1. A subgenre of Horror
that relies on presenting the motifs of a real-life religion as fact within the story's universe. Since this is mainly a Western subgenre, that religion is Christianity (well, the only denomination that Hollywood knows of
, at least).
is the Big Bad
in a typical Religious Horror story, although he's rarely shown. He is mediated through a human vessel
, such as a Creepy Child
or a degenerate rock musician
. Sometimes Satan is not much or even at all present in the story, but is instead a distant force of evil
responsible for the actual Big Bad
in the story. The protagonists are usually innocent people trying to live ordinary lives, not sensing anything wrong until their daughter or son starts speaking in someone else's voice, using foul languages she or he never studied,
spewing Finnish pea soup, and/or chanting Satanic praises. Members of the clergy (most likely the Catholic variety
; in this case it is justified by the fact that the Catholic church, of all the few that employ exorcism, is the most noted, although it does so very rarely) intervene eventually, with varying degrees of success. If there are human villains, they're evil cultists
who facilitate Satan's activity on Earth (or, rarely, the Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts, if the author is less favorable toward organized religion in general). A variation is a woman giving birth to Satan's child.
This type of horror is often written just to cash in on the popularity of The Exorcist
Another perspective, more common in recent years, is an inverted one, that of how God Is Evil
; the fire and brimstone Disproportionate Retribution
aspects of the Old Testament god are built upon to depict Him as the Big Bad
. God Is Evil
stories have an overlap with Cosmic Horror Story
, as God is often described as alien, omnipotent, invincible and whose nature is impossible to ever comprehend, in a very Lovecraftian style. Our Angels Are Different
is usually in effect.
2. Occasionally, the story revolves around a Religion of Evil
that has nothing to do with Satan, which may or may not replace him with an Expy
in the form of a God of Evil
. These tend to be more creative than the Christianity-based novels, but not necessarily more bizarre, as you'll see.
3. Very rarely, you get a film that actually bothered to do the research, and includes horror either from the point of view of some religion other than Christianity, or more commonly have another religion as an antagonist. In the former cases, even if the movie itself is bad, the concept is very interesting. In the latter case, it ends up a variant of type 2, with the added problem of sounding like something from Chick Tracts
Contrast Cosmic Horror Story
, which is mutually exclusive with the first type of this subgenre. If a Cosmic Horror Story
's Eldritch Abomination
is worshipped as a god, then the story can fit into the second type.
See also The Bible
, which is filled with taboo sex and merciless violence, sometimes sandwiched together
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Anime and Manga
- Arguably, Angel Sanctuary, which is also a subversion in that the demons are neither good nor evil and the Big Bad is God Himself.
- For Western audiences, Neon Genesis Evangelion has some elements of this, primarily because it takes Christian/Jewish symbols traditionally associated with good (crosses, Angels, haloes, etc) and turns them into symbols of fear.
- This was probably unintentional on the part of the creators, since, much like the usual Hollywood trope, Anno used foreign religions he didn't know a lot about because he thought the symbology was cool. It's just that in his case these "foreign religions" were Christianity and Judaism. The writers have said that if they'd known the series would become popular with Western audiences, they would have done things differently.
- The manhwa Priest by Hyuung Min-woo. BIG TIME.
- Many of the early one-shot Hellboy stories revolve around this, particularly The Chained Coffin. Has become less prominent in recent years, as subsequent story arcs have revealed more of the Hellboy-verse's cosmology, which is more like a mix of Gnosticism & 1920s weird pulp fiction than Christianity.
- Spawn derives heavily from Christianity although it later brings in All Myths Are True.
- William Blatty's The Exorcist, as noted above.
- Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby.
- The Omen. Because of this movie, many people think that the name Damien means "demon." It actually means "tame," which is used in the story in the sense meaning "kill."
- Babylon 5:
- In the direct to DVD movie: The Lost Tales, a maintenance worker is possessed by what is implied to be a literal demon — specifically not the devil, rather a lower ranking servant. Colonel Lochley calls an exorcist. Subverted because the demon wants to be exorcised... in space, aka "The Heavens". Lochley and the exorcist instead decided to ship his ass back to Earth first.
- Given that B5 Earth has been visited by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens at least once for a sufficient timespan to leave their marks in the human genome in the distant past, whether the 'demon' was a literal one or whether literature in turn and the practice of exorcism were inspired by events caused by him and his friends—whatever kind of entity they might 'really' be—hanging out on the planet since who-knows-when remains somewhat inconclusive.
