It’s not too scary. There aren’t any cheap shocks timed with orchestra hits, and most of the violence has already taken place by the time the commando arrives at the bunker. But there is plenty of gore. The dead bodies serve as demon grub and occult tool boxes.
The acting was good, and the story was pared down to its essentials. But I also liked how the story took the Occult seriously, and not from a Christian perspective. Souls and Satan never entered into the equation. The Occult, like applied science, is just a set of tools to manipulate the world. It's the kind of magic an atheist can believe in.
Year after year "The Exorcist" is touted as the scariest film ever made. It’s constructed well, but I can’t commit to it because the story exists in a Catholic universe. The drama relies on elements that can’t be taken seriously by a rational person. The Catholic viewer believes that there are demons and they do horrible things just for the sheer ugliness of it all. And though there is an omnipotent God who detests them, he won't intervene directly. He relies on his representatives in the church.
So what is there for the thoroughgoing infidel with a horror jones? There is plenty of natural horror. A case can be made that reality offers the worst terrors. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" showcase perfectly mundane horrors. The zombie plague of "28 Days Later" is a simple disease. And pretty much anything a demon can do an alien can do better. E.g., John Carpenter's "The Thing" is both exquisite horror and science fiction.
Some Christians argue that a godless universe is synonymous with terror. The Christian writer Mike Duran makes this case in this blog post. He writes: "In the atheistic model, when we see our Universe for what it really is, we should be very, very afraid." The atheist horrorist, he says, creates terror by invoking God's absence and laying bare the chaotic truth at the heart of everything.
I don't think that's right. Lovecraft, and especially his modern day descendant Thomas Ligotti, don't derive their terror from God's absence. True, there may be no god or life beyond this one, but they go further. Existence isn't just pointless, it's rotten to the core. In fact Ligotti coined this term to describe it: "Malignant uselessness."
Yet, I imagine a Christian universe would be far more terrifying than the real one could ever be. Life would never end, and we would have to choose between two evils: one named Hell with its fire and teeth-gnashing, and a hell of boredom and chastity called Heaven. Also we would have to submit to the doltish rule of a jealous god that has more in common with an Elder god than Christians would like to admit.
But my point for writing this is to advocate supernatural and Occult horror films for atheists. While Lovecraft is the atheist horror writer par excellence, his tales haven't translated well to film. The best I've seen is "The Dunwich Horror" from 1970 and starring Dean Stockwell, who gives a great and creepy performance far removed from his comic character on "Quantum Leap." He wants so bad to steal that Necronomicon.
This movie has animal sacrifice, magic circles and even a summoning of the devil. It takes it all very seriously, and at no point does anyone pray to Jesus for protection. The only way to battle the evil occultist Mocata is fire with fire. Wheatlely's novels were popular because he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Occult. Or made his readers think so. I suspect he took many liberties.
But hands down the best occult movie I have ever seen is "Simon King of the Witches." There is a trailer for the film available on Youtube, but I don't recommend it. Evidently the studio didn't know how to market it. Despite what the trailer implies, there are no cheap thrills, the movie has lots of humor and Simon is no villain. Simon is a true magician who doesn't need hokum like ancient amulets and crystal balls. When he needs to construct a magic altar he goes down to the hardware store and puts the stuff together in a basement.
You can watch the entire movie on Youtube or get it from Netflix.