Stories of eldritch cults

Let’s trace the satanic/pagan/eldritch cult/coven/conspiracy meme:

1911 short story “Casting the Runes by” M.R. James.

1931 novella The Shadow over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft.

1948 short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Nothing supernatural here. The evil is entirely mundane.

1957 movie Night of the Demon (titled Curse of the Demon in the U.S.) based on “Casting the Runes”.

1964 novel Day of the Arrow by Philip Loraine, which was made into the 1966 movie Eye of the Devil. Little known in the U.S., they were probably a strong influence on The Wicker Man.

1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, which was made into the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby.

1973 film The Wicker Man. Noteworthy because the villains are arguably more sympathetic than the hero.

1973 novel Harvest home by Thomas Tryon, which was made into the 1978 TV mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home.

1976 film The Omen.

1978 film The Legacy. This kind of subverts the trope. In this one, the coven’s victims deserve what they get.

1993 novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte Gutierrez, which was made into the 1999 film The Ninth Gate. Sort of deconstructs the trope. While individual people are powerful sorcerers, the cult itself is mostly a sham.

The meme was used in a lot of low-budget horror flicks in the 1960s and 1970s, but most of them are deservedly forgotten. What are some good examples? What stories made significant contributions to the trope?

One could probably list these all day, but a few are:

City of the Dead (1960) - overlooked British film about a village of devil worshippers, starring Christopher Lee, and set in New England! Looks like nothing special at first but stick with it, it actually turns damn good. A nice '60s companion piece to Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.

Suspiria (1977) - a tad overrated but still a deserving cult (ha) favorite about witches in a girls’ boarding school

Troll 2 - the infamous entertaining / terrible movie about a vegetarian coven (yes, that’s what I said!)

The Black Cat (1934) – Devil cult action with great art direction and lighting.

The Seventh Victim (1943) – Beautifully lit, but generally senseless satanic cult action in Greenwich Village.

The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) – Thugees in 19th century India.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963) – Lost couple gets involved with vampire cult; features some surprising similarities to Eyes Wide Shut.

The Devil Rides Out (1968) – Above average devil cult shenanigans in England with Chris Lee as the good guy.

The Crimson Cult (1968) – Generally dreary except for Barbara Steele with green skin.


Helter Skelter (1976)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Galaxina (1980) – Post-apocalyptic motorcycle cult bent on worship of the great god, Harley-Davidson.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – “Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult, now… they’re everywhere.”

Ticket to Heaven (1981)/Split Image (1982) – The dangers of modern day cults and cult deprogramming.

Lair of the White Worm (1988) – Pagan snake cult

TCM showed this one just last night. (And also The Black Cat, which you mentioned, too.)

I was struck by the similarities to Rosemary’s Baby. I haven’t read the 1967 Ira Levin novel, but from descriptions it does seem to feature the ‘banality of evil’ aspect of the coven as seen in the film. The idea that Satanists are not exciting or dramatic or particularly attractive, but merely unimpressive, average, boring people, can be seen in embryo in The Seventh Victim.

As for the thread’s request: the 1996 move The Craft might qualify. It’s one of those that do posit that magic is ‘real.’

READ THE NOVEL. It will snap yer stix.

The movie is great…but the novel!

Then go back and read A Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin’s first novel.

Then forget him. Ira was a rare novelist whose first books were brilliant, and then turned into shit. The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil were pretty much okay, but Sliver and Son of Rosemary were barely readable.

Cool! And that reminds me: The Deceivers (1988). A Merchant Ivory production, in which Pierce Brosnan infiltrates the Thugs.

Best scene in the whole movie: Galaxina et Harley Davidson - YouTube

I’ve read only A Kiss Before Dying, which I agree was superb. So I’ll probably take your advice on the rest.

In re Deathtrap: I love how thoroughly meta that play is. I also notice its main plot device being reused more than perhaps any other that Levin created.