Behind every great demonic possession flick is an actor who is up for the challenge of portraying the possessed. When this job is half-assed, the film can lose its steam but when someone pulls it off, it can truly resonate with the viewers and leave a lasting impact. The movies on this list have been selected due to convincing, unique, and terrifying performances. Read with caution, as the following list may contain spoilers.

Ava’s Possessions

A potentially odd inclusion on this list, Ava’s Possessions is unique in the fact that it deals with life after possession–but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great performances along the way. Ava and Hazel (played by Louisa Krause and Annabelle Dexter-Jones, respectively), with the help of some spot-on make up artistry, perform solid portrayals of what possession may look like in everyday life in this oversaturated horror comedy. [MI]

The Babadook

When a grief-stricken widow and mother of a child with behavioral issues faces off with a malevolent force that would seek to tear what remains of her family apart, she must break free of the influence of this presence which has quite literally driven her to the point of madness. This powerful performance by Essie Davis reminds us that even demonic forces are no match for a mother protecting her child. [FS]

The Cleansing Hour

Father Lance performs exorcisms in his secretly-fictional livestream series, sharing the same name as this short film. His team hires aspiring actresses to play possessed individuals, and they get more than they bargained for when they cast Heather in their next episode. Seamlessly transitioning “actress playing a part” to “actual demon” is the epitome of what this list is about. [MI]

The Conjuring

The climax of The Conjuring is where things really go sideways for the Warrens and their clients. Lili Taylor plays the possessed here. Taylor’s Carolyn is both possessed and attacked by the ghost of a witch in an altogether disturbing scene complete with screaming, bleeding from the face, and displays of supernatural power. Even her recovery from the possession is standout. [AP]

The Devil’s Candy

An artist, Jesse, and his family buy the house of their dreams, and for a moment domestic bliss is imminent. But what happened before moving in is far more sinister than they could have ever imagined. When the reason for the low purchase price becomes clear, impacting the subject matter of Jesse’s work, and attracting the unstable former occupant, this family finds themselves in a fight with the Devil himself. Discoidal Flying V™ solos? Satanic art? A pretty bad-ass Ethan Embry? What else do you need? Creeping unease aside, The Devil’s Candy is an excellent example of positive representation of metalheads in film. [BM]

Dybbuk

In Jewish folklore, not all possessions are demonic. When the spirit of a spurned bride possesses a groom on the day of his own wedding, we see a sequence of increasingly strange behavior ranging from mildly drunken bumbling to full blown seizures and everything in between. Itay Tiran sells the notion of slowly and unwillingly losing control of your body to something with far darker intentions. [FS]

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Jennifer Carpenter’s portrayal of the title character is easily the highlight of this movie. Earning nominations for the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, Saturn Awards, and MTV Movie Awards (winning the latter), Carpenter’s role was inspired albeit loosely on the true story of Anneliese Michel. The film is more of a courtroom drama, but the barn scene (if you’ve seen it, you know) will leave you suspecting Carpenter may have been legitimately possessed. [MI]

The Exorcist

There’s a reason why people still harken back to Linda Blair’s performance in the Exorcist. Sure, the makeup and the dialogue send the “demon’s” performance into the stratosphere of creepiness. But Blair’s dead-eyed stare and look of hopelessness lay the groundwork that make her turn as a possessed girl one of the most memorable in cinema history. [AS]

Insidious

Comatose or possessed? The Lambert family is terrorized by a demon taking hold of their son, Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins), placing him into a vegetative state. Like the Exorcist, relying heavily on a child actor to bring the terror in your film can be risky but rewarding. The demonic entities are truly horrifying even for adult viewers, which makes Simpkins’ performance as a terrified child all the more believable. [MI]

The Last Exorcism

Nell, played by Ashley Bell, provides one of the most subtle “possessed young woman” performances in recent years. Nell’s wide-eyed earnestness paired with the sadness of her father (Louis Herthum) and the overwhelming creepiness of her brother (Caleb Sweetzer) works to make the film feel organically off-kilter. [AS]

Lords of Salem

Spoilers ahead! Sheri Moon Zombie stars in Lords of Salem, a Rob Zombie yarn that tackles witches, witchcraft, and satanic possessions. Moon Zombie plays Heidi Hawthorne, a radio DJ in Salem, Massachusetts, who is, unfortunately, literally placed under a spell of inner destruction that spans the ages thanks to her family lineage. Moon Zombie executes her role in a subtle and eerie manner while playing off the other expertly cast actresses in this A+ occult film. [AS]

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

There’s really no way to describe this film without getting into major spoiler territory, so if you haven’t seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, avert your eyes for the rest of this description. In this incredibly bleak film prequel to the main series, we see Laura Palmer’s heartbreaking and tragic backstory of torment and abuse at the hands of a mysterious spirit known as “Bob.” It is later revealed that Bob is able to physically manifest himself by possessing the body of Laura’s father, Leland Palmer in an incredibly distressing turn of events. Ray Wise so flawlessly switches back and forth between doting father and bloodthirsty animal, it’s extremely unsettling. [FS]

We Are Still Here

Larry Fessenden’s plays Jacob, a sort of spiritualist medium. The possession in question happens during a séance scene involving Andrew Sensenig’s Paul character. Fessenden slips in and out of possession seamlessly as the scene plays out, ultimately landing on a sinister voice with a contorting face. It’s a chilling effect and a superb start to the third act. [AP]

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The Frightday Staff

The Frightday Staff

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