Psychologically Dark Movies for the Intellectual Mind

Let's face it. We live in a society that is sopping wet in the blood of cinematic violence. There are fawning fans who like those shoot-em-up movies, who crave to see how depraved they can get with their depictions of blood and guts, but some of us actually want substance to make us uneasy. We crave for the old traditions of mystery, intrigue, and bold reflections of the seedy underbelly of society. I started watching black and white Twilight Zone episodes when I was very young and I remember being surprised and delighted by every ironic and often moral ending. As an adult I still want this! But it is becoming harder to harder to find in a culture that praises gore far higher than it does intellectual creativity. So I have decided to write a list to share with you all of movies that tickled the darker regions of my own mind. Some of them are violent but never needlessly so.

The cast of Freaks were all actual performers in carnival sideshows, back when it was still politically correct for "freaks" to earn a living in the freak show.
The cast of Freaks were all actual performers in carnival sideshows, back when it was still politically correct for "freaks" to earn a living in the freak show.

Freaks

Freaks has long been a cult classic. In fact it was filmed in 1932 and is so politically incorrect that it could never be remade today. It is about a ruthless gold digging woman who finds herself trying to seduce a circus freak for his riches. The only thing is that even though Little Tom Thumb is painfully oblivious the rest of the circus freaks are not... where will this tension end? You'll just have to watch and find out... Just be aware it will ask the question who is the real freak?

When you're midway through shooting a film it's probably not the right time to hack off your hair in such a manner. It gives the script writers a new head ache.
When you're midway through shooting a film it's probably not the right time to hack off your hair in such a manner. It gives the script writers a new head ache.

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby is an old classic that weaves together a wonderful tradition of mystery and intrigue. It's old, so it goes pretty slow in comparison to today's movies but I think it is still worth it to hear the creepy theme song and join a young woman's journey to deliver her first child. From that description it sounds peaceful and idyllic but she's slowly coming to realize there's something wrong with her pregnancy and she suspects it's the people around her. Of course this movie falters in the fact you can only watch it once and be on the edge of your seat. After you have all your questions answered it's not exactly a mystery anymore... but it's still a nice little film.

This scene bursting with rose petals was so unexpected and strange it made its way into popular culture and the butt of many jokes. Few realize it was a brilliant way to avoid censors.
This scene bursting with rose petals was so unexpected and strange it made its way into popular culture and the butt of many jokes. Few realize it was a brilliant way to avoid censors.

American Beauty

American Beauty is one of those films that you either love or hate. For me it was an introduction into independent films and I loved every second of it. I don't think there's ever been a better depiction of what's really going on behind the white picket fence. It tackles real issues but doesn't give you any answers. It is raw in its depictions of one family and their normal, yet off-kilter, lives. I don't know about anyone else but I could almost feel the seething rage of the person writing the script and his not-so-subtle social commentary on an average suburban family. It is artfully sculpted, beautifully written, and quietly tragic.

These are the women Heavenly Creatures was based on, Pauline Parker and Juilet Hulme.
These are the women Heavenly Creatures was based on, Pauline Parker and Juilet Hulme.

Heavenly Creatures

The opening scene of Heavenly Creatures is completely exploitative. It shows two teenage girls running madly through the woods covered in blood, screaming at the top of their lungs. Such an image is bound to get your attention but the rest of the film is pretty devoid of any sort of violence. It tracks two pubescent lesbians in 1950s Australia as they meet, grow close, and conspire not to be separated. You really get to feel for the two girls who face profound prejudice for something they as of yet don't even understand themselves. This movie is based on a true story and even though you know the ending from the first scene you are practically crying out for it not to be so. Its tragic, disturbing, and eye-opening.

Never has a fawn been so intricate, so beautiful, and so eerie as it was created in Pan's Labyrinth.
Never has a fawn been so intricate, so beautiful, and so eerie as it was created in Pan's Labyrinth.

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale set in a war. Because the war needs to be prevalent in the story there is quite a bit of violence but that soon takes a back seat to the intricate and complex story that starts to come to light. Shot through the eyes of a young girl who still believes in fairy tales this film shows the desperate measures some people had to take just to survive during the war. It weaves these intense realities into a world of whimsy and fantasy which ultimately wins out. I cannot say enough about the mastery that went into this film. The scenery, the characters, the general artfulness of it it bound to take any one's breath away - but it is not a movie for children!

