For Love of The Devil and Witchcraft: Jerry’s FIVE FAVORITE CULT FILMS!

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Let’s face it: being bad is always so much more interesting than being good. Much of my early years were spent in a small church, filled with many youth sleepovers in which a young Jerry would get scared shitless by people saying that Satanists were kidnapping and killing kids everywhere and that I would burn in hell if I listened to metal or watched horror films. Bummer for those folks, because talks of cults and the devil and metal and horror films only led to what ended up becoming an obsession, due to those subjects being so “bad” and taboo.

I grew up with an obsession and adoration of horror films involving cults, the devil and witches, and since April is Icons of Fright’s 10-year anniversary, we wanted to provide a nonstop assault of fun, original content, all written in our own respective voices. When thinking of that,  I figured, “What could be more fun than to talk about the man DOWNstairs, the cults that dig that dude and some gnarly baby-spitting witchery?” So, put ON your robes, put UP your metal horns and let’s kick some ass with FOR LOVE OF THE DEVIL AND WITCHCRAFT: Jerry’s FIVE FAVORITE CULT FILMS!

 

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5.) THE WICKER MAN (1973)

One of the most shocking films of the 1970’s, Robin hardy’s THE WICKER MAN, is by far one of the best cult-filled films to exist. It’s got classic mystery elements, and like KILL LIST (listed below), it begins as one thing and slowly turns into another.

When a Christian police officer named Howie investigates the disappearance of a young girl in Summerisle, a completely remote island, he quickly gets taken back by the pagan beliefs and rituals practiced by the islanders, which completely collide with Christian beliefs. Making things even more strange, is the fact that the missing girl’s mom denies the girl ever existing, which makes Howie even more intent of finding out what the hell is going on.

As the islanders get ready to prepare for the year’s upcoming Harvest festival, in which they annually make a sacrifice to keep the next year’s harvest a success. Finding clues left and right, Howie discovers that the islanders are planning on sacrificing the girl in that ritual, and Howie steals a costume in an attempt to infiltrate the ritual, and when he does and unties the young girl, to save her, it’s revealed the the sacrifice was never meant to be the girl, but Howie instead. The islander put Howie in a large Wicker Man, and sets it ablaze, burning Howie to death and making sure their harvest will be successful the following year.

Full of great performances, especially that of Christopher Lee as the evil Lord Summerisle, along with british genre icons Britt Eckland and Ingrid Pitt, THE WICKER MAN is a film that keeps you guessing, until the end, and when that end happens, it’s one hell of a creepy, unsettling and powerful ending, definitely one of my faves.

 

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4.) THE NINTH GATE (1999)

Ok ladies and germs, this one is one hell of a doozy. Directed by Roman Polanski, THE NINTH GATE stars Johnny Depp (with graying hair nonetheless), and revolves around Depp trying to find a book that was written BY THE DEVIL! How the hell could that NOT be super cool, right?

Depp plays Dean Corso, a book dealer that deals exclusively in VERY hard to find books, and has absolutely NO problem screwing people over to get said books. When Corso is hired by the always creepy Frank Langella (he was Skeletor for Christ’s sake, how could you trust a guy who tried to mess with He-Man?!) to find the other two copies of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book supposedly able to summon the devil (mostly because it WAS WRITTEN by said guy downstairs), Dean agrees. Creepy Langella already owns a copy and wants the other two to see which of the three is the real deal and which two are forgeries of the devilish book, and entices Dean with a looooot of money, which as we already know by this point, he likes.

Corso heads to Spain and Paris to see each book, which ends with an odd woman following him, and also never ends well for both copies’ owners, as they are both murdered by a mystery someone. Each book has the initials LCF engraved in different areas (meaning ‘Lucifer’, geez you guys are silly if you didn’t know that, and you call yourself goths…jk), and Dean slowly begins to think that there isn’t an ‘authentic vs. forgery’ issue going on, but that all three books are legitimate, that in order to summon the devil and open the ninth gate, the owner must have all three of the books. Dean’s copy is stolen by the widow of the man who had owned Langella’s copy previous to his death, and who wants it the hell back. Dean find her using his copy in a Satanic ritual and THIS, my friends, is where the movie gets what I like to refer to as BADASS. What happens, you ask?

