Psychological horror movies they really scare because mental fear is the only kind of fear that truly follows you throughout your life, at least until you become able to get rid of it. Some say the mind is the real adversary, and absolutely nothing beats worrying about going crazy or losing faith in your mind over the best horror movies timeless like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby.
And great classic movies to recent or lesser-known films we have created a list of the best psychological horror films to see.
Psychological horror movies breed mental fear. Blood and violence are secondary: the dark depths of the human mind are the main battlefield. In a psychological horror film there is a scary feeling that something is wrong with the whole story of the main character. That feeling of something wrong develops into a terrible uneasiness that lasts throughout the film. “Creepy” is another adjective to explain the genre of psychological horror films. What these kinds of movies include are usually surprise endings or surreal reversals of what we believed to be true.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is generally referred to as the first real psychological horror film cinema history. Among the first examples of films with mental fears, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari uses the distorted images of German Expressionism to portray the twisted minds of his characters. The film deals with a mystic, Dr. Caligari, who shows his skills as a therapist with a sleepwalker called Cesare. What looks like something like a sideshow tourist attraction is something far more eerie. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is among the most important psychological horror films ever, and its disturbing imagery and distortions make it an outstanding psychological horror film even more than a century after its release.
Cat People (1942)
The Cat People is another early psychological horror, directed by Jacques Turner and produced for RKO by Val Lewton. At the Central Park Zoo in New York City, Serbian illustrator Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) sketches a black panther and catches the eye of marine engineer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). Irena welcomes him to her house for tea. In his apartment Oliver is fascinated by the statue of a medieval warrior on horseback slaying a large feline with his sword.
Irena informs Oliver that the figure is King John of Serbia and that the feline represents evil. According to legend, long ago, the Christian citizens of his hometown turned to witchcraft and devil worship after being imprisoned by the Mamluks. When King John drove out the Mamluks and saw what the villagers had become, he had them eliminated. The best and the worst went to the mountains. Oliver is dismissive of the legend, although Irena clearly takes it seriously.
The Leopard Man (1943)
In a sleepy New Mexico town, club owner Jerry Manning employs a black leopard as a promotional stunt for his wife, Kiki Walker, a nightclub entertainer. Kiki uses the opportunity to interrupt the show of her competitor, Clo-Clo, by bursting into the restaurant with the leopard on a leash. Outraged, Clo-Clo scares the leopard with his castanets and the animal runs off, disappearing into the night. Charlie, the Native American owner of the leopard who leased it to Jerry, begins to pester him.
Dementia has no dialogue, is an entirely silent film, and shows a woman’s descent into madness during one night on Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row. A young woman wakes up from a nightmare in a rundown hotel. Leave the lodgings and wander through the night. Meet a dwarf who sells newspapers with the title “Mysterious Stabbing”. He smiles enigmatically and walks quickly. In a dark alley, a drunk approaches and grabs her. A policeman rescues her and beats up the drunk as he leaves.
On her way, a well-dressed, thin-moustached pimp approaches her, buys her a flower from a flower girl’s basket, and persuades her to escort a rich fat man in a chauffeured limousine. As they walk through the night, she thinks back to her tragic youth and abusive father. She had stabbed him to death with a switchblade after he shot and killed his unfaithful mother.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The 1960s French psychological horror film by Georges Franju tells the story of a cosmetic surgeon looking for a face transplant for his daughter after a terrible car accident. The film is disturbing enough: The Mask of Another, Eyes Without a Face focuses on the girl as she gradually discovers what her father will do to right his mistake.
During the night just outside Paris, a lady drives along a riverbank and goes off the road. After the body is recovered, Dr. Génessier recognizes the remains as those of her little girl, Christiane, whose face was horribly disfigured in a car accident before her disappearance. Dr. Génessier resides on a large estate, adjacent to his center, with various caged German Shepherds and other large companion dogs. After Christiane’s funeral, Dr. Génessier and her assistant Louise, the woman who had actually disposed of the corpse earlier, return to the house where the real Christiane is hidden. The body came from a girl who died following Dr. Génessier’s failed attempt to graft her face onto that of her daughter. Dr. Génessier ensures to bring Christiane’s face back and strongly insists that she use a mask to cover her disfigurement.