Mary & Max

Mary and Max is an Australian claymation picture. You might think, as I did, that it's for children because of this, but suffice to say I am sure most American audiences would not approve! It's about Mary, the eight year old daughter of a severely alcoholic woman and a man who spends more time stuffing dead birds he finds aside the highway than with his own child. That's sort of sad and can almost be looked around but then Mary decides to write to a completely random person in America that she finds in a phone book. A few days later a 40-something year old man with Asberger's Syndrome receives the letter and the two start an innocent if not completely messed up correspondence. While Mary is asking where babies are from Max is telling her about his work in a condom factory and about how at the age of four his mother commits suicide. Every character in the movie is seen with unflinching and almost unbearable honesty showing each and every one of their flaws as something unique and special. What starts out rather sweet winds down some pretty topsy-turvy roads and by the end you're so involved with the characters you're lurching and yelling, "No!" at all their various misfortunes. It's hard to explain but this movie is both sweet and innocent as well as dark enough to make your head spin for a few weeks. Thoroughly enjoyable either way.

The Dreamers

The Dreamers is another one of those uncomfortable looks into yet another sexual taboo - consensual incest. It is set in 1968 Paris with violent protests taking place just outside the doors of a very luxurious apartment. The two occupants of the apartment, a brother and sister, take on a doey-eyed American student who they quickly start using as mental dental floss. They treat him as a cat would treat a mouse and he takes it while at the same time providing a reluctant moral compass. He knows there's something strange about the two but will he ultimately reject their love for each other or inspire it to go further? We're brought along in a whimsical world consisting of mostly just the apartment where the dynamic of the trio twists turns and knots up in unconventional ways. The only part of this movie I didn't like was it's ambiguous ending. My boyfriend says it wasn't ambiguous at all but I'm an American and like things spelled out not left hanging in the air for the imagination to fill in. That's what books are for.

Another iconic image from a cult classic - A Clockwork Orange.
Another iconic image from a cult classic - A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange

This is another film with a lot of violence but unlike modern films it has a purpose - and the purpose is to ask a series of moral questions. What causes an individual to be violent? Can they be cured of these tendencies? And if they can should they be? At what cost? These questions are proposed in the second half of the movie with the violence sees its consequences, giving the more intellectual among us reason to watch. I read the book before I saw the movie and I must say the book has a few features the movie does not - including in the British print version a shot at redemption which I feel was a better ending. That being said it is dark, socially disturbing, and came from a brilliant mind. If you can't read the lyrically wondrous book (or stomach its additional violence) then the movie is a pretty good substitute.

Hedwig and the Angry inch provides a poignant story frought with drama, conflict, clashing personalities, and the sorrow that sometimes comes with existence but this is not to say it is without humor, or hope, or a moral.
Hedwig and the Angry inch provides a poignant story frought with drama, conflict, clashing personalities, and the sorrow that sometimes comes with existence but this is not to say it is without humor, or hope, or a moral.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a real trip. It's a modern day rock opera about a boy growing up in a walled up Berlin, who is convinced by a man that the best way to flea the country was to have an operation and become his wife - the only hitch was the operation was botched, giving Hedwig and "angry inch." The movie then progresses to show her struggles in the new country, her singing career, her battles with relationships and plagiarism. It's a raw portrait of a fractured individual and has something for everyone. This isn't to mention the music is amazing, far better than I expected when I watched it.

Cruel Intentions

I love this movie because it's a lovely depiction of what happens when a gifted teenager, or rather two, learn that they can use sex to wield power. At first you would be forgiven if you think this is just about two pervy step siblings that will screw anything that walks by them, but it's so much more complicated than that. As the movie continues you learn it's not about sex at all, it's about the power to manipulate everyone around them. The plot line warps, bystanders get burned, things get more deliciously complicated. You'll laugh at times, cringe at others. Of course the most beautiful aspect of this film is the fact it's American and served with a cold dish of redemption. Even that comes at a cost but it's worth it.This is a film of anti-heroes.

Drugs do not change the people we fall in love with - this is one of the many uneasy observations made in Requiem for a Dream.
Drugs do not change the people we fall in love with - this is one of the many uneasy observations made in Requiem for a Dream.

