Before college, I was never a fan of horror movies. They were too loud, too dark, and too riddled with cheap jump scares. I was always intrigued by their stories, but I hated flying out of my seat for over an hour and a half. You know you’ve watched a jump scare movie when all of your muscles are tensed up afterward. Luckily, one of my best friends introduced me to the wonders of psychological horror. Without hiding behind my hands and waiting for the next obnoxious scare, I could finally enjoy the storytelling and still be paralyzed with fear in my seat.
I stand by my opinion. Psychological horror movies are better than jump-scare horror. There’s a way to make people truly afraid without screaming in their faces with loud noises and demons all over the place. Plus, the movie has more time to go in-depth with the characters and plot, so that by the end, you’re in horrified awe of what you’ve just watched. If you’re looking for a good scare during this Halloween time, but don’t want to watch between your fingers, here are 11 petrifying psychological horror movies for you!
1. The Witch
The Witch (also written as The VVitch) is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and for a good reason. Based on New England folklore from Puritanical society, and set 62 years before the Salem Witch Trials, this is one of the original stories that put witches on the map in New England. The story follows a small Puritan family banished from their village for being too extreme in their religion. As they make their new home on abandoned land, they soon learn the reasoning for why nobody lives there.
The eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), tries to keep her family together. As terrible forces from inside the woods continuously terrorize them, each member of the family slowly loses their sanity. With an excellent storyline, slow-burning tension, and family disputes over what kind of evil lives with them, The Witch is a terrifying tale that will leave anybody stricken with fear and astonishment. Seriously, the last scene of the movie will always stick out to me as one of the best endings for a horror movie.
There’ve been many scary stories that center around the idea of having an evil doppelganger, but not one as horrifying as the movie, Us. Jordan Peele truly knows how to make audiences squirm. His critically acclaimed movies like Get Out and Nope just prove that well-thought-out imagery and tension trump background noise that’ll burst your eardrum.
Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and their children travel back to Adelaide’s home as a child. But this trip home only fills Adelaide with fear. Plagued by a horrible memory from her youth, she only grows worried that something terrible is about to happen, and her intuition would be right.
Four masked people arrive at the driveway of their house. As they encounter these strangers up close, they realize that they aren’t strangers at all. They are direct copies of all four of them. The Wilsons have to fight against their evil doppelgangers to survive the night. The ending of this movie has an amazing twist that will stick with you for days.
If you’re wanting to get into the psychological horror genre, Hereditary is an excellent place to start. The haunting scenes and stupefying dialogue will have you on edge for a week. This movie centers around Annie Graham (Tony Collette), who has just lost her mother. Mixed between feelings of grief and relief, she tries to keep her small family of four together. But as she looks into her mother’s past, she realizes that her family might be in grave danger.
Trying to find whatever cryptic secrets she can, Annie seeks help from a local woman who’s been practicing séances. However, some secrets are meant to never be found. Strange things begin to happen to her family. Personalities change, fights ensue, and disaster strikes again. The more Annie begins to lose her grip on reality, the more the curse from her mother takes hold of her family.
This was one of the first psychological horror movies I ever watched, but not by my own choice. Scary movies always pair well with sleepovers, and I had a universal experience of most kids in 2009 watching this movie. Orphan centers around a grieving family. After the loss of her unborn baby, Kate (Vera Farmiga), and her husband, John (Peter Sarsgaard), decide to comfort their grief by adopting. They’re immediately taken by a little girl named, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), and she quickly becomes a part of their family.
But as they try to get used to the new addition, unexplainable things start to happen in their home. As the accidents become more dangerous, Kate begins to suspect Esther. Now feeling uneasy about her daughter’s angelic front, she is determined to find out who Esther is, but her curiosity might just get her killed.
Based on one of Stephen King’s most terrifying novels, Misery is a horrifying encounter that still has audiences talking about it today. With a young James Caan and Kathy Bates, this story is everything that you’d want from a psychological horror. The film follows famous author Paul Sheldon, as he tries to write the final book for the series that made him a celebrity. As he travels to the inn to complete the novel, a snowstorm strikes, causing Paul to get into a horrendous car accident.
His fate would’ve been better on the side of the road, for when he wakes up, he’s in a nightmare that he can’t escape. Cared for by former nurse, Annie Wilkes, Paul discovers that he’s no mere patient, he is a prisoner. Trapped inside the home of a fan gone mad, Paul realizes his caretaker has a sinister past she’s intent on hiding. The only way to save himself is by finishing his book for an audience of one. But in doing so, this may be the last novel he ever writes.
