a pretty pedestrian haunted house thriller, but the sequel was something very different. Like pretty much every Amityville sequel that has followed (and there have been a lot), it has very little to do with the first movie, instead just using the title and throwing in all manner of unwholesome fun. In this one, Burt Young–best known for playing Rocky’s loveable pal Paulie–plays an abusive father who is targeted by something evil living in the basement. Before you know it, the whole family is possessed, with incest and shotgun murder providing the prelude to one of the most insane exorcism sequences in cinema.
4. Session 9 (2001)
One of the most underrated horror movies of the last two decades, Brad Anderson’s Session 9 is a seriously unsettling experience. The movie focuses a clean-up crew who are sent into an abandoned mental hospital to sort an asbestos problem, but along the way become obsessed with the past history of its inmates via a series of therapy session recordings that have been left behind. The men get more and more disturbed the longer they spend in there, and the company’s boss (Westworld‘s Peter Mullan) begins acting on some murderous impulses. Like Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s never entirely clear what has taken control of Mullan’s mind, but like Jack Torrance, there is something within the walls of that building that turns a decent family man into an axe-wielding monster.
3. The Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 (1981/1987)
While Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies are sometimes lumped in with the wave of zombie comedies happening around the same time in the early-to-mid ’80s, the series’s scary “Deadites” are actually demonically possessed rather than simply undead. In Evil Dead mythology, reading from the passages of the Necronomicon conjures up a Kandarian demon that chases its victims around until it can catch them and possess them. What that means in terms of the movies is Raimi whizzing his camera around, as the “eyes” of the demon chase its victims, until it catches up and takes control of their bodies. It is hapless hero Ash who is frequently tormented by the demons and transformed into a scary white-eyed Deadite, brought brilliantly (and hilariously) to “life” by genre god Bruce Campbell.
2.The Shining (1980)
The themes of possession in Stanley Kubrick’s classic Stephen King adaptation take some time emerge. At first, we think we’re just watching a writer go slowly insane from the isolation of the remote mountain hotel that he has taken his family to over a long winter. But gradually, it becomes more and more clear that Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is under the control of something more sinister. While King’s novel is more overt about the demonic power that controls Torrance, Kubrick’s interpretation is more ambiguous about the source of his insanity. Is it the spirit of Charles Grady, a man who also went mad and killed his family years earlier? Or perhaps Delbert Grady, the ghostly butler that Jack encounters in the Overlook. Or maybe the hotel itself? Kubrick doesn’t provide any clear answers, but either way, it’s one of the scariest movies ever made.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is the granddaddy of possession movies, and many of the elements contained in William Friedkin’s masterpiece have become shorthand for the genre. The endless stream of imitators that have followed over the next 40 years may have dulled its more horrific edges, especially for younger viewers who might be more familiar with the rip-offs and copies that the original. But the sheer level of brilliance is undeniable, and it still holds the power to unsettle like nothing else. Few of the possessed performers on this list have inhabited their roles quite like Linda Blair did. From the profanity and spinning heads, to pea-soup vomiting and unmentionable acts with a crucifix, Blair’s performance (aided by the unforgettable voice of Mercedes McCambridge) terrified an entire generation of moviegoers.