The Revulsion Series

When I started this novel, my intention was never to make it a series. But by the end of the first book, it became apparent that’s what I had to do. Now, it’s becoming apparent that the series is about to draw to a close. After publishing the first two books in the series, the end of the third book is visible on the horizon. After this book is completed, I will move on to another project.

This project allowed me to explore some very dark places. It wasn’t always comfortable or easy, but I felt the subject matter was important enough to treat respectfully.

For many of us, a genre like horror allows us to create a space where we explore the worst that humanity has to offer. While it hasn’t always been associated with “high art”, it doesn’t have to be either. Indeed, horror appeals to something very basic and instinctual with in us, but we indulge that fear because we must—because if we don’t, then it still has power over us.

The Zelda Scene in Pet Sematary

As a young boy, I remember watching Pet Sematary at the theater with my mom. While the movie didn’t really evolve well as I grew older, there was one scene that stuck with me—and still sticks with me, even now. That’s the Zelda scene.

When I heard that they were doing a remake of Pet Sematary, that scene was the first image that popped back into my head. I went straight to YouTube to relive the nightmare. It had nowhere near the same impact that it had on me as a child, and I wondered what it was that about that scene that bothered me in the first place. The makeup isn’t all that scary. Zelda herself is just sort of sickly looking. Yet if you ask most people what the scariest part of that movie was, I’ll bet it’s that scene that they recall.


I started thinking about that question and made an offhand joke that they should have just built a script around Zelda when it occurred to me that I could do that. Obviously, you don’t want to rip off the entire idea, so I wanted to focus on what really worked there.

To me, it was the fact that this young girl was cloistered in with her ill sister. The illness had turned her into a monster. She wasn’t a threat to anyone, and yet she was more terrifying than any other aspect of that movie. There are several theories on why this is, but one of the more interesting ones gets into the idea that we are intrinsically afraid of those with disabilities.

There were a couple of motifs that I wanted to adapt when writing The Revulsion of Angel Walker that I felt worked really well in the original film adaptation of Pet Sematary. I wanted to channel the sense of claustrophobia pairing it with a child’s sense of dread and the fear of otherness. Of course, this approach isn’t without problems. You don’t want to demonize the disabled or those with facial deformities, so I decided to make my character, Angel, into something that was within the realm of possibility but sufficiently other so that it didn’t impact the lives of real people in a negative way. I paired that with the claustrophobia of living directly next to the object of fear, separating the protagonists and their sister by only a thin wall in a small apartment. That way there was no escape. They could hear her, they could feel her, and when they passed her room, they could even smell her and making it terrifying for a young child growing up in that environment.

That, in essence, is what I really think worked about the scene and why it stuck with me all these years.

Hereditary Review

I didn’t include Hereditary in my list of best religious or occult movies ever. This was in spite of the fact that it contains occult references and a demon. At the time of my initial viewing, the movie struck me as more psychological horror than religious or occult horror. As amends for this oversight, I wanted to give Hereditary a reaction-based blog post of its own.

When I saw the movie for the first time, there were a number of wtf moments. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then you should know that there are spoilers in this review. In fact, the first time I watched the movie, I couldn’t make it all the way through. Not because it was overly terrifying, but because the sheer level of continuous anxiety driven home by Toni Collette was more than a little unnerving. On the other hand, upon watching the movie all the way through, I felt thoroughly rewarded by the experience.

The movie begins with Toni Collette addressing mourners at her mother’s funeral and introducing her husband played by Gabriel Byrne and children played by Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff. Toni Collette’s character, Annie, is an artist. Her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is, perhaps, the creepiest character in the story. There is an almost chronic sense of pins and needles anxiety that pervades each scene. The only other movie I can remember where I’ve experienced this sensation was El Topo and that was only certain scenes, . If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder or just about any other kind of anxiety disorder, be sure to fill yourself with Valium before delving into this movie.

