Jan 27 2010 10:29am

Losing Your Religion: Christian Horror Classics

Legion, the seraphim suckfest that opened last weekend, is only the latest in a long line of horror films that take advantage of the Bible’s doom-and-gloom with varying degrees of success. Please note that the list is long and cheesy, and I am listing only a few.

Be warned: it’s a pretty safe bet that by the time you watch more than one of these, you’ll have seen more candlelit churches, actors on wires, menacing close-ups, and inexplicable hairstyles than any human was ever meant to see.

The Sentinel. Model Alison Parker moves into a new apartment building with a blind priest on the top floor. (To be fair, this is early in the genre, so Alison’s off the hook for not seeing the warning signs. Later folks have no excuses.) Alison eventually realizes that her landlord is the Catholic Church, and that her apartment building is the gateway to Hell (so it’s probably in Williamsburg), and that she’s next in line to become its guardian.

Horrors include: absentee landlords, the assembly of monsters without license, aggressive recruiting into the Catholic Church.

The Prophecy. One evil soul is somehow going to tip the balance between Heaven and Hell. The angel Simon is sent to collect it, but gets stymied by Gabriel, Angel of Scenery-Chewing, and eventually Lucifer himself has to get involved. Meanwhile, two dull humans wander around a half-abandoned school building and/or the desert, looking for something to do.

Horrors include: Repeated use of the rip-someone’s-heart-from-their-chest effect dummy, the knowledge that Christopher Walken would sign on to do this two more times, Eric Stoltz making out with a 12-year-old.

The Omen. Oh, kids these days.

Horrors include: a smug child, eerie soundtrack, intentional aggravation of baboons (who have enough problems).

Constantine. Demon-hunter John Constantine ends up having a really bad few days when cop Angela Dodson comes asking for her sister’s soul. Because Angela’s smoking hot, Constantine agrees to help, and visits Hell, fights the angel Gabriel, and gets his lung cancer torn from his chest by a Southern-fried Satan.

Horrors include: Keanu Reeves, Gavin Rossdale, knowing or valuing anything about the comic on which the movie is based.

Stigmata. Aethist Frankie gets a rosary souvenir from her mom, and finds herself coming down with bloody, strobe-filled stigmata. (Worst souvenir ever, Mom.) Hunky priest Gabriel Byrne is on the case, which turns out to be a totally-unexpected conspiracy that’s going to bring down the Catholic Church like whoa.

Horrors include: editing swathes of the movie like it’s a Sonic Youth video, internet-usage fouls, Patricia Arquette’s wardrobe.

It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sorry, when an angel prevents you from killing yourself and then shows you terrifying visions of your miserable loved ones, that’s a horror movie.

Horrors include: the thwarting of free will, forced visions, the crushing responsibility of mankind to arm the wingless heavenly hosts.

End of Days. One child is somehow going to tip the balance between Heaven and Hell. This is bad news for the lady slated to bear this child with whichever minion can molest her first. Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cop out to protect her, and Gabriel Byrne as a man who did not learn his lesson from the last religious-horror movie he was in.

Horrors include: the premise (seriously, Hollywood?), Arnold’s attempt at acting tortured, excessive devouring of scenery.

Legion.  One child is somehow going to tip the balance between Heaven and Hell. (That whole arrangement is seriously unstable, isn’t it?) Fallen angel Michael finds said gravid waitress at a scuzzy desert diner, hands out weaponry to the gathered B-listers to fight off the angel-possessed masses, and the fun begins! (That was sarcasm. No fun begins in this movie, ever.)

Horrors include: ceiling-crawling old ladies, implications to Paul Bettany’s career, ripping off every other movie on this list.

This list, of course, is only the beginning. What heavenly-horror made you swear off large candelabras, Gregorian chants, and walking past churches at night?

Genevieve actually thinks Stigmata was legit awesome. She writes about this and other legit awesome movies on her blog.

Marcus W
1. toryx
There are several bad movies in that list, but damn. Legion was awful. I think it might have been at least mildly tolerable if they'd dropped the whole "Angels sent to kill the child" aspect and kept it a plain fight between hordes of demons and one angel.

But no.
JS Bangs
2. jaspax
What, no Exorcist? Or are we only listing the bad Xian horror movies?
3. mpetruce
Oh and you must include The Seventh Sign. Demi Moore saves the world!
4. DarrenJ
And then there's the 4 "end of the world according to Tim LaHaye's chronology" grade D- movies that came out in the late 1970s to early 80s. I think the first one was "Thief in the Night" or something like that.

