New Netflix series Devil in Ohio released recently, and I really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that it made me want to revisit other cult-based horror films and series.
**Warning: this article contains mild spoilers. While I am not giving away the endings, in a few of these films, the very fact that there is a cult involved is a twist in the story.
These selections are listed in no particular order, but we will start with the most recent, Devil in Ohio.
Devil in Ohio is a Netflix limited series consisting of eight episodes, and is based on the book by Daria Polatin (which is supposedly based on a true story). The storyline involves a psychiatrist named Suzanne (Emily Deschanel) who works at a hospital. When a vulnerable teenager named Mae shows up at the hospital, clearly traumatized, with a pentagram carved on her back, Suzanne makes the decision to bring Mae home to her own home. With three daughters already living at home, the addition of a third is bound to bring trouble, right? But Suzanne has suffered trauma of her own, and feels very protective of Mae (Madeleine Arthur).
It eventually becomes evident that Mae and her family belonged to a cult in a nearby town, and she managed to escape. Puzzled by the fact that Mae’s parents have not come to claim her, a local detective starts to investigate the cult, aided by Suzanne. With some of the plotline involving the high school attended by Mae and her new “sisters”, Devil in Ohio definitely dips into some YA material, but it is saved by some really good acting performances. Deschanel is sympathetic as Suzanne, and Madeleine Arthur, so good in Color Out of Space, was the perfect choice to play Mae. Her Disney Princess eyes and timid smile make her seem so vulnerable that we can totally understand why Suzanne is so passionate about helping her.
1BR – Boy, did I love this small, genuinely frightening film. When Sarah moves into a small apartment community, it seems too good to be true. The residents are all warm, friendly and welcoming, and her neighbor Brian is cute AND a bit flirty.
There are a few clues that something isn’t right: one of the residents is a menacing-looking man with an eye patch, there are badly repaired holes in the wall, strange sounds at night, and a pretty nasty note is pushed under Sarah’s door about the cat she snuck in to avoid the no pets policy. But it’s so much worse than Sarah imagined. Those oddly friendly residents are actually part of a cult, and now Sarah is being pulled into it by force.
Those patched up holes in the wall are caused by manacles, which are used to subdue new recruits while they are being “trained” into the cult. Sarah, who has appeared somewhat meek and shy through the film, doesn’t seem like the type who can resist all of this, but she surprises us.
As is often the case in these smaller projects, the lead actor really makes this film special. Nicole Brydon Bloom makes her feature film debut in 1BR, and she is definitely the heart and soul. The other acting performances are strong as well, but to make this one work, viewers have to become emotionally invested in Sarah’s plight…and we do. You can watch 1BR on Netflix or Shudder.
Jim Jones is often the inspiration for cult films
The Veil – I didn’t expect a lot from this one when I first watched it, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane appear in this film that seems to be loosely inspired by the Jim Jones story.
Documentary filmmaker Maggie (Alba) wants to film a doc about the Heaven’s Veil Cult and its leader Jim Jacobs (Jane), who gave poison to his followers and killed them all. All, that is, except one, a young woman named Sarah Hope (Rabe). Maggie, her brother Christian and Sarah return to the site of the mass suicide with a film crew, in the hopes that Sarah can fill in the missing pieces to the story.
There’s a little more going on here, though, Maggie and Christian’s father was an FBI agent who led the investigation into Heaven’s Veil, and he committed suicide shortly after the horrible events took place. There is some pretty intense supernatural activity that happens during filming of the documentary, and it adds some nice horror to The Veil. You can rent this film on Apple TV and Vudu.
The Sacrament – Ti West and Eli Roth worked together to bring us this dark found footage movie, and it’s also inspired by the story of Jim Jones.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seinmetz), who is a recovering addict. She is living in a commune called Eden Parish, which is led by a man known as Father (Gene Jones), and wants Patrick to come check the place out. He does so, accompanied by his friends Jake and Sam (Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen), who are a camera man and a reporter hoping to investigate Eden Parish.
Things are creepy from the start at the commune, even though the members they are allowed to interview gush about how wonderful it is there. An interview with Father himself amps up the feeling of impending danger, and events get bloody and violent pretty quickly.
Gene Jones does a wonderful job of portraying Father, whose smooth, calm mannerisms and way of speaking make you realize how cult leaders are able to convince others to follow them. It’s pretty frightening. The Sacrament can be streamed on Tubi.
The Following was a Fox series that made its debut in 2013 and ran for three seasons, with the first season being by far the best. Kevin Bacon starred as troubled former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is brought out of retirement to help catch former serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who has escaped from prison.
As we are shown in several very tense scenes, Joe has managed to acquire a cult-like following during his time behind bars, and his followers are willing to do anything to help him, including kill. His right-hand woman is Emma (Valorie Curry), and she works with Jacob and Paul (Nico Tortorella and Adan Canto) to take down anyone who poses a threat to Joe.
I remember being completely enthralled by the crazy, violent first season, which was very suspenseful. You can rent The Following on Google Play, Apple TV and Vudu.
If you are a fan of cult-based horror films and series, give us your recommendations in the comments section.