- The Backstory of B5 does seem to imply that demons were memories left behind by The Shadows.
- The Devils Advocate featured Satan (Al Pacino) in the form of the head of a New York law firm, and the protagonist (Keanu Reeves) is his son.
- Constantine, the In Name Only movie adaptation of Hellblazer.
- The House Of The Devil deals with a babysitter and a group of Satanists.
- In Zombie Cult Massacre, a sleazy cult leader pretends to be a compassionate man of God but is really in league with Satan, raising an army of zombies. It does not end well for him.
- The Prophecy (1995) and its two sequels. About another war in heaven with Christopher Walken (who's creepy enough even when he isn't acting) as the Archangel Gabriel.
- John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, about a bunch of theology students trying to stop the Anti-Christ from releasing his father, the Anti-God.
- Kinda. Prince of Darkness is actually a fun exercise with or deconstruction of the Religious Horror subgenre, because most of the characters weren't theology students. Instead they were scientists of one kind or another, four or five of which were under the direct tutelage of a physics professor who had been selected for a series of televised debates with a Catholic priest because of his philosophical beliefs on science. Those debates happened before the story begins, and the two characters seem to be very good friends when the movie starts. To be fair, when speaking of said professor, one student said that "he wants philosophers, not scientists," so it is a little open to debate or interpretation.
- The LDS-made film Brigham City uses elements of religious horror based on the LDS faith and puts them to work quietly in the background. This makes the film jarring to members of the LDS church without being over the top.
- Also the LDS-made WWII film Saints And Soldiers, in the context of Deacon's hallucinations (the only character implied to be Mormon). Understandable in that he accidentally killed a room full of orphans under the age of eight (and thus not accountable for their actions, making them unquestionable innocents) and a couple of nuns with a grenade while fighting Germans in a church, and is only being held together by his faith and desire to return home to his wife as he's dealing with his PTSD.
- The Shrine has an interesting twist. At first, the viewer believes the small Polish village is involved in Satanic rituals with Human Sacrifice, but it turns out that they are only exorcising the tourists who unknowingly approach a demon statue that possesses them
- Sin Eater, also known as The Order, starring Heath Ledger.
- Stigmata, starring Gabriel Byrne as the protagonist, Father Andrew Kiernan.
- End of Days, statting Gabriel Byrne as The Devil, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the protagonist Jericho Cane, a retired cop.
- The Seventh Sign, starring Demi Moore and Michael Biehn
- From Hell, starring Johnny Depp, based on the eponymous comic book series.
- Bless the Child, starring Kim Basinger
- Angel Heart has some really creepy religious elements. It turns out at the end the entire plot was orchestrated by Satan himself, who hired Johnny Favourite to condemn himself to Hell.
- The Possession is all about this. This time, it is with Jewish theme.
- The Sentinel (not to be confused with the 90's tv series or the unrelated 2006 film): A woman moves into an apartment building that turns out to house the gates of hell.
- Valhalla Rising, one of the many interpretations of the film has the Christians being punished by the Gods of nature for killing their worshippers.
- REC: While the infection certainly has a biological aspect, the end of the first movie strongly suggests, and the sequel confirms, that Demonic Possession also has a part in it.
- Dennis Lehane's Darkness, Take My Hand features a trio of serial killers who model themselves on the Holy Trinity and crucify all of their victims before killing them.
- The Cthulhu Mythos often falls into the Religion of Evil version below, but even its official stance is this. There is no God, nor is there a Devil. There are entities of tremendous power such that humans would call them divine and deific, but these entities, due to their power, have no more concern for humanity than humanity as a whole would care for a dust-scurrying bug. Morality is a human creation, and humans are most certainly not special. Humanity must make worth of their own life, they have no inherent worth as a race.
- "Officiality" is a bit subjective where the Mythos is concerned, however, as a lot of figures in the canon (perhaps most notably August Derleth) have put a more humanistic and/or Judeo-Christian spin on it.
- Also, more traditional gods do sorta exist, but only in the mystical Dream Land created from humanity (and all other sentient life)'s collective unconscious.
- Parodied in the Gaiman-Pratchett collaboration Good Omens.