The daughter, Charlie, is just off. Not only is she bizarre in appearance, her affectation blows straight off the spectrum. She likes to draw hideous pictures of people and when a bird crashes into the window at school, she uses her teacher’s scissors to remove its head. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she has an allergy to nuts, a problem that will create a new tragedy for the family.

Since the daughter is so awkward, Toni Collette, demands that Peter, her son, bring young Charlie to a party. Charlie is very ill-equipped to deal with a large number of people engaged in social exchange. At some point, Charlie eats something with nuts in it and goes into anaphylactic shock. Peter rushes Charlie out of the party and attempts to driver her home. Since she cannot breathe, she sticks her head out the window where it strikes a pole and she is decapitated.

The son, of course, feels at least partly responsible for this turn of events but also blames his mother for forcing Charlie to go to a party that neither he wanted her to be at nor she wanted to go to. Of course, he also leaves her alone to go smoke a bong with a girl who has barely any interest in him but he nonetheless fancies. Charlie begins to have trouble breathing after Peter smokes the bong and he races her home where there’s an epi pen, but, well, you know what happens. This is the first of many wtf moments in the movie. In fact, although I was alone, I distinctly remember saying out loud: “Did that really just happen?” I knew, of course, that it did happen. Peter then sits in his car for an extended period of time, and then makes his way back home with his sister’s headless body in the car.

The next scene cuts to Toni Collette wailing which will make up many of the remaining scenes in the movie. Her wailing is superimposed over the image of her daughter’s head being consumed by ants and other insects.

Earlier, however, Toni Collette reveals that her brother, who suffered from schizophrenia, hanged himself in her mother’s bedroom at the age of 16. The brother accused the mother of “trying to put people inside of him”. When she tells this to a recovery group for those who have lost family members, they all stare back at her awkwardly. Toni Collette nonetheless continues to tell her entire story in rapid fire fashion expressing a complex range of emotions that are not entirely decipherable to either the people in the support group or the audience at large. She ends the eruption by indicating that she is “to blame” for the entire thing but corrects herself and says instead: “I am blamed”.

The dialog is interesting throughout. Each of the characters appear to have to exert a strenuous amount of energy to even form basic sentences. They often express exasperation after making the effort. Toni Collette can often be found infusing her children with the sort of panicked anxiety that comes across as almost angry, like she doesn’t have time to deal with all her kids bullshit.

Anyway, after Charlie’s death, Toni Collette spends most of the time so twisted in grief that you hardly make out what it is that she’s saying. This isn’t to say that her performance was lacking in some way. She is, as always, brilliant. It’s just so perpetually unnerving that it ties you up in knots. Nor am I saying that the effect produced by Hereditary is bad aesthetically. It does what it does very well. It’s just difficult for the viewer to sustain that kind of anxiety for two straight hours.

This is part of the reason why the movie did better with critics than it did with audiences. No one is this film is likable and yet you can empathize with their sorrow and their pain. There are moments when you actually think you can like Toni Collette and almost immediately, her character will rob you of that desire. This is particularly true when she screams at her son for the accident that took her sister’s life. He replies calmly that it was she who insisted that Charlie go to the party. Worst family dinner ever.

And then, of course, there’s the incident where she’s standing over Peter, the son, after having dumped a bunch of paint thinner in the room and struck a match. The striking of the match, she says, woke her up.

Then there’s a scene with Toni Collette and another woman who lost a child of her own. While the woman is explaining the details of a seance she attended, Toni Collette appears to be looking away toward the audience. The woman continues to grab her and situate her direction toward her while she explains what happened at the seance. Again, this is extremely unnerving. Toni Collette continues to get distracted or her attention continues to turn away from the woman and the woman responds by adjusting her. This is precisely the subtly that I’m talking about and the impact it has is to raise your anxiety level to an anxiety crescendo.

In fact, the rare moments of solace or stillness serve only to lull you into a false sense of calm. The more aware you become of this, the more the calmness itself becomes cause for anxiety.

