Demonic possession has been a focal point of horror movies for as long as horror movies have been a thing, and every director has their own idea of what a body being taken over by a demon looks like. Some directors, like Sam Raimi and William Friedkin, completely covered their actors with plaster and makeup to create terrifying demonic visages that have haunted our dreams for decades. More recent exorcism movies have leaned into a realism that serves to create a disconnect between the otherworldliness of demonic possession and the very tangible idea of mental illness being misconstrued as something more - that is, until their actors begin raving in German and then jump out a window.
The on film possession scene that all others are compared to come from The Exorcist. It’s inarguable that William Friedkin’s 1973 classic formed the basis for modern film’s idea of what a possession looks like. It essentially created tropes that are still followed to a T. Put on any film where a young woman is possessed by a demon and she’ll more than likely be tied to a bed, in an oversized white sleep dress. Take a look at the demonic possessions that follow the rules set by the classic horror film, and the movies that forge their own paths. Which are scarier? Does it matter? And are you thinking about going back to church?
Do you think there are more terrifying scenes of demonic possession than the excerpts we’ve chosen? If so, tell us in the comments and we’ll check them out.
- 199 VOTES
Literally Any Scene with Regan in the Back Half of The Exorcist
When it comes to choosing the most terrifying possession scene from The Exorcist, it's really up to you to pick your poison. Would you rather watch a preteen girl with the face of a Republican Senator vomit green pile on a priest while telling him that his mother sucks c*cks in Hell? How about a scene where her bed jumps up and down while she screams in pain? Or are you a contrarian who prefers the extended release, where Regan crabs-walks down a set of stairs? When it comes to possession scenes in The Exorcist, the world is your oyster.
- 273 VOTES
Emily Rose Can Count to Six
A demon that speaks German? No thanks! What begins as a fairly standard exorcism scene gets very weird when the demon inside Emily Rose calls in six cats to the room and then begins counting to six over and over again. While it might read as milquetoast, it's very unsettling to watch.
- 375 VOTES
So That's What a 10-Pound Dumbbell Is Good For
Starry Eyes is the rare horror film that's visually beautiful, terrifying, and thoughtful (not to mention its beautiful synth score). But there's something viscerally satisfying about watching the possessed Alexandrea Essoe smash her friend's face in with a hand weight. The scene goes from frightening to brutal to whatever the word is for when your mind is completely numb to insane violence to relief that even though this character's head is no longer a head, at least the scene is over.
- 437 VOTES
We Need to Talk About the Tunnel Scene in PossessionPhoto: Anchor Bay Entertainment
If the phrase "French-German horror film" doesn't make you a little bit tense, then you're probably not a human being. It's hard to follow the action in Possession, it's purposefully oblique, and in the midst of a story about a woman being possessed by a demon, there's an entire subplot about international espionage, but this scene of Isabelle Adjani being overcome by something in a tunnel is one of the most shocking things we've ever watched. Despite the obvious soft box that follows Adjani through the tunnel as she has a nervous breakdown, the terror never subsides; rather, it builds to a fever pitch that ends in a mix of blood, bile, and egg yolks. Film nerds, take note: this is how you shoot a possession scene.