14 Scariest Horror Movies About Cults Ever, Ranked
Scares in horror can come from many places--from vampires and zombies to ghosts and masked killers. Sometimes the threat is supernatural and fantastic, and sometimes it's more grounded, using the possibilities of the real world to terrify us. But there are few things more sinister than a cult in a horror movie. The idea of a group of people, utterly devoted and dedicated to some dark higher power--whether a god, demon, or other otherworldly force--is one that horror filmmakers have returned to again and again over the decades.
This weekend sees the release of Midsommar, the latest movie from director Ari Aster. He made one of 2018's best horror films, the brilliant and terrifying Hereditary, and while the plots of the two films are very different, they do have one thing in common--a scary cult. But these are only the latest examples of horror movies that use the traditions and conventions of cultist horror to generate a sense of dread and unease.
While earlier classics such as Haxan and Night of the Demon featured cults, it was a pair of horror classics in the late '60s and early '70s that laid the groundwork for the cultist movie today--namely, Rosemary's Baby and The Wicker Man. While subsequent films since have gone in many different directions, it's hard to escape the influence of these two. If your movie features devil worshipping or is part of the folk-horror tradition, then these are your cinematic touchstones.
Of course, there's a lot more to the subgenre than that. We've picked some of the scariest horror movies about cults ever made, which show just how weird and wild these films can get. So gather round everyone... just be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
14. The Void (2016)
The recent indie horror hit The Void combines cultist scares with gloopy monster horror to satisfyingly weird effect. A group of people is trapped inside an isolated hospital by a freaky cult, who know there is a gateway to another dimension in the basement. Directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski throw all sorts of Lovecraftian-inspired tentacled madness at the audience, but the movie's scariest aspect remains its cult. These silent figures, dressed entirely in white robes with weird black triangles covering their faces, create serious chills as they slowly advance on the hospital.
13. House Of The Devil (2009)
The "satanic panic" scare of the 1980s influenced this acclaimed movie from director Ti West. A young woman named Samantha takes a housesitting job for a seemingly normal couple who go out for the evening, leaving the husband's elderly mother upstairs. While it's no surprise to learn that the couple are part of a satanic cult--let's face it, the title gives it away--the strength of the movie is its meticulous build. West squeezes every drop of tension from Samantha's situation as she starts to suspect something is very wrong. It's the sort of old-school horror movie you rarely get these days--one that relies much more on atmosphere and unease than gore and jump-scares. West also made another cultist movie in 2013, The Sacrament, which is less effective but still worth checking out.
12. Children Of The Corn (1984)
Children in horror movies are creepy enough--put a load of them in a cult and you have a recipe for real scares. Based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, Children of the Corn focuses on a couple who break down near an isolated town seemingly inhabited entirely by kids. These youngsters have murdered all the adults in the town and now worship the evil deity known as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows." The movie doesn't entirely deliver on its premise, and ultimately becomes a more conventional '80s monster movie. But there are some great ideas in there, and it's certainly way better than any of the seven(!) sequels that followed.
11. Race With The Devil (1975)
Race With the Devil is one of the most curious '70s horror movies. It's a mash-up of satanic horror and car-chase action that really shouldn't work, but somehow does. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates play a pair of businessmen who hit the road with their wives in an RV for a relaxing vacation. That is until they witness the sacrifice of a young girl by a gang of Devil-worshippers, who start chasing the couples down the freeway in order to silence them. If you ever watched The Wicker Man and thought it could use more car chases--or Mad Max and thought it lacked Satanists--then this is the ridiculously entertaining movie for you.
10. Red State (2011)
While many of the cults on this list are ultimately pretty outlandish, the religious sect in Kevin Smith's Red State is based on the very real Westboro Baptist Church and shows the dangers of unchecked religious hysteria. The movie starts like a more conventional Smith comedy--a trio of sex-obsessed teenagers follow an ad for a hook-up with an older woman--and soon find themselves prisoners of an insane preacher who believes he is on Earth to perform God's bloodthirsty moral crusade. The late Michael Park is outstanding as the demented preacher, while John Goodman plays a morally-torn ATF agent dispatched to deal with the gun-toting cult.
9. Mandy (2018)
There's nothing quite like last year's amazing psychedelic revenge epic Mandy. The movie's evil cult--who call themselves the Children of the New Dawn--initially seem like a bunch of typical Manson-esque hippies, taking a lot of drugs and listening to dubious folk music. But that's before the Black Skulls arrive. This demonic biker gang are summoned by the cult via a mystical flute called the Horn of Abraxas, and they set about kidnapping Mandy from her devoted husband Red. The Black Skulls are part Hell's Angels, part Hellraiser's Cenobites, and all seriously badass horror villains.