- David St. Clair's The Devil Rocked Her Cradle, a ceaselessly entertaining book that should probably not be sold as nonfiction. A young man kills his father, bruises a prostitute, rebels against his Catholic upbringing, becomes a thief, and hears demonic voices. He grows up to be an abusive husband whose daughter goes through on-and-off Satanic possession, especially after her newly widowed father starts living with his wife's sister. This leads her to projectile-vomit green stuff, recite Madness Mantras, and gesture obscenely at nuns and priests. It's So Bad, It's Good. (The book's preface even includes the pricelessly redundant line, "[T]his book is not intended to be anti-Christian or pro-demonic.")
- Jeffrey Sackett's Candlemas Eve, a fun fiction novel about a rock band that adopts two self-proclaimed witches to add something unusual to the act (plus, Evil Is Sexy). They turn out to be time-traveling Satanist Puritans who assumed the identities of two modern-day women because of some kind of curse that forced them to please Satan after their deaths. A faux-Satanic rock musician's kid and his friends let them in by casting a spell on Halloween.
- John Saul's Punish the Sinners is a subversion: the villain is not Satan but the principal of a Catholic high school.
- Older Than Radio: M.G. Lewis' Ambrosio, or the Monk subverts this trope.
- Petaybee: Shepherd Howling's Nightmare Fuel cult is heavily influenced by Christianity, most evidently in the title "shepherd".
- Arthur Machen's The White People is a vastly more subtle example than most. The story combines The Fair Folk, Eldritch Location, Ultimate Evil, and Children Are Innocent with references to classic narrative poems to create a covertly religious horror tale. However, the frame story, in which one gentleman discusses the "infernal miracle" with a friend of his, reveals that Satan is afoot in the woods explored by the young heroine.
- Robert Anton Wilson's The Masks of Illuminati reads like a rather moralistic Religious Horror story right up until the very end, but if you're at all familiar with Wilson's other works, you should know that things aren't going to be that simple. Lets just say that it takes the Unreliable Narrator to new heights.
- The Blood Of The Lamb starts out rather mild, with a priest (Peter Carenza) discovering that he was cloned from the Shroud of Turin, and as a result had the power to heal, walk through fire unharmed, and even raise the dead. But, after killing his best friend of jealousy, his personality becomes much darker, and by the end he manages to scare the ever-loving shit out of a pair of Jesuit assassins, kills the Pope, and has pretty much become the
top only candidate for the Anti Christ.
- Many of Frank Perretti's novels have elements of this, one of the most prominent being, The Visitation.
- Graphic depictions of Rapture fiction like Left Behind and Christ Clone Trilogy series can easily become this, whether intended by the author or not.
- Black Sabbath's War Pigs was originally written as "Walpurgis," which was recorded but never released. Hence, why "War Pigs" contains references to witches and Satan.
- The Binding of Isaac is about a young boy (the eponymous Isaac) who hides in a basement filled with horrific creatures and christian symbolism in order to escape his fanatical mother, who believes God wants her to kill Isaac as proof of her faith.
- Doom features an invasion by the forces of Hell, who among other things love to Sigil Spam the faces of the Barons of Hell everywhere and have an Unholy Cathedral dedicated to whatever they worship. The Icon of Sin can be assumed to be something like Satan.
- The original version of The Wicker Man has nature-worshiping pagans living on a small island in northern Scotland. The protagonist is a devout Protestant, and a bit of an asshole, but by the end, he's become very sympathetic.
- Interestingly, the ending of the original was almost meddled to have it start raining, putting out the wicker man. This was cut because it clashed with the whole point. A deleted scene showed that the sacrifice worked but it was deleted to leave the ambiguity in place.
- Also interestingly, it arguably falls under an intersection of the first category and the third; the historic Celtic pagans, which the islanders claim to be, are recorded—admittedly by the Romans Caesar and Strabo—to have used "wicker man" sacrifice in the event of a bad harvest. It is certainly less disputed that the Celts practiced human sacrifice. There is a departure from what even the Romans record, though, in that there was no requirement that the sacrifice be a virgin or a representative of authority; indeed, it seems that the peoples who practised this custom sacrificed criminals and delinquents whenever possible.
- Children of the Corn featured a cult based around "He Who Walks Behind the Rows," revealed at the end of the story to be a demonic-looking monster. In the movie versions, it's revamped to be an entire, nearly omnipresent (within and around the town) spirit whose influence increases when it starts to get dark. Though it is implied to be a devil-worshiping cult, it is never outright stated to be a demon OR Satan. It's referred to with pronouns by those who don't worship it.
