After recently watching ‘Wild Wild Country’ on Netflix it took me down a rabbit hole of madness thinking about some of the best cult movies of all-time. The psychological effect a group of people can have on another human being during a vulnerable time or when their guard is let down has continued to fascinate us for ages. Many films that are produced on the subject matter stem from a real life following. That’s why I thought it would be great to list some of my favorite cults of all-time and see which of you will drink my kool-aid.
Hulu has been stepping up their ‘Originals’ game of as late and so far they have knocked it out of the park with ‘The Path.’ We all want to believe in something, but to what lengths will we go to find meaning? ‘The Path’ explores the unknown and mysterious world of the cult-like Meyerist Movement in upstate New York. At the center of the movement lies Eddie (Aaron Paul), a conflicted husband; Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), his devoted wife; and Cal (Hugh Dancy), an ambitious leader. We follow each as they contend with deep issues involving relationships, faith, and power. The series takes an in-depth look at the gravitational pull of belief and what it means to choose between the life we live and the life we want. It also has a killer theme song that will hypnotize you into joining.
Skip the Nicolas Cage adaptation of this 1973 British folk-horror tale, which channels the paranoia of the social and political landscape in the country during the era. Robin Hardy’s Wicker Man finds a pious Christian police sergeant seduced by a group of pagan islanders before a nightmarish ordeal that puts his faith to the test. You know what, go ahead and watch the Nic Cage reboot – just know the bees can’t save you.
SOUND OF MY VOICE
A documentary filmmaking couple sets out to expose a fraudulent cult leader (Brit Marling), who claims to be a time traveler from a war-stricken future and leads secret basement meetings. The documentary takes a different turn when one of the directors starts to fall under her spell. Think Heaven’s Gate but without the cool shoes.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN
Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, about a cult of children in a rural town who ritually murder in the name of “He Who Walks Behind The Rows.” It will make you think twice the next time you drive out into the country pass cornstalks. Also, the word “stalks” is right there in the word so you know some little bastard is probably watching you.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
That’s right the Olsen sister that has grown up to be quite a successful actress stars in a breakout role in ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene.’ It’s about a young woman’s silent turmoil is revealed through flashbacks of her time in a Catskills cult where she adopts several shifting personas while under the leadership of a charismatic and abusive patriarch. Ambient dread.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT
Christopher Lee noted this as one of his favorite Hammer films. It stars the distinguished horror icon as Dennis Wheatley’s fictional, aristocratic sleuth, the Duke De Richleau. He attempts to stop a Satanic cult from killing young initiates. Directed by Hammer’s prestigious Terence Fisher, who started the studio’s horror cycle with his 1958 adaptation of Dracula (also starring Lee).
V/H/S 2 SEGMENT
If you only check out one segment from the V/H/S short film anthologies it would have to be this one. Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans direct one part of the found-footage anthology about a documentary crew seeking access to an Indonesian cult. Violent and featuring plenty of WTF moments that will make you squirm and slither right out of your chair. I won’t be joining this cult anytime soon. Next please!
From director Ti West on his Vice-style, found-footage horror adaptation of the Jonestown story:
“I didn’t want to make something that was based too much on religion like Heaven’s Gate, where people thought they were going to get on an alien spacecraft and go off. That’s too far-fetched and it makes people think ‘cult’ and ‘crazy people’ immediately. What’s interesting about Peoples Temple and Jonestown, and what I tried to bring into this movie, is that they’re just regular people who have been misled and taken advantage of. And I think that’s what makes it all the more horrific and the more frightening.” – West said. Remember that cup of kool-aid I spoke about in the intro? Now would be a good time to drink that. Bottoms up! Ohhhh-Yeahhhh!
MANSON FAMILY VACATION
This is a unique take on an old tired topic, the Mason murders. The Duplass brothers bring a bit of a comedic flare into a story of grotesque violence caused by the imfamous children of Charlie – and they nailed it. It’s a story of two brothers tour Charles Manson murder sites. One is a devoted family man. One is devoted to The Family. One surprising twist.
Director Ben Wheatley on his 2011 British horror tale, shot in Sheffield:
“A lot of it is inspired by my anxieties and dreams, or should I say nightmares. Things like cults in the woods and the tunnels is all stuff I’ve had as a recurring nightmare since I was very little. I used to live near the woods. So that kind of side of it comes from there, cause a lot of people keep talking about “The Wicker Man” and it is a reference point, but it wasn’t “The Wicker Man” itself that scared me. These things, culturally, are quite close to the surface in the UK.”
EYES WIDE SHUT
Stanley Kubrick shows us what happens when you stray from home, pitting Tom Cruise against a secret sex cult that threatens his idyllic family life. To be fair don’t most secret sex cults threaten family life? Just being a devil’s advocate here.
A young actress is indoctrinated into a cult fronted by a Hollywood studio and pays a steep price for fame. A Satanic body-horror tale – so basically just another Monday in Hollywood?
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
Ti West reminds us that we’d join any cult led by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov – but I would mainly only join if Jocelin Donahue could be assigned my wife. Sorry, that got creepy.
Please accept my invitation to one of the most uncomfortable dinner parties you will ever attend. In this taut psychological thriller by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body), the tension is palpable when Will (Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus) shows up to his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard, Into the Woods) and new husband, David’s (Michiel Huisman, “Game of Thrones”) dinner party. The pair’s tragic past haunts an equally spooky present: Amid Eden’s suspicious behavior and her mysterious house guests, Will becomes convinced that his invitation was extended with a hidden agenda. Unfolding over one dark evening in the Hollywood Hills, The Invitation blurs layers of mounting paranoia, mystery, and horror until both Will-and the audience-are unsure what threats are real or imagined.
I always knew those moonshine-spiked psychosexual backwoods people were up to something. This drama morphs into a unique coming-of-age tale of a girl attempting to break free of depraved customs. Jug Face‘s plot is primarily built on whacked-out absurdism, but Kinkle impressively imbues this supernatural world of backwoods mysticism with a plausible milieu while still staying committed to the film’s own brewing insanity.
Dodd is the leader of a fledgling religious organization known as “The Cause,” and because the character bears a more than passing resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard, most have presumed it to be some kind of devastating, scorched-earth takedown of Scientology. And maybe it is; Dodd’s own son insists that “he’s making this all up as he goes along,” and “The Cause” seems mostly comprised of intricate “processes,” “applications,” and platitudes like “the source of all is you.” But that’s not what it’s about. It’s a far more interesting movie than that.
This visually stunning slow burner to the backdoor of an occult is one of Dario Argento’s best films. Set in a ballet academy Jessica Harper gradually comes to realize that the school is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of grisly murders – but it has a very cult like feel to it.
So there you have it. My 16 films into the journey of madness that are cults. Did I miss one of your favorite? Yell at me about it in the comments and tell me why I should drink your kool-aid.