There’s a lot of different kinds of fear. There’s dread of an impending terror. There’s fright, that shocks you into a moment’s terror. There’s eerie, which hints at realities that are too terrifying to imagine. All these different kinds of fear have their role in horror. But anxiety? That’s a different kind of fear entirely. That’s a personal kind of fear. And one that you seldom see in a horror movie.

Yet Hereditary is a horror movie and it is one of the most effective horror movies in recent memory, maybe ever. It’s occult and religious themes are almost incidental to the type of horror it evokes. For that reason, I neglected to consider it when I was drafting my Best Religious Horror Movies of All Time. I was wrong though. It belongs there.

Still, I would classify Hereditary as a kind of emotional torture porn or anxiety horror.

Best Religious Horror Movies / All Time

#1. Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder takes the top spot for one reason: It actually means something. When you think about what a movie means or what it’s about, that is something very different than discussing the plot. Jacob’s Ladder is about letting go of the darkness that binds our soul to the past so we can move forward with our lives. Yes, it’s steeped in biblical allegory, but the visuals are consistently disturbing, almost beautifully so. It’s one of those movies that you can watch over and over and get something different out of every viewing.

#2. The Exorcist

As damning as feminist criticism of The Exorcist has been, the movie remains as frightening today as it was when it was released 40 years ago. It may be more disturbing in the light of feminist criticism.

#3. The Witch

Masterclass acting and creepy atmosphere make this one of the most subtle period pieces concerning the fear of female sexuality and power. The heir-apparent and cultural inheritor of possession films which focus on celibate male heroes compelling with the power of Christ. The Witch extinguishes the need for a hero and instead features males that are alternatively naive and self-righteous.

#4. Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby is an exercise in subtext. It’s effective because of what it doesn’t show. Much of the horror resides just outside of your line of sight and in the periphery of your imagination. When this works, it’s because the storytelling is phenomenal, and, in this case, it is. Also, a rare piece of urban horror.

#5. Se7en

It’s hard to put four movies in front of Se7en, but the movie doesn’t actually feature any supernatural elements. It makes it an odd fit for religious horror. If this were a list of the best serial killer movies of all time, Se7en would be number one. Nonetheless, the religious themes are well-researched and smartly adapted. This is the type of movie that will never be forgotten.

6. The Mothman Prophecies

The concept is built off of an urban legend, but I don’t give a shit. It’s religious horror if I say it is. The moth represents entities forever trapped in the hellish regions. That makes them demons. That makes it religious horror. Despite critical indifference to the movie, it was genuinely scary. The mothmen reach out to those who have been destroyed by personal tragedy. They play on their longings and their fears. They draw them into a web of intrigue. They drive them out of their mind. This is a great concept and it was executed wonderfully.

7. Frailty

Bill Pullman and Matthew McConaughey deliver brilliant performances in a script that puts a religious spin on the superhero genre. Bill Pullman tells his young boys that he can see evildoers and while the one son thinks he’s a dingbat the other buys it wholesale. The storytelling involves McConaughey’s character describing his childhood to a police officer who is investigating a number of unsolved murders that appear to be religiously motivated.

8. A Dark Song

Occult horror at its finest. A Dark Song is one of the most promising entries into a genre that has become dull and dry. Main character elicits the aid of a drunk occultist to perform the Abramelin ritual which will allow her to ask one favor of an angel. Her values are tested when she must choose between satisfying the debt she owes her grief and learning to move on with her life.

9. Devil’s Advocate

Cheesy at times because it sounds off like a morality play and with occasionally offensive results, but overall interesting premise and, of course, Al Pacino.

10. The Prophecy

Christopher Walken plays the Angel Gabriel as humans find themselves in the middle of a war between angels loyal to God and angels who think humans suck. Occasionally cheesy but Vigo Mortenson is Satan and Christopher Walken is awesome.

11. Flatliners (the first one)

Medical students stop their hearts to see whether or not there’s an afterlife but find their sins revisited on them quite literally and with potentially deadly results.

12. From Within

Angry witches set off a chain hex to curse a town for killing their ancestors. Decent flick.