Well, Langella shows up, kills the widow, yells “BOO!” at the Satanists attending the ritual, and jets to a castle to perform his own ritual. Thinking HIS ritual will work (when will these people realize that it just doesn’t work like that?). Langella performs the ritual, pours gasoline all over his body, and sets himself on fire. A couple of second after going up in flames, he realizes that it didn’t work, and runs around burning alive, but being the nice guy he is, Dean shoots him to death. Outside of the castle, Dean is seduced by the mystery woman who had been following him, and has sex on the ground (I didn’t say it was a normal movie guys). She informs Dean that burning man had a forgery, and when Dean arrives back home, and to the shop he started at, he finds the right one and the film ends with Depp opening the ninth gate and walking into it. Pretty effin cool if you ask me. It’s an odd, slow-paced old school feeling thriller, one that might make you wonder what’s going on from time to time, but never loses its charm. I dig this one, and have been looking for that book ever since…not really, but I figured you’d think I was cool if I said that.

 

 

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3.) THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Rob Zombie’s fifth film (sixth if you count the weird ass animated HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO cartoon), THE LORDS OF SALEM came out of nowhere, and while fans (and non-fans) might have expected yet another white trash-filled horror film akin to his previous work, Zombie instead wrote and directed what was, in my humble opinion, one of the best and most unique horror films in a good while. Gone were the trashy characters saying “fuck” more times than SCARFACE and THE BOONDOCK SAINTS put together, and gone were the frantic, hand held approach to cinematography. What THE LORDS OF SALEM did, was replace those elements that somewhat put Zombie into a filmmaking box, with a visceral attack on all systems. LORDS never feels like an homage to Zombie’s love for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or Sam Peckinpah’s filmography,  instead paying a shockingly violent and atmospheric film akin to the works of Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell and Dario Argento.

When seated in a theater a full hour away from where I live, I found myself viscerally shocked and appalled, and continually internally asking myself, “how did Rob Zombie direct this film?”. It’s not a film for everyone, and some of those “not for you”-groups, would definitely fall into the previously avid Zombie fans who just wanted to see yet another ultra-violent homage to the classic directors and films that they’ve come to love with Rob’s films. LORDS is a beautifully shot, somewhat non-linear look at hell on Earth in a way that really hasn’t been committed to screen before. Telling a story involving a coven of witches putting a curse of the Hawthorne family and how many years later, Heidi, the most recent member of said family is a recovering drug addict radio DJ who attains a mysterious record addressed to her, from THE LORDS. After playing the record on the air, a hell of a lot happens, setting actions in motion that throws both Heidi (Sherri Moon-Zombie), the people who care for her, and the film’s viewers, into a shocking, ultra stylish and moody second half that will find you tense, scared and downright dirty feeling the more it goes on.

It’s somewhat ironic that this being Zombie’s most viscerally accomplished film, just happens to be the least-Zombie feeling film in his career thus far. Aside from a music video-like sequence towards the end of the film, THE LORDS OF SALEM is full of Long, almost silent takes, filmed in beautiful wide-shots, colors right out of Argento’s most recognized films, and some of the most shocking imagery committed to recent film. It’s a witch’s wet dream, filled with chanting, murder, and some gnarly destruction of the town’s descendants…all due to one creepy as hell record being played. While THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is my favorite film of Zombie’s, THE LORDS OF SALEM is by far his most accomplished and visually striking film.

 

 

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2.) KILL LIST (2011)

Ben Whatley’s KILL LIST is a difficult film to sell to friends on a pizza and beer kind of night (especially since I don’t drink, so maybe a pizza and tea night? Geez, I’m a square, right?). In fact, just having it be an addition to this list pretty much ruins the final fifteen minutes or so, so if you’ve yet to see it, HA! I fucked it up for ya!

