Excalibur

"They made themselves God, and Christ has abandoned us!"

Perhaps my choice of number one occult movie will be a surprise to some readers of this blog, but nonetheless, John Boorman's adaptation of Thomas Malory's famous Morte d'Arthur stands head and shoulders above the rest of its class. Excalibur is so overflowing with symbolism, synchronicity and occult references that it's difficult to truly do it justice in a short blog post such as this.

Boorman's first and undoubtedly best decision was to abandon any attempt at historical accuracy and concentrate on the archetypal themes explored in this most famous of the chivalric romances. His second and even braver decision was to incorporate the music of Richard Wagner into the score. Thus Excalibur helps to re-establish one of Western art's greatest triumphs in its true context by wrestling it away from the National Socialists who had so selfishly appropriated it for their own dark and desperate ends.

A stellar cast including Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren bring this timeless archetypal tale to life as each character struggles to find wisdom, bring peace and wreak vengeance in a world governed by the rules of blood, magic and honour.

What makes this film so very, very special is its endless attention to detail and the ever-deepening spirals of symbolism that can easily be lost on first, second or even third viewing. For example, the ever present and endlessly shifting symbolism of water is brilliantly exploited as both the sword and the young king rise from water. This idea of birth and rebirth is echoed later as Percival drowns and is yet saved, cleansed and reborn, emerging from depths to finally claim the Holy Grail which he has sought for so long. When considered in the light of Carl Jung's remarkable work on the symbolic and psychological importance of water, this aspect alone can lead to many hours of thought, discussion and research.

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The Mothman Prophecies

"You will see her, in time."

Director Mark Pellington's hugely disturbing exploration of prophesy, obsession, grief and loss is one of the subtlest and most unsettling examples of the modern storyteller's art. Slowly brought to the boil by some excellent cinematography and the expert use of a non-musical sound score, The Mothman Prophecies manages to make the fantastical feel entirely credible.

Loosely based on accounts of the real-life Silver Bridge disaster, The Mothman Prophecies follows the story of a troubled man searching for answers that simply do not exist. Expertly shot in the freezing emptiness of flyover country, the bleak photography and slow-burn storyline somehow produce an ambient grey chill that seeps out of the screen and settles on the necks and spines of an unsuspecting audience.

Richard Gere steps outside his normal typecast boundaries to deliver a good performance as John Klein, a high-flying journalist who is haunted by the sudden death of his wife. That haunting takes a dangerous turn as it begins to manifest outside of Klein's own imagination, inexplicably drawing him to an obscure town and leaving him with no knowledge of how he arrived there. As he probes deeper into his own experiences, Klein is forced to accept that the course of his life has been influenced by the same psychological contagion that's consuming this icy backwater Virginian backwater.

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"Some books are dangerous, not to be opened with impunity."

Controversial director Roman Polanski manages to pull off the difficult Hitchcock-esque trick of keeping the viewer enthralled by the fairly sedate story of a search for forbidden knowledge hidden among the closely guarded manuscript collections of Europe's ageing dynasties.

Johnny Depp actually plays a character, rather than a caricature in his portrayal of Dean Corso, a mercenary freelance bibliophile. Concerned only with profit, Corso is employed to authenticate a rare and valuable occult work, which is itself steeped in rumour and folklore. As his investigations continue, a formerly hidden, and yet altogether darker design slowly reveals itself, finally crossing the boundary between historical curiosity and contemporary reality.

Veteran actor Frank Langella is definitely the unsung hero of The Ninth Gate, and he's more than a match for Depp on screen. His understated menace as the pathologically cold publishing magnate Boris Balkan completely convinces the viewer that they are in the presence of a man who has already gone to, and will go to any lengths to achieve his dark design. He is the shadowy and obsessive puppet master, controlling events from within his private library or from the end of the phone line, seemingly much closer to the action than he appears to be.

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"The terrible thing about the truth is that sometimes you find it."

With this stylishly shot tale of intrigue and Vatican politics, the modern movie industry shines a technicolour spotlight on what had previously been an obscure and secretive folk ritual. Screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland expertly blends arcane ritual with Catholic chic as it lifts the lid on a timeless world of forbidden knowledge and those mortals who seek it out.

The late Heath Ledger heads up a cast of well-crafted and entertaining characters as he attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding his mentor's apparent suicide, a cardinal sin for a man who was already excommunicated. Ledger's portrayal of Alex Bernier puts an accessible face on this tale of high ritual and realpolitik.

Bernier and his friend Thomas Garrett are the last of the Carolingians, a Catholic order that still embraces the unsanitised church of angels and demons, possession and exorcism. Although something of an embarrassment to the modern Vatican orthodoxy, the two young priests are tasked with investigating rumours that their excommunicated mentor had found redemption through the Other, the Sin Eater.

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