The Creepiest Depictions Of Hell In The Movies
Most of us wonder what happens when we die, so it's no surprise movies have been preoccupied with what comes next since the earliest days of motion pictures. As such, there have been plenty of movies about Hell over the years, ranging from silent films about devils with pitchforks jabbing sinners in boiling lakes to more recent depictions that are often highly subjective, gory, or both.
With so many different versions of on-screen Hell, it can be hard to know which cinematic Hell is creepiest. Thankfully, creators have imagined all sorts of different Hells - ranging from animated features and buddy comedies to horror movies about demons - so there's bound to be at least one depiction that fills you with existential dread.
Which films feature the worst versions of Hell? That all depends on what you're most afraid of.
- 1363 VOTESPhoto: Universal Studios
Adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects thanks to its vivid, painterly depictions of the afterlife, including Hell. The story follows Robin Williams as a pediatrician who loses his life in a car accident and - after lingering on Earth for a time - finds himself in Heaven. Shortly thereafter, his grief-ridden wife commits suicide and is condemned to Hell.
Williams's character sets out to find and rescue his wife, forcing him to brave the movie's nightmare version of Hell, including a vast field of disembodied faces Williams must walk across while they chastise him for stepping on them. Of course, there are fan theories suggesting the Hell depicted in What Dreams May Come is subtler and more complex than it initially appears, and Williams's character has actually been in Hell all along.
- 2356 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
"Where we're going, you don't need eyes to see." Event Horizon released in 1997 to lackluster box office numbers and poor critical reception, but it has achieved a cult status over the intervening decades thanks in no small part to its spiky, medieval production design. The story follows a spaceship - the eponymous Event Horizon - that uses a drive to generate an artificial black hole so it can travel instantaneously through space.
On its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon disappears without a trace, only to reappear years later in a decaying orbit around Neptune. What happened to it in the interim? It went to Hell. While viewers never actually see Hell in Event Horizon, its effects are apparent as Hell spills out into the ship, and it's not pretty.
When director Paul W.S. Anderson premiered the two-hour-plus assembly cut for studio executives and test audiences, some are said to have fainted from all the gore and violence. The studio demanded Event Horizon be cut down to around 90 minutes with much of the carnage left on the cutting room floor. The glimpses offered by the final cut are more than enough, though.
- 3239 VOTESPhoto: New World Pictures
As you might have guessed from the title, this sequel to Clive Barker's 1987 film Hellraiser is a lot more ambitious than its predecessor. Where Hellraiser introduces concepts like the Cenobites, who are "angels to some, demons to others," or the Lament Configuration that summons them, its action is primarily confined to one family occupying one house.
In Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), the survivor of the first film, starts off in a mental hospital and must brave the halls of the Labyrinth - Hellbound's take on Hell - to save what she thinks is her father's soul. The Labyrinth is just what it sounds like: an endless maze of stone corridors arranged into an MC Escher-like grid with a diamond-shaped entity at the center that resembles the Lament Configuration and is referred to as, "God of flesh, hunger, desire. My God Leviathan, Lord of the Labyrinth."
Within the various chambers of the Labyrinth, Kirsty encounters some more traditionally Hellish spaces, such as a spooky carnival or a room in which the first film's lustful Frank is tormented forever by the wraiths of writhing women he can never touch.
There are plenty of spooky bits to make Hellbound's Labyrinth stand out from the infernal crowd - one easy-to-miss detail can actually be found in the film's score. When the Leviathan is shown, a Tibetan horn plays notes in a pattern that spells "GOD" in morse code, a hauntingly intentional choice from composer Christopher Young.
- 4334 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
A replica of our own living world caught forever in the precise moment of a nuclear blast. That's the conception of Hell director Francis Lawrence brought to his cinematic adaptation of Constantine. In the film, Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, a paranormal investigator who has literally been to Hell and back and must use the knowledge and powers he has gained to fight angels and demons.
To create an appropriately grisly depiction of Hell, animators drew on actual footage of a nuclear aftermath that had previously been declassified for the 1984 TV movie The Day After, as well as art by Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński and photographs of real-life autopsies.
- 5129 VOTES
BaskinPhoto: IFC Midnight
This 2015 Turkish film follows five police officers who explore an abandoned building with a sinister reputation only to find themselves pulled down into Hell. There are no lakes of fire and no red devils with pitchforks in this Hell. Instead, there are bloody people committing bloody acts, splashed with surrealist lighting reminiscent of films from Dario Argento or Mario Bava. While it may be difficult for viewers to suss out exactly what happens in the film, the hellish imagery on display is sure to stick in the minds of genre fans, along with the film's idea about the nature of Hell.
- 6204 VOTES
As Above, So BelowPhoto: Universal Pictures
Filmed in the Paris catacombs, this 2014 found footage thriller is the first production to ever secure permission to film within the 180-mile tunnel system that runs beneath the streets of Paris and is home to the final remains of more than six million people - a place where ghosts definitely outnumber the living.
In the film, a team of urban archaeologists venture into the catacombs in search of the Philosopher's Stone only to find themselves in a metaphorical underworld where their own past regrets - as well as less symbolic horrors - plague them. Perhaps they should have heeded the warning that greets all visitors to the catacombs, which roughly translates to, "Stop! Here lies the empire of death."