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5 Psychological Horror Films You Must See

Updated on March 8, 2017

Do you scare yourself?

You will......
You will......

A Proper Introduction.

What is it about the wonderful world of the horror film that pulls us into it's macabre surroundings, terrifying stories, and characters we would much rather forget about than find invading our nightmares for weeks after we have seen the film? We get scared, lose sleep and even sometimes get physically ill yet still we are drawn like a bug to the deep purple glow of a countryside bug zapper.

Sure in the end the outcome of our obsession with all things scary is different from the winged creature who just followed his desires into the next world extra crispy style but if you really sit back and think about it the outcomes may be much more similar than you would ever care to think. Our purple light is not quite so bright but more of a dim hue, all except for the screen in front of us. It glows with an ominous hue that captivates us and soon we find ourselves drawn to it much like buggy boy to uncle Billy Bob's bug be gone. We don't go into the next world, not per say but we do find ourselves in another world. It is a world where we, for a brief period of time, lose ourselves in the dark and dramatic world of the horror film.

Psychological horror goes a few steps farther. When we leave a horror film we are haunted for a time period but soon we are back to our normal selves looking for the next scare. Psychological horror differs. It does not seek to scare us with jump scenes and gore driven madness. Not hardly! It relies on the capacity of your own mind to use your imagination and in a sense scare yourself. It plays on the idea that what we imagine to be lurking in the damp darkness of a cellar or the potential torture hall of some underground bunker is often more times than not far more scary than what is actually there. These films are those that keep you up at night questioning watch you watched or what you think you watched. They cause us to be just a little less quick to turn off that light and more apt to question every little bump in the night.

Here I present you with 5 such films. Each in it's own right a proud and direct example of psychological horror. Enjoy!

Piper ad libbed this line! Classic!

Fun Facts

  1. Kieth David joins Piper in this one. He is a regular in John Carpenter's horror films.
  2. Based on Ray Nelson's short story "8 O'clock In The Morning"
  3. A satire of Reaganomics.
  4. Debuted at number 1 in North America box office.

They Live

5. They Live

First off how can you go wrong with a horror film that stars WWE legend and hall of famer Rowdy Roddy Piper? They Live has become one of those cult classic films that has defined a generation of conspiracy theorists, and rightfully so. 1988's "They Live" takes us on a journey of experiences and enlightenment as people "wake up" to an alien invasion that has always been there right under their noses. It takes a page out of George Romero's book by looking at the consumerism of human nature. As he did in his pivotal zombie work "Dawn of the Dead" John Carpenter is giving us a more disturbing view of human nature and our desire to have more.

We follow a drifter who is simply looking to live as he discovers through a special pair of sunglasses that we are not alone on this world. As with typical alien based horror films we find that those we share the world with are not very pleasant to look at. But to add to the fright we learn that not only are our alien friends disguised but their massages are as well.

Magazines, newspapers and of course TV are all hiding the agenda set fourth by these strange creatures. Obey, consume, stay asleep, and other dark massages are hidden behind printed words and newscast telling us all is well in the world today. As humans we tend to do these things rather well. Obey the law, consume and many of us are unfortunately asleep to things happening around us on the daily.

This film simply gives us a reason to be this way. We consume because aliens tell us to! Here is where the film starts to spin that wheel in your head. As the film continues you start to see more human nature, or flaws surface. People side with the alien bosses to protect their selves but more so to gain wealth and power. It is a sad thing but as you watch you start to step out of the film as a movie and wonder things. What if this is truth? What if aliens or even worse our government is programming us the same way as this horror film portrays?

How would we as a people find our sunglasses to break the spell? "They Live" really serves as a film with so much going on. Horror wise it is scary to think we are not in control because of an alien race that have seemingly infiltrated us so easily, which in and of itself is just as frightening as the initial idea. Conspiracy buffs would observe the film as a very detailed look at what is already happening around us. They would merely remove the alien threat and say it was a political one.

As I said earlier psychological horror thrives on us scaring our self as opposed to the film being entirely responsible for each scare. Granted this film has some fairly good moments where you will find yourself gripping your pillow or that date's arm just a little harder. As far as much watch goes I would recommend this to anyone. It has action, horror, suspense and of course the rowdy one himself. Mr. Roddy Piper!

New Nightmare's Much Darker Krueger

Freddy becomes much more frightening in our world than he ever was on the Hollywood big screen.
Freddy becomes much more frightening in our world than he ever was on the Hollywood big screen.

Fun New Nightmare Facts

  1. Johnny Depp was offended he was not asked to be a part of the funeral scene with other cast members from Nightmare's past.
  2. This was the return of Freddy creator Wes Craven
  3. Heather suffered a real life stalker prior to the filming of this film.
  4. There were no opening titles. This was put in place to demonstrate that the film was to be set in the real world.
  5. Toward the end of the movie John Saxon and Heather Langencamp are wearing the original duds from "A Nightmare on Elm Street"

Recreation of Freddy's first kill in the film series.

