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Psychological Horror
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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comicbooks 

    Film 

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 

    Videogames 
  • Silent Hill: The enemies and environments of each game are pulled from the screwed-up psyche of one or more of its characters, and the series relies far more on Nothing Is Scarier, surreal imagery and symbolism than jump scares and gore. The games occasionally hint that the protagonist may simply be insane.
  • Eternal Darkness, especially since one of the three traits in the game is Sanity, alongside vitality and Mana. Not only are you dealing with enemies that defy common logic, they are purposefully distorting your perception of reality. If you beat them they're gone and not only will you be trying to describe something that sounds insane, you probably are insane. Even if the psychological tricks don't scare you, let that sanity bar run out and your vitality will quickly go down the drain.
  • The Suffering is a cross between psychological and physical horror. While you will be fighting inmates, guards, and wretched abominations, you will also encounter horrific hallucinations and the ghosts of Carnate Island's insane and psychopathic residents.
  • 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 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.
  • The trippy horror in Metal Gear Solid 4 was intended to disturb on this level, such as unmanned biomechanical robots that moo like cows and can rotate their legs on 360 degree joints to climb buildings, and a very sexy woman in a skintight suit wearing Snake's face while murdering people and laughing with huge robotic tentacles, and the 'white room' segments after defeating the bosses in which you hear a distorted soundtrack of women moaning in orgasm and crying/screaming/snarling/laughing, and so on.
  • Cry of Fear fits this neatly. The game is focused on exploring the madness of the main character Simon through the environment (which twists and changes whenever Simon has a psychotic fit), enemies (each of which is based on one of Simon's fears and the anger he has about his unusable legs) and flashbacks with his doctor.

    Visual Novels 
  • The When They Cry series is made of this (often mixed with some gore), as the protagonists often succumb to madness and hallucinations or are mentally tortured/have their hopes crushed in various ways.

    Webcomics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • The comic dips into this any time Zimmy shows up. Her perception of the world is very abnormal—and she has Reality Warper Power Incontinence. So when the focus switches to Zimmy, bizarre, dreamlike events are quick to follow. It's never entirely clear how much of this is real and how much is hallucination... or how much is a hallucination that's becoming real.
    • A non-Zimmy example happens in the chapter "A Ghost Story". Annie has to counsel a ghost—and since the ghost doesn't realize he's dead, he unintentionally creates a shared hallucination that symbolizes an event from his old life.
  • 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. And indeed it is.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.


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