My main beef with Legion (not that I plan to see it; I hate horror films) is that they present Michael as fallen. Hello! He's the ultimate unfallen one, and I've named two of my kids after him, so it ticks me off to see them messing with him.
5. tom nackid
Read Pratchett and Gaimen's "Good Omens" for a fun take on the whole "Christian Apocalypse" genre. An angel with a fondness for antiques and a demon who loves fine food and classic cars team up to prevent the end of the world. Unfortunately they have misplaced the anti-christ...
David Goldfarb
6. David_Goldfarb
"What, no Exorcist?" was exactly my reaction too.

The Omen spawned at least three sequels that I can recall, which (as such things do) got progressively worse.

If we're going to list It's a Wonderful Life, we should probably also list Dogma.

I haven't seen it, but I believe Se7en includes elements of Christian doctrine, although nothing supernatural.
YouDont NeedToKnow
7. necrosage2005
I can't belive that she missed Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight! I loved that movie, but it deserves a shot on this list.
Ian Tregillis
8. ITregillis
Is that Tilda Swinton as an angel? If so, I think I need to see that movie (whatever it is).
Marcus W
9. toryx

That's Tilda Swinton from Constantine.
Teresa Jusino
10. TeresaJusino
"It's a Wonderful Life?" Really? ;) I get what you're saying, but I also think you're glossing over the point of that whole movie, which is that those miserable images of George's family HAVEN'T HAPPENED, and that George has control over whether or not they happen. Clarence saves him from committing suicide once, but that's not taking away his free will. It would be taking away his free will if he brainwashed him into thinking he would never want to kill himself. All the angel does is show him alternatives. If George wanted to kill himself after that, he wouldn't have been stopped, and Clarence wouldn't have gotten his wings. But George chose to go on living, and happily so.

It's A Wonderful Life is the ULTIMATE free will movie, because it shows how one man's choices and actions can make a difference all around him. It shows that each person's free will and individual choices are valuable.
11. pbjeffrey
Agreed with DarrenJ. Michael is probably the wrong choice for the fallen angels - in fact, I was expecting him to be at the forefront of the Angel hordes!
Ian Tregillis
12. ITregillis
Toryx @ 9:

Thank you. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing. I've even watched part of Constantine, but clearly not the right part.
Joe Sherry
13. jsherry
Oh, how I wish you included Left Behind and Bless the Child.
14. WDHaw
You totally left out The Order with Heath Ledger
15. N. K. Jemisin
I have to say, sufficient scenery-chewing by interesting-enough actors can always save these flicks for me. I loved Tilda Swinton in Constantine, and the weirdly amusing Satan (was he supposed to be Southern? ::rofl:: well, OK, if you say so).

I consider Gabriel Byrne's performance in End of Days to be the cosmic balancer for his work in Point of No Return, which was superb enough to make me forgive the fact that they remade La Femme Nikita. He worked hard to make PonR good, so I guess when they cast him opposite Arnold he felt he had already given the universe enough of his soul.

Thanks again for this; I love these snarky reviews!
Bradley Beek
16. beeker73
Evil Dead I, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness (the greatest movie of all time? - Probably!)

Constantine might be Keanu's best work other than Bill and Ted, which tells you a lot about his work. I actually liked this movie. Perhaps because I didn't know it was a comic first.
YouDont NeedToKnow
17. necrosage2005
I'd really like to know why It's a Wonderful Life is always shown around Christmas time. It has nothing to do with Christmas, it just happens to be aroudn then that he wants to kill himself. The Ref, Die Hard(s) and Reindeer Games all take place during Chistmas, but they aren't shown only at that time. Honestly, I don't even understand why Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and a few others are shown only during Christmas.
Elizabeth Coleman
18. elizabethcoleman
As awful as Constantine was, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare were awesome.
I also remember watching one of the Prophecy movies (the last?) with Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer, which put a hilarious spin on The Return of the King, which I saw shortly afterwards.
Dan Sparks
19. RedHanded
@7 Agreed, Demon Knight rocks, I got the double disc that includes Bordello of Blood on it, which has one of my favorite lines of all time in it.

@ 10 I'm gonna have to disagree with you on It's a Wonderful Life being the ultimate free will movie. I mean if you think about it just because he was not around everything turned out different, so to me that is basically saying the other people's choices and actions were all dependent on him since they were totally different when he was ghost walking through. Yes it shows that George has alternatives to his existence and that his choices do matter but at the same time everyone elses personality seems like they are completely dependent on whether or not George is there. So where does their free will come into play? They couldn't make good choices if George wasn't there? Maybe the movie was just one alternative? maybe everyone would be perfectly fine if George wasn't there. Just saying...

@ 17
My sister-in-law thinks that Gremlins is a Christmas movie also since it happens to take place during Christmas in the movie. So now I always offer that as a suggestion around Christmas when people want to watch a festive movie.
20. ChuckEye
Now for the reading list... As mentioned above, Good Omens is a great place to start, but I also recommend Gaiman's Neverwhere over any of his other novels. The Angel Islington is an interesting character...

