A cult has been defined as “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Be it to Satan, God, or their ‘leader’ in some form, devoted to their cause with terrifying extremism. The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Shinrikyo are just a small listing of such groups that took their fanaticism to levels and made them infamous. So, it’s no wonder that cults are a fairly popular subject in a variety of stories and shows. With the premiere of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: CULT tonight, I thought it would be fun to go over some of the scariest and most memorable cults to assemble within the horror genre.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
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In this classic Roger Corman adaptation of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Price plays the cruel and sadistic Prince Prospero. Ruler of the poor lands now under siege by the virulent ‘Red Death’. But that won’t stop the Satan worshipping prince from having one Hell of a ball! Inviting his equally corrupt fellow nobles for a night of debauchery and depravity as the rest of the world dies around them. Prospero believing his dark lord to appear to him in the flesh in the guise of a red, hooded man…
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If one were to look back into the seeds of fear of the Devil in Americana, most roads would lead to the massively successful ROSEMARY’S BABY. The tale of young Rosemary Woodhouse being given by her groom to a coven of Satanists so she could birth The Anti-Christ. But it’s not simply the goals of this coven that are so terrifying, but the members. The elderly and kindly Castevets. The well respected Dr. Sapirstein. They don’t parade around in robes with horns on their heads, they’re your neighbors, they’re your friends, anyone you know could be an emissary of darkness!
LORD OF ILLUSIONS
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Oftentimes, many join cults for the chance at power. Be it supernatural or over their peers. But what if one of these cult leaders was the real deal? Enter Nix (Played by Daniel von Bargen) from Clive Barker’s LORD OF ILLUSIONS. His pudgy appearance and balding visage a facade for hiding his true abilities in the magical arts. Real magic. Assembling a host of worshippers, each wishing to help this dark, milquetoast messiah- even if it means sacrificing a child. Eventually, Nix is overthrown and bound by his more morally obliged followers, including his apprentice, Swann. But even that’s not enough to stop the cult. Years later, Nix’s devoted followers attempt to locate his corpse, bringing him back as an even more powerful undead Lich intent on “Murdering the world.” Proving that this type of fanatical terror can outlast even its leaders.
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Now we step into the realms of H.P. Lovecraft and one of his finest adaptors, Stuart Gordon. A take on the originally New England set THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH transported to the Spanish village of ‘Imboca’. A small fishing town that had fallen on hard times due to a lack of fish and wealth. Desperate, they turned to a sea captain who spoke of the oceanic god, Dagon. In exchange for rich harvests and gold, all the ancient sea deity demanded was human sacrifices and women… which the villagers were happy to give for such bounties. Even willing to turn, slowly and disgustingly into Dagon’s fish-like acolytes. A sad and disturbing take on how and what people would be willing to give in such times of desperation.
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The horror debut of Kevin Smith, and showing that just because someone worships the angels, does not make them any less dangerous. Following ‘The Five Points Trinity Church’ led by Abin Cooper (Played by the late, great Michael Parks) and his family of homophobic and radical Christians, they’re intent on spreading the good word…. even at gun point. Even going so far as to lure gay and ‘deviant’ victims to their fortified, and heavily armed compound in order to kill them. Eventually leading to a bloody and explosive stand-off with the ATF like so many self-righteous cults before them.
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Perhaps the most dangerous fanatics are those whose goals are incomprehensible and outside the boundaries of what is natural. As seems to be the case with the strange, white hooded followers of THE VOID. Armed with hunting knives and seemingly dozens in their fold, they surround the local hospital. Trapping those inside with the eldritch abominations their mad leader has conjured in the cause to defeat death. We’re not even certain what exactly they worship, except for haunting visions and horrific mutations.
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Perhaps one of the scariest facets of cults is that they can draw in and brainwash a loved one. A family member. A friend. It won’t matter when they take a cult’s cause as their life’s purpose. As is the case with JACKALS. Set in 1983, and following the wealthy Powell family whose son, Justin, has been inducted into a strange and animalistic ‘family.’ Hiring a deprogrammer and taking him by force to an isolated cottage, the Powells and his girlfriend with their baby intend on bringing the real Justin back. Until Justin’s new family shows up, complete with beastly themed masks and wielding all manner of blades and weaponry stage a siege. Intent on getting their ‘brother’ back form his true family, by any means necessary.