The Scariest Movie Exorcisms of All Time

Close up of young boy possessed by demon smiling in movie The Pope's Exorcist
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Horror fans have been itching for a new possession-focused movie, and it looks like The Pope’s Exorcist will fill that void. Hollywood has concentrated a lot of energy on slasher movies, art-horror, and thrillers lately. And while those nuggets of the genre are a great watch, sometimes we just need a scary ghost story. Streamers have done particularly well with terrifying paranormal projects — and fans are always ready for another The Conjuring franchise installment. But horror aficionados are itching for another good old-fashioned exorcism on the big screen.

Like The Conjuring movies, the upcoming movie The Pope’s Exorcist chronicles the life of a real individual who performed exorcisms. But instead of Ed and Lorraine Warren, we have Father Gabriele Amorth (played by Russell Crowe). Of course, given the movie’s location at the Vatican and a fictionalized version of the Pope (Franco Nero), the film will tackle the Catholic symbology of possession and exorcisms. Fans of The Nun should definitely check out this flick. 

And while we (im)patiently wait for The Pope’s Exorcist to release, we can rewatch our favorite movie exorcisms to get us in the mood to throw holy water everywhere and take up Ecclesiastical Latin.

The Pope’s Exorcist releases in theatres on April 14, 2023. 


The Exorcist

We’ve come a long way in the special effects department since the early ‘70s, but arguably no movie has ever caused audience shock and disgust quite like The Exorcist. Linda Blair played the terrifying, possessed little girl Regan — whose projectile vomiting, spinning head, and profanity-laced insults traumatized audiences in 1973. Like The Pope’s Exorcist and many of the best paranormal movies, The Exorcist is loosely based on a true story (or at least a claimed story). 

In a society that still enforced the idea that women and girls had to be demure, seeing a child take on this role was particularly scandalous (which is what makes the movie so brilliant). There’s no denying that The Exorcist helped pave the way for possession movies moving forward, and its imprint on pop culture is palpable. Does anyone else still get nightmares over that spider walk?


The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Sometimes, exorcism scenes try to scare audiences so much that certain moments become more comical than frightening. Choices like having a possessed character take on an absurdly inhuman voice to up the scare factor can completely take the audience out of the scene. Given that a hefty number of movie possessions feature kids, what's creepier than a kid saying horrifying things in their own saccharine voice? 

The Exorcism of Emily Rose avoids this common trope, enhancing the scene's creep factor. In addition to using a more aggressive version of Jennifer Carpenter's own voice, a possessed Emily speaks in tongues. She also sadistically parrots some of the religious phrases the priest yells, demonstrating power we don't often see. The added snakes, rats, and horses freaking out when she escapes to the barn don't hurt, either. The use of minor special effects and body acting in this scene is a brilliant change of pace. The demon's powers contort Emily and thrash her around, screaming in a believably effective way. 


The Nun

Some people may argue that The Conjuring features the scariest exorcism in the franchise, but the creepiest parts of the movie stem from the psychological horror of the haunting. Clap, clap. The exorcism at the movie's close takes some fans out of the moment with outrageous special effects and prosthetics that detract from the terror of the sequence. 

Though The Nun doesn't have too many traditional exorcisms, the expulsion of Valek and his later defeat are certainly one for the books (or bibles). Everything from the moment a nun steps behind Sister Irene to the pentagram lighting up to prep her for possession is executed to eerie perfection. 

The nuns converging on Father Burke takes exorcism scenes to the next level as he burns holy fire into a cross. But the scares get even better when Frenchie witnesses a group of bloodied nuns snap their necks as he passes by. Additionally, the voice modification and special effects work when Irene becomes the twisted Valek nun, and we get a unique demon expulsion here with the blood of Christ. 

But nothing can top Irene's showdown with Valek as he creepily rises from the water. She gives a new meaning to holy water when she spits Christ's blood into Valek's face, and by extension, the water, sending him back to hell — for now. We get one final exorcism at the end of the film with the revelation that our beloved Frenchie is, in fact, the doomed Maurice mentioned throughout the franchise.


The Possession

It’s rare for a movie to come up with an entirely new concept for an exorcism scene, but The Possession includes one of the scariest exorcism scenes of all time by revamping the concept of what possession looks like. Most films have non-corporeal demons, so we rarely see it on-screen when a priest expels them from a human body. 

The Possession takes a different approach as the demon physically inhabits its victims. Audiences get a glimpse of the demon's aesthetic through a CT scan, with an X-ray result that looks like a demented fetus with glowing eyes. No thanks. The demon eventually switches hosts from the daughter Em (Natasha Calis) to Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — who handles the most terrifying moment of the movie. 

It starts with a hand coming out of his mouth. As the rabbi commands the demon out, Clyde’s eyes turn white, and the film takes advantage of the flickering lights as a twisted-looking creature crawls out of Clyde’s body and inches closer to the audience for a few close-up glimpses before the box takes hold of it. Just admit it: You paused this scene a dozen times for a better glimpse at this grotesque alien-looking demon.


The Cleansing Hour

Ah, the joys of reality TV. The Cleansing Hour has a brilliant premise: What if a fake exorcism on reality TV became a real one? It's never wise to mess with the occult when you don't know what you're doing. The characters get that bloody lesson when the lights begin flickering for real, a cross on the wall turns upside down, and their paid actor begins going off-script with a demented voice that's just creepy enough to work without being over the top. 

Between the blood pouring down her face, her slowly blackening eyes, and the eerie veins protruding from her face, demonic possession isn't fun and games (or money) anymore. Of course, the most chilling aspect comes when a swarm of demons possesses the show's viewers from the screen. Just remember this scene when you watch The Bachelor

The Pope's Exorcist premieres in theatres on Aril 14th! See it at Regal. 

See The Pope's Exorcist at Regal

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