4. Wes Craven's New Nightmare

The name Freddy Krueger is synonymous with horror as is it's creator Wes Craven. "A Nightmare On Elm Street" film series was and is still one of horror's finest achievements. While they are all fine representations of the genre one of them stands out much more in terms of psychological horror. One nightmare film forces us to view the burnt bastard son of 1,000 maniacs in a new manor. A manor that pushes the boundary of horror and reality and melds them together in a new unhinged form. That film was "New Nightmare".

"New Nightmare" takes us out of the big screen world of Freddy Krueger and puts the entire concept in our world. Nancy is no longer a heroine fighting the dark demented dream demon. She is simply Heather Langencamp, the actress who portrayed Nancy in the first and third Nightmare films. Freddy is acknowledged as a horror movie persona played by actor Robert Englund. In essence we are looking at Freddy as simply a creation for a movie. Simple right?

What makes this film start to fall into the realm of psychological horror is when a stalker pretending to be the Springwood Slasher begins tormenting Heather and her son. This starts to bring about nightmares for Heather. This starts to happen at the same time as nightmares begin to creep into the nighttime world of Wes Craven. Craven desires to have Heather play Nancy one last time.

It is here we start to learn that the script is interfering with Heather's real life and playing itself out in real world time. Now we learn that Freddy is not just a horror icon creation, but an evil as old as time that just so happens to take the form of what scares us the most. Freddy is that form. The films have served to trap Freddy inside. They keep this creature from getting loose and attacking our world. That being said, he has grown tired of the entrapment.

The creature now wants to get out and be a threat to the real world. Despite that aspect the script seems to still hold it at bay and force it's hand. This film finally answers the question of what if Freddy could leave "A Nightmare On Elm Street" and join the world of reality. The answer is not good. Freddy in the human world can not separate the film world so he is drawn to hurt and even kill Heather as to him she is and always will be Nancy.

I have to say this is by far the most unique and realistic of the Freddy films. The idea of a realistic Freddy Krueger is one that is not easy to deal with.



Jigsaw from the "Saw" franchise

Jigsaw questions us as to whether we are living our lives or wasting them.
Jigsaw questions us as to whether we are living our lives or wasting them.

Fun Facts About Saw

  1. James Wan created the epic Saw puppet
  2. Tobin Bell played John Kramer but was noted for his role as Darryl Weaver on X-Files episode Brand X
  3. Filmed in 18 days!
  4. Originally intended for a direct to DVD release.

3. Saw

"Saw" took the horror world by storm and spawned sequel after sequel and rightfully so. The film is one of the horror genre's best examples of psychological horror. "Saw" looks at the life of John Kramer. John is the serial killer known as Jigsaw. What makes him particularly odd as a serial killer is in technical terms he has never killed anyone. He simply places them in a place where they must make a decision that places whether they live or die in their own hands. He calls these escapades games.

The killer himself suffers from cancer and will lose his life to the disease eventually. In facing his death he realized how important and valuable life is. That is turn made him very hate felt at people he felt where abusing that gift. Drug users, murders, and the such all hit the radar pretty hard. His goal was to give these people a second chance to embrace the life they have and use it for something more than petty things. They would have a chance to demonstrate how much they valued the life they had so willingly squandered.

The basis is unique and in the end extremely scary. We start to look at Jigsaw not in terms of a scary movie character but almost like a deity. I think back to the fight club scene where Tyler has the store clerk at gun point and basically forces him to pursue his dream of becoming a vet. In this case the stakes are much higher than a career. How far will you go to save your life? Would you remove your own eye to get the key to the horrible trap that is now threatening to crush your skull? Are you capable of placing your hand in a tank of poisonous bees to get that antidote to the poison traversing your body like a derailed train?

Jigsaw is confedent that his actions are not evil intent but a redemption point for these lost souls. While in hindsite the first real question is what gives John the authority to be the deciding factor on how these people squandered their lives? Who gives him that justification?

The second question is if he is doing this to mostly bad people is he really hurting are harming society? That is one that really requires some extensive thought processing. "Saw" is one of those films that keeps you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what might come next. The film really play on our insecurities in regards to how we embrace our own lives. Are we living them to the fullest or are we wasting the gift we have been given?

These films really push the threshold of acceptable human nature and really force us to think of them in terms of not only psychological horror but reality.


Seven

A film that despite having star power keeps you watching because the story is so gripping.
A film that despite having star power keeps you watching because the story is so gripping.

Some Fun Seven Facts

  1. Brad Pitt fell during a chase scene and his arm went through a car window. The injury required surgery.
  2. The notebooks were all written in and completed for real.
  3. Detective Mills was originally offered to Denzel Washington
  4. The sloth make-up took 14 hours.

The Scene That Changed The Game

2. Seven

First off let's talk star studded! Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow. This film has watchability on star power alone.

Seven takes us on a very intense and emotional journey in search of a serial killer who utilizes the seven deadly sins as his selection process. Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Pride, and Wraith. These beliefs are ancient in thought but for this killer they are what is destroying the very fabric of human society. We kind of get a Jigsaw vibe from the killer at times in which we wonder if the people he is killing are deserving of what is being done to them. Of course that is not for us or even the killer to decide but what transpires is a very dramatic search for a man who seems to be one step above every attempt to bring him to justice.

