Jump scares in horror films are good for a quick jolt to remind you that you’re alive, but psychological dread is what really follows you around for a lifetime. Some say that the mind is the true enemy, and nothing exploits the fear of going insane or losing trust in your mental faculties than classic horror films like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby.
Bumps in the night may be one thing, but no one believing that you heard it is another level of terror entirely. Including modern mind-melters like Get Out and Hereditary, we’ve compiled a list below of the most unnerving psychological horror movies of all time.
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Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star in Us, a Jordan Peele-directed thriller about identity, privilege, and a family who encounters their horror doppelgängers. Called the “Tethered,” these look-alikes have a lot of terror in store for the whole world, as their history and connection to themes of “the Other” unfolds.
Georges Franju’s 60’s French horror about a plastic surgeon looking for a face transplant for his daughter after a horrific car accident is both chilling and beautiful. Equal parts The Body Snatcher and The Mask of Another, Eyes Without a Face focuses on the daughter as she slowly discovers the lengths her father will go to fix his mistake.
One of the greatest Stephen King stories to hit the big screen, 1976’s Carrie stars Sissy Spacek as a teenager who is ridiculed and pushed to the edge before discovering that she has psychic powers. Bullies beware!
Diabolique is a psychological thriller by French noir director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who optioned the screenplay rights before Hitchcock could claim the tale for his own. Featuring a disappearing murder, an old boarding house, and an actually surprising twist, Diabolique has everything a story needs to provide thrills and chills.
A groundbreaking film centered on found-footage of horror, The Blair Witch Project follows three film students as they head into the woods to investigate the rumors of a ghost–“the Blair Witch.” The film, as the movie alleges, is what was recovered after all three students mysteriously disappear.
Candyman is the story of a Chicago projects boogeyman, based on the true 1987 murder of a woman killed by an intruder who hid in an unknown crawl space behind her bathroom’s medicine cabinet. The urban legend was dramatized in this 90’s horror classic, about a killer who appears if you say his name in the mirror five times in a row.
For a director like Roman Polanski (who has been the subject of sexual assault allegations himself) to make a beloved film about a woman’s fear of unwanted male desire may be a little telling, but this Catherine Deneuve-starring film is considered one of the greatest performances of paranoia on screen.
Winner of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Nanny is the story of an undocumented Senegalese woman working as a caretaker for an affluent Manhattan family. Tortured by visions of African folklore, she struggles to keep her job and make enough money to bring her son overseas.
Set during a civil war in Japan during the 14th century, Onibaba (“Demon Hag“) follows two women who murder and rob wandering soldiers to sell their possessions. When a male neighbor returns from war, his close proximately tears their relationship apart.
Paying homage to the sci-fi/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness is a small town mystery surrounding the death of novelist Sutter Cane, something of a Stephen King stand-in. Cane’s final novel, aptly titled “In the Mouth of Madness,” has been said to drive readers insane.
One of the most disturbing films of the past decade, Hereditary solidified director Ari Aster as a modern master of horror and actress Toni Collette as an undervalued star. After the death of their grandmother, a family is haunted by a demonic presence named Paimon.
The Wicker Man, a terrifying effigy held secret until the film’s final scene, is a sight that caps off this 1973 horror masterpiece about a missing girl on an isolated Scottish island with deranged, religious inhabitants.
Stanley Kubrick’s tragic horror about an aspiring writer driven insane during his stay at the remote Overlook Hotel, The Shining is a Stephen King adaptation starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Supernatural forces are also at work, however, including creepy identical twins and corridors of blood.
Rosemary’s Baby follows a young woman (Mia Farrow) who starts to believe her neighbors are all part of a Satanic cult, grooming her and her husband (John Cassavetes) to be part of some bizarre ritual. After she becomes pregnant, she’s no longer sure what to believe.
A modern found footage hit that spurned countless sequels, Paranormal Activity struck at the universal fear of someone doing something to you while you sleep. Night after night, a couple films themselves sleeping and records increasingly hair-raising events of a supernatural entity entering their bedroom.
The “Thing,” a parasitic monster that can look and talk like its victims to deceive a crew of Antarctic researchers, is enough of a mind-fuck without the addition of its horrendous true appearance. Directed by John Carpenter, the Kurt Russell-starring sci-fi/horror turned friend into foe as the crew tries to uncover who among them is the “Thing.”
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