4 Great Psychological Horror Films You Might Have Missed

funny-games

When it comes to the psychological horror genre the most effective films are able to use character fears, beliefs, guilt, and emotional instability to build tension. Rather than relying on gore to put fear into the audience these films have a psychological component that messes with your mind because they often times deal with certain situations that you could very well find yourself in. Take one of the greatest horror films of all time with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for example. Upon its release it was regarded as unbelievably violent and gory. Yet in reality the film hardly shows an ounce of blood, everything you think you see is all really happening behind closed doors and the “gore” is just something people think they see because the film does such an excellent job at building that psychological tension. Realistically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could have been PG13. Here’s a list of some great psychological horror films that you might have missed that do exactly what the genre sets out to do.

The Machinist is one of those films that isn’t for everyone which is exactly the reason it made this list. It’s a bleak film about Trevor Rezink who is living in what has to be the closest you can get to hell on Earth. Played by Christian Bale, Rezink hasn’t slept in over a year and has slowly become skeleton of a man who spends his days in a machine shop and long sleepless nights with a whore. He does these things like a soulless and emotionless machine; just a shell of a man who’s lost in his own reality. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, it gets worse, much worse. When he gets framed for an unfortunate accident at work, these freaky enigmatic notes begin to appear around his home and he starts to think that his co workers are plotting against him. Add in some terrifying hallucinations from his massive lack of sleep and you get an extremely dark tale that unwinds a truly creepy psychological horror film.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is its intensely gloomy style that almost makes it feel as if you are watching it in black and white. Brad Anderson (Session 9) is at the top of his game here and has truly created a psychological film that will keep you thinking about it long after you see it.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a smart and thought provoking thriller about two sisters and the trouble’s they have with their father and ruthless stepmother. Director Kim Ji-woon’s tale blends a dark psychological element of resentment and torment with a slow burn style of filmmaking making this movie a perfect fit for the psychological horror genre. The first half of this film moves very slowly with lingering shots that have a very purposeful use as he is building tension with each and every frame. Psychological horror is all about how you feel when you’re watching it and  A Tale of Two Sisters captures the feeling of trauma perfectly with Kim’s photographic style. Perhaps where this film succeeds the most is how it is able to capture the character’s anxiety by keeping it alive all the way up until the last frame.

Audition is an absolutely remarkable and evocative film that is easily one of the most disturbing psychological horror films out there. It’s about a Japanese executive who runs into a terrifying situation when he goes in search for a second wife and meets a young woman with a toolkit. Audition is the perfect example of a psychological horror film because throughout the film you are shown these montages of mostly comedic stories that convinces you that you’ll get a happy ending until the film slowly shifts into a nightmarish descent into a haunting and unforgettable climax. This film moves at a deliberately slow pace that pours on the fear that will leave an unsettling feeling that lingers over you until the credits begin to roll. Takashi Miike — one of  great directors living today — has a prolific and versatile library of fantastic films with Audition showing his true brutal style of filmmaking that is often times hard to watch.

Miike creates an almost unbearable amount of tension that by the time you reach the last frame you are mentally exhausted. Audition is successful because it doesn’t go for the cheap thrills but instead vests its time in building true terror by planting a deep seed of fear in the audience as the film goes on.

After arriving at their holiday home, a middle-class couple and their son are visited by a young stranger. He is joined by a friend and together they terrorize the family, giving them ’til the next day to survive. Funny Games — the 2007 remake — is one of the most unsettling psychological horror films I’ve ever seen. Michael Haneke first made his Funny Games back in 1997 in Austria but it never garnered the attention it deserved so a decade later he remade his own film — this time for an American audience — and it worked. The key element that makes this film one of the best and most disturbing psychological horror films out there is Michael Pitt’s performance which is absolutely brilliant. His performance can be likened to Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange because he wears this cheerful mask as his personality while he’s doing unspeakably horrifying things to this family.

One of the creepiest elements to the film is how Haneke breaks the biggest rule of filmmaking and that is when he has Pitt’s character turn to the camera at several intervals and address it by speaking to the audience. This is something you never seen in films because it generally makes no sense because the camera isn’t supposed to be there, yet in Funny Games it works in such a way that when Pitt pulls you into the film with this suffering family you can’t help but have a sense of fear come over you. It’s really something special and a film that not everyone will love, but as far as psychological horror goes, you would be hard pressed to find one that can you pull you into it like this does. This is a stylish and dark satirical psycho horror film that could make even the most hardened of genre fans feel a bit uneasy.

