Why Demons fascinate as much as terrify
October 2023's 1st Pick by Dean Patrick
The first villain is and always has been the world’s most terrifying. Biblically, Satan masqueraded through Eden to torment Adam and Eve by deceiving them at all costs so that the world itself would be his. This concept is pure terror as he represents anything that gives him omniscient glory while systematically presenting any concept necessary to destroy his opposite: God.
The fascination with this is rather simple: asking why?
To begin, the process of the demonic allows full rein of the gamut of evil. There’s something delicious (from afar that is) about giving in to not only the master of demons but to all those fallen who chose to follow him: a third of the hosts of heaven whose sole purpose is to rape and murder our own souls.
The Devil, with grandest paradox promises endless pleasure while juxtaposed with endless torment. The greatest horror stories follow this fascination street (I’ll use Robert Johnson’s line from one of The Cure’s best) always asking why.
Why does The Exorcist disturb us as well keep us coming back for much more? Why does possession horrify as well as titillate and thrill? Why does wickedness give us pleasure and curiosity?
Main reason: the law of opposites. With a belief in God there must be a belief in The Devil. There is not one without the other. It’s a metaphysical impossibility. It’s also an impossibility in our known physics. In astronomy Newton’s law is correct in that for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction force. We could not know heat without cold, or light without darkness.
The Prince of Darkness knows that as well as God, thus making for supreme horror. It’s why I created Terra Drake, a villain for our times who is the embodiment of all possession, all addiction, who destroys her victims at all costs through personal vice. Check out both novels here and here.
Now for my favorites in the genre of the demonic in film and literature.
THE EXORCIST - BOOK AND FILM
When it’s done right there’s nothing scarier. William Peter Blatty’s explosive novel about demonic possession of the young girl, Regan MacNeil is as good as demonic possession literature gets. But after William Friedkin made The French Connection he tackled The Exorcist and created a visual experience that has not been equaled since.
The story of Regan’s possession is deeply troubling and unnerving. Linda Blair’s creation of the character is forever etched into our minds as one of pure torment and hopelessness at the mercy of demonic possession.
For this year’s treat, Ellen Burstyn reprises her role of Regan’s mother, Chris MacNeil, in The Exorcist: Believer, released this month. Not sure how this one will play out, but it certainly looks like something Blatty and Freidkin would enjoy.
ROSEMARY’S BABY - BOOK AND FILM
Ira Levin’s novel doesn’t have the knockout power of Blatty’s, but it started the horror revolution of the 60’s that hasn’t stopped. The story of Rosemary Woodhouse was brought to screen by Mia Farrow in a harrowing performance of a woman who is betrayed (raped by her husband and the witches surrounding her) by everyone around her so that Satan’s son can enter the world to rule.
Roman Polanski’s film is not the level of Friedkin’s, but that’s not the point. Where as Friedkin’s is a full-throttle assault on the senses, Polanski’s is an examination of how evil can be subtle and creepy as to stay under the skin.
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE - FILM
If any actress comes close to Linda Blair’s performance it is Jennifer Carpenter in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. You can feel she gives every inch of her soul in this powerhouse film by director Scott Derrickson.
The story is adapted from an actual case of a Catholic priest charged with homicide. A medical case is opened as to why Emily died then spirals into the reality of what really happened. In the tradition of Friedkin, this one is a hell ride.
SINISTER - FILM
Starring Ethan Hawke (who has become quite the face in horror of late with his excellent turn in last year’s The Black Phone), and also directed by Scott Derrickson.
The story of crime writer Ellison Oswald (Hawke) who moves his family into a home where the Stevenson family was hanged and the demons roam to wreak havoc on the Oswald family. Not to be missed. The visuals in this one stay with you.
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS - BOOK
Paul Tremblay’s best novel and winner of the Bram Stoker Award in 2015. The plat takes place in Massachusetts where the Barret family undergoes severe emotional duress. Financial. It doesn’t help that their 14-year-old daughter, Marjorie, is possessed which creates levels of stress that is felt on every page.
Much of the possession takes place in front of the camera on a television series called The Possession.
HEREDITARY - FILM
A film that has become as well-known as The Exorcist, with a performance by Toni Collette that deserved every award in the book. For more analysis, see my blog, here.
This is mandatory film study for every haunted season.
HELLRAISER - BOOK AND FILM
Clive Barker’s creation of Pinhead has become as universally known as Jason, or Michael Meyers, or Freddy Kruger. But I find Pinhead far more menacing, far more threatening as he is directly from Hell.
His motto of “tearing your soul apart” is something he genuinely means. His purpose to destroy is as committed as Michael Meyers’ but his power is infinitely greater.
Hellraiser has become a franchise of 11 films and two novels. But the first is by far the best, both book and film. It’s the story of sexual deviant Frank Cotton, who finds a puzzle box that opens a portal of endless pleasure. At least that’s what he thinks. When he solves the puzzle nothing but torment awaits him.
Check them both out.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this one my fine readers, and welcome to October.