Alfred Hitchcock he wished to make his next film after Psycho at Disneyland, however Walt Disney himself declined, calling Psycho “revolting”. Psycho is credited by some as one of the earliest examples of slasher films, however, while it certainly made an impact on the slasher subgenre, it’s actually among the best psychological horror films of all time.
Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, a motel manager whose warm nature hides a sick mind. Perkins’ ability to credibly expose layer upon layer of Norman’s disturbed mind is among the fantastic achievements of thecinema horror, along with Hitchcock’s style. Psycho is one of those must see movie at least once in a lifetime.
The Haunting (1963)
Shirley Jackson’s book was adapted into a film in 1999 and as a series in 2018. Based on Shirley Jackson’s short story Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting is a psychological horror film about a haunted house that uses a strong mental component.
In the film, Dr. Markway visits an apparently haunted house with Luke, the owner of the house, Theo, a psychic, and Eleanor, a shy lady aware of the paranormal. It seems that Eleanor may be the focus of the strange incidents in the house and the audience experiences the events mainly from her point of view. The Haunting is a great movie in the way it develops a scary and tense setting without really revealing almost anything about the supernatural activity to the audience. Most of the fears stem from the method in which the film is shot and Eleanor’s state of mind.
In this psychological horror of Roman Polanski a woman is terrified of male sexual desire. Catherine Deneuve gives some of the best portrayals of fear on screen. Carol Ledoux, a shy Belgian manicurist, resides in London with her older sister Helen. Carol is incredibly withdrawn and has difficulty in her day-to-day interactions. A suitor, Colin, is in love with her and courts her, however Carol doesn’t seem keen.
Carol is annoyed by Helen’s relationship with a family man named Michael, who Carol doesn’t seem to like. She is disturbed by her routine of leaving her razor and toothbrush in the glass in the bathroom, and has trouble sleeping during the night, disturbed by the noises of her sister and Michael making love.
Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
Bunny Lake is Missing is a horror film about a woman who picks up her son from school and discovers that he has actually inexplicably disappeared.
American single mom Ann Lake, who has just moved to London from New York, travels to Little People’s Garden preschool to pick up her son, Bunny. The boy has inexplicably disappeared. Ann and her brother Steven explore the school and discover a strange old woman living upstairs who claims to collect children’s problems. In desperation, the Lakes call the police and Detective Newhouse arrives on the scene. Everyone ends up suspicious, and Newhouse is careful to follow up on every lead. The authorities and Newhouse choose to take a look at the Lakes’ new home.
Hour of the Wolf (1968)
A young artistic couple retreat to a cabin on the small island of Baltrum in this Swedish psychological horror film by Ingmar Bergman which transforms sleep disturbances and isolation into terrible visions. The painter Johan Borg and his pregnant young wife Alma live on the small island of Baltrum. Johan shares pictures of scary visions he has had with Alma and begins to give them names, including Birdman, Insects, Meat-Eeaters, Schoolmaster and Lady With a Hat. As her insomnia worsens, Alma lies awake by his side.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
As an agnostic, Roman Polanski he intentionally wove a thread of uncertainty into his adaptation of the book. That uncertainty heightens the psychological horror element of Rosemary’s Baby. When a young couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes), move into a New York house and befriend an elderly couple, their lives begin to take different paths.
The man’s profession is in flux, yet Rosemary imagines strange scenarios. Rosemary’s growing fear could be due to a mental disorder or it could be due to something sinister happening inside the apartment. Rosemary’s Baby is a horror masterpiece that ended up being one of the milestones of the subgenre.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Many scary fans think that Don’t Look Now is one of the best European scary movies ever. The beautiful timeless city of Venice – the film was launched in Italy as In Venice… a shocking red December – is the backdrop for this director’s work of art Nicolas Roeg.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a couple who have lost their baby in an accident. After Sutherland enters a Venetian church, he begins to observe strange signs and strange patterns, unaware that he has actually been gifted/cursed with the ability for foresight. He is particularly interested in a small character in a red cloak that he repeatedly encounters and who warns him about his son. He’s too out of touch with his minds to understand that this character will seal his fate.