8. The Invitation (2015)
Like many of the movies on this list, The Invitation doesn't fully reveal what it's really about until we're some way into it. The movie starts as an uncomfortable ensemble drama about a group of estranged friends reconnecting at a dinner party. But as they start to question exactly why they have been assembled--and who the host's mysterious other "friend" is--things get very dark. The Invitation is as much LA lifestyle satire as it is a horror movie, which takes the idea of a "self-help" cult to its horrifying conclusion. Director Karyn Kusama walks a finely judged line between dark laughs and unbearable tension, and there's a knock-out twist to boot.
7. Martyrs (2008)
The 2000s was a great decade for French horror, and Martyrs was one of the most shocking movies to emerge during that time. It's a film of two halves:the first is a gripping home invasion thriller where a pair of women enter what seems to be a normal suburban house and proceed to kill the family inside. What follows is very different, as we learn that one of the women was held prisoner there as a child and that the "normal" family is merely a front for an insane cult with very disturbing intentions. Martyrs goes into some pretty extreme places and isn't for everyone, but it is also a well made and thought-provoking movie. Just avoid the absolutely dreadful American remake.
6. Hereditary (2018)
Ari Aster loves a scary cult. While Midsommar lays out its intentions from the start, Hereditary holds back on the reveal of its cult for much of the film. But what starts a somber family drama eventually explodes into a crazy supernatural horror movie, with a demon-worshipping cult the true cause of the family's misery. One of Aster's best tricks is to actually give us plenty of almost subliminal Easter Eggs in the first half of the film. We might think that the naked, wall-crawling demon-lovers have only been revealed in the last 30 minutes, but in fact they've been there all along, watching the family, waiting for their moment. Creepy stuff.
5. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Hammer might be best known for its Dracula and Frankenstein movies, but there was a lot more to the studio than that. The Devil Rises Out stars Christopher Lee (playing a good guy for once) as an occult expert who attempts to stop a sinister cult from murdering young disciples and summoning Satan. The movie has a sinister air and some great scary sequences, plus stylish direction from Hammer regular Terence Fisher. The movie was a rare box office failure for Hammer and in many ways it marked the start of the studio's commercial downturn. Nevertheless, it remains one of its very best movies.
4. V/H/S 2: Safe Haven (2013)
Safe Haven is one of four sections in the 2013 anthology found footage sequel V/H/S 2, and is by far the best section in either movie. It combines the talents of two of the most exciting filmmakers currently working--Gareth Evans (The Raid movies) and Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes For Us) and sees a US documentary crew infiltrate a mysterious Indonesian cult. As the team plunge into the depths of the cult's temple, things get very weird. With only 29 minutes to play with, Evans and Tjahjanto don't waste a second, building to an insane, gore-soaked climax that throws absolutely everything at the audience. Evans returned to the cult movie with last year's Netflix horror Apostle, but this is the one that truly delivers the demonic goods.
3. Kill List (2011)
British director Ben Wheatley has assembled an impressively varied filmography over the past decade, but his best movie remains this intense and frightening movie. It shifts through various subgenres--from domestic drama to hitman thriller, and eventually transforms into a harrowing film about a cult who have targeted contract killer Jay. The left-turn into Wicker Man-inspired scares is adeptly handled by Wheatley, and the scene in which our "heroes" are pursued by dozens of shrieking naked cultists is one of the most memorably scary of the decade.
2. Rosemary's Baby (1969)
Roman Polanski's masterpiece set the template for many cultist horrors, in particular the way it holds back on the reveal of the cult, using a steady build of mystery and paranoia to make us question what we think is happening. Mia Farrow plays a pregnant woman who moves into a new apartment with her husband, but unfortunately, her neighbors are not the friendly, caring old folks they seem to be. Rosemary's husband has done a deal with sinister forces for success in his acting career, and the price is offering his wife up as a surrogate mother for something truly evil. Farrow's performance, Polanski's masterful direction, and the general air of deep unease help make this an absolute classic.
1. The Wicker Man (1973)
The granddaddy of this sub-genre, it's hard to talk about any movie featuring a scary cult without mentioning The Wicker Man. Christopher Lee was never more imposing than he is playing Lord Summerisle, the leader of the movie's cult, who use human sacrifice to bring prosperity to their isolated island community. From the amazing soundtrack to the unforgettable final scenes as Edward Woodward's mainland cop becomes the cult's latest victim, the movie's huge influence continues to be felt today. It's amazing to think that at the time it was a box office failure and then drastically re-edited, and it wasn't fully restored to its original version until the early 2000s. But thankfully it was, and it remains an all-time horror classic.