Psychological Horror–The Last 5 Years: A Comprehensive List
Looking for a film or two that’s guaranteed to make you think? Compiled here is a list of films that both scared me to the core and left clean cuts turned infected wounds in my brain. This list will include my recent favorite psychologically scary films that either made my head spin, or made me want to rip my head off altogether. You’ll also find a mentioning of popular films which can be classified as Psychological Horror, but are on many other popular horror movie lists. A bonus Honorable Mention section, just to make sure everyone leaves with a new movie or two to look forward to. This is a SPOILER FREE ZONE. Stay tuned for my upcoming lists!
What is Psychological Horror?
To me, it’s about experience. My experience and how each piece of art tells me a story that transcends time. I want to be tortured and left for carrion, so I put MUCH weight on the way a movie leaves me feeling. I want to go into a film, get excited over dread, and leave the film worse off. If a movie encouraged my heartbeat to join the auditory cues and inspires me to tell someone else about it, you’ll find it on this list. If a film causes me to lose sleep, cry in horror, and pushes me to think about the world around me differently, you’ll find it on my list in the higher numbers. All of the films listed here are rated either R or TV-MA. None of them being kid-friendly.
I will not include certain movies I’ve seen on this list, for various reasons. If I get positive responses on this post, there are plans for many movies not listed here to go on other recommendation lists (i.e. foreign films, movies older than 2015).
I have tried to compile a list of films which are not as popular. I don’t want to take up spaces for the more well known films, so this list serves you best. Except for the final movie on this short list, which is here because I’m not smart enough to review it. Yet.
Those films are:
- Hereditary (2018)
- Midsommar (2019)
- It Follows (2015)
- Get Out (2017)
- Us (2019)
- The House That Jack Built (2019)
I did enjoy the movies above, and if you’re missing out on any of them, it’s time to get on it! If you’re looking for MORE. If you need more good, meaningful, horrifying AND terrifying Horror in your life, read on.
Scare Me! Spook Me! Freak Me Out!
In order of their effect on my psyche and my overall rating. Please note that not all of these films are considered as being a part of the Horror genre, but they certainly all hold horrifying stories.
15. The Nun (2018)
Director Corin Hardy adds to The Conjuring Universe with this dark, brutal, horrifying flick. Set in 1952, The Nun is the start to the storyline of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s accounts of life experiences. We follow the investigation of the death of a young nun. And it get pretty damn spooky.
Not only are there Mystery and Thriller qualities, there’s a touch of Psychological Horror, a touch that spreads ’til the very end. In addition to the great use of sound and lighting, the atmosphere is a dread filled and fear inducing promise. The first half is a tad sluggish, which is why it is not a higher number on the list. If you decide to only watch one film from this franchise, make The Nun it.
14. Hush (2016)
Starring Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr., this terror of a film is often classified as a Slasher Thriller. Meh. That’s fine, but this movie is much more than an average, surface level Slasher OR Thriller. Our main character being a reclusive author who’s under attack by a sadistic killer. Oh, I forgot to mention, SHE’S DEAF! Can you imagine yourself in her shoes? Just try.
The director of Hush, Mike Flanagan, uses lighting and sound in effective, smart ways. The reason Hush is so far back on my list isn’t because I didn’t like it as much as the others, but because it was formulaic and although this movie scares me at points, I haven’t lost any sleep. There’s blood, of course, and a few disturbing scenes, but the reason Hush made this list is purely because of the portrayal of our main character’s resilience. Great place for you to start on this list if you’ve ever felt like you’ve had to fight odds. So, all of you, I assume. It’s currently streaming on Netflix, so watch it while you can!
13. Mother! (2017)
Jennifer Lawrence turns heads with this killer performance. Darron Aronofsky, our writer/director, takes us on the Hellish journey from sanity to complete insanity, without batting an eye. We follow a woman when life abruptly changes because these particular strangers find their way to her doorstep.
With a runtime of over two hours, I’m pleasantly surprised with how much is fit in. The only reason this jaw-dropping film isn’t higher is because as the bloodfest of an end nears, I can see people being turned-off. You should make it out ok on the other side if you prepare to feel hopeless. Oh, and plan on getting offended. It’s available on Hulu at the time of this publication.
12. Cam (2018)
A Netflix movie on a top horror countdown? Yaaassssssss! Cam, directed by Daniel Goldhaber, is a piece of art, the way it weaves in and out of the everyday lives of every American. And in raw story, every human. We follow a ‘cam girl’, played by actress Madeline Brewer, as she desperately struggles to regain control over the recent chaos caused by a…look-a-like? a…doppelganger? an…alien? a…psycho?
