As we dive into Religious Horror on the podcast this month, Kim Morrison puts on her Sunday best to consider the Top 13 films set within churches…
Churches are a common sight in the world of horror, regardless of sub-genre, offering creepy imagery, refuge from creatures who cannot cross their boundary and usually the promise of a graveyard nearby.
As a result there’s a host of amazing horror movies with incredible scenes set in or around churches, so let’s count down 13 of the best…
13. Sinister 2 (2015)
Overall Sinister 2 may not be a good movie, but it still manages to sneak in some brutal murders of entire families to make up for the terrible story, including one memorable church set massacre.
Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her children have moved to a farmhouse to escape her abusive partner, which just so happens to have an old church on its land. Through the tape ‘Sunday Service’ we find out that a previous family were murdered in the church. After being nailed to the floor, the family had rats placed on their stomachs, which are trapped under metal bowls with hot coals on top. In order to escape, the rats ate their way through the family. Talk about Sunday lunch.
12. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
On the day of her First Communion, Karen (a young Brooke Shields) is attending church with her mother and sister Alice (Paula Sheppard). However as the other children are led out into the church Alice is snatched from behind and murdered by a figure in a yellow raincoat and translucent mask.
Her body is hidden inside one of the church pews, which is then set on fire. The smoke draws a crowd to the pew, and they are horrified to discover Karen’s body inside. Eek.
11. Salem’s Lot (1979)
Salem’s Lot opens in Guatemala, with the main characters Ben (David Soul) and Mark (Lance Kerwin) filling tiny bottles of holy water. Halfway through the task, the water starts to glow and both of them stare at the bottle in fear.
We jump back in time to discover Ben and Mark’s backstory – and what happened in the town of Salem’s Lot – and soon find out that glowing holy water means vampires are nearby. The story ends back in Guatemala, as the two realise that vampires are still chasing them and they need to move on.
10. The Borderlands (2013)
To be fair, most of The Borderlands is set in a church which is reported to be the site of supernatural activity. The Vatican has sent a team to investigate what’s happening, and through this found footage horror we get to discover the macabre goings-on inside the church.
I can’t talk about this film too much without spoiling it, but I will say that the ending is one of the most terrifying church scenes ever, and definitely not one for people who hate bleak endings.
9. There’s Someone Inside Your House (2021)
In order to mark the death of one of her classmates, Katie (Sarah Dugdale) puts on a memorial at the local church for the rest of the school to attend. However, while she is at the church setting up, the killer decides that she is next on their hit list.
After playing an offensive podcast that Katie had previously recorded, the killer chases her through the church before catching up with her in the confessional booth as she tries to call for help.
8. Candyman (2021)
The finale of Candyman takes place in an abandoned church when Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is abducted by William (Colman Domingo) and has to face what has happened to Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) since he reawakened Candyman.
This final sequence is not one for anyone with trypophobia, as Anthony is covered in holes to represent the hivemind that Candyman has created. William then cuts off Anthony’s hand and replaces it with a hook to complete his transformation into the newest incarnation of the titular legend.
7. House of Wax (2005)
At the centre of the town of Ambrose is a church, and it’s there that Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) finds town resident Bo (Brian Van Holt), who offers to help get the spare parts needed to fix her boyfriend car so she and her friends can get back on the road. So when Bo turns violent, Carly heads back to the safety of the church.
However, when none of the residents react to her bursting into the church in obvious distress, Carly realises something is wrong and discovers that everyone else in the town is in fact, wax models.
6. Silent Hill (2006)
When the alarm rings in the town of Silent Hill, it’s time to get inside. It’s an especially good idea to hide inside the church because it’s the only place where the nightmare creatures of the town cannot enter.
As the townsfolk try to flee to the church, Anna (Tanya Allen) is caught on the steps by Pyramid Head, who shows his general distaste for others by first ripping off her clothes and then ripping off her skin.
5. Prince of Darkness (1987)
Most of Prince of Darkness is set in the buildings surrounding an old monastery, where a mysterious vat of green liquid is being investigated by a team of academics. While the team quickly figure out that the liquid is the embodiment of satan, they don’t figure out that it might be a good idea to stay away from the vat and the clearly alive liquid within.
Soon the goo starts to escape, and anyone that comes into contact with it becomes possessed.
4. Hot Fuzz (2007)
PC Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is trying his best to figure out what’s going on in the village of Sandford, but it’s not easy when everyone else is quick to write off murders as accidents. However, journalist Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton) says he may have some key information.
During a village fete, Tim tells Angel to meet him so they can discuss: however, before Angel has the chance a cloaked figure pushes the top of the church tower onto Tim, brutally squishing his head like a grape.
3. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Sleepy Hollow again uses the trope that the damned cannot walk on hallowed ground, so when the Headless Horseman comes to town, the entire population flees to the church.
However, while he may not have a head, the Horseman is very clever and isn’t going to let a little thing like this stop him from claiming his next victim. Using a fence post and a rope, the Horseman impales Baltus (Michael Gambon) through the middle, before pulling him out the window and beheading him.
2. 28 Days Later (2002)
In 28 Days Later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in the hospital to find the world is empty. After wandering into a church, he finds the pews full of dead bodies, which really drives home that something major has happened whilst Jim has been unconscious.
However figures in the congregation start to spring awake, and after hearing feet running up the stairs towards him Jim is attacked by an infected priest.
1. The Fog (1980)
Antonio Bay has not only been overrun by the densest fog the town has ever seen, but the fog just so happens to be full of murderous leper ghosts, intent on getting revenge on the descendants of those who wronged them 100 years ago.
With a group of survivors gathered in the church, the pews start to fill with fog before Blake (effects wizard Rob Bottin) and his spectral comrades appear. The ghosts are given the gold which they seek, but they pop back for one last jump scare to claim Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) so they can finally rest in peace.
© Kim Morrison