Then I'd move to Garry Kilworth's Angel and its sequel Archangel.

What next?
Ashe Armstrong
21. AsheSaoirse
Not technically a horror move, more of a drama but one that I've only ever seen once all the way through but stuck with me, The Rapture.
Karyn Gregory
22. kmgregory
All movies on this list and all like them are under my personal Favorite Genre Ever headline. I can't help it--I know I'm not going to see a quality film but they still make me squee with happiness. Like in Legion: Gabriel's mace spins and fires projectiles. What's not to love? I don't watch them to actually be scared.

I mean, yes, when we left the theater I commented that "the entire premise of Legion with angles having free will was faulty" (can't help myself--religion and subsequent heresies are a hobby) and my boyfriend responded with "You aren't seriously looking for a theologically sound religious action movie from Hollywood, are you??"

He has a point.

And I love love love Stigmata
23. Steven Jacques Roby
"Horrors include: Keanu Reeves, Gavin Rossdale, knowing or valuing anything about the comic on which the movie is based."

On the contrary, knowing the Hellblazer comic would mean you'd know enough not to go near any movie with Keanu Reeves cast as Constantine. That's got to be worth something, even if you don't like the comic.
Wesley Osam
24. Wesley
The Rapture is very much a horror movie, and a brilliant one. The ending is scarier than anything on this list, when you think about it.

If you're looking to see free will thwarted, skip It's a Wonderful Life and look up Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which is intended as a screwball comedy--and is often funny--but has unintended, disturbing implications lurking underneath.
Ashe Armstrong
25. AsheSaoirse

I can see where you're coming from. I took the ending from a very philosophical standpoint. Indeed, I had a very similar thought process when I re-evaluated my faith years ago and decided I'd rather go to hell with the people who'd treated me well that weren't christians than go to heaven with people who barely gave a passing thought to me when I was begging for the help I needed at the time. That's only one factor of that decision though, the rest not really pertaining to the movie.
Marcus W
26. toryx
kmgregory @ 22:

Like in Legion: Gabriel's mace spins and fires projectiles.

Man, that was so lame it almost made me spill my outrageously expensive soft drink.

I kinda liked the mace up until then.

And don't even get me started on the bulletproof, razor-sharp wings. *sigh*
YouDont NeedToKnow
27. necrosage2005
@19. RedHanded, you have a very smart sister-in-law. I agree with her.

By the way, I love your avatar pic. They are great books.
Tucker McKinnon
28. jazzfish
@13: Bless The Child! I remember that. It directly accused New Agers of being closet Satanists. Awesome.

@18: oh no, that was the /first/ Prophecy movie. Viggo was amazingly creepy and slimy. "God? God is love. I don't love you, Catherine."
29. JennyJ
The Prophecy is actually one of my favourite movies. Granted, I love cheesy horror, but I'm with jazzfish: there's something refreshing about Viggo Mortenson as a creepy, whispering Satan. He's a little less debonair than other Hollywood interpretations. It's fantastic.
30. Meg Thornton
I think the most horrific thing about the first Prophecy movie was the way they attempted to weld together Roman Catholic Christianity and Native American shamanistic exorcism rituals into the same sort of eschatological framework. One of these days, I'd love to see a demonic posession movie where the demon in question basically looks at the symbols of Christian faith and says "why are these supposed to stop me?", leading to a long and involved discussion about the inherent weakness of a monotheistic system to demonic interference in the first place (since God is supposed to be the only divine/demonic player in the game, any other such player punches a major hole in the theology, surely?) and a net win for the demon at the end.
Tara Chang
31. tlchang
There was a moody 2007, low-budget Australian film called 'Gabriel' about Archangels and "Fallen" angels vying for control of Purgatory (starring Andy Whitfield - who's now playing "Sparticus" on Starz). Very silly on the one hand, but it had some style and thought-provoking aspects that lingered for several days after for me....
32. Skadi meic Beorh
You can say the Prophecy series of films is Christian all you want, but they are about as Christian as the dog crap my wife stepped in last week. Why are they not Christian? The Book of Revelation states categorically that ANYONE adding to or subtracting from the words written in that book WILL BE CURSED WITH ALL OF THE CURSES FOUND IN THAT BOOK. The Prophecy movies do just that. God have mercy on anyone involved in those projects.
Michael Burke
33. Ludon
Another for the "Kids these days" category is Servents of Twilight with Bruce Greenwood as the private detective tasked with protecting Jarrett Lennon from a fanatical religious cult.

Jarrett showed up again in the comedy Highway To Hell staring Patrick Bergin and Chad Lowe. This one gave us not only Hell Cop but also Hell For Cops.

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