One really odd human moment we get to see repeated is the differences in Detective Mills (Pitt) and Detective Somerset (Freeman) Somerset is retiring because he has grown tired of the action in the big city and the violence he sees every day. Mills on the other hand has transferred here entirely for those very reasons. This creates some psychological tension between the two men that causes some heated and not so heated moments.

While the film plays out we learn that John Doe, the killer at large is not only committing crimes but doing so right under the detectives as he actually takes pictures of them in action at one of his scenes. He does what he does without fear of getting caught. That makes him very dangerous. We than learn that he is emotionally disturbed by encounters with people and has grown to hate society as a whole. This brings us to question whether the seven deadly sins are really playing that big a part or if they are just the means for him to justify his actions.

As an avid observer of human nature I see a lot of this film's messages conveyed in our world today. The placement of religious titles on people based on church doctrine or personal religious beliefs is a practice that occurs today and just like the film "Seven" people are dying for and against those beliefs. I also see the idea that people who kill must be crazy reflected. It is often assumed, just as Mills does in the film that those who resort to murder must not be in their right head. This is not always the case as many serial killers are shown to test well beyond normal IQ levels and some are even in the genius category. We have to start analysing John and we see that he not only has instituted this psychological chain of chaos but by demanding Detective Mills be wraith and end his life he wants to be one of the links in that uneven chain.

The film is a must watch and in all truth when it is over you are left with a feeling that just borders on dread.

The Thing Takes A Form

One of many faces the Thing takes to tear apart the camp. It is these graphic images that really set the tone for what may be the scariest movie of all time.
One of many faces the Thing takes to tear apart the camp. It is these graphic images that really set the tone for what may be the scariest movie of all time.

Fun The Thing Facts.

  1. Part of Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy"
  2. Rob Bottin did the effects, but Stan The Man Winston did the dog beast.
  3. Carpenter's favorite of all his films.
  4. The characters Mac and Windows were coincidental. (Not computer related)
  5. The X-Files episode "Ice" is based off the film.

A Must Have!

1. The Thing

1982's "The Thing" set John Carpenter apart from any horror director previously and had theater goers scared to get up from their seats. The film was based off the novella "Who Goes There" by John W. Cambell Jr. and was a new take on the original horror film "The Thing From Outer Space".

Talk about a film that starts the wheels of the whole brain factory working in overtime mode! "The Thing" takes the one aspect of ourselves we have never thought to fear and throws it back at us in a way that is so gripping, so terrorfying that we really have to step back and look at our very own being and ask, am I really what I think I am. The film has two very strong actors to provide the star roles with Kurt Russel and horror vet Kieth David but does not rely on that to keep the audience glued to the glimmering hue of the impending doom that is the thing.

We find ourselves in a research facility in Antarctica where several men are living and working. Suddenly a dog makes it's way through the snow followed by a hellicopter fireing round after round at what would appear to be a harmless dog. Here we start to think. Why shoot a dog? What could a dog have done that is so bad it merits gun fire and airborn chase?

From here we start a chain of events that leads to the revelation that the little dog is much more than what it seems. It is an alien life form capable of absorbing other lifeforms and becoming them.

What adds to the chaos is I do mean becoming. It mimics it's prey in every shape and form to the point where even the prey itself may have no idea it is no longer itself but the alien. Friends become enemies, enemies may become friends and the age old human concept of fight or flight starts to play a vivid role in the survival of the film. Who can you trust when the enemy hides right there in plain site, disguised as one of you?

The film debuted with bad reviews in part to it being way above it's time and in part due to another alien film the same day, "ET". Over the years however "ET" however has grown into kiddie film archives "The Thing" has sparked a cult following befitting of Jonestown!

Deep in the film's overlays is a very grim reminder that of all the things that plague the human race, can kill us, or just flat out make us miserable it is us. We are the worse enemy we could imagine and "The Thing" takes that concept and runs with it. Amazing effects, superb story lines and one of the most frightening monsters to ever grace the big screen all shy in comparison when you sit down and evaluate the idea itself.

Here is an enemy that can kill at will, hide inside our friends and has no real fear of what we can do to it. You start to see just how dangerous such a creature could be in retrospect to the entirety of the human race. It really takes us back to our childhood fear of the dark. We never really fear the dark, but what we can't see that may be hiding inside of it. It is that fear that drives us to turn on a light, or that fear that prompts us to yell for mom and dad. "The Thing" goes leaps further and revisits that fear of what we can not see and pushes the envelope of our imaginations to the breaking point.

In Closing

There you have it guys and ghouls, five films that will not only scare the hell out of you but keep you thinking for days after you have watched them. I would recommend any of these films to a would be horror fan but even if horror is not your bag these are worth the time simply for the reflections of human behavior each displays in some twisted yet convenient way. Enjoy!

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