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We predicted a year or so back that the release of "The Last Exorcism" would not actually be the last exorcism. How do we know? Please refer again to this article's title.
Now, this week, we get "The Devil Inside," which is basically like "Paranormal Activity" meets "The Exorcist." We'll take it. Why? Because like most exorcism films, it looks awesome.
Horror film producers hit terror pay dirt in the '60s and '70s when they realized monsters and villains don't necessary have to be physically intimidating to be frightening. It's much freakier to see a child holding a bloody knife than an innkeeper or hitchhiker. This "baby boom" led to the classic films "Village of the Damned" (1960), "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968), "The Other" (1972), "It's Alive" (1974) and "The Omen" (1976).
Yet the greatest film spawned by the demonic child cycle is easily 1973's "The Exorcist." William Friedkin's satanic thriller became the highest-grossing release ever at the time, and after nearly 40 years of advancement in special effects many critics still cite it as the scariest movie of all time.
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With iconic scenes like Linda Blair's possessed young Regan spewing gallons of bile out of her cheeks, or her head later spinning around in fierce rotation, "The Exorcist" set the gold standard for a soon-to-be-popular subgenre.
So why do we love watching movies about exorcisms so much? First, the idea that a demon can possess someone innocent is haunting, which is why demonic child films work so well. Then you have the added element of religion, which always tends to provoke visceral reactions from viewers, no matter one's faith.
The majority of people still believe in God and those who do not tend to hedge their bets by proclaiming to be agnostic. So if they believe in God, in most cases they also have to believe in the devil. The New Testament mentions dozens of instances where Jesus exorcised or drove demons from someone.
That gives anyone who at least attended Sunday school the feeling of added grief when watching exorcism films. There's a sense of, “Oh no, I shouldn’t be enjoying this. It could be real and it could happen to me.” Hollywood producers know that, which is why films like "The Exorcist," "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (2005) and "Possessed" (2000) all advertise plots that are "based on real events."
Now we have "The Devil Inside." But before you see the latest entry into the Exorcism Cinema canon, you should visit the groundwork laid out before it by watching these films.
Naturally, revisit "The Exorcist" and check out "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist" (2005), it's the only other one in the series worth watching. Then mix it up with "Repossessed" (1990), a spoof starring Leslie Nielsen and a grownup Linda Blair, and "Abby" (1973), a hilariously low-budget film about a woman possessed by an African sex demon.
After your comedic break, start ramping up with "Fallen" (1998), starring Denzel Washington as a cop tracking murderers possessed by the Hebrew demon Azazel, and "End of Days" (1999) with Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting a form of demonic possession suggested by medieval Pope Hilarius. (Seriously, that’s a real pope – Wiki it.) Finally, get scared with "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" or better yet "Requiem" (2006), the German-language film on the same woman. It uses a documentary approach similar to "The Last Exorcism."
If your new exorcism journey inspires a fear of going to the bathroom in the night, well, isn't that half the fun? And that, our friends, is why exorcisms are awesome.
Originally published January 27, 2011.