The Killing Kind (1973)
A boy is released from prison after being among a group of friends who raped a girl at a beach. They tried to ask him to participate, he refused, however the victim blamed it causing him to fall into mental hell. Upon leaving prison, however, his mother pressures him to kill the woman who framed him for the rape. What his mother didn’t tell him is that she’s preparing to eliminate him after he eliminates the woman.
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Wicker Man, a psychological horror film in which everything remains secret until the last scene, a spectacle that closes this 1973 film about a woman who gets lost on a Scottish island with psychopathic inhabitants.
Police Sergeant Neil Howie travels by seaplane to the remote Hebridean island Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a girl, Rowan Morrison, about whom he has received a confidential letter. Howie discovers that the islanders look up to pagan Celtic gods of their ancestors. They teach children May rituals and place toads in their mouths to cure sore throats. The Islanders appear to be attempting to impede his investigation by declaring that the Rowan never existed.
A girl named Helen receives an invitation from her girlfriend to stay at her English estate, which ends up being even more seedy than she had thought. After resisting the unwanted sexual advances of a scary estate handyman, Helen begins hearing voices. He wakes up early one morning to discover that his lover is dead and he doubts he has committed the murder. Or was it the handyman? The situation pushes her beyond the brink of insanity.
The Sender (1982)
After a suicide attempt, a man is rescued and admitted to a psychological health care facility. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from. When a therapist begins treating him, he is suddenly struck by disturbing and horrific dreams and thinks that someone is telepathically sending them to him – hence the film’s title. The problem is that these terrible dreams he sends end up in an open door to reality. This British psychological horror film is a strange mental thriller to watch.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Tim Robbins plays a war veteran in trouble during the Vietnam War, whose life is marred by constant flashbacks and hallucinations. He is later informed that while in Vietnam, he and his army were test subjects for a drug that was developed to increase hostility among American soldiers. In a particularly brilliant flashback, he acknowledges that the individual who assaulted and nearly eliminated him in Vietnam was another American soldier. The film develops on the verge of madness. What ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ actually wishes to do is to stimulate a sense of state of mind in the audience, to feel what the hero is feeling.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Inspired by sci-fi/horror author HP Lovecraft, In the Mouth of Insanity by John Carpenter is a mystery story around the death of writer Sutter Cane. In the midst of a mysterious catastrophe, Dr. Wrenn sees John Trent, a patient in a psychiatric hospital, and Trent tells his story: Trent, a freelance private insurance coverage investigator, has lunch with the owner of an insurance company, who asks to Trent to deal with his biggest client by investigating a complaint from New York-based Arcane Publishing.
During their argument, Trent is attacked by an axe-wielding googly-eyed man who, after being asked if he controls famous scary author Sutter Cane, is shot dead by the cops. The man was Cane’s representative, who went insane and eliminated his family after checking through Cane’s books. Trent meets with Arcane director Jackson Harglow, who tasks him with investigating Cane’s disappearance and recovering the manuscript for his latest book.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Director Darren Aronofsky is a big fan of Perfect Blue and referenced the film in Requiem for a Dream (2000) in the scene where Jennifer Connelly’s character screams in a bathtub. This japanese movie animated directed by Satoshi Kon is a psychological horror that is all about producing a compelling portrayal of understanding identity. At times Perfect Blue may seem like a thriller in the vein of Tenebrae (1982), while at other times it has actually been compared to the work ofAlfred Hitchcock and his ability to develop an incredible tension around a main character.
Mima Kirigoe, a member of a J-pop idol group called “CHAM!”, chooses to leave the group to become a full-time star. She is being stalked by a compulsive fan called Me-Mania. Following instructions from a fan letter, Mima finds a site called “Mima’s Room” which includes public journal entries composed from her point of view, and which has her daily life and ideas recorded. During her career as an actress, she is hired by supervisor and former pop idol Rumi Hidaka and her representative Tadokoro. Mima confides in Rumi about “Mima’s Room”, however he is encouraged to ignore it. Mima’s first real job is a small part in a television drama called Double Bind, however, Tadokoro pressures Double Bind’s producers and wants to protect Mima from a rape scene. Despite Rumi’s objections, Mima accepts the role.
