When we think of demons, we often envision the devil’s minions. However, demons are not just prevalent in Christianity. Islam, Judaism, Kabbalah, Hinduism, and even ancient near east cultures have all discussed these supernatural creatures.
The word “demon” comes from the Greek word daimon, which means “to divide.” Thus a daimon was someone who could affect someone’s fate or destiny. In modern times, a demon does indeed alter fate or destiny, but such alterations are always considered “evil.” Modern demons are capable of possessing humans and can only be removed through exorcism.
Various horror films have capitalized on the concepts of demonology. Some films have used actual demons for inspiration, whereas others have invented demons of their own to create wicked horror. The following lists the top five demons that have been given the Hollywood treatment. Note that these demons are distinct from “devil movies,” which focus on Satan, Lucifer, or Old Scratch himself.
Pazuzu from “The Exorcist”
The demon Pazuzu has its origins in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology, where he is considered a king of the wind and the son of the god Hanbi. Pazuzu has the body of a human, the head of a lion, talons from an eagle or falcon, two pairs of wings, a scorpion’s tail, and a serpent-like penis.
William Peter Blatty used Pazuzu as a demon who possesses Regan MacNeil in his 1971 novel The Exorcist. This source material was then used for William Friedkin’s movie adaptation, which made its debut in 1973. Both in the novel and the movie, Pazuzu is the lifelong enemy of Father Lankester Merrin, who must fight the demon one final time while it takes possession of poor Regan (played by Linda Blair).
Azazel from “Fallen”
Although originally associated as a scapegoat, Azazel is better known today as a demon. This demon originates in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which in part discuss fallen angels found at Qumran. In the Book of Enoch, Azazel is described as one of the leaders of the rebellious Watchers during the times that preceded the Great Flood. Supposedly, Azazel taught man the art of warfare and women the art of deception. The demon also revealed the secrets of witchcraft and the essence of corruption.
In the 1998 film Fallen, Azazel is a demon that moves from host to host at will. The demon’s goal is to create as much havoc as possible, waiting until the end of civilization (the Fall of Babylon) to celebrate corruption. In the movie, Azazel succeeds in destroying the righteous, namely a police officer (Detective Hobbes, played by Denzel Washington) who pursues him throughout the movie. Azazel is a haunting menace, using the Rolling Stones song “Time is on My Side” to wicked effect during the movie.
Bughuul from “Sinister”
Written by Scott Derickson (who also directed) and C. Robert Cargill, 2012’s Sinister features a demon known as Bughuul, who corrupts children into killing their families and then taking them into a netherworld, where he can forever feast and grow stronger from their corrupted souls. The story centers on a true-crime writer by the name of Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who unwittingly unleashes Bughuul on his family when he begins to watch some hideous home movies he finds in the attic of his newly acquired home.
The demon Bughuul is loosely translated to “Boggle,” a creature more commonly known as the Bogeyman (or as Stephen King coined it, the “Boogeyman”). Writers Derickson and Cargill simply made their Bogeyman much more powerful and, well, “sinister.” In the movie, Bughuul looks much like a black-metal performer wearing corpse-paint. The story claims that Bughuul is an ancient Babylonian deity who craves the souls of children. Bughuul is even given his own sigil.
Lilith in “Evil Angel”
Lilith has been around for a long time, as far back as the Mesopotamian texts of Assyria and Babylonia. She came into prominence in Jewish mythology, where her earliest appearance is on a list of unclean animals (Lilith is perhaps a screech owl, as is found in later works). Later works associate Lilith with long hair and with the ability to possess women by entering them while they admire themselves in mirrors. Jewish folklore from the eighth to tenth century has Lilith as Adam’s first wife, who refused to be subservient to him. For this supposed transgression, she is exiled from the Garden of Eden, replaced with Eve.
The 2009 movie Evil Angel uses the demon Lilith as its principal villain. In the story, Lilith moves from possessed soul to possessed soul, causing havoc and murdering the innocent in an attempt to secure vengeance against all of Adam and Eve’s children (humanity). JJ Neward plays the demon in the guise of the character Caroline Kuntz through most of the movie.
Legion in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”
The term “Legion” is given to a group of demons referred to in the Christian Bible. In the New Testament, there is a story in which Jesus heals a man from Gadara. This poor man has been possessed by several demons. This story is best remembered from The Gospel of Mark, 5:9: “And He (Jesus) asked him (the possessed man), ‘What is thy name.’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’”
The 2005 horror flick The Exorcism of Emily Rose refers to the demon compilation of Legion, as well as other demons, such as Belial and the demons that possessed Cain, Nero, and Judas Iscariot. Underlying the appearance of so many demons is the idea that evil is pervasive, with the devil’s minions manipulating events all the way back to Cain killing Abel and of course the death of Christ.