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Demons: The Movies Versus The Myths

A good filmmaker pulls inspiration from many different places to make a layered, engaging movie for their audience. This is just as true in horror, as evidenced by the vast collection of demons and unholy creatures featured in the genre regularly. While Satan is the best-known demon blamed for horrific events and battles between good and evil, there are several made famous by their appearances in supernatural movies.

While some screenwriters and directors choose a demon for its name and not its true mythology, some are able to skillfully weave the "real" evil of the creatures into their narrative to great effect. Others aren't as concerned with the true purpose of their chosen muse, opting instead for terrifying visuals and a name whose invocation induces shivers after dark.

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  • Most horror fans recognize the demon Pazuzu as the wretched entity responsible for corrupting young Regan (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. The world believes Pazuzu to be a powerful demon capable of slipping into our realm and wreaking havoc, but Mesopotamian mythology saw him as a destroyer and protector. Since the demon had control of the winds that led to the destruction of crops and plagues of locusts, Mesopotamians believed that Pazuzu was also able to guard them against the deadly winds.

    Pazuzu was even a defender of children and the pregnant and was used to fight against she-demon Lamashtu in her quest to consume infants and the unborn. None of this appeared in The Exorcist, save for the great winds present in the opening. Pazuzu was evil incarnate and a representative of the price paid for lapsing faith.

  • Paimon Is Known To Teach Art, Philosophy, And Science - 'Hereditary'

    Paimon Is Known To Teach Art, Philosophy, And Science - 'Hereditary'
    Photo: A24

    According to Satanists and occultists like Aleister Crowley, Paimon is a king among demons who is really a giver at his core. Not only will Paimon teach you art and science, but he will also provide the knowledge of all events that have been, are, and will be to those who ask. He's a djinn, which is a genie of sorts known to grant wishes to those who provide payment. He travels with two companions - demons named Bebal and Abalam - and requires a sacrifice if unaccompanied. 

    In Hereditary, the Paimon cult pays the djinn's price in the form of the sacrifice of family members via possession and death. In return, they receive wealth and other bounties. In this, writer and director Ari Aster properly utilized the name and nature of the demon to great effect in his jarring, elegant film.

  • Valak Is Used For Revenge But Can Also Help Find Money - The 'Conjuring' Universe

    Valak Is Used For Revenge But Can Also Help Find Money - The 'Conjuring' Universe
    Photo: The Conjuring 2 / Warner Bros.

    Valak appeared to the world as a grotesque and blasphemous nun in The Conjuring 2 before receiving a spin-off. The Valak of the Conjuring universe is known as "the defiler, the profane, the marquis of snakes." The demon terrorizes a family and prevents a spirit from crossing over. This evil nun figure attaches itself to the Warrens and does everything in its power to scare them away from the family at the center of the film's paranormal activity.

    Valak's real mythology is quite different than this movie adaptation in appearance, acts, and uses. Known as a president of hell in the hierarchy, Valak is always male in presentation, usually appearing as an angelic boy riding a dragon. He is conjured so the summoner can find hidden money or even control snakes.

  • Abaddon Is Destructive And Unleashes Locusts In The End Of Days - 'Hell House LLC' Franchise
    Photo: Hell House LLC / Terror Films

    The three films in the Hell House LLC trilogy take place in the Abaddon Hotel, which was once owned by Andrew Tully, the leader of a cult dedicated to Abaddon. Throughout the movies, Tully's cult is determined to lure people into the abandoned hotel to murder them and trap their souls in the house for their master. 

    According to the Bible, Abaddon is a destroyer of the world and appears at the end of days to unleash a horde of locusts upon the Earth. Not only that, but his name means "a place where the damned lie in fire and snow," making his use in the film spot-on.

  • Azazel Is The Personification Of Uncleanliness - 'Fallen'

    Azazel is the recipient of a literal scapegoat containing all of the sins of the Jewish people during a ritual for Yom Kippur. He is also known for corrupting humans via sex and teaching them how to create weapons of war when he was only supposed to be observing them. Azazel is also credited with teaching humans about makeup and other body decorations. 

    None of this has anything to do with the demon's portrayal in the movie Fallen, where he moves from person to person via touch, possessing them to do his will. Azazel initially possesses a serial killer before traveling inside multiple people in the name of haranguing and framing Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) for stopping his killing spree.

  • Vassago Is Said To Have A Good Nature - 'Hideaway'

    Vassago is associated with divination rituals and knows about all events in the past, present, and future. He is able to assist with the finding of lost things and inciting lustful behavior in women. Most texts describe the fallen angel as good-natured, which seems odd for a demon. 

    In the movie Hideaway, Vassago attaches himself to a man named Hatch (Jeff Goldblum) when he's brought back to life by doctors after a car accident. The demon stalks and murders young women and is able to find who he wants whenever he wants. In this way, the filmmakers got a fraction of the demon correct from mythology to screen.