Gemini’s Shinya Tsukamoto it’s a Japanese horror movie based on a short story by Edogawa Rampo. While not overtly supernatural, Gemini is a skin-scratching psychological horror film loaded with vibrant, horrific imagery adequate to send most Western audiences and critics into a tailspin.
Tokyo. 1910. Dr. Daitokuji Yukio (Masahiro Motoki), a former military doctor who took over a practice from his father and deals with plague victims, lives a charmed life: he is a respectable young doctor married to Rin (Ryo) , a wonderful wife. His only problem is that he suffers from amnesia. Things start to fall apart. Both his mother and father die, killed by a strange stranger who looks like him. His relationship with his wife worsens after he chooses to treat the mayor instead of the destitute citizens of the ghettos. One day she has to deal with the strange stranger who ends up being her long rejected twin, Sutekichi. Dedicated to revenge, Sutekichi throws him down the well in the garden and takes control of his life.
American Psycho (2000)
Horror movie director Mary Harron directed American Psycho. In this psychological horror Christian Bale plays a psychotic serial killer who works on Wall Street. Numerous psychology teachers refer to scenes from this film, a cult film that has had a lasting impact on popular culture. Artists like Kanye West and Maroon 5 have actually commemorated some of the famous scary scenes from the film in their videos.
In 1987, Patrick Bateman, a wealthy young financial investment trader from New York City, spends most of his time dining at popular restaurants with his girlfriend Evelyn Williams and her circle of wealthy friends, most of whom are not he likes. At an organizing conference, Bateman and his partners show off their business cards. Angered by the supremacy of his associate Paul Allen, Bateman confronts a homeless man on an evening street and stabs him. Bateman resents Allen for his high-end lifestyle and his ability to get reservations at the Dorsia, a one-of-a-kind restaurant that Bateman is unable to enter. Bateman controls Allen by getting him drunk. He lures Allen into his home and kills him with an axe. Patrick enters Allen’s flat or block of flats and leaves a message on his answering machine stating that Allen has indeed gone on a business trip to London.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch directed this dreamy, surreal artwork about a woman who suffers from amnesia after suffering an automobile accident on Los Angeles’ infamous Mulholland Drive. The film is not a linear plot and an extravagant cinematic masterpiece about modern Hollywood and the mental toll it exacts on the innocent and the young. A brilliant film, impenetrable, hypnotic, with a very rare auteur direction. A avant-garde film, of forebodings and timeless lost places.
A dark-haired woman is the sole survivor of a car crash on Mulholland Drive, a winding road in the Hollywood Hills. Hurt and in shock, she trudges to Los Angeles and breaks into an apartment. Later the next morning, a hopeful actress named Betty Elms arrives at a house, which is usually inhabited by her Aunt Ruth. Betty is shocked to discover the woman from the accident in the house: she suffers from amnesia and calls herself “Rita” after seeing a poster for the film Gilda starring Rita Hayworth. To help Rita remember her identity, Betty searches Rita’s purse, where she discovers a large amount of cash and a strange blue box.
Halle Berry stars alongside Robert Downey, Jr. in this one supernatural horror movie. Halle Berry plays a psychiatrist who swerves onto the roadway late at night to avoid hitting a woman, only to wake up as a patient in a psychiatric facility to find she’s been accused of murdering her own spouse.
Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist at Woodward Penitentiary in rural western Connecticut, crashes her vehicle on a side road one night to avoid hitting a young girl. When she wakes up, she finds herself a prisoner of the women’s ward where she works, receiving treatment from her colleague, Dr. Pete Graham. Miranda is spooked when Pete reveals that her spouse, Douglas, was actually the victim of a ruthless ax murder, of which she is the only suspect. As Miranda tries to adjust to life as a prisoner, she is haunted by visions of the girl she saw the night of the incident and is attacked by her ghost in the showers; the woman carves the phrase “Not Alone” into Miranda’s arm, even though health center personnel assume Miranda is self-harming. She later discovers that the exact same expression was scrawled in Douglas’ blood inside their home following his murder.
