Top 12 Horror Movies About Cults

Lose that track-suit, drop those snakes, and skip the Kool Aid.

We’re not talking about Cult Horror films like Black Sabbath, Eraserhead, or Phantasm; we’re talking horror movies about cults.  You know, those groups of drugged-out hippies and snake-handlers; faith healers, UFOlogists, and the like that fly in the face of mainstream organized religion. Ever since the Mason Family brought their brand of Helter Skelter to the City of Angels in 1969, cults have been eyed with a near constant mix of suspicion and dread; any insular group with a religious or secretive agenda is seen as potentially evil. And while most small sects are completely benign, people like Charles Mason, Jim Jones, and Marshall Applewhite have forever twisted popular perceptions of cults—making them great subjects for horror movies.

The list below represents what I believe are the best horror movies about cults. Let us pray…

 

The Sacrament (2013)

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Stars: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley |

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Produced by Eli Roth, directed by Ti West, and featuring indie heavyweight A.J. Bowen (The Signal, A Horrible Place to Die, You’re Next), The Sacrament can pretty much guarantee you a top-notch horror experience. A found-footage movie loosely based on Jim Jones and the massacre at Jonestown, we follow a pair of intrepid journalists to South America to investigate claims of coercion at an isolated and restrictive compound. Gene Jones (hopefully no relation to Jim—although the resemblance is uncanny) is brilliant as the drug-addled megalomaniac known only as “Father”, a man who will do anything to maintain the iron grasp he maintains over his congregants. The only thing more shocking than the film’s conclusion is the fact that the real Jonestown Massacre was much, much bigger.

 

House of the Devil (2009)

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov |

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It’s another home run for Ti West behind the lens and A.J. Bowen in front in this tribute to late 1970’s and early 1980’s satanic horror (like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen). Although the cult isn’t revealed until the 3rd Act, it’s a quintessential portrayal, one that capitalizes on all the fears and stereotypes so prevalent in decades past. It’s perfect, from the altar right down to the disembodied choir of moaning voices and feels like a stroll down Memory Lane. Fans of vintage horror and extreme slow-burn storytelling will love the film’s violent and unnerving payoff.

 

Believers (2007)

Director: Daniel Myrick

Writers: Julia Fair, Daniel Myrick, 1 more credit »

Stars: Johnny Messner, Jon Huertas, Daniel Benzali |

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Daniel Myrick, half of the writing team behind The Blair Witch Project, helms this chiller about The Quanta Group: A doomsday cult comprised of scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. A couple of EMTs find themselves in Quanta’s clutches when they interfere with the group’s retrieval (kidnapping) of a defecting member. But the only thing more terrifying then the cult’s twisted endgame is the possibility, however improbable, that their prediction might be right.

 

Resolution (2012)

Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Writer: Justin Benson

Stars: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zahn McClarnon |

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The well-dressed trio of cultists in Resolution are only one of many horrors a couple of friends must endure as they attempt drug detoxification in a run-down shack on the edge of a Reservation. They could easily be a satirical jab at Scientologists or any number of fringe groups that marry religion with science fiction. And while their appearance in the film is brief, they provide a much needed moment of comic relief in an otherwise complex and unsettling story.

 

V/H/S/2—Safe Haven (2013)

Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, 5 more credits »

Writers: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, 7 more credits »

Stars: Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott, Adam Wingard |

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While the Slumber Party Alien Abduction chapter of V/H/S/2 was pretty damn good, Safe Haven is the undisputed darling of this relatively recent anthology franchise. Directors Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans pack an insane amount of violence and gore into a short 22 minutes with more thrills than a dozen lesser flicks—and they still manage some incredible innovations by integrating cult horror with ghoulish zombies. “The time of Reckoning” is no fucking joke!

 

Kill List (2012)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

Stars: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson |

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Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker of incredible scope and Kill List, his gangster-mumble-core-bloodbath, is proof in spades, topping more than just a few “Best Horror of 2012” lists. You might be apprehensive if I described Kill List as a mash-up of A Serbian Film and The Wicker Man with a splash of Eyes Wide Shut—and that might be a good thing; Kill List is intense and not for the squeamish. The film excels as both a horror movie and a case study in the devastating impact of post-traumatic stress and how violence destroys families.

 

The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy

Writer: Anthony Shaffer (screenplay)

Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento |

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Since I didn’t see The Wicker Man until the mid-1990’s, my experience might be similar to how younger viewers perceive the film today. I kept asking my friend (who had already seen it), “Are you sure this movie is scary?” and “How much longer until it gets scary?” Because, until the finale, I thought the film was ridiculous: The story of a repressed Christian cop on an island of horny Pagans. But there’s a reason The Wicker Man is an enduring horror classic; no matter how dated and, yes, even silly certain aspects of the film are, that final scene with that horrifying moment of realization still packs a powerful blow. Bravo!

