April is Cops and Killers Month here at Nightmare on Film Street, which means we’re looking at stories of apex predators who prey on humans and the men and women tasked with bringing them to justice. Often, these law enforcers find themselves up against monsters of the human variety. The horror in those clashes comes from trying to find a fiendish murderer who can hide in plain sight and uncovering the metaphorical demons that drive them. Sometimes those demons turn out to be real though and suddenly the cops must navigate the horrific and unknown world of the supernatural.
In this list, we’ll look at 10 films that force lawmen and women to confront killers with supernatural powers. We’ve got movies set all across the USA and other countries as well which pit an eclectic collection of detectives against demons, ghosts, zombies, and even the Devil himself.
10. End of Days (1999)
End of Days is an action, horror film where ex- NYPD detective, Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is out to stop Satan and his followers from fulfilling an apocalyptic prophecy on New Years Eve 1999. So, it’s a bit dated and unintentionally funny in a lot of parts, but it’s still very entertaining.
Part of the reason it’s so much fun is Gabriel Byrne is clearly having a great time with his over the top portrayal of the Devil. Also, there are a number of tense and scary moments that play out like a combination of Rosemary’s Baby and The Warriors where Cane and the woman he’s trying to protect must fight or escape the cultists that are seemingly everywhere.
9. The First Power (1990)
When this movie begins, Lou Diamond Phillips’ LAPD detective, Russell Logan, is out to capture a devil-worshipping serial killer terrorizing the city. He’s successful, but a bad situation is made infinitely worse when the killer receives the death penalty and returns from the grave to continue his bloody work as a ghost capable of possessing human hosts
Unfortunately, the idea of a serial killer that can possess other people is used much more effectively in a later film on this list. Plus, the explanation of how that killer got his abilities is convoluted and contradictory. Where the film shines though is its villain, Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober). He’s both menacing and delightfully smug. The way Kober delivers his character’s signature line of, “See you round, buddy boy” is creepy and very cool.
8. Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
Writer/director Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil takes a page from The Conjuring’s playbook in that it’s a story inspired by the exploits of a real paranormal investigator, NYPD detective turned demonologist, Ralph Sarchie (played by Eric Bana). The movie is sort of an origin story for the fictionalized Sarchie where he teams with an unorthodox priest (Edgar Ramirez) to investigate an epidemic of demonic possession plaguing New York City.
The film has some plot elements that felt cliched to me, but its depiction of a demon-haunted New York is chilling; especially in an early scene where Sarchie and his partner (Joel McHale) are combing a darkened Bronx Zoo at night in search of a monstrous woman who threw her child in a lion enclosure. The look of the possessed and how demons take hold of a person are also really well done.
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7. Satan Returns (1996)
Director Wai-Lun Lam’s Satan Returns feels like a mash up of ’90s era Hong Kong action films, a Sam Raimi horror film, and anime. So it’s very bizarre and very entertaining. It’s the story of a police psychologist (Chingmy Yau) who teams with a tough and angry detective (Donnie Yen), and their inept comic relief friend (Chi Wah Wong) to take down a cult leader/serial killer named Judas (Francis Ng), who is targeting women with a murderous ritual designed to find and activate, “The Devil’s Daughter.” The humor and some of the exaggerated emotional beats feel very awkward at times, but there’s so much cool and fun stuff in Satan Returns.
Yen’s martial arts skills are given the showcase they deserve. He even gets into a kung fu fight wielding a chainsaw! On top of that, there are some eerie sets and visuals. The main character is routinely plagued by ominous visions of her missing father, and Judas‘ lair is especially creepy. It’s full of upside-down crosses and ghastly murals.
6. Fallen (1998)
Fallen has a similar set up to The First Power in that it’s about a police detective hunting an executed serial killer who’s back from grave and possessing bodies, but it’s a lot more effective. Because the killer in Fallen can hop from body to body with just a touch. So, there are a couple of tense and scary scenes where Detective John Hobbes is chasing or being chased by a killer who can move with lightning speed from body to body. He can even jump into animals!
Also, Hobbes is played by Denzel Washington who elevates any movie he’s in. It also features a stellar supporting cast that includes John Goodman as Hobbes partner, James Gandolfini as a fellow cop, and Donald Sutherland as Hobbes’ lieutenant.
