A Tour Through The Creepiest Cults In Cinematic History

The third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has arrived on Netflix. By now, you’ve probably emerged from the 13-episode sitcom with a cramp in your side from laughter. At times, though, Kimmy Schmidt’s hilarity distracts from its deeply dark premise. While watching Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) sing and Lillian (Carol Kane) complain, it's easy to forget that for 15 years, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was held captive in a bunker by a crazed cult leader.
Kimmy Schmidt may be the only madcap comedy in existence to focus on a cult survivor, but it’s certainly not the only work of TV or film to examine cults and their repercussions.
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From documentaries to psychological thrillers, each of these films also focuses on individuals who have brushes with the darkness and charisma of cults. Some, like Jonestown, look at nearly unbelievable stories pulled straight from the history book. Others, like The Master, offer entirely fictional takes on the cult phenomenon. Either way, like the characters in the films, you'll be drawn in.
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1 of 10
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

New York real estate is difficult for everyone — but no one has it harder than Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes). At first, their elderly neighbors seem friendly, and even help Guy and Rosemary conceive their child by providing a special potion. But after Rosemary drinks her neighbor’s “helpful” serum, she passes out and, mid-dream, is raped by a demonic being. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, she immediately realizes there’s something amiss. As it turns out, her neighbors are members of a Satanic cult and are using their young, fertile neighbor as a surrogate to carry the Devil himself.
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Dogtooth (2010)

You’ve never met controlling parents like the ones in Dogtooth. In this haunting Greek film, a man keeps his three adult children locked down on the lavish family compound. The eerily naive children languish, play unsettling games, and explore their burgeoning sexuality with the compound’s few visitors. Dogtooth begins just as the father is losing his tight grip on his children.
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The Master (2012)

After serving in the Navy in WWII, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles with alcoholism and sex addiction. Then, he meets the charming intellectual Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose religious movement might be the answer Freddie's been searching for. Freddie joins the Cause, a fictional cult based on Scientology, and quickly rises through the ranks. But his unabashed zeal attracts the suspicion of long-time Cause members, who are leery of the newcomer's motives.
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Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

After enduring abuse at the hands of a cult leader (John Hawkes), Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) manages to escape the Catskill farm where she'd lived for years. But having become accustomed to her cult's free-wheeling lifestyle for so long, Martha finds her sister's suburban home difficult to adjust to, and is almost nostalgic for her old ways.
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Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple (2006)

On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones and his 900 followers committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned punch — hence the birth of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid." Featuring survivors' interviews and never-before-seen footage, this harrowing documentary focuses on the events leading up to the mass murder, including the group's migration to Guyana and the enigmatic leader himself.
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Going Clear (2015)

Is it a cult? Is it a religion? Either way, Scientology is one of the most enigmatic and prevalent organizations in today's theological landscape. This ground-breaking documentary looks into the inner workings of the Church of Scientology, including its beliefs, recruitment techniques, and how it manages its A-List members, like Tom Cruise. For a follow-up, watch Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a documentary series that delves into Remini's own experiences with the church.
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Red State (2011)

Three teenage boys are thrilled when they meet a woman online who's promising them a fun-filled evening. But it turns out to be a trap. The teenagers arrive at the woman's address, and end up in the hands of a crazed Evangelical preacher who, with the help of his following, intends to kill the boys for their sins. Like Get Out, this heart-thumping horror movie has a political agenda.
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Sound Of My Voice (2012)

In this psychological thriller, a California filmmaking couple have found the perfect subject for their next documentary: a charismatic cult leader named Maggie (Brit Marling) who claims to be from the year 2054.

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) aim to expose Maggie as a fraud. At first, it seems easy. After all, Maggie preaches outlandish facts about the future and refuses to shower. But Maggie has managed to drum up a substantial following for a reason: She's convincing. Soon, Peter and Lorna find themselves falling under her spell.
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The Wicker Man (1973)

Instead of the oft-ridiculed 2006 reboot of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage, let's go back to the chilling original. In this classic horror film, a police sergeant ventures to a small Scottish island to investigate a missing girl. But the strange inhabitants of Summerisle refuse to acknowledge that the girl ever existed. Even more unsettling are the residents' pagan rituals and brash sexuality, which are unlike anything the uptight policeman has ever seen before.
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Ticket To Heaven (1981)

How does a person actually fall under the spell of a religious cult? David (Nick Mancuso) is a regular, twentysomething schoolteacher who visits the training center of a religious group. At first, he's bewildered by the group singing, starvation techniques, and endless positive reinforcement. Slowly but surely, though, he finds himself sinking into their community mentality. This acclaimed, but under-viewed, film documents the process of cult initiation.
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