Scares in horror can come from many places–from vampires and zombies to ghosts and masked killers. Sometimes the threat is supernatural and fantastic, and sometimes it’s more grounded, using the possibilities of the real world to terrify us. But there are few things more sinister than a cult in a horror movie. The idea of a group of people, utterly devoted and dedicated to some dark higher power–whether a god, demon, or other otherworldly force–is one that horror filmmakers have returned to again and again over the decades.
This weekend sees the release of Midsommar, the latest movie from director Ari Aster. He made one of 2018’s best horror films, the brilliant and terrifying Hereditary, and while the plots of the two films are very different, they do have one thing in common–a scary cult. But these are only the latest examples of horror movies that use the traditions and conventions of cultist horror to generate a sense of dread and unease.
While earlier classics such as Haxan and Night of the Demon featured cults, it was a pair of horror classics in the late ’60s and early ’70s that laid the groundwork for the cultist movie today–namely, Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man. While subsequent films since have gone in many different directions, it’s hard to escape the influence of these two. If your movie features devil worshipping or is part of the folk-horror tradition, then these are your cinematic touchstones.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the subgenre than that. We’ve picked some of the scariest horror movies about cults ever made, which show just how weird and wild these films can get. So gather round everyone… just be warned, there are spoilers ahead.