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Psychological horror

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Title: Psychological horror  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Horror film, Slasher film, Body horror, Hannibal (TV series), Misery (novel)
Collection: Film Genres, Horror Fiction, Horror Genres, Psychological Horror
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Psychological horror

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror fiction, film, and video games (as a narrative) which relies on the characters' fears and emotional instability to build tension.


  • Characteristics 1
  • Books 2
  • Films 3
  • Video games 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Psychological horror aims to create discomfort by exposing common or universal psychological and emotional vulnerabilities/fears and revealing the darker parts of the human psyche that most people may repress or deny. This idea is referred to in Jungian psychology as the archetypal shadow characteristics: suspicion, distrust, self-doubt and paranoia of others, themselves and the world. Thus, elements of psychological horror focus on mental conflict. These become important as the characters face perverse situations, often involving the supernatural, immorality and conspiracies. While other horror media emphasize fantastical situations such as attacks by monsters, psychological horror tends to keep the monsters hidden and to involve situations more grounded in artistic realism.

Plot twists are an often used device. Characters commonly face internal battles with subconscious desires such as romantic lust and the desire for petty revenge. In contrast, splatter fiction focuses on bizarre, alien evil to which the average viewer cannot easily relate.[1]


The novel Silence of the Lambs written by Thomas Harris, Robert Bloch novels such as Psycho and American Gothic and Stephen King novels such as Carrie, Misery, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and The Shining are some examples of psychological horror.


Psychological horror films differ from the traditional horror film, where the source of the fear is typically something material, such as creatures, monsters or aliens,[2] as well as the splatter film, which derives its effects from gore and graphic violence,[2] in that tension is built through atmosphere, eerie sounds and exploitation of the viewer's and the character's psychological fears.

The Black Cat (1934) and Cat People (1942) have been cited as early psychological horror films.[3][2][4]

Roman Polanski directed two films which are considered quintessential psychological horror: Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968).[5][6] Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining is another particularly well-known example of the genre.[7] The Changeling (1980) directed by Peter Medak is another good example of a psychological haunting story.

The subgenre is a staple in Asian countries. Japanese horror films, commonly referred to as "J-horror", have been noted to be generally of a psychological horror nature.[8] Notable examples are Ring (1998) and the Ju-on series.[8] Another influential category is the Korean horror films, commonly referred to as "K-horror".[8] Notable examples are A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Hansel and Gretel (2007) and Whispering Corridors (1998).[8] A landmark film from the Philippines, Kisapmata (1981), is an example of psychological horror.

Video games

While video game genres are based upon their gameplay content, psychological horror as narrative is used in some video games. A few successful video game franchises have spawned from using psychological horror as a main form of creating fear, the most well known being Silent Hill. Other psychological horror games include Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Soma, Manhunt, Nocturne, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Higurashi no naku koro ni, LSD, Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, F.E.A.R., SCP: Containment Breach, Cry of Fear, The Suffering, Anna, Lone Survivor, BioShock and to some extent, Spec Ops: The Line and The Swapper.

See also


  1. ^ "Psychoanalytic theory in times of terror". Journal of Analytical Psychology 4 (48): 407. September 2003. 
  2. ^ a b c Hayward 2006, p. 148.
  3. ^ Skal, David J. (15 October 2001). The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. Macmillan. p. 180.  
  4. ^ Strinati, Dominic (31 August 2000). An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture. Routledge. p. 90.  
  5. ^ Browne, Ray B.; Browne, Pat (15 June 2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. p. 411.  
  6. ^ Mazierska, Ewa (15 June 2007). Roman Polanski: The Cinema of a Cultural Traveller. I.B.Taurus. p. 89.  
  7. ^ Kawin, Bruce F. (25 June 2012). Horror and the Horror Film. Anthem Press. p. 115.  
  8. ^ a b c d Reid 2009, p. 163.
  • Hayward, Susan (12 April 2006). Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Taylor & Francis.  
  • Reid, Robin Anne (2009). Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Overviews. ABC-CLIO.  
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