11 Psychological Horror Movies, A Look Into The History Of This Genre

11 psychological horror films, a look at the history of this genre

The majority of us like to be afraid as long as we have the situation under control. We like it as long as there is no real danger. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than a real horror. Horror movies are a great way to experience that feeling.

Strangely enough,  horror movies  usually don’t get very good reviews, even though so many people are fans of these kinds of movies. In this article, we focus specifically on psychological horror movies. Let’s take a quick look at their history.

The early 20th century

George Méliès, a pioneer of cinema made the first horror film of all time:  Le manoir du diable  (1896). Since then, countless others have followed in his footsteps.

1.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  (1920)

This German film was the pinnacle of German Expressionism. Many people consider it the first full-length horror film. Today it is a cult classic. The film is based on some true murder cases that occurred in Hamburg.

In the film, a queer character and his strange slave commit the murders. The expressionist scenes and decors also deserve special attention. In 1931, along the same lines, Germany gave us another horror classic:  M,  directed by Fritz Lang.

The Cabinet of Dr.  Caligaria

2.  Freaks  (1930)

This movie is set during a show of freaks. In the early 20th century, people with deformities were used as attractions. The plot of the story is about revenge and murder. What makes this movie especially interesting is that they cast actors who really had deformities.

During this time period, people were extremely fascinated by monsters. Directors made films based on such books as  Frankenstein  (1931) and  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (1920). They chose actors like Bela Lugosi for the role of Dracula.

Freaks, a 1930s horror film

Horror movies in the second half of the 20th century

This was a time full of changes. In the 1960s, psychological horror and black-and-white were big. However, it is the 1970s that marks an impressive turning point in the history of horror films.

3.  Psycho  (1960)

The ’60s gave us movies like  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and  The Birds  (1963). Obviously we can’t talk about horror movies without mentioning the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock and his movie, Psycho.

People everywhere are calling this movie one of the best horror movies of all time. The hideous Bates Motel, the shower scene, along with Norman Bates and his secretive mother all create an atmosphere worthy of the master of suspense. This movie is pure psychological horror, without the need for any special effect or ‘ketchup’.

4.  Rosemary’s Baby  (1968)

Roman Polanski directed this movie. In the lead role we see a young Mia Farrow. It’s a great example of how important it is for these films to sink us into an atmosphere of terror and horror. This is where that feeling appears every time we see Rosemary and her strange neighbors.

The film was completely groundbreaking for its time. They shot the movie at The Dakota, the building where John Lennon was murdered. In addition, Charles Manson and his “family” tried to stop the film. This happened shortly before Polanski’s fold was killed. It is an endlessly mysterious film that will leave almost everyone speechless.

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby

5.  The Exorcist  (1973)

The special effects in this film are extremely simple. You also have Regan’s green vomit and scars. All these elements make  The Exorcist a pioneer of its time.

If you see him now for the first time, it will probably seem funnier than scary. However, the film has had a significant impact on horror movies in general. It’s a classic that completely reinvented the genre.

6.  The Shining  (1980)

In the 1970s and 1980s, many films mixed fiction with horror. That’s how we ended up with movies like  Alien  (1979). This is also the time when the fashion for filming Stephen King’s books really took off. You had  Carrie  (1976) and of course  The Shining.

Who can forget the legendary hotel Overlook, the winding road or the ravings of Jack Torrance? This is undoubtedly one of the greatest movies of all time thanks to the work of the genius Stanley Kubrick.

Jack Nicholson in The Shining

The 90s and 2000s

This is the period when the overuse of special effects started to destroy the magic of the horror movies. There were hundreds of movies about paranormal things. Some movies even had multiple sequels. However, most of those movies weren’t that great. They also didn’t get very good reviews.

This time period also gave us Japanese movies such as  The Ring  (2002). We also got a lot of bloodshed then, like in  Saw  (2004). In addition, there was also a long list of films with possessed children and ghosts. Still, there are some films from this period in which people opted for psychology and suspense.

7.  Misery (1990)

This is another film adaptation of a Stephen King book. Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her claustrophobic, obsessive and suspense-filled lead.

Annie Wilkes is a nurse who is completely captivated by the books of a famous writer, Paul Sheldon. She becomes obsessed. She eventually kidnaps him. This is a horror movie that you absolutely must put on your list. You will get a glimpse of Kathy Bates at her disruptive best.

All that fascination with Stephen King stuck. It led to great movies like  1408 (2007). This is an underrated movie. This movie goes back to the kind of psychological horror we talked about in this article.

The atmosphere in  1408 is hypnotic and claustrophobic. The film deserves a little more attention than it has received. It also doesn’t seem like King is out of fashion yet. Last year there was a film adaptation of  It.  However, some people say that Tim Curry’s rendition from 1990 is much better.

Kathy Bates in the movie Misery

8.  The Silence of the Lambs  (1991)

Hannibal Lecter is an unforgettable character. He is a psychopath with high intelligence and able to manipulate almost anyone. Anthony Hopkins plays this role very well.

So is Jodie Foster. So it’s no surprise that both actors won an Oscar. This is a thriller you must see. It gives you a glimpse into the minds of serial killers and a look at cannibalism.

9.  The Others  (2001)

This is a film by the Spanish director, Alejandro Amenábar. Nicole Kidman stars in this exciting 21st century gem. Strange things happen in an old, mysterious, remote and mist-shrouded mansion. It sounds like yet another movie about the paranormal. However, this is not the case with  The Others.

All fear is implicit. The brightness is low because the children in the film are sensitive to light. The result is a dark, gloomy atmosphere where nothing is as it seems.

The Others, a movie starring Nicole Kidman

2010 until now

Then we have films like  The Conjuring  (2013),  Insidious  (2010),  The Babadook  (2014) and the Paranormal Activity  series  . They are the greatest horror films of recent years. Almost all of these movies had sequels and were hugely profitable.

Some of these movies are very interesting. However, most of them just exaggerate with the makeup, the effects, and the easy scare tactics. They are movies that focus on the audience’s attention rather than a good review. In the end, it’s just a forced form of horror that gets boring after a while.

Here are two recent movies that are more in line with the characteristics of suspense than horror. I chose them anyway because they deal with psychological ideas that are still much more terrifying than being possessed by a demon.

10.Black  Swan  (2010)

Natalie Portman’s acting performance in this film is truly remarkable. It is a ballet film about eating disorders, schizophrenia and hallucinations. With a fascinating atmosphere full of metaphors and all kinds of interpretations, this film will undoubtedly make you think.

11.  Shutter Island  (2010)

This is a film from one of the greatest directors of the 20th and 21st centuries, Martin Scorcese. The film also stars the fantastic Leonardo DiCaprio. Beng Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo play the supporting roles.

The story takes place in the 1950s. So it resembles the style of  film noir  in the early 20th century. We are on an island where there is a psychiatric hospital. There they overwhelm us with the horror of the human mind and diabolical practices like lobotomy.

What is Shutter Island anyway? What really happens in the psychiatric hospital? It is definitely one of the best recent suspense movies.

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