Now that we know what psychological horror is and why we are so compelled to seek it out, here’s a list of some of my personal favorite psychological horror books and movies and why I recommend them. Feel free to share some of your own!
The Babadook (2014): A mother and her son try to fall into a sense of normalcy the year after her husband dies. This movie is an incredible example of how psychological horror gives us a lens to explore inner fears and turmoil. Specifically, the “monster” in the movie is the physical embodiment of grief.·
The Sixth Sense (1991): After a child reveals to Dr. Crow that he sees dead people, the therapist undergoes a great deal of self-discovery. This is not only considered M. Night Shyamalan’s best piece, but is often hailed as one of the best examples of a solid twist ending. It’s also interesting to go back and look at how Shyamalan threads out bits and pieces of the future reveal.·
Get Out (2018): The film opens with Chris Washington being introduced to his girlfriend's family; in which race plays a huge part in the film and family dynamic. Once there, Chris slowly begins to realize that something is amiss. Director Jordan Peele creates a masterpiece that tackles race relations in an interesting, and of course, psychologically stimulating way.·
Psycho (1960): A woman goes on the lam after stealing $40,000. She checks into the inconspicuous Bates Motel, where things get very, very unsettling. Regarded as one of the first serial killer yarns, Hitchcock’s piece delves straight into the strange psychology behind why some may kill. This film was also inspired in-part by real life serial killer, Ed Gein.
The Shining by Stephen King: Writer, Jack Torrance, is a recovering alcoholic that is looking to put the past behind him for his wife and son. He becomes the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. Once settled in, he and his family get anything but rest and relaxation. The movie is also worth watching. It’s a good example of the complexity of psychological horror and how it often models our own inner demons.·
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: Patrick Bateman is a very successful business man living in New York City during the premiere Wall Street peak of the 1980's. He also has a penchant for cocaine and killing. Not only are Bateman’s nefarious deeds an interesting look into the psyche of the murderer, but the interiority of his character also allows us to explore our own depravity. ·
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: When a young girl has a psychotic breakdown, a family is thrown into disarray. After trying out medication, the family contacts an exorcist and a television crew. The book takes place years after the girl has grown up while having an interview with a writer. It’s a good window into the psychology behind exorcism, as well as when “help” becomes downright exploitation. ·
The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe: Featuring such classics as “The Raven”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and the title piece, Poe is one of the masters of psychological horror. In addition, Poe also heavily relies on the idea of an unreliable narrator, in which the audience questions their own sanity.