They’re powerful, beautiful, but not necessarily benevolent. Horror filmmakers have made great use of the heavenly hosts. Sometimes they arrive to protect us. Sometimes they don’t. Here are our five favorite horror films to bring heaven to earth.
5. The Exorcist III (1990)
Yes, this movie made the list based on a single scene. But that scene is so good! Fabio is an angel, wings and all. Patrick Ewing is the angel of death! There’s a quick glimpse of a young Samuel L. Jackson, and George C. Scott chooses a strangely upbeat delivery for the line, “I’m so sorry you were murdered, Thomas. I miss you.”
It’s a dream sequence, a foreboding scene in which Kinderman (Scott) meanders through a holding station between life and afterlife. The piece is weird, a bit gruesome and gorgeous. Its tone and look differ wildly from the rest of the film, but incredible nonetheless.
4. He Never Died (2015)
With a funny shuffle step and a blank stare, Henry Rollins announces Jack, anti-hero of the noir/horror mash-up He Never Died, as an odd sort.
Jack, you see, has kind of always been here. The “here” in question at the moment is a dodgy one-bedroom, walking distance from the diner where he eats and the church where he plays bingo. An exciting existence, no doubt, but this mindlessness is disturbed by a series of events: an unexpected visit, a needed ally with an unfortunate bookie run-in, and a possible love connection with a waitress.
From the word go, He Never Died teems with deadpan humor and unexpected irony. Casting Rollins in the lead, for instance, suggests something the film actively avoids: energy. The star never seethes, and even his rare hollers are muted, less full of anger than primal necessity.
3. The Prophecy (1995)
Writer/director Gregory Widen’s fascinating story about a war in heaven over God’s spoiled little meat puppets was a wild, innovative concept with a breathtaking cast: Christopher Walken, Virginia Madsen, Viggo Mortensen, Eric Stoltz, Elias Koteas, Adam Goldberg, Amanda Plummer.
So, is it on Widen that the movie is kind of terrible?
Terrible in an incredibly fun and watchable way, though. Somehow the unusually talent-stacked cast doesn’t feel wasted as much as it does weirdly placed.
There is no question this film belongs to Christopher Walken as the angel Gabriel. (Why are filmmakers so willing to believe Gabe will turn evil?) His natural weirdness and uncanny comic timing make the film more memorable than it deserves to be, but when it comes to sinister, Viggo Mortensen cuts quite a figure as Lucifer. Don’t forget, he was an angel, too.
2. Frailty (2001)
Back in 1980, Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton directed the short music video Fish Heads. Triumph enough, you say? Correct. But in 2001 he took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty, with equally excellent results.
Paxton stars as a widowed, bucolic country dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.
Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?
Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes such nostalgic familiarity – down to a Dukes of Hazzard reference – and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.
1. A Dark Song (2016)
Writer/director Liam Gavin also begins his story by dropping us breathless and drowning in a mother’s grief. Sophia (Catherine Walker) will do anything at all just to hear her 6-year-old son’s voice again. She will readily commit to whatever pain, discomfort or horror required of her by the occultist (Steve Oram) who will perform the ritual to make it happen.
Anything except the forgiveness ritual.
What Gavin and his small but committed cast create is a shattering but wonderful character study. Walker never stoops to sentimentality, which is likely what makes the climax of the film so heartbreaking and wonderful.