Revolving around a couple of former soldiers (one a family man with a wife and child, and the other a carefree kind of guy) who since leaving the military, have become contract killers, KILL LIST begins as one movie, and COMPLETELY turns into another. For the first 70% of the film or so, you think you’re watching a violent somewhat of a revenge-flick, with the film’s protagonist Jay becoming more troubled as each of the victims on the “kill list” that he and friend/partner Gal have taken on for money, continually become more despicable and the quiet version of himself that we see at the beginning of the film slowly turns to a guy who well, completely obliterates a guy with a hammer. Jay has what could be best described as a bit of PTSD from a mission gone wrong while in the military, and when we begin to see weird occurrences happen throughout the film (the victims thanking him for example, or weird pagan-like markings being left in his home), you slowly start to wonder just how big of a SNAFU that mission must have been.

Where KILL LIST gets nucking futs on us though, isn’t the hammer bashing, or the weird videos that Jay and Gal find of one of the victims hurting children in awful ways, but when they realize that a full on cult is after them. The switch-a-roo happens, and for people like me, it was a welcomed one. While the film is completely enthralling during that first 60-70%, when the cult comes in, I can’t help but to perk up in my seat, and just go with it.

When it seems like everything’s going straight to hell for the guys (and it does), we’re given one jarring and intense ending that leaves you with your mouth open and wondering what the hell you just watched, in the best of ways (something Wheatley also accomplished, albeit in a different way, in his film A FIELD IN ENGLAND). It’s a fun, well maybe the word ‘fun’ might be a stretch, but an intense and unforgettable film that definitely goes down as one of my favorite cult films.

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1.) RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)

I absolutely love the horror films of the ’70s. Films like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN really define the type of horror that I’m into, realistic feeling, shocking films that stay with you for ages. While Michael Myers, Krug and Leatherface were three highlights of that era’s horror, the ’70s also did it best when it came to giving fans some seriously entertaining (and frightening) cult films. THE WICKER MAN (already written about earlier in this article), THE DEVIL’S RAIN and last but not least, my personal favorite satanic cult film of the ’70s, RACE WITH THE DEVIL.

Following a couple of motorcycle dealers (Peter Fonda and Warren Oates) and their wives en route to a vacation in their RV, RACE WITH THE DEVIL is a film that begins feeling like a fun road trip film, but that’s quickly changed, when while camping that night, the group witnesses a Satanic ritual, involving a human sacrifice. After getting caught by the cult, but escaping, the quartet quickly drives away, into town, where they try to convince the local sheriff (R.G. Armstrong, PREDATOR, EVILSPEAK), an attempt that is somewhat unsuccessful, as the sheriff teals that what they saw just some crazy hippie-types killing an animal. The wives of the two men find a weird, cult-like symbol on their back window, and liek anyone spooked out by a potential cult after them, they go to the library and steal a couple of books on the occult, trying to figure out what’s going on and what the symbol meant.

As the group takes off and tries their best to quickly leave town, a truck drives after them, and the sheriff just watched, making us all realize that he’s obviously in with the cult. That night, the group find their dog hanging , snakes put into their RV by the cult-members, and are stalked by said cult members. Armed with a badass shotgun, Fonda and co. do their best to stop the cult’s attacks, and we’re then subjected to one hell of a chase/gun fight between the quartet and the cult members, who by now we’ve noticed that the whole town is in on the cult activities. When Fonda and co. kill all of the cult members (or so they think), and hide (without headlights due to them getting broken in the fight), in a wide landscape desert.  Just as the group finally picks up a call on their CB radio, they being to hear things and it shows us that the quartet is trapped in a circle of flames, with the cult members standing around it,  giving viewers one down beat of an ending. Yes..!!

While the film begins feeling like those classic road trip films of the ’70s, I just love it when it switches gears and brings in the cults, the runes, and some gross snakes (I absolutely HATE snakes), making it creepy, and unsettling at times. It almost feels like a western film, but will dashes of Satanism thrown in for good measure. It’s just one more of Peter Fonda’s great roles, as the guy can really do no wrong in my opinion. Films like RACE WITH THE DEVIL, EASY RIDER, and THE WILD ANGELS showed viewers how much of a badass that Fonda could be, given the right material, and this film is in my opinion, the strongest of the three. It’s a ’70s exploitation film, full of action packed Satanic greatness. What’s not to love about that??

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