Requiem for a Dream

This is another dark glimpse into suburbia. It's a movie based on the premiss that we may all be skating on a knife's edge, just waiting to fall. There are the drug-addled lovers who spiral deeper out of control and then there is a prescription-popping grandma who just wants to loose a little weight. The juxtaposition is marvelous, the soundtrack is repetitive and strange, and the plot line is enough to suck you into a fit of weariness, empathy, and sorrow.

Neverland - possibly the best horribly acted movie ever.
Neverland - possibly the best horribly acted movie ever.

Neverland

Neverland is a low-budget film with terrible acting, and I do mean terrible. It rates up there with the last middle school play I had to endure. And the script is deliriously bad as well. You can easily get the impression that a porno could have had snappier dialogue. With that all being said it's the idea of this film I find intriguing. You see it is an updated version of Peter Pan and it is unflinchingly dark. Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are not children living in some whimsical heavenly place - they are runaways who have decided to inhabit the tunnels underneath an amusement park called Neverland and who have chosen to never grow up. Wendy is an adopted child in a rich family that she feels only took her in to make themselves look better. Tinkerbell is a fairy - selling fairy dust to all her wayward pals. Tiger Lily is a drag queen and worst of all the infamed Hook is a masochistic pedophile trying to get his hooks around Peter. If you like twisted updated retelling of fairy tales then this is the movie for you! I was just disturbed how easy these changes came to the original story!

The Ballad of Jack and Rose brings Freudian philosophy to its most uncomfortable extreme.
The Ballad of Jack and Rose brings Freudian philosophy to its most uncomfortable extreme.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

This movie was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever seen. The main character is an aging hippie who lives alone in what used to be a commune with his sixteen year old daughter. The sweeping beautiful scenery is what got me at first but the story will drag you in. You see Jack is dying and his daughter Rose has been kept cloistered on the property for her whole life when puberty takes her off her feet. There's a really uneasy truth that pretty much anyone would find unsettling and that is Jack accidentally raised his perfect woman and Rose has no other men in her life to idolize. This movie is slow, painfully awkward, and warps a situation in a way you didn't think was possible leaving behind more questions than answers. It's brutally mentally and emotionally unsettling.

The Wall is possibly the least mentioned and most brilliant classic rock opera there is.
The Wall is possibly the least mentioned and most brilliant classic rock opera there is.

The Wall

Pretty much everyone thinks The Wall is Pink Floyd's best selling concept album. What fewer people know is it is also a rock opera and a really disturbing one at that. If you like the music of Pink Floyd it is a must see. There's very little dialogue and a lot of singing with a lot of weird and slightly disturbing imagery. It follows the life of a boy as he grows, becomes a man, and eventually goes completely mad. Perhaps the reason it is so gut-wrenching is it is at least partially autobiographical and I think even not knowing this you can sense it.

Don't be alarmed that your new boyfriend's imaginary 7 foot tall bunny friend is sitting right next to you! A touch of humor in Donnie Darko.
Don't be alarmed that your new boyfriend's imaginary 7 foot tall bunny friend is sitting right next to you! A touch of humor in Donnie Darko.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a bit of a cult classic too. It is mostly whimsical and kind of cute, except for the scary bunny which has you constantly wondering what he is and why he's there. It's an odd little story, well acted, and in a sense very sweet but also tragic - like Romeo and Juliet if they met at a mental hospital. The follow up movie was terrible though... so don't even bother with that one.

This scene from Dahmer brings you into the notorious serial killer's living room as he talks casually with what could be his next victim. What will he say?
This scene from Dahmer brings you into the notorious serial killer's living room as he talks casually with what could be his next victim. What will he say?

Dahmer

This movie was based on a guy who many believe was America's only remorseful serial killer. What is it like to be a serial killer so horrified by his own actions that he has to take to drinking himself unconscious every night? What drives a person like that? I think this movie did a good job showing the whole complex mindset here. At points you'll feel sorry for him, understand what he's saying, and in the next you'll be just as confused as he is staring at the body of his latest kill. There is a lot of dialogue in this movie which really fleshes out the conflict - far more so than the depictions of his malicious deeds smattered throughout the movie.

Alonzo the Armless is the main character in The Unknown, a little known and utterly bizarre movie from 1927.
Alonzo the Armless is the main character in The Unknown, a little known and utterly bizarre movie from 1927.

