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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 (1976)
- 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, based on The Turn of the Screw
- This is a big part of Japanese horror, or "J-Horror", and why it was so popular a few years ago.
- Julia's Eyes
- Alejandro Amenabar's The Others.
- The Purge
- Red Eye
- Right at Your Door
- Then there's Roman Polanski:
- The Shining
- 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 Andrei Tarkovsky. Any movie by Tarkovsky. But particularly S.T.A.L.K.E.R..
- In Hellraiser: Inferno, the gore and Pinhead and the Cenobites' presence is toned down considerably. The horror focuses instead on the psychological descent of a flawed character subjected to nightmarish visions and seeing his reality crumble around him.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.