Let’s play a game.

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24 thoughts on “4 Great Psychological Horror Films You Might Have Missed

  1. Some great choices there my man. I haven’t seen A Tale Of Two Sisters yet but the likes of Funny Games is one of my favourites of this type. Deeply disturbing stuff man. I’d throw in William Friedkin’s “Bug” to this list. Great little psychological horror.

    1. Dude, I fought so hard to not put “Bug” in here because I didn’t want the post to get too long. Once you start hitting about 1000 words people tend to stop reading. It’ll make it in Part 2 for sure though!

  2. I’m so glad that you included The Machinist in this list. I think it is one of Christian Bale’s most brilliant works – and certainly horrifying! Did you know he wanted to lose 10 more lbs, but Brad Anderson wouldn’t let him?

    1. I had to put The Machinist in here because it’s one of those extremely under appreciated films. And you’re right, Bale’s performance is unbelievable and reason enough to see the film. 10 more pounds would have been suicide!

  3. The Machinist and Audition knocked my ass out. I still haven’t been able to re-watch Machinist to review it. I still need to see the other two films.

  4. I love The Machinist and A Tale of Two Sisters, they kept me watching with an eerie, tense feeling and the endings were perfect. The Machinist to me was creepier than Two Sisters, I think the music and colours had something to do with that – it felt like there was no life and no future in that film.
    I’ll have to check out the other two movies. I love suspense type films, they’re scarier than gore.
    You know what suspense movie I love? This is probably lame but,What Lies Beneath. That scared the bejesus out of me. Plus, you know, Michelle Pfeiffer.

    1. That’s definitely true about The Machinist, it has such an weird atmosphere that pulls you under, it’s a tough movie to explain! You should really check out the other two as they are probably my two favs on that list. I haven’t seen What Lies Beneath since it came out in theaters, I really need to revisit that one. And you’re right… Michelle Pfeiffer.

  5. Not a fan of The Machinist. I loved Audition, it was just so not what you would expect and pretty crazy! Funny Games was great too, they seemed so nice, which I guess is hat makes it so creepy! I really want to watch A Tale of Two Sisters but I think I need to know what’s going to happen first or I’ll be too scared haha 🙂

    1. The Machinist is definitely one of those movies that’s pretty hard for everyone to like, so that’s understandable! You should look up a trailer for A Tale of Two Sisters, and I think it’s available on Netflix Instant.

    1. Takashi Miike is known for making extremely dark and visually disturbing films but they are always fantastic so you should definitely find the time to get a few of his movies in. Thanks!

  6. Wasn’t a fan of The Machinist but I adore Tale of Two Sisters (it was mentioned on my blog today actually). I make everyone watch it and have the super deluxe edition with commentaries and all. Audition was fabulous and thankfully not as disturbing as Visitor Q. Visitor Q left me traumatized. Still haven’t watched Funny Games.

    1. Thanks Vinnieh! Yea it’s an extremely hard movie to sit through because it’s so surreal but definitely psychological horror at its best.

  7. Watched funny games,great movie. Am very surprised that Micheal Pitt hasn’t received films offers,he is a great actor. Remember him in a movie with Sandra bullock and Ryan gosling? Micheal stole the whole movie with his acting as an innocent young man. Can’t remember the name of the movie. But watch it.

  8. Intriguing write-up. The original ‘Funny Games (97′) is an Austrian movie (German), not an Australian movie. (Or did you know and was it just a printing error up there?). I’ve seen the last bit (the very disturbing ending) of the Austrian version.
    Am yet to watch the American version. and I’ven’t seen any of the films here.
    I would have added psychological films like Psycho (60′), Repulsion (65′), Rosemary’s Baby (68′), and to a certain extent films like – The Birds (63′), A Clockwork Orange (71′) (that you’ve mentioned ) and Don’t look now (73’).
    Anyway enjoyed reading this piece today, of all days, Friday the 13th. hm…

    1. Thanks, glad you liked the article. You’re right, it is an Austrian film and a great one at that. You should give the American remake a shot, I found it much better than the original. It’s good to hear that you haven’t seen any of the films in the list as that was the point of this post, to shed some light on some lesser known psychological horror flicks!

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