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Raising Hell: How the 90s Became Possessed by Religious Horror

As a horror-obsessed teen coming of age in the 1990s, I felt as though I was experiencing a profound religious reawakening vicariously through the decade’s startling resurgence of provocative occult cinema. I sought primal metaphors to make sense of my own spiritual unrest, and found them manifested larger-than-life on the big screen through tales of possession, apocalypse, and infernal forces made flesh.

My descent began innocently enough, lured by video boxes promising exorcisms gone wrong and sinister conspiracies behind the occult. Films like The Exorcist III and In the Mouth of Madness that smartly subverted expectations enraptured me most. I still shudder recalling Brad Dourif’s anguished Gemini Killer monologues in Exorcist III, and the infamous hallway sequence nearly sent me leaping from my couch in fright.

From there, my occult obsession only grew. I discovered Candyman, with its provocative exploration of urban legends as truth buried within communities. I witnessed Christopher Walken declare war as an avenging angel in The Prophecy, its epic scope mirroring my outsized adolescent notions of religion. Tales from the Hood then showed me the pointed social edge horror could wield by fusing righteous rage at racism with supernatural storytelling.

But the film that unearthed my burgeoning spiritual turmoil most vividly was Stigmata, with Patricia Arquette suffering savage attacks of bleeding stigmata wounds. Her atheist’s crisis of faith cut close to my own religious doubts blooming amidst Catholic upbringing. When she shrieked prayers in dead tongues before projectile vomiting, it felt like the most primal expression of internal terror versus pious expectations.

Of course, I hold a nostalgic affection for the crass cash-ins too, from schlocky Exorcist clones to End of Days and its absurd Y2K-fueled apocalyptic bombast. As a teenage seeker desperate for fresh perspective, I needed even the most heavy-handed provocation to shake my rigid assumptions. And studios were all too happy to oblige with extremity in that ambitiously blasphemous decade.

Looking back, the 90s stand out as my coming of age through religious horror, my adolescent psyche’s conception metaphorically. Those disturbing images served as my first glimpse behind the mystical curtain, revealing terrifying possibilities beyond the explicable. My worldview was forever altered by those haunting on-screen prophecies and possessions, even the most derivative.

I emerged from that decade older yet no wiser, but now acutely aware of the vast cosmic mysteries still hovering at the edges of human perception. Whether divine or demonic, their urgency left cracks in my spiritual surety that widened over time. I had seen and felt things through 90s religious horror that could not be unseen, primordial terrors timeless as humanity itself. Their chilling resonance stays with me, those reels my scripture.

Justin

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