- The Cabin in the Woods has a backwoods redneck torture family who worship pain itself, as well as Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, who appears after the two surviving members of the Five enter the complex under the woods.
- Plus, y'know, the old pagan gods who the Five sacrifices are intended to placate in the first place.
- Not exactly treated as a religion of evil, Voodoo is not framed in the best light in The Serpent and the Rainbow.
- The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow follows the examination of a photo containing possible evidence of a Greco-Roman cult in Northern Ontario, connected with the disappearances of over one-hundred children. Though not Satanic in nature, the cult is explicitly presented as anti-Christian.
- Craig Skipp's and John Spector's The Scream, a novel that uses the Satanic Panic as a backdrop. The novel revolves around the titular rock band, which is accused of being Satanic, but actually serves a demon named Momma that the band's manager met in Vietnam.
- William Gladstone's Cat's Cradle, which is about an ancient cult whose religion revolves around Half Human Hybrids. The cover is pure distilled Nightmare Fuel, and the novel itself is extremely violent.
- The Warhammer 40,000 setting occasionally veers into this; there's an entire chapter of the Inquisition devoted to hunting down Daemons and banishing them back to the Warp, supported by a specially-trained chapter of the Space Marines.
- The Silent Hill games have this for the cult that summons/awakens the town's latent evil. In the third game when the deity/demon the cult worships appears the main character whimpers "That is God?"
- Xenogears has an entire Religion of Evil to start, but it goes From Bad to Worse towards the end when you discover Deus, creator of humanity, is a malevolent interstellar weapon who created humanity to repair his organic parts.
- Somewhat closer to Type 1, Deus, despite being responsible for creating most of that planet's human population, turns out to be a false god. The real "God" shows up in the form of the enigmatic "Wave Existence", who created the whole universe... apparently by accident, which, in some ways is even more terrifying, especially since he has no particular interest in His creations & just wants to go home. He's not a bad guy, though, & does help our heroes along eventually.
- Resident Evil 4, the Los Illuminados cult mixes this with traditional zombie-styled horror.
- Blood, anyone?
- Again, the SCP Foundation have a few of these, most notably SCP-231-7.
- Archangel from The Fear Mythos embodies this for all religions. He is the afterlife and the only way to not become his slave after death is to sell your soul to the Slender Man.
- This was also a central theme of The Refugees, a Slenderblog revolving largely around a Fundamentalist Christian sect who believed the Slender Man was an angel. It was the central theme of supplementary story The Transcend Manuscript.
Other Religion examples
- The Taiwanese film Double Vision is a religious horror in Taoist setting.
- Jigoku, a depiction of Buddhist Hell.
- Feng Shui (not to be confused with the tabletop game of the same name) is a movie of Taoism in the predominantly Catholic Philipines. A woman finds a ba gua mirror, which brings her luck, though the source of her good luck is a tradeoff, sacrificing her neighbors and loved ones in order to bring her material fortune.
- Ghouls (2008) is from the perspective of Celtic Druids.
- The Wii survival horror game Cursed Mountain plays with the taboos, traditions, and underlying horrors of Himalayan Buddhism as its central theme.
- Ditto with the Fatal Frame series, especially with the first and second titles. In Shinto, some deities are malevolent and must be placated, but the All-Gods Village take it to a whole new Squicky level, with a Human Sacrifice ritual gone horribly, horribly wrong. It's like a follower of an Abrahamic religion having to fight his or her way through an entire village of Satan-worshippers.
- With the exception of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the series feature Human Sacrifice in order to keep some sort of Hell Gate sealed up. Fatal Frame 2's sacrifice is probably the least Squicky of the examples (Fatal Frame 1 involves a Virgin Sacrifice being torn apart by ropes attached to her legs, arms, and neck. Fatal Frame III is much worse.)
- Except that in the second game there is another ritual that must be performed if the first can't be done for some reason. It involves torturing an outsider to death with the clear intent to cause as much suffering as possible for the Hellish Abyss to be temporarily placated.
- To generally clarify, the Shinto religion doesn't deal with death and afterlife all that much in Real Life, leaving those matters to Buddhism. The shrines seen in the games are obsessed with dealing with the line between life and death, and this alone will seem eerie to the original intended audience. Of course they implicitly don't have much choice; the portals weren't created by humans, they only try to keep them under control.
- Also, like in the Higurashi example below, the rituals in Fatal Frame get pretty gory, which does not fly with Shinto at all.