 

End of the Line (2007)

Director: Maurice Devereaux

Writer: Maurice Devereaux

Stars: Ilona Elkin, Nicolas Wright, Neil Napier |

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Tragically under-known and underrated, this Canadian creeper is an awesome and well-paced cult horror and creature feature in one. This one pits a rag-tag crew of strangers against a stab-happy doomsday cult in an underground, labyrinthine subway system—surrounded by all manner of Minotaur. But even as demons rear their ugly faces and news footage from above seems to confirm the worst, characters and viewers will forever be asking: “Is this really happening?”

 

Children of the Corn (1984)

Director: Fritz Kiersch

Writers: Stephen King (short story), George Goldsmith (screenplay)

Stars: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong |

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With school shootings and similar tragedies becoming devastatingly prevalent, I wonder if this violent film about a murderous death-cult of minors, brimming with images of children perpetrating acts of extreme violence, could even be made these days. But the fact that child-perpetrated murder is reality actually makes Children of the Corn more disturbing today than it was in 1984, when the idea of kids killing grown-up was nearly unfathomable. Of course, the idea of a subterranean deity called “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” is still pretty outlandish.

 

Sound of My Voice (2011)

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling

Stars: Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius, Brit Marling |

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Towards the beginning of the film, investigative documentarian Peter Aitken (played by Christopher Denham) lays it on the line: “Somewhere in the Valley, there is a woman living in a basement. She’s actually amassing followers. These people believe that she will actually lead them to salvation, or whatever. And yes, she’s dangerous.” Brit Marling kills it as the beautifully coercive Maggie—who may or may not be from the future (bringing unique sci-fi undertones). This one may have flown under your radar, but if you dig films about creepy cults, don’t miss Sound of My Voice.

 

Jug Face (2013)

Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle

Writer: Chad Crawford Kinkle

Stars: Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Kaitlin Cullum |

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Lauren Ahley Carter, who you may remember as Peggy Cleek from The Woman, stars in this brilliant indie about an isolated backwoods community that worships—(wait for it)—a muddy hole in the ground. Carter plays pregnant teen Ada who finds her head on the chopping block when her face appears on a clay jug, a sign that deems her “The Pit’s” next sacrifice. The script drips with muted black-humor and reoccurring supernatural tangents, creating an experience both engrossing and bone-chilling.   There are some truly uncomfortable moments to endure in this dark allegory that plays out like a twisted coming of age story—a shocking one at that. “The Pit wants what it wants.”

 

Holy Ghost People (2013)

Director: Mitchell Altieri

Writers: Kevin Artigue, Joe Egender, 2 more credits »

Stars: Emma Greenwell, Joe Egender, Brendan McCarthy |

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The fact that horror practitioners The Butcher Brother dropped their bloody moniker and released Holy Ghost People under their real names (Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores) proves that they wanted to be taken seriously. It was probably a good move as this story about a cult of Appalachian snake handlers is legit, a satisfying chiller with real drama and a more mainstream appeal. But the Brothers remember who butters their toast, delivering a wicked finale with some familiar stylistics that fans will surely recognize. Violence is juxtaposed against a brilliant rendition of a song you haven’t hear since the last time you watched The Lost Boys.

Did your favorite horror movie about cults make the list? Sound off in the comments!

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5 Comments on this post.

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  • Evan A. Baker
    28 November 2014 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Not that it’s even one of my favorites, but I was a little surprised to find Rosemary’s Baby absent from this list.

    As for my personal favorites, surprise surprise, they’re old. 🙂

    The Black Cat (1934) is one of those that only really introduces its cult in the third act. It’s a brutal, twisted, but at the same time charming classic, with by far the best Karloff/Lugosi pairing ever.

    The Seventh Victim (1943) doesn’t make its Satanic cult anything too outlandish or extreme; their philosophy is fairly easy to grasp, their actions and motivations believable, and their threat is in a way most disturbing for its very mundanity.

  • Josh Millican
    28 November 2014 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    As far as Rosemary’s Baby goes, you know I’m more of a 21st Century aficionado. I did, however, give it a mention and a bit of historical context under House of the Devil. I think the acting and writing is great, and the ending is brilliant, but it does feel dated.

    • steve
      16 February 2016 at 2:59 am - Reply

      The 21st century movies you are slave to will not stand the test of time to the extent that Rosemary’s Baby has; it may seem dated in some ways, yes, but I think you are viewing a 1970’s movie through 21st Century eyes, a bit like someone watching the 1933 version of King Kong mocking the special effects employed! Rosemary’s Baby is a cult horror masterpiece! Why? Because it broke new ground; the first of its kind, because it adopts the psychological approach over the blood and guts one!

  • dave b
    1 December 2014 at 1:40 am - Reply

    Where is the excellent Martin Sheen flick The Believers or Race with the Devil with peter fonda?

  • Alice
    20 September 2015 at 3:37 am - Reply

    Great they all sound like really fantastic movies and now I don’t know which one to watch first.

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