Horror masters Blumhouse (Get Out; Halloween) return this week with creepy chiller The Vigil. The movie takes as its basis the Jewish 'shomer' ceremony, whereby a person is asked to watch over the body of a recently deceased individual. Needless to say, the shomer depicted in the movie takes a menacing turn when the corpse appears to return to life...
In anticipation of The Vigil's release, we thought we'd round up some of our favourite ritualistic horror films. Here are five bloodcurdling classics to watch in preparation for the new Blumhouse spine-tingler.
1. The Wicker Man (1973)
The granddaddy of ritualistic horror, The Wicker Man continues to exert an eerie spell. Edward Woodward delivers a memorable performance as the Christian copper who is sent to a remote Scottish community, Summerisle, to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl. What he cannot know is that he is being used as a pawn in a diabolical pagan plot, overseen by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Director Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer do a tremendous job in moving from the amusing, fish-out-of-water comedy of Howie's initial predicament, to the bone-chilling finale. Of course, it's Woodward's convincingly anguished reaction that really chills – he really is the proverbial lamb to the slaughter.
2. House of the Devil (2009)
Director Ti West is part of a new wave of filmmakers who nostalgically riff on eighties horror conventions. (Another example would be Adam Wingard with The Guest and You're Next.) The House of the Devil targets the 'Satanic Panic' craze that swept the USA during the 1980s, with fears of ritualistic murder and mayhem at peak proportions. When a young babysitter is asked to keep watch on an old woman in a creaky old house, she comes to suspect that something sinister is afoot. Not only authentic to the 1980s in terms of its themes, the film's look (grainy stock, slow zooms, an emphasis on retro devices like headphones) is also suitably old-fashioned. And the final act plunge into bloody ritual terror, made worse by the agonisingly slow and suspenseful build-up, will leave you shaken.
3. Kill List (2011)
British filmmaker Ben Wheatley delights in keeping the audience off-balance. Take his pitch-black comedy Sightseers for instance, which takes a couple of unassuming Midlanders in their caravan and twists them into psychotic killers. However, few of his films are as menacing as Kill List, which begins as a kitchen sink drama akin to Mike Leigh, and culminates in a terrifying, bizarre bloodbath. Ostensibly, the film is about two hitmen (Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley) on a job to eliminate some targets. But it becomes clear they are at the centre of a spider's web of evil, and it has personal ramifications for at least one of the two men. Just try to predict where Kill List is going as you watch it – it's nearly impossible.
4. The Ritual (2017)
Adam Neville's book The Ritual gets a suitably creepy movie adaptation, with a talented young cast led by Life of Pi's Rafe Spall. As per the novel, the film takes a group of British friends and sends them off on a Scandinavian hiking trip. However, one injury and a shortcut through a forest later, and all manner of guilty recriminations start to bubble to the surface. The film balances the psychological angst of its ensemble with the burgeoning knowledge that someone, or something, is out in the woods – and it wants blood. It's very much in the vein of The Wicker Man, particularly in the final act, but the sturdy performances give it conviction.
5. Midsommar (2019)
In 2018, Ari Aster blew us all away with his insidiously creepy horror Hereditary. When it came to his follow-up movie, Midsommar, he switched up the tone somewhat. Although this story of hapless Americans at the mercy of a Swedish pagan cult has its share of horrific moments, there's also plenty of emphasis on black comedy. Aster cited British surrealist master Chris Morris as an influence on Midsommar, and certainly, there's a great deal of morbid amusement at watching dumb, arrogant tourists walking into the lion's mouth. However, it's Florence Pugh's remarkable central performance as the emotionally tortured Dani that makes the film stick in the mind. Her relationship woes with boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) find their cathartic release during the midsommar ceremony, culminating in a finale that is equal parts horrifying and empowering.