Psychological Horror is an element of fiction, not tied to a particular genre (it manifests itself in many stories which are not identified as "horror stories"), which aims at creating horrific or unsettling effects through in-depth use of psychology.
This may involve replacing physical threats with psychological ones (e.g. madness), thorough exploration of the mind of the involved protagonists (including the bad guys/Monster of the Week
), replacing overt displays of horror
by more subtle, creepy details, and so on. Often overlaps with Surreal Horror
Often works hand in hand with Nothing Is Scarier
, Mind Screw
, and Through the Eyes of Madness
. Due to the nature of this form of horror, it is usually Nightmare Fuel
This type of horror is particularly common in Japanese horror, or "J-Horror" as it is often known as.
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Anime and Manga
- Almost any Alfred Hitchcock movie ever made:
- The Bad Seed
- Black Swan
- Carrie, maybe?
- The Cell (takes place inside the mind of a serial killer. It's a very unpleasant place.)
- The Dark Knight Saga appears to have traces of this, especially The Dark Knight.
- Most of David Lynch's movies fall into this category.
- The Eye, which is a Hong Kong movie, also does feature some elements of J-Horror.
- Shutter, a Thai movie.
- Alone, by the directors of Shutter.
- The 1961 British movie The Innocents
- This is a big part of Japanese horror, or "J-Horror", and why it was so popular a few years ago.
- Julias Eyes
- Alejandro Amenabar's The Others.
- The Purge
- Red Eye
- Right at Your Door
- Then there's Roman Polanski:
- The Shining
- On that note, any other film based on a Stephen King novel.
- The Silence of the Lambs and that whole series.
- A Tale of Two Sisters is Korean, and Korea is no slouch in this department, also putting out movies like:
- Take a movie by Tarkovsky. Any movie by Tarkovsky. But particularly Stalker.
- Quite a bit of Survival Horror or just horror-themed games banks on this as well to supplement the atmosphere and Paranoia Fuel:
- Since Psychological Horror is so universal a trope, it can commonly be found even in games that are not built around a horror premise :
- One or two of the missions of SWAT 4 tackle extremely disturbing crime cases in very creepy locales.
- One of the reasons why the original Operation Flashpoint and its current successor ARMA are praised for their realism is how they not only accurately portray the tech and tactics employed on a modern battlefield, but also the tension, paranoia and uncompromising unpredictability of military operations. Compared to most other military games, which are usualy action-pumped thrill rides with lots of loud set pieces, these titles have the player experiencing almost unbearable tension while moving through enemy territory. The enemies can be well hidden, may already know of your position, may be already surrounding you stealthily and killing you before you even manage to register them and realize your grave mistake. And don't even get us started on situations like being Trapped Behind Enemy Lines, completely out of ammo and hiding in the bushes, because heavily armed brigades of soldiers and vehicles are combing the whole area. All of this goes hand in hand with the horror occuring commonly during missions set in broad daylight.
- Iron Storm is another good example of a shooter that has zero supernatural elements, but is set in a nigh-nightmarish Diesel Punk world scarred by an increasingly insane and dystopic Forever War.
- Spec Ops The Line is a curious example of the trope. It opens much like any other modern military shooter, but about halfway through the game (after the protagonists unwittingly burn forty-seven innocent civilians to death with white phosphorous rounds) it starts to take on more and more elements of psychological horror, including surreal, horrific imagery, hallucinations etc.
- Metro 2033 is a first person shooter, but while it has gunfights against bandits, mutants, and Neo-Nazis and/or Communists, those are brief levels of heart-pounding adrenaline between long stretches of isolation, unexplained but explicitly supernatural horrors such as ghosts and 'anomalies', and a growing sense of gloomy, claustrophobic despair in the tunnels that manages to evolve into agoraphobic paranoia when Artyom is in the open on the surface. Worst of all are some of the completely unexplained instances of blatant and lethal Mind Screw that defy explanation—the less said about the Dark Ones, the better. It's saying something when it's comforting to have a level with Nazis to shoot at, versus the game's alternatives.
- Silent Hill: Promise
- The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing in a similar vein!
- Gunnerkrigg Court dips into this in Chapter 11, "Dobranoc, Gamma", Chapter 16, "A Ghost Story", and Chapter 19, "Power Station".
- Due to her very nature, it seems that any extended appearance by Zimmy will cause a brief genre shift into psych horror.
- Homestuck delves into this around the middle of Act 5 when Gamzee goes sober and starts killing off the characters, which had already started dying by Eridan and Vriska earlier. Probably the creepiest part is a flash in which, after seeing a few scenes of Nepeta and Equius talking adorably to one another, the reader is forced to play as the both of them and lead them through a dark, deserted lab as ominous music riddled with honks slowly grows louder. The worst part is that, unlike in a video game, the 'player' has no choice - they know the story depends on the two characters moving towards the threat, so unless they just stop reading altogether (which doesn't solve the problem as of course the story continues on regardless) they can't continue any other way than by leading these beloved, oblivious characters to what is likely their doom.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses this in some episodes, which is rather surprising for a show as otherwise kid-friendly. Notable examples include "Party of One", "Lesson Zero", and "The Return Of Harmony" (both parts).
- Adventure Time uses this fairly frequently. Most notably, anything having to do with the Ice King's past is either going to be this or a Tear Jerker.