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The Possession: The best horror possession movies and shocks

The Possession

Feature by Jack Foley

AS horror movie The Possession makes its way onto Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, January 21, 2013, we take a look at some of the best examples of the genre and some of the most memorable shocks (or disturbing moments) they’ve had to deliver.

The Exorcist III (1990)

Why? By no means as effective as the original (and still best) possession movie of all-time, it is notable for having original Exorcist author William Peter Blatty write and direct this sequel of sorts. George C Scott plays the detective on the trail of a dead serial killer who possesses people to continue his spree, thereby enlising the ‘help’ of the demon Pazuzu.

Memorable shocks/moments: There are several moments to tingle the spine, including Scott’s confrontations with Pazuzu. But surely one of the most enduring and disturbing memories from the film is the sight of an elderly woman crawling across the cieling about George C Scott’s head.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Why? Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German girl who died during the course of an exorcism, this transports events to America and follows a priest (Tom Wilkinson) as he is accused of negligent homicide following an unsuccessful attempt at exoricsm. Laura Linney plays the lawyer defending him, while Scott Derrickson’s film plays out as a courtroom drama meets possession horror.

Memorable shocks/moments: Scenes involving the initial possession of Emily Rose adhere to strict movie convention and are creepy, as are those involving the exorcism itself. But for sheer psychological playfulness, try getting up at 3am once you’ve heard someone tell Wilkinson that this is the devil’s hour and the best time for possessions to take place.

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Fallen (1998)

Why? Denzel Washington plays detective John Hobbes, who witnesses the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese, only to find himself investigating the killings as they start again. Gregory Hoblit directs a star-studded cast that also includes John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Donald Sutherland and Elias Koteas.

Memorable shocks/moments: A shock involving a rafter collapse in a basement was actually only inserted following a test screening, when a member of the audience got up to go to the loo and closed the cinema door loudly behind them, prompting everyone to jump. The scene was therefore ‘enhanced’ to add to the tension of the film itself. But perhaps the most memorable thing about Fallen is the killer twist ending.

The Last Exorcism (2010)

The Last Exorcism

Why? More first-person “found footage”, this film follows a fake exorcist’s encounter with a teenage girl who quickly comes to realise that this latest possession is all too real. This one grips by virtue of the authenticity of its performances.

Memorable shocks/moments: This is the type of film that simmers early on before coming to the boil during the exorcism moments. A shock ending also unsettles and catches your breath. Daniel Stamm’s direction is particularly effective during the film’s latter moments.

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Paranormal Activity (2009)

Paranormal Activity

Why? A point of view (or POV) horror that enjoyed phenomenal success, Oren Peli’s original shocker followed a couple who have recently moved into a new home as they become increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence. Whenever the night-time came, you knew your nerves were about to be tested.

Memorable shocks/moments: This one had loads, whether it was the sight of leading lady Katie Featherston standing eerily over her husband while he slept, things going bump in the attic, or shadows appearing on camera, Paranormal Activity was (and is) one of the best endurance tests you could wish to have on the big screen. And it’s sequels weren’t terrible either.

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Insidious (2010)


Why? The plot combined the known with the unknown… possession with a different realm. It focused on two parents (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) as they attempt to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further. James Wan directed from a script by Leigh Whannell.

Memorable shocks/moments: Another one that boasted loads of jump out of your seat moments in the cinema, including things that go bump in the night and a demon suddenly appearing in the corner of a nursery. A nerve-testing ending also succeeded in conjuring up one last twist and a final audience scream. A sequel is on the way.

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The Exorcist (1973):

Why? When a girl (Linda Blair) is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) to save her daughter. William Friedkin directs from a screenplay by original author William Peter Blatty.

Memorable shocks/moments: Again, they line up in this one both in terms of long-standing ability to unsettle and lasting notoriety. There’s the crucifix scene, the head-spinning, the vomiting… you name it. Friedkin demonstrated an uncanny ability to hold our attention and scare the absolute bejesus out of us throughout. The Exorcist continues to set the standard for this kind of genre.