The Memory of a Killer (2003)
Inspired by the case of Alzheimer’s, this Dutch crime thriller is a puzzle. Launched in Germany as De zaak Alzheimer (The Case of Alzheimer’s), this mental thriller focuses on an elderly man stricken with an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A killer’s job requires concentration and skill, and his degrading mental health begins to have lethal repercussions. He’s a killer who understands he’s losing his mind.
Directed by William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist), Bug (2006) stars Ashley Judd as Agnes, a lonely waitress who lives in a rundown motel. Agnes forms a desperate relationship with a drifter called Peter (Michael Shannon), and the two wander into a significantly delusional mindspace of federal government conspiracies and bug invasions. Bug is creepy and claustrophobic, and not quite known as a mid-2000s psychological horror.
Black Swan (2010)
A ballerina named Nina accepts the desirable lead role in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” which needs her to play both the White and Black Swans. She begins to suspect she is being stalked by a doppelgänger who desperately wants the role of the White Swan. Roger Ebert called the film “a well-rounded melodrama, informed with enthusiastic, gloriously and darkly unreasonable force.”.
Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island is a sensational film based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Set in a mental asylum, the film is a true mind journey where the main character goes through an extreme odyssey of self-discovery and dissolution that might even make the audience think they are insane. The unforgettable ending also helps make it a trademark of the horror category and psychological thriller.
In what was the most commercially successful film of Martin Scorsese until The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Leo DiCaprio plays a United States marshal assigned to look into the disappearance of a child at a medical facility for the criminally insane on an island in Boston Harbor. As Leo and his investigative partner are thwarted by the health facility staff, he begins to suffer from migraines. He slowly realizes that the health center has actually used its clients as guinea pigs for psychopharmaceuticals and lobotomies.
Creep was partly influenced by Mark Duplass’ many strange experiences on Craigslist. A videographer, Aaron (Patrick Brice), agrees to record a video diary for Josef (Mark Duplass), a cancer patient who wishes to record a day of his life for his upcoming baby. Things get really weird between Aaron and Josef and in the end Josef may not have been entirely honest about his intentions. Creep can also be considered one black comedy, but likewise leans heavily into the psychological horror genre when Josef starts harassing and stalking Aaron.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
Mike Flanagan wrote and directed the psychological horror film Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining. The story takes place years later and includes a now adult Danny Torrance dealing with his mother in Florida. Feeling that his life has no direction, he moves to New Hampshire, where he calls himself “Doctor Sleep” for his ability to ease the suffering of patients who die. He similarly tries to save a girl with psychic powers from the demonic impact of a cult called The True Knot. For the hapless Daniel Torrance, the psychological tortures of The Shining will never end.
It’s a psychological horror that was born out of Taylor’s desire to direct a film about “something messed up” and Spencer’s desire to break away from the kind of roles he usually gets to play. Taylor and Spencer have been good friends for a long time, having actually collaborated on films like The Help and Get on Up. Later in 2018, Taylor and Blumhouse Productions began crafting the film, with Taylor directing, Landes writing, Blum producing, and Spencer starring. Principal photography for the film began in February 2018 and was filmed in March 2018 in Mississippi with portions filmed in Natchez.
A lonely black veterinary technician in Ohio befriends a group of young white teenagers and allows them to party at his home. He even helps them buy alcohol. Slowly, the boys begin to wonder if “Ma” is as benevolent as she appears to be…or if they’ve been partying in a haunted house owned by a monster?
Midsommar was a substantial commercial success for A24 in the horror category. A couple travels to a rural commune in Sweden to experience its famous summer party which takes place every 90 years. It seems great at first, until things take a nasty turn. While under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, the couple understand with their fear that the cult sacrifices anyone over 72: they witness 2 elderly members attempt suicide by jumping off a cliff. One survives and the cultists smash his skull open with a rock – something you never want to see under the influence of psychedelics. The brutality never ends and the vacation turns into a living nightmare. One of the best horror films of the decade.