Ripping open the wounds many Americans already have and bringing attention to the fear in everyone else is bottom line. With sophistication and care, Cam gives us little treats along the way, and we get a good sloppy kiss at the end. It’s on Netflix, check it out!
11. Head Count (2019)
Follow me on a mind-bending joyride filled with gorgeous camera work and an even more stellar score, audio cues, and aesthetics. Head Count socks Horror a good black eye in 2019. Our main character, played by Isaac Jay, gets sucked into a new group of friends while visiting his brother, and we’re twisted through the shocking events in the following days.
Elle Callahan, the director of Head Count, had a clear vision, and executed it with passion. I really wish I could put this higher on the list, but the first half is a little slow in getting off the ground. It may look like another Teen Slash ‘Em Up and Dish ‘Em Out by the cover, but the complicated emotions and moral concerns are pushed to the surface. It’s on Netflix!
10. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
In this dreamy, corrosive flick, we follow a set of girls during winter break at an empty boarding school. Yes…a boarding school. I know, I know. It’s okay, don’t worry, just keep reading. Oh, yeah, and there’s some sort of, well, something’s amiss. I understand, this sounds just like many other horror movies around, but this is superb. A terrifying, concussive look into the eyes of evil.
The director, Oz Perkins, exhibits rich vision in this non-linear story. The beautiful Emma Roberts stars alongside a small cast, and they all give good weight to the severity of silence. I expect more character exploration in such a dark, soul-stirring horror, but the film does invite us for a little dance, and after we agree with excitement, we are thrown in the pit with a lion or two. Currently, it’s available on Netflix.
9. Braid (2019)
Colors, saturated and vibrant, wind us through this radical tale of symbolism and metaphor. Wrapped up in a box and garnished with a bow, I didn’t see how far this film, directed by Mitzi Peirone, stretches. After my first viewing, I left unsatisfied. I distinctly remember thinking “Huh. What the fuck? Okay…”, which is similar to my thoughts after my first viewing of Enemy (2013). And just like I did with Enemy, I gave Braid another chance.
We follow three friends on a hallucinatory kick, and over time it’s almost as if we begin to question the sanity of the film. Brilliant. It’s like watching a poem. A poem in a different form. I love very much when I gain more insight and can find literature in film during a second, sometimes third viewing, so yeah, totally, these movies should continue to be made. But it is not near the top of the list simply because the value isn’t as…accessible. I’m watching for Peirone’s next piece, watch her bloom into her final form. Available on Amazon Prime currently.
8. The Wind (2019)
IFC Films! I seem to be enjoying more and more of these in recent years. You too? We follow a hardworking woman, played by the gorgeous Caitlin Gerrard, try to live in the boonies during the American frontier. The dread peeks in and pushes through, little by little, until it’s got you by the throat. Director Emma Tammi knows how to create claustrophobia in isolation. Talent.
Sweet, sweet metaphor. This may take a second watch to fully comprehend each capsule of vital information, the deep scarring; and at times the film seemed long and tedious, which is why it’s sitting near center. The complicated relationships and tensions developed in each is a brilliant addition to this slow burn.
7. The Invitation (2015)
Paranoia festers as we follow a man, played by actor Logan Marshall-Green, attend a dinner party at, wait for it…his ex wife’s house. As his suspicion of his ex grows, we flip-flop in our loyalties. How cool is that? A movie can induce an experience like this?! Cool.
Although I wish lighting and sound were utilized more, Karyn Kusama, the director, knows how far in each direction to pull us. Very clever. The epic final few seconds of The Invitation is guaranteed to invoke a little smile. It’s available on Netflix, but has been for a while. If you haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance!
6. The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn executed his clear vision in this slow burn Horror flick. The atmosphere brings a dream-like, visceral experience. We follow a character, played by Elle Fanning, and her spiral into conformity. The film feels vain, but I mean, the tension and point blank reality leaves a bleak outlook on humanity.
I’m impressed with the patience in The Neon Demon, the twisty, sometimes questionable pacing, leads to a grim payoff. To improve the film, there should be more given to us from the characters. I see development, but character depth isn’t fully realized. The possible political agenda is evident, but doesn’t take from the film’s gravity. It’s about time for a re-watch, it’s on Amazon Prime, anyone want to join me?
