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The Scariest Things Podcast Episode LXXVII: Psychological Horror


It’s the backbone of the horror genre. There’s just something not right with that person, and they are likely to do harm to themselves or others. The Scariest Things team dives into one of the most evergreen themes of horror.

“Why am I seeing these things?!?!”

“I know they’re coming to get me!”

“I’m not crazy! Let me out of here!”

Craziness. Madness. Paranoia. Sociopathy. Mental illness has a proud and fraught relationship within the genre. We have discussed in Podcast Episode 70 how physical disabilities are handled in the genre. Psychological impairments are pervasive in the horror genre, sometimes handled with care, and sometimes done for raw exploitation. And, let’s just say that Horror has not usually handled mental disabilities with particular grace or sensitivity. In this episode, we will be concentrating on some of what we believe to be more interesting takes on the human psychological condition gone awry.

Whether it’s somebody who thinks they see ghosts, or demons, or have deep pathological disconnection with society, psychological horror manifests itself in many ways. It also can be difficult to separate “sexy thrillers” like Fatal Attraction or Blue Velvet from something like Se7en or Psycho. Is it the gender of the killer? Give a man a knife and homicidal thoughts and you get Halloween or Psycho, and voila! Horror Movie! Give a woman an ice pick and you get Basic Instinct. What separates Zodiac from Se7en from Saw? The tricks and traps? Clearly there is something seriously off with serial killers but usually, these types of stories focus on the police procedural aspect rather than the actual mental condition of the killer.

For this episode, we are focusing our attention to movies that explore how a protagonist struggles with their condition. Something that examines what may be wrong with them, how they come to understand their condition, and how they handle their malady. These movies are madness forward. Friday the 13th clearly features a crazy person, but really, that movie is not about the crazy itself, it is about the body count, so we aren’t counting those types of films in this discussion. These movies, for the most part, establish mental illness as something central to the story.

When handled right, these movies are thought-provoking and nuanced. And, sometimes if done right they can become mind-blowing artistic looks into things that your brain wasn’t meant to handle! (Sanity check!) This is a genre where there were so many films to pick and chose from, so we probably left out some of your favorites. What would you have picked?

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