The Unknown

This movie is practically unknown today, being shot in 1927. It's a real peculiar thing, one I am hard pressed to compare with anything. It is about an armless man working in the circus who falls in love with a woman who is afraid to be held or hugged by a man. You'd think this match would be perfect except for two problems - she has put him decidedly in the friend zone, and he actually does have arms which he's been hiding for years. This really bizarre drama escalates and intensifies and ends in some really odd predicaments and ironies. A lovely old piece worth watching just for its sheer uniqueness.

More by this Author


Comments 12 comments

JMcFarland profile image

JMcFarland 3 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

voted up and awesome! What a fantastic list of psychological thrillers - a truly disappearing genre. I would also suggest Silence of the Lambs, even though I've seen it multiple times, it still gets to me, and there are residual themes that are incredibly complex and challenging.


MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 3 years ago from Arizona

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I haven't seen all of your recommendations but I was happy to see a couple of my own favorites on here -- American Beauty, A Clockwork Orange (and yes, I loved the book), and The Wall. On my own list, I'd also include The Bad Seed, All About Eve, and Leave Her to Heaven -- I still recall being a small child and watching The Bad Seed with my mother. (The original, of course, and not the remake.) Mom also introduced me to the other two -- and the Daphne DuMaurier books -- when I was a preteen. Lest anyone fear for my childish psyche at the time, I used to make Mom's skin crawl by imitating Rhoda, the little blond-headed murderer in the Bad Seed, by stroking Mom's arm gently and repeating those creepy saccharine-sweet lines. I came out of my childhood unscathed, but I think my mother is still traumatized!


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 3 years ago from New England Author

JMcFarland: Ah yes! Silence of the Lambs was a good one! I'll have to add it. It is another one of those rare books that made it into a movie without being a total disappointment!

MJennifer: The Bad Seed was a good one too. I can't say I have heard of All About Eve or Leave Her to Heaven but I certainly will have to go check them out now. :) And you are too funny! Can't beat creepy children! When I was five I think I was more disappointing than creepy - I used to run around singing "We don't need no education...." a trick my older brother taught me. SIGH. We came out unscathed too.


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

Theophanes,

Gosh I love your tastes! Movie night at Theophanes! I don't even go to the theater anymore. It seems like most of what they're making is shallow, instant gratification, simple thinking kinds of movies. The movies you mentioned that I've seen, I love... and the ones that I haven't seen... I will now!

Awesome girlfriend!


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 3 years ago from New England Author

I don't really go to the theater either... Too expensive to watch something that is usually a dud. I have noticed that for the past few years scantly few good movies have come out... they just keep getting dumber for the most part.

With that being said I do like the off-beat films fewer people have heard of, usually due to being an independent film. I'll be doing another list soon of my favorite socially awkward comedies. The smart ones are always fun!

Happy Hubbing! And movie watching! :)


Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Excellent list that includes some of my favorites movies ever (Freaks, Rosemary's Baby). Unfortunately, the 2000s especially with regard to the horror genre, simply adopted the triptych of torture-blood-guts leaving out of the equation the mysterious, psychological and insinuated horror.

Thanks for the recommendations. going to check the ones I haven't seen :)


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 3 years ago from New England Author

Thank you for the comment! I couldn't agree more... I'm not impressed with blood and guts. That is so boring. Oh big whoop it's so shocking if you're a civilized human being. I'd rather have something to puzzle about then something that makes me want to barf. American horror films should NOT be getting hints on horror from the Japanese torture films.

Have fun watching the others! :)


Cantuhearmescream profile image

Cantuhearmescream 3 years ago from New York

Socially awkward comedies... I can't wait!


mercuryservices profile image

mercuryservices 3 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

I like how you focused around all aspects of darkness and not just horror. American Beauty and Requiem For a Dream are two of my all-time favs.


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 3 years ago from New England Author

Thank you mercuryservices. Horror has its place but I think other forms of darkness can be even more disturbing. I have to love your two picks too. Thank you for commenting!


Thief12 profile image

Thief12 2 years ago from Puerto Rico

Seen most of these, and loved them. A couple of the others are on my radar.


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 2 years ago from New England Author

Happy to be of help Theif12. :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working