5. The Wailing (2016)
The Wailing is two hours and 36 minutes long, but it makes the most of its epic run time. The Korean film is about a policemen, Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak), trying to get the bottom of a series of killings and illnesses in his small, rural town. His investigation leads to a mysterious Japanese stranger and a web of black magic, possessions, zombies, demons and more.
As the film progresses, the stakes become more and more personal for Jong-goo and his family. In order to protect them he’s forced to make some difficult and morally questionable choices. Plus, the movie is packed with some hard-hitting and horrific twists.
4. The Exorcist III (1990)
Exorcist III saw the return of a number of familiar faces to the franchise like William Peter Blatty, and the characters of police detective William Kinderman and Father Dyer (Played this time out by George C. Scott and Ed Flanders). Writer/director Blatty’s film follows Kinderman as he hunts for a killer with ties to both a dead serial murderer and the Regan McNeil exorcism from the first movie. It’s not a horror classic like the original film, but it’s still a well done and very scary piece of cinema. There’s a scene where a woman skitters across the ceiling that’s just as disturbing (if not more so) as Regan’s crab walk down the stairs in the original Exorcist.
The film’s real highlights though are George C. Scott’s Kinderman and Brad Dourif’s Gemini Killer. As Kinderman, Scott is full of gravitas and the perfect, charismatic world weary cop, and Dourif’s Gemini just oozes evil. Their scenes together are riveting, scary, and powerful.
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Like the television franchise that inspired it, Fire Walk With Me can be enjoyed on a number of different levels. If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks mysterious and otherworldly mythology there are a number of hints and clues that were expanded on in the 2016 Showtime revival. So, if you want it to be, it’s an epic tale of extra-dimensional horror. It’s also a chronicle of the tragic, last days of, Laura Palmer; a popular high school girl who’s been sexually assaulted for years by her mentally ill or demonically possessed (It’s up to the viewer to decide) father. So, it’s terrifying and compelling on an intimate level as well.
Sheryl Lee is phenomenal as Laura Palmer. The way she expresses Laura’s sorrow, rage, and terror is both real and heartbreakingly beautiful. Ray Wise is equally outstanding as her father Leland Palmer. When Leland’s monstrous side is in control he’s utterly chilling, but Wise is equally adept at making you feel pity for his character’s gentle and loving side. Kyle MachLachlan’s, Special Agent Dale Cooper has a small, but effective role in both the early and later parts of the film.
2. Let Us Prey (2014)
The final two films on our list involve rookie, female, police officers trapped in both police stations and dire, supernatural predicaments. In the Scottish set Let Us Prey we meet PC Rachel Hegge (Pollyanna McIntosh) on her first night in a small town. She harbors a dark secret, and so do all her co-workers, and the prisoners locked up in the precinct. As the film progresses, those truths come to light in a series of bloody and violent revelations thanks to the machinations of a sinister, supernatural stranger (Liam Cunningham).
Everything comes to a head in an explosive and bloody climax that pays out the character mysteries in satisfying ways and delivers several great and gruesome kills. You’ll never look at an automatic shoe machine in the same way after seeing this movie! Also, McIntosh and Cunningham are both great in the film. Rachel is a capable and sympathetic cop you root for, and Cunningham’s stranger is an incredibly charismatic and cool bad-ass.
1. Last Shift (2014)
In Last Shift rookie cop Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is given the seemingly easy job of babysitting decommissioned police precinct. The station has a violent and mysterious past though and if Jess is to survive the night she’ll have to uncover its secrets and figure out how they connect to her family. The movie is an expertly constructed haunted house film that features a series of rapidly escalating scares, each one more disturbing than the next. When ghosts do appear they’re usually leering maniacally or wearing white shrouds with bloody pentagrams. There’s also an Assault on Precinct 13 feel to the movie since its central mystery revolves around a Manson family style cult
Last Shift is a movie that combines two of my favorite types of horror films ghost stories and cult tales, into one perfect Reese’s Peanut Butter style combination. I discovered it two years ago on a whim and it’s already become one of my all-time favorite horror films.