5. Green Room (2015)
Patrick Stewart a neo-Nazi? This alone rocks my world. We follow Anton Yelchin’s (miss you, buddy) character move through the consequences of the situation he’s found himself in. Stuck in a room at a punk rock spot, he and his buddies are forced to do what they can to simply survive. The special effects, the violence, looks real. Like, REAL. I found myself wondering if this is the most disturbing, graphic, fucked up movie I’d ever seen. I’m not certain to this day, but it’s definitely high up on that list.
Want a movie that may make you question those around you and uncover motives of even the most mundane of behaviors? Watch Green Room. Make sure you have plenty of time to decompress afterward, and you should enjoy this with at least one other person who’s not seen it. There are some horrifying pieces in this film, but I have yet to discover implicative horror that I should be considering for life. Oh! And it’s on Netflix!
Wait. A little disclaimer. If you puke during a viewing of Green Room, sorry. Heed my warning.
4. Unsane (2018)
Unnerving and unapologetic, Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane follows a woman who is (un)?voluntarily committed to a mental health facility, where she finds her stalker working the floor. The film screams for change and evolution of both ourselves and systems in power. Gorgeous.
It’s scary, haunting, and demands attention. Not only is it a mind bendy adventure from a little town between desperation and Hell, but it pushes us there with gentle nudges. Unsane is shot from an iPhone, neat! Making this piece even more relevant. I wish this was higher on the list, I just had a serious love affair with the remaining three features…Shh! Don’t tell my spouse. Please?
3. Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)
This beauty is guaranteed to please fans of Psychological Horror, Cosmic Horror, and Body Horror combined. Feast on this grisly tale of a guy reconnecting with a childhood imaginary friend. In this hypnotic witch hunt, we fight with ourselves while trying to figure out what, exactly, Daniel is.
Daniel Isn’t Real showcases the reason why movies are made. Just grab a beer, pack a bowl, and sit back and enjoy. I’d find myself questioning some aspects Adam Egypt Mortimer included, but those aspects found their way to reason. After you try this film, move on to my number two choice, which was an earlier release from the same team of people.
2. Mandy (2018)
Nicholas Cage is still around? Apparently so, and boy am I glad. The film he was born to make. A role that could be filled by none other. In this trippy, heavy metal inspired piece, we follow a man (Cage) and his lover as their world is turned upside down by a travelling cult. Here, one of those films I said made me want to just rip my head off completely and let it roll across the wood floor. Okay…and we’re moving on…
It’s common to be unable to genre classify masterpieces, and Mandy is no exception. Panos Cosmatos knew exactly what he wanted to create, and did it. Flawlessly. I STILL think about this film, over a year later. The neon red glow mixed with the stylish, insightful score. Allow yourself to let go of all preconceived thoughts on what a movie should be before you sit down to watch this, and your mind will be blown. Find it on Shudder.
Psychological Horror: Honorable Mentions
- Ready or Not (2019)
- Nocturnal Animals (2016)
- Summer of ’84 (2018) See my full review here.
- Personal Shopper (2016)
- It Comes At Night (2017)
And my top Psychological Horror movie of the last five years is…..
1. First Reformed (2017)
Oh, how my psyche has suffered. Talk about someone born for a role…Ethan Hawke brings pain and severity to Paul Schrader’s lacerating direction. And a gift to humanity is born, a film we’d all be good to study. We follow a self reflecting pastor spiral after a meeting with an environmental activist. And it’s damn good. Dark and deceptive. Perfection.
I see so much of myself in Ethan Hawk’s character, and this scares the living shit out of me. It was a ‘paranoia obsessed and couldn’t find motivation to push forward in life until I broke down my feelings on this piece’ kind of thing. I lost sleep, my appetite, and felt pure hopelessness. Days later, after my thoughts were arranged in a manageable manner, I of course moved on. Every once in a while this piece pops back up in my mind.
But Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of turmoil in First Reformed is beyond something you can practice. It’s something only another who has first hand experience with torturous thoughts can reproduce. I feel…undeserving of this film. Now it’s time for you to experience this too.
PARZZ1VAL–How To Connect:
I’m real interested on your thoughts on this list. What would you add or take away? Did you find anything to add to your queue? Argue me in the comments why your list is better!
- Email me @ email@example.com
- Follow me on Twitter @Parzz1V to catch my next Horror-ific list.
- Comment below what you’d like to see from me next!
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.