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Psychological horror

Related: horror - psychology - psychological thriller - fiction

Films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - (1920) Psycho (1960) - Peeping Tom (1960) - Repulsion (1965) - The Tenant (1976) -

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene [Amazon.com]


Psychological horror is horror based on knowledge and situation as opposed to horror based on gore and fright. This is made more explicit in that many horror films are not based on psychological horror using instead "cheap" fright and gore to thrill the audience.

Psychological horror wishes more to scare the reader than disgust. Nevertheless, the disgusting elements are often present in psychological horror and often add to the horror.

Psychological horror isn't only present in movies but also in literature and video games. One of the best examples available is the Silent Hill series for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 video game consoles. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_horror [Mar 2005]

1960s: Psychological horror

Later in the 1960s the genre moved towards non-supernatural psychological horror, with thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) using all-too-human monsters rather than supernatural ones to scare the audience. Michael Powell's Peeping Tom was a notable example of this genre. Psychological horror films would continue to appear sporadically with 1991's The Silence of the Lambs a later highlight of the subgenre. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_film#1960s:_Psychological_horror_and_the_Hitchcock_legacy [Oct 2004]

Psychological horror films

This article calls the genre Psycho film, after the eponymous Hitchcock film. The word psycho has gone out of favour and is now replaced with antisocial personality disorder. Despite of its liberalness in naming genre, the article does a more than decent job in describing the sensibilities of the psychological thriller and horror film.

Psycho film, is a film genre. It is often regarded as a subgenre of the horror film, largely because the term itself was not widely used until Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960, setting off a string of related psycho-films in its wake. It has relied on most of horror's stock-in-trade stylistic conventions such as intense suspense leading to shock shots, gory killings, and a seemingly invincible evil menace.

It is the latter element that distinguishes it as a separate genre, however, for the evil menace here is human, not supernatural. The menace is a criminal, usually determined to have a mental illness or psychopathic personality (so "psycho") during the course of the film. It should be noted that the frequent use of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and split personality to explain the nature of the "psycho" frequently involves a wholly fictionalized interpretation of these real-life illnesses, which do not necessarily predispose their sufferers to violence.

Thus the consequences of the intrusion of a human evil into everyday life characterize the genre. The usual elements of this intrusion are bizarre and shocking acts of violence committed by characters such as adult males with abnormal relationships to their mothers, biker gangs, inbred families, hillbillies, cannibals, devil worshippers (albeit without a real devil) and religious cultists, rapists and sexual sadists, revenge-seeking thwarted narcissists, stalkers, child molesters and killers. The existence of such evil in the real world allows some overlap with the biographical genre, unlike most horror films. The conventional "mad scientist" may, however, ally the psycho genre with the horror, or more likely with the science fiction film.

Silent-Era Psycho Films
The first psycho film of note may have been The Phantom of the Opera, 1925, USA, starring Lon Chaney as a disfigured musical genius who in his madness has retreated to a lair in the sewers beneath the Paris Opera House. There he falls in love with a soprano, whom he watches from the secret passages of the opera house that comprise his world. He eventually abducts her to his quarters and, in a classic shock shot, his resistant love snatches off the mask he wears, revealing his hideously scarred face. While literary license may have been taken in determining the extent of his disfigurement, he is after all a human, and meets a tragic demise in a wholly natural way.

In England in 1927, Alfred Hitchcock added to the genre, making the first film adaptation of Marie Belloc-Lowndes's novel The Lodger, a tale of Jack the Ripper, a real-life psycho.

1930s and 1940s
Psycho films tended to be overshadowed during the classic film period in the USA by horrors and science-fiction films with horror elements, of the sort turned out by Universal Pictures, e.g. Frankenstein (1931). One noteworthy exception was Edgar Ulmer's version of The Black Cat (1934) starring Boris Karloff as a devil-cult master intent on sacrificing a young bride who has become an accidental visitor to his home, and Bela Lugosi as a revenge-driven psychiatrist who tries to rescue her. In 1933 RKO offered The Most Dangerous Game, about a madman who hunts fellow human beings for sport on his isolated island home. Most famously, from Germany came Fritz Lang's M, featuring a child stalker-killer played by Peter Lorre.

In 1945, the genre received something of a boost from two of RKO producer Val Lewton's films: a version of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher, directed by Robert Wise and starring Boris Karloff as a grave-robber (following in the murderous footsteps of his mentors, Burke and Hare) psychologically tormenting the recipient of his "wares" (Henry Daniell); and Isle of the Dead, also starring Karloff and directed by Mark Robson. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho_%28genre%29 [Dec 2005]

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