Cults inspire fear for those not in them, not because their beliefs are outside of the Judeo-Christian norm, but because of the extremeness of those beliefs, which can often lead to things like human sacrifice and self-sacrifice in the name of religion. And when those cults are also involved in Satanism or paganism, they become even more terrifying.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill begins with a simple hike in the forest. One sprained ankle and wrong turn later, and soon a group of four old friends find themselves captured by a pagan cult intent on sacrificing them to their gods. The movie was also pretty good.
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian involves a cult called “the herbalists,” who approach the new family in town and bring them baked goods and help them out – “love-bombing” them. They also have a special interest in the new family’s twin daughters.
Creed by Trisha Leaver takes that old familiar horror trope – the “wrong turn” – and lands this group of teens in an isolated town that turns out to be a super-Christian cult with some very specific beliefs about corporeal punishment.
The Wicker Man (1973) is a classic horror movie about cults. When a police investigator heads to a small island to search for a missing person, he discovers the strange fertility cult that everyone seems to belong to. Now he has to discover what exactly happens to the May Queen when the harvest fails.
Midsommar (2019) has a lot in common with “The Wicker Man”, only this time the group of outsiders are invited to the isolated Swedish cult to study it. The cult’s rituals alarm some of the outsiders, who seem to be disappearing one by one. This one’s a bit slow, and strangely bright, but has some creepy effects.
Martyrs (2008) does not at first seem to be about a cult. A young woman who was tortured as a child attacks a family, and her friend tries to stop her – until she discovers a victim of abuse in the walls and the entire plot is revealed. This cult is unlike any of the others so far – this movie has lingered in my mind ever since I saw it.