The A24 film company truly knows how to make a successful psychological horror movie. Midsommar is the film that started the whole A24 movie craze, and it rightfully deserves all the popularity. This heartbreaking horror movie follows Dani (Florence Pugh), as she grieves the loss of her entire family to a suicide/murder. Her sister killed herself of carbon monoxide poisoning and then took the lives of her parents. Distraught and depressed from grief, Dani needs some type of vacation. She’s swept up in an elaborate adventure to Sweden with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and their friends. After arriving, they all realize that this trip is more than they bargained for.
The dysfunctional couple and their friends are lured into the seemingly beautiful Swedish festivities of Midsummer. However, there’s evil lurking within the celebration. As each of them is drugged and taken away one by one, Dani is the only one left to help her friends through this frightening festival. But when she’s given the choice to save them or herself, what decision will she make?
While the poster of this movie may look a little too menacing, I promise that you’ll want to watch this psychological thriller for the Halloween season. It has everything you’d want out of a scary movie. Tension, suspense, and an ending that’ll have you questioning everyone around you. This bloodcurdling tale follows True-Crime author, Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke). After not selling a major novel in over 10 years, he’s grasping at straws for any crime he can write about.
When he stumbles upon a horrifying snuff film displaying the deaths of a family, he makes it his mission to solve the case. Even to the detriment of his own family. After moving into the home of the victims, Ellison gets to work on collecting evidence. As he finds clues in the haunted home, other devious revelations come to fruition. Whatever paranormal entity that has been tormenting these families, may now have its sights set on Ellison and his.
8. The Ritual
There must be something about Norse and Pagan mythology that just makes horror movies that much more interesting and unnerving. It can certainly be said for this film, The Ritual. Based on the 2011 novel written by Adam Nevill, this story has been terrifying audiences for over a decade. After losing their university mate in a robbery gone wrong, the remaining four British lads decide to go hiking in the Scandinavian wilderness to honor their best friend.
However, the woods seem to have a mind of their own. The group becomes disoriented on the trail after venturing into the ominous woods as a shortcut. Tension and arguments arise as things continue to get creepier. Nightmares, strange symbols, and a creature stalking them through tall trees are just a few things that this group of friends has to survive if they want to make it back home. Or, will the four men encounter a similar fate as their fallen friend?
Don’t let this movie poster fool you, The Perfection is packed with gore, suspense, and betrayal, a great mix for any horror movie. Charlotte (Allison Williams), was a world-renowned cellist from a young age, but when she had to leave to take care of her dying mother, she left her passion for playing behind. Over a decade later, she returns to Bachoff Academy, the school that once taught her how to become a star, but the institution isn’t what it seems.
Charlotte takes an interest in a new cellist prodigy, Lizzie (Logan Browning). As their budding romance intensifies, they decide to take a trip away from the business of the classical world. As they travel, Charlotte is determined to know as much about Lizzie and Bachoff Academy as she can. Will her intentions lead her down a path of answers, or has she only put herself in more danger by asking too many questions?
Not a fan of loud noises? This is the horror movie for you! In my experience of watching scary movies, the quieter it is, the more frightened you become, and this movie puts that fear on full display. Hush focuses on the life of Maddie (Kate Siegel) and her passion for writing. Everything about her life is normal as can be for a deaf person. She has friendly neighbors that check up on her, safety alarms, and a cat to keep her company. All of that changes when a masked stranger stalks her from inside her home.
With the intention of killing her, Maddie has to use her creative mind to find a way out of this murderous situation. But without the ability to hear, her tormentor knows that it’s only a matter of time until he makes his way inside the house. Maddie’s determination and drive is the only thing keeping her alive during this sadistic game, let’s just hope that it’ll be enough for her to survive the night in complete silence.
11. Gerald’s Game
With the crown of horror sitting high on his head, Stephen King really knows how to bring out our worst nightmares on the big screen and in his books. Based on his popular novel, Gerald’s Game, this adaptation speaks to our innate fears in the realm of intimacy. Jessie (Carla Gugino) is trying everything she can to save her marriage with her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood). After finding a remote cabin in the woods, she thinks this is the perfect place to reignite their passion for each other.
Handcuffed to the bed, Jessie is ready for the games to begin. But it’s all driven to a halt when her husband suddenly has a massive heart attack and dies next to her. Traumatized by this unexpected death, Jessie now has to find a way out of her handcuffs, but with no food or water to sustain her, she doesn’t have long to keep fighting. As her mind plays tricks on her, it’s only a matter of time before she suffers a similar fate.
If these movies don’t convince you that psychological horror is better than jump-scare movies, I don’t know what will. But what I do know, is that you can become just as scared from silence and suspense as from thunderous noises and unexpected spooks. Whatever your favorite horror genre is, there are enough scares to go around for all of us this Halloween season.
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