In 1994 horrifying news went around the world revolving the stabbing of a three month baby in Canada. As investigators began to look into the death of the child and his parents they began to uncover a slew of bizarre situations. Apparently the child’s murder was ordered by the leader of a cult named The Order of the Solar Temple a man who decided, among other things, when the women in his group could have children. Since the woman had gotten pregnant and given birth without his consent and without his blessing, the child had been pointed as the antichrist. A few days later, the bodies of 48 members of the cult were found in two towns in Switzerland, all of them committed suicide. According to the investigation the leader of the cult had convinced his followers that he was a reincarnation of one of the Templar Knights.
When we hear about this kind of thing, our first instinct is to claim that we would never fall for such a thing. But, in truth, it seems that most people who fall prey to these kinds of groups probably never imagined it either. The leaders of these bizarre communities are highly charismatic and manipulative people who know exactly how to hook others into their circle. The following films show us just how easy it is to fall for a random, overly-nice stranger. So beware.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) by Roman Polanski
Neighbors can be the worst… Whether they’re noisy, messy, or downright annoying, it’s hard to stay cool when the people living next to you have no consideration for your peace of mind. But there’s nothing worse than neighbors that seem incapable of minding their own business, especially when they’re members of a Satanist cult trying to get you impregnated with the devil’s child. Yeah, that’s the worst. This horror classic tells the story of a young couple who move into a creepy old building where they meet the Castevets, the elderly couple next door, who have some evil plans for them.
The Devils (1971) by Ken Russell
Sexual fantasies involving a crucified Jesus Christ, a nun orgy, and people using bones and crucifixes to masturbate, all these and more can be found in Ken Russell’s controversial X-rated film. Based on Aldous Huxley’s non-fiction novel, The Devils of Loudun, the movie focuses on the bizarre events that took place in a Catholic convent in seventeenth century France, where Sister Jeanne des Anges became sexually obsessed with Father Grandier, a priest having an affair with a woman. When Sister Jeanne finds out, all hell breaks lose, as she accuses him of dealing with the devil and possessing her and the rest of the nuns. Her lies spread and influence her pious sisters, who start acting as though under Satan’s control, and chaos ensues in the form of horrifying scenes of sexual depravity and violence. A film that’s not for everybody.
The Wicker Man (1973) by Robin Hardy
Often recognized as one of the best British films in history, this classic about a Celtic cult in Scotland has often been revered for its smart plot, witty humor, and terrifying final shot. The protagonist, Sergeant Howie, a police officer and devoted Christian, travels to a Scottish isle called Summerisle in search of a missing girl. He discovers the townsfolk follow pagan traditions and celebrate rituals to ensure a good harvest. Despite his efforts to find the young girl who’s disappeared, he quickly realizes something strange is going on in the island, as not even the child’s mother admits she’s missing. His investigation comes to an end on the night of the May Day celebration, with a memorable, blood-chilling finale you can’t miss.
Ticket to Heaven (1981) by Ralph L. Thomas
By portraying the methods used by religious cults to brainwash their followers and the ensuing de-programming process people go through to escape them, this critically-acclaimed film is a terrifying study of how these institutions function. David is a schoolteacher who falls into the claws of a religious cult led by a leader appropriately named Father. His journey from a stable man into a robotic being, who loses his individuality after being subjected to psychological abuse, is a frightening reminder that it can happen to the best of us.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) by Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick’s final film –he died six days after he delivered his final cut– is an intriguing study of the human psyche and sexual desire. Dr. Bill Harford’s marriage to Alice is going through a rough patch, and their sex life suffering. After a dinner party, the couple have a fight where Alice tells her husband about a fantasy she has where she sleeps with a navy officer. Bill leaves their home and experiences a strange night that culminates with him sneaking into a secret masked orgy, to which he’s not invited. The cult members discover his intrusion, and strange things start to happen to Bill the day after, as he finds out everyone who led him to the orgy have disappeared.
Martyrs (2008) by Pascal Laugier
Not for the faint of heart, this French film was loved and hated equally by critics, mostly due to the gruesome scenes of violence it contains. The story revolves around two young women who fall prey to a philosophical cult that seeks information about the afterlife by torturing girls until they reach a state of illumination, something they call “martyrs”. It’s a very tough watch, but a solid film and a great example of the New French Extremity movement.
The Master (2012) by Paul Thomas Anderson
Is it about Scientology? If Anderson ever answers this question affirmatively, he would end up quickly being sued by L. Ron Hubbard’s church. Like the rest of the American director’s filmography, The Master is a complex movie. Its protagonist, Freddy Quell, is a World War II veteran, an alcoholic who can’t find his place in the world after the war. That’s when he meets Lancaster Dodd, leader of “The Cause”, an organization that resembles the Church of Scientology, a controversial religious institution that’s gained notoriety thanks to including Tom Cruise and other celebrities among its ranks. The film features scenes of psychological techniques used by Dodd to subdue Freddy and his followers. It’s an intriguing study of the relationship between two very complex characters and how they exchange power throughout the movie’s 137-minute runtime.
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