13. SiREN

If you’ve ever wanted to see a movie where a dude gets fucked up the ass by a tail, then here you go.

Honorable Mentions

  • Black Death (starring Carice Van Houten)
  • Ouija: The Origin of Evil
  • The Possession of Michael King

I will update this list periodically. If there’s anything you think I missed, leave it in the comments.


With a movie like Se7en, there’s so much you can talk about. In lieu of starting his own ministry, an enigmatic serial killer named John Doe (this is significant) begins murdering people as retribution for violating the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, Envy, Lust, and Pride. On some basic level, Se7en is a morality play inspired by the medieval literature and adapted darkly to modern times.

Andrew Kevin Walker indulges his serial killer and main antagonist as a kind of anti-hero. His absolute loathing for main protagonist, David Mills, as a wannabe super-cop who grew up on too many cop flicks is apparent throughout his interplay with Morgan Freeman’s character Detective Somerset. Somerset questions Mills motives throughout the film and, even as they develop a tenuous friendship, Mills naivete manages to disappoint Somerset throughout the plot’s development. By contrast, Somerset is careful, measured, rationale, and thoughtful while Mills is prone to outbursts, vacuous, and more interested in his image than the work his job requires.

Perhaps Mills’ most iconic moment is when he speaks to an imaginary audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a homicide.”

Perhaps Walker’s greatest achievement is setting up the Mills character to be destroyed by John Doe; but it’s how he does it that makes Sev7n one of the best pieces of religious horror of all time. Much like the characters in the medieval morality plays, Mills becomes wrath.

Se7en is a perfect screenplay, perfectly executed by David Fincher. Pitt does a perfect job playing the vapid starstruck echo of Serpico and Morgan Freeman is brilliant as always. Se7en is a masterpiece and that sloth scene will haunt my dreams forever.

Then the Devils are Really Angels…

As far as Religious Horror goes, it’s impossible to talk about the genre without discussing the finer points of Jacob’s Ladder. The movie features Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, a mailman who tragically lost a son (McCauley Culkin). Haunted by the loss and his involvement in Vietnam, Jacob makes his way as best he can.

The film then breaks into three different narratives. In one narrative, he’s living with a girlfriend named Jezebel who seems to want to separate him from his tragic attempt at fatherhood. In a second narrative, he’s still married to his wife and his son is still alive. A third narrative which is linked to both (but independent of either) involves Jacob’s time in Vietnam as a medic.

While much as been said about the narrative and its various interpretations, the thing that makes it interesting is that it’s steeped in allegory and draws on the biblical story of “Jacob’s Ladder” as a “Stairway to Heaven“. In fact, Jacob is haunted much more literally by his past than most people have cause to claim.

The reason why this movie works so well is because it means something to those who watch it. For those in it for the horror gore, it features some truly disturbing scenes including faceless demons, surgical refuse, and nurses with tumors growing out of the back of their heads.

Meanwhile, his old war buddies are trying to figure out what happened to them in Vietnam, and end up getting picked off by one. At the risk of interpreting, the story is really about letting go and moving forward.

In contrast to much of the horror films that see production in any decade, Jacob’s Ladder leverages its mystery to tell a parable of a man who cannot let go of his past and is put through hell (or at least purgatory) in order to reconcile his (very literal) demons and ascend to heaven (one would guess).

In my estimation, it is the top offering in the genre of religious horror for its psychological acuity and its willingness to indulge its religious convictions.

Possession Films and Misogyny


It all begins with The Exorcist. Arguably, one of the scariest movies of all time, The Exorcist is masterful at taking a vulnerable female victim and turning her into an demonic perversion. The source material for Blatty’s work, however, involved a young boy—Roland Doe—not a girl. So why change it in the dramatization?

That question has haunted Blatty for decades. Careful observers of the book have noted that the main protagonists are two women who don’t have men in their lives. They are then saved by two priests who must literally sacrifice themselves in Christ-like fashion in order to rid the young Reagan McNeil of the Pazuzu demon that possesses her.

