Demon Possession in Horror: Grab the Salt, it’s an Exorcism Party! was originally published in our horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. Sign up for it here to get horror news, reviews, deals, and more!
Demonic possession is one of my favorite horror tropes of all time. Maybe it’s the lingering Catholic in me, or maybe it’s just the allure of the timeless battle of good and evil. Who knows! All I know is that I never ever get tired of possession plots — or the good old fashioned exorcism fun that goes with them. Thankfully, if there’s one thing the horror genre doesn’t lack for, in film or on page, it’s demons and people dumb enough to pick up a planchette and talk to them.
So I thought I’d highlight some really fantastic possession books! I’m really happy with how this list came out because I think each book takes on the possession and/or exorcisms tropes from a unique perspective, and they’re all worthy of a place on your TBR.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
That cover is so deliciously ’80s horror throwback neon and I love it — almost as much as I love this book. It’s gross, hilarious, nostalgic, and just a fantastic read. I picked it up one night intending to start it, and I read it all in one sitting! Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since they were little kids, but a strange and frightening incident before the start of high school throws their friendship into jeopardy. No one really know exactly what happened to Gretchen that night in the woods, not even Abby. And when Gretchen’s behavior suddenly changes, becoming increasingly bizarre and alarming, Abby is forced to accept the one possible explanation that presents itself: Gretchen must be possessed.
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Even though The Girl from the Well is told from the perspective of a dead girl (and what an eerie, unique perspective it is), she is not directly involved in the book’s possession plot. Which is to say that she is neither the possessed (after all she has no physical form to be invaded), nor, as you might expect, the possessor. Okiku admits to having possessed people in the past, but Tark already has something dark and terrible living under his skin, and he doesn’t need the extra help from her. A murdered spirit, unavenged and fated to walk the world punishing the murderers of children, Okiku seems like the least likely spirit to help Tark, but the two form an unexpected bond as they cross the world in attempt to free him from the evil that stalks him.
Goddess of Filth by V. Castro
When friends Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline get together one hot summer night to drink and summon some fun, it starts out all fun and games. Until it’s not. “Not” being Fernanda Exorcist-crawling towards her friends, chanting in the language of their Aztec ancestors. Over the next few weeks, Fernanda’s behavior just gets more frightening. The local priest, Father Moreno, is crying demonic possession, but Lourdes has a suspicion that it’s something more powerful and much much older than that. She enlists the help of her “bruja Craft crew” and a professor to try and understand what is happening to Fernanda — hopefully before Moreno’s obsession with her can lead to disaster.
Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich
AKA that time Jessica made an unplanned trip to the bookstore to buy a book just because Twitter promised her there was a creepy black goat in it. And I never regretted it! Quite the opposite, as I now considered Dawn Kurtagich to be one of my favorite horror authors. Teeth in the Mist is the epitome of everything I love: big, isolated Gothic houses located in vast, empty, weather-swept landscapes. Evil that seems to rise out of the land itself. Ominous goats (as promised!). Witches. The possibility of the devil lurking in the background. The novel uses its multimedia format to simultaneously tell the stories of three girls, separated by centuries yet bound together by the haunting presence of Medwyn Mill House. I do not have words enough to tell you know much I love this book, but I will tell you that if you are looking for a book that should not be read in a dark room, you want this one.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
I wanted to make sure that I left room for this book on the list, because I love the way that Tremblay flips the traditional exorcism script. Are we dealing with a teenage girl that is actually possessed by the devil? Or are we dealing with a mentally ill 14-year-old who one local priest decided to make his ticket to fame? When the Barretts’ 14-year-old daughter Marjorie develops what appears to be acute schizophrenia, and all medical attempts to help her fail, the family turns to the church for aid. But a local priest’s suggestion that he perform an exorcism on Marjorie is tainted with suspicion when he also invites a camera crew to accompany him. Then tragedy strikes. Fifteen years later, Marjorie’s little sister Merry agrees to an interview about the events of that night, and as buried memories surface it soon becomes clear that what she remembers and what she’s been told are two complete different stories.