Demonic Possession on Screen

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s that time of the year for films. Everyone seems to be into the horror movies, and admittedly, some of them are really good, even if they scare you out of your brains. Being a person who needs to overanalyze horror movies in order to not die of fear, I noticed that there is a reoccurring topic in many of them that doesn’t seem to ever get too old—tales of demonic possession.

“In the old days you’d be burned for it…But there is something empowering about it. I mean, it is a place where you are totally ? it is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where you really can become this other force.” – Robin Williams

Let me start with the classic: The Exorcist. Since it came out in 1973, many have had a clear idea of what demonic possession looks like (if it was a real thing, mind you!) But the roots of it are far older, and far more complicated. There essentially is no religion I am aware of that has no tales of demonic possession, even though most of those tales are hotly debated.

In the Bible, there exist a bountiful amount of references within both testaments regarding demonic possession. One main focus though from the new testament is of Jesus driving demons out of people, or in plain English, exorcisms. In Judaism there are certain groups believing in supernatural powers and tales of the existence of Dybbuks and demons are deeply interwoven throughout Jewish history.

In Islamic belief, jinn’s or devils can make people change their behavioral patterns either by physical possession or temptation to sin. In Buddhism, demons are often thought to be suffering souls that depart the possessed body when it is appeased, through goods given away in its name. In Hollywood, demons possessing human bodies seems to be a topic that forever remains ripe.

Shot from 2016 Exorcist remake (Courtesy of Morgan Creek Productions)

Hollywood often presents demonic possession as a state where humans lose control over their own bodies and consciousness, a state often characterized by babbling in Latin, profanity, discoloration of the eyes, and super-human qualities like levitation and super-human strength.

Ouija boards are one of those few staples Hollywood uses in communicating with the supernatural (courtesy of Warner Bros Studios)

Usually, not a single year will pass without a new series or film addressing the topic hitting the big or small screen, but what is it about the concept of not being in control over one’s own body that draws people into cinemas?

Cinematic depiction of possession has theatrical qualities, no doubt. I think movies on diabolic possession are so well-liked because somehow, they manage to capture the conflict of the good and the evil (or at least the conflict between the innocently possessed human and the flawed, consciously vicious demonic power) in its purest form. think they’re so popular because there’s this thrill about being out of control and then regaining it.

My theory is that these movies are so appealing to many of us because it’s a different type of horror than psychos and zombies and mass murderers, and that type of horror speaks to something hidden deeply embedded inside most of us. When I went up to some friends who explained the personal lure they hold for these types of movies and series, it turned out some do believe in the existence of demons and/or spirits; others found the genre so appealing because it gives us a little bit more than just human.

And finally, there is of course the thrill of the unknown. The thrill of a possessed body acting, not based on their free will, but because something supernatural takes control. We’ll never know what’s next exactly (although, admittedly, if you’ve seen more than a handful of those movies, you might be able to guess) and that’s the thrill of it.

So as long as people keep filling cinema halls and TV rating remain high, there is no reason for Hollywood to stop producing this genre. And, let’s be honest for a moment… Would we really want that?

Deborah Pirchner

Featured image courtesy of Warner Bros Studios via IMDB

Follow us on facebook for updates and new articles here


EntertainmentFilm & TV
One Comment
  • Elisabeth
    30 October 2017 at 19:19
    Leave a Reply

    Great article – love the far reaching view.
    Happy Halloween 🙂

  • Leave a Reply