You know that feeling when you’re watching a scary movie as a kid and the anticipation that something bad’s gonna happen takes over your whole body like a nervous breakdown? We certainly do. It’s the feeling of a thousand slumber parties spent watching stuff that was definitely way too adult and inappropriate for our childish imaginations.
The ’80s and ’90s were particularly rife with the kind of movies that involved enough blood and guts and/or freakish bad guys to ensure you would spend your teenage years in therapy, and their directors seemed unusually obsessed with demonic themes raised from the depths of hell. Here we salute the top ten most terrifying demons ever seen on the silver screen. Dedicated to shrinks everywhere.
10. Drag Me To Hell
Sam Raimi’s 2009 offering Drag Me To Hell is festooned with scary crap, as well as great touches of humor. The story revolves around a young go-getter business type woman who has her eyes reassuringly ‘on the prize’ (cue some kind of montage). Anyways, she decides to prove herself to her boss by disallowing an elderly woman an extension on her loan repayment, and next thing you know grandma’s cast a curse on her – following a brutal cat fight in an underground car park. What follows is a miasma of feces-inducing supernatural happenings courtesy of a demon called the Lamia, during which said young go-getter becomes decidedly less go-getting. The clue’s in the movie’s title…
9. The Gate
It’s difficult for stop-motion to really terrify anybody anymore, but back in the day it had moviegoers running down the aisles. The Gate is a case in point. In this 1987 classic (sorta), a boy stumbles across a realm populated by evil demons when a portal opens under a tree in his backyard. Aside from a giant snake-like badass that appears towards the end of the movie, the demons in this particular case are terrifyingly small and menacing, spending long periods of time frightening the bejeezus out of the boy in question. Still, who says something has to be big to be scary?
8. Chatterer – Hellraiser
Hellraiser was the stuff of legend when we were kids, and the grueling Cenobite monsters were the stuff of nightmares at a time when horror movies meant watching the screen with the sound down at slumber parties. This faceless, petrifying goon was known as Chatterer thanks to the constant gnashing of his only distinguishable facial features, his hideous teeth. He’s like a trip to the dentist and a night spent in a haunted house rolled into one big horrible acid trip of a nightmare. If bedwetting had a face, his would be it.
7. Night of the Demon
A tour de force of satanic worshiping, mysterious scrolls and suchlike, the 1957 British classic Night Of The Demon might be old and a little hammy, but as the ’80s has proven – crappy effects don’t necessarily mean crappy horror movie. In this case the costume department are to be congratulated for creating a sort of hairy pig-faced cross between Alf and Chewie. Despite the budget bad guy outfit, as well as the demon’s appearances on screen there is enough psychological manipulation and decent dialogue to ensure that the movie can still raise hairs on the back of your neck 50 years on.
6. The Beast – Poltergeist
Sure, demons are renowned for possessing humans, maybe even the occasional animal, but possessing a whole house is a totally different matter. In Poltergeist, the genuinely terrifying Spielberg-produced scareathon, the occupants of a homestead are tormented by every kind of supernatural happening courtesy of a demon who appears to be in a rather bad mood (and, yes, we know, the residents of a cemetery). There are many scenes – and characters – which make this movie very, very scary indeed. But surely the movie’s most messed up element – much more so than the ghosts themselves – is the physical manifestation of ‘The Beast’ that controls the house. Get under the covers!
5. Pazuzu – The Exorcist
The world is split into two people: those who were scared by The Exorcist, and those who have not yet seen The Exorcist. The very definition of a classic modern horror, the Mike Oldfield scored devil-romp tells the story of a young girl possessed and subsequently exorcised at her family home, after much spouting of some very naughty language by the decidedly peaky-looking possessed one. Whilst the movie is visually pants-wetting enough as it is, it’s the split second depiction of the demon Pazuzu in his actual form that made us reach for the toilet paper when we were too young to be watching such things – but did anyway. Nasty stuff.
4. Night of the Demons
Similarly titled to the 1950s horror classic, but a whole different kettle of fish where content’s concerned. Night of The Demons is a franchise playfully referred to as ‘comedy horror,’ but try telling that to us as wee kiddies, when we were sat lavishly moistening the floor with fear at the ’80s styled prosthetic makeup of main antagonist Angela Franklin, a demon-possessed girl who spends three full movies scaring the crap out of us. The movies are something of a cult classic now (forget the 2009 remake), and we’d certainly recommend them for your next night in with your buddies. Just don’t take any hallucinogens; you will never return from the fear.
Pumpkinhead – if you haven’t already seen it – is essentially the most badass revenge movie of all time, except with an atrociously bowel-loosening bad guy as the wreaker of vengeful havoc. It also features every single staple ever to have graced ’80s horror movies: kids on a camping holiday somewhere remote, a local legend that proves to be true, and of course the obligatory over-the-top special effects. The plot is simple. A father asks a local witch to avenge his son’s death by smiting the teenagers responsible with a demon known as Pumpkinhead. Chaos ensues, people die, colons are emptied, credits roll, sequels are made. The end.
2. Pinhead – Hellraiser
Another demon from the fear-fest that is Hellraiser, this time it’s the big daddy, Pinhead. In the Clive Barker classic, the pincushioned one is the head honcho of a gang of demons sent from hell to casually spread all kinds of S&M-flavored evil after the opening of a mysterious puzzle box. Pinhead’s freakishness mainly comes from his semi-intelligent persona and – of course – the shed-load of pins stuck in his face! Oh, and he gets to utter the immortal line, “We’ll tear your soul apart!” If there were to be one single reason never to let your young and impressionable children permanently damage their personalities by watching Hellraiser then Pinhead is it.
1. The Evil Dead
One of the most iconic horror franchises of all time, The Evil Dead is to fans of the genre what The Godfather trilogy is to mafia buffs. The first movie concerns a group of school kids inadvertently unleashing a hoard of demonic spirits after discovering an audio recording in the abandoned shack they’ve decided to spend the night in. The demons in question spend a great deal of time possessing and pursuing, and there’s one memorable scene in which a tree, er, assaults one of the young teenagers. The second installment, made in 1987, saw the ante being upped as Ash spent one more night sprinting around the log cabin from even more grotesque deadites – as can be seen above. The make-up was suitably terrifying and still manages to give us a little thrill upon re-watching. Sam Raimi = genius.