While I confess this was not my original reaction to the movie, and, in fact, I consider it to be the best piece of religious horror ever written, this Amanda Marcotte piece correctly notes that Blatty himself was very orthodox in his approach to Catholicism and decried the liberalization of his former alma mater, Georgetown University. She reads the The Exorcist as a reactionary diatribe against progressive feminism:

The symbolic puberty young Reagan endures turns her from an adorable — and asexual child — into a disgusting monster who spews fluids, pants, and does seemingly impossible things with her body. Just in case the grim view of the sexually mature female body isn’t obvious enough, we actually get to see Reagan masturbate with a cross. At that point, the message “female sexuality is Satanic” stops even being subtext and might as well be printed in subtitles across the screen.

She has a point. Most possession movies do feature young women who, in some cases, have been the victims of sexual assault and, in other cases, are sexually liberalized outside the norm procreative paranoid religious sex.

However, she loses me when she says:

Beyond its offensive misogyny, “The Exorcist” is also a piece of crap. The dialogue is laughable, the horrors comical, and the plot tiresome. Its weakness as a film is even more pronounced when you compare it to the plethora of genuinely scary and often sublime horror films that came out in era spanning from the late sixties to the early eighties

Yes, it’s offensive when held under the light of Blatty’s often histrionic displays of Catholic normativity, but it’s a genuinely frightening film. The room that Reagan occupies is itself the stuff of nightmares. When she’s on screen you do get the sense that you’re in the presence of evil. You also have the sense that the Reagan is an innocent victim of the forces of darkness.

Nonetheless, you get the sense for why the possession sub-genre in general has not aged well. Despite that, possession movies continue to be made with each one the degraded copy of the original Exorcist.

When writing The Revulsion of Angel Walker, I wanted to move away from the sorts of anti-women undertones that plague religious horror. In fact, it can be easily argued that I reversed this trend and targeted male sexuality in the same way that Blatty’s novel targets female sexuality.

I did this for several reasons. First, female sexuality (from the vantage of paranoid religious sex) tempts. Male sexuality in its darkest aspect coerces, punishes, and violates.

What’s more frightening that that?

Why is Religious Horror So Compelling?

Religious horror, or horror that contains religious themes, draws on the rich tradition of humanity’s connection with the fundamentally unknowable. Where do we go when we die? What is the meaning of life? How do we control the seemingly whimsical forces around us when they are utterly indifferent to us?

Questions such as these have ignited the imagination for millennia. We only have about 4000 years of recorded history to draw on, but throughout that span, the human imagination has shown both a remarkable confluence of ideas and an almost impossible diversity of ways of expressing those. What these stories signify and what they mean to us are deeply personal and yet they persist even as we perish.

For as long as their have been mythologies there have also been stories that have conjured out of fear. While the more cynical among us might claim that fear is the origin of all of our stories, but when we talk about horror, we’re talking about stories that indulge that fear. These are stories that go out of their way to provoke that fear. Perhaps because religion is so deeply ingrained in our cultural memories it is such a rich resource to mine for horror stories. Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that religion itself is built on fear. Perhaps what we fear most of all is that our life is meaningless, our passions are no different than animals, and the universe truly is indifferent toward.

Or, consider that religion focuses on death. We create stories to explain what happens to us when we die. The Greeks had the notion of Hades which was both a god and place. Tartarus was a place set aside for the evil and became the foundation for Christian ideas of Hell. Those who offended their capricious gods found themselves tortured in ways that were tailored to their own psyches. Tantalus for exampled was condemned to hopelessly grope for precisely what he desired only to find it elude his grasp at the last moment. There are two elements to this. The first is everlasting want. The second is the illusion of hope. Sisyphus faced a similar fate. He could never quite get that boulder over the top of the hill, but the illusion of hope forced him to try indefinitely.

If that’s your religion, then your religion is horror and for so many of us, that’s exactly what religion is. The terror of an omniscient eye keeping score under the threat of everlasting torment.