Horror movie fans have plenty to be excited about with the release of Jordan Peele’s Us. The film is Peele’s much anticipated second feature, following the Oscar-winning hit Get Out. The film follows a family on a summer getaway who are terrorized by evil doppelgängers. With strong positive reviews, Us looks to be another disturbing entry into the psychological horror genre.
Psychological horror films are not only designed to terrify audiences, but also play with their minds. Unlike other horror films, these scares don’t rely on jumps and gore alone. Instead, they take audiences on a mind-trip that can be much scarier. So if you’re looking to have your brain messed with, here are the best psychological horror films.
10 It Follows
Monster movies don’t usually appear on lists of the best psychological horror movies but It Follows is a very different monster movie. For one thing, you never see the monster’s true form. Instead, it takes on the scarier disguise of everyday people.
The film has an instantly compelling plot where the main character has a curse passed on her, meaning she will be hunted by this inconspicuous force until she passes it to another. It doesn’t waste a killer premise like this, infusing the film with a paranoid mood suggesting the danger could be anywhere.
9 I Saw The Devil
South Korea has churned out a number of amazing horror films in the 21st century, and this intense cat-and-mouse horror is certainly one of the best.
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The film follows a special forces agent whose wife is brutally killed by a serial killer. The grieving man hunts down the killer, but instead of a quick revenge, he begins playing a game with his target. The film plays with the idea of both these men being vicious killers and the struggle for control continues to go back and forth between them until the bloody conclusion.
8 Rosemary’s Baby
Satanism and the occult have often played a big role in the psychological horror genre. There is something unsettling about the idea of worshipers of evil operating in plain sight. Rosemary’s Baby latches on to this fear in the tale of a couple who becomes unexpectedly pregnant after moving to a new home surrounded by unusual neighbors.
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The film is unsettling in how ordinary the horror seems and the fact that it is linked to the idea of being a new mother. Just as you think that paranoid mayhem can’t get any worse, the film continues to find new disturbing ways to terrify you.
7 The Babadook
Like It Follows, this is another monster film that has a lot more going on than most films in that subgenre. The Babadook is an Australian film which follows a widowed woman struggling to raise her troubled young son. When a mysterious book arrives at there home, the family begins being haunted by a creature known as Mister Babadook.
While the titular menace is scary enough, much of the psychological aspect of the horror comes from the mother's own deteriorating mind. Is the monster real, or is she fighting with something more internal? The movie doesn’t give you any easy answers in this dark tale.
6 Jacob’s Ladder
One common theme of the psychological horror film is the unnerving question of what is real and what is imagined. This is why Jacob’s Ladder serves as such an effective and disturbing film.
The film follows a Vietnam veteran having horrific visions that continue to haunt him. As he attempts to find some kind of relief, he begins to uncover the truth about what happened to him during the war. Along with the nightmarish imagery, the film refuses to let the audience escape the intense uncertainty of the film leaving you exhausted by the time the credits roll.
5 The Vanishing
This is a genre that is often heavy with mystery, however, The Vanishing is one of the most disturbing examples of where those mysteries can lead you. The film follows a man whose girlfriend goes missing at a roadside rest stop which leads him on an obsessive search for answers.
The torture of the unanswered is what is most disturbing here. It is a descent into madness as we find out how far our hero will go to find out what happened to his loved one. The ending remains one of the darkest conclusions in the genre.
There was a time in the early 2000s when Hollywood was in a trend as remaking Japanese horror films, and this film is the one that inspired that movement. Though the remake is solid, the original Ringu is an unforgettable movie-watching experience.
As an investigative reporter looks into the mysterious deaths of several teenagers, she comes across a video cassette that apparently causes those who watch it to die in seven days. What follows is a frightening investigation about what is real, leading to one of the most famous reveals in horror movie history.
3 Don’t Look Now
The haunted state of the mind is one of the most common aspects of the psychological horror genre. The protagonists are usually deeply troubled souls, unable to forget some dark past.
This is certainly at play in Don’t Look Now. The film tells the story of a couple who, after losing their young daughter, move to Venice in an attempt to start over. But when the husband begins seeing sightings of his daughter, he begins to unravel. The movie has become highly influential thanks to its eerie and foreboding mood. And the climax is still one of the best twist endings of all-time.
2 Get Out
The newest film on this list has already earned a spot high on any list of horror films. While it’s difficult to narrow this complex film down to one genre, the mounting sense of paranoia throughout certainly place it comfortably in the psychological horror section.
The story of a black man on a weekend getaway to meet his girlfriend’s family makes for an intense, funny and highly disturbing film. Jordan Peele uses the modern social concepts to create a thought-provoking masterpiece that has cemented its place in pop culture. This is the type of movie to reward repeat viewings.
1 The Shining
Put together the talents of Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, and Stephen King are bound to result in something interesting. The Shining is not certainly interesting and remains a film that to terrifies audiences to this day.
The classic film follows a man who takes a job as a winter caretaker at an empty hotel. As he and his family settle in to the isolated location, the dark history of the hotel comes for and the man begins to lose his mind. King’s work mixes well with Kubrick’s amazing and creepy visuals. Topped all that with a brilliantly unhinged performance from Jack Nicholson. It's no surprise this is considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made.