Horror Movies Review: My favorite psychological horror movies

Today I’m recommending a handful of horror movies. I should note here that I’m not really recommending these movies because they’re “scary”, just as I generally don’t play video games to feel the challenge of reaching a goal. What I like about horror movies is that they tend to invoke a certain atmosphere. Ghosts, occultism, curses, mystery, the supernatural, witchcraft, mental illness, fatalism, these tend to be the sort of themes that I enjoy.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

What makes Ginger Snaps interesting is kind of weird. It’s not really the whole theme of a girl transforming into a werewolf, which honestly lasts a little longer than it needs to. The movie revolves around two teenage girls, Ginger and her younger sister Brigitte. They get along really well, they seem like they have a strange almost incestuous relationship.

Ginger and Brigitte are both suicidal, the movie starts out with them taking photographs of dead animals and mentions their suicide pact, they aspire to kill themselves if they don’t manage to move out of town before turning sixteen. The girls are afraid of growing up, they’re mortified by the prospect of menstruating. Their overall attitude towards their classmates is one of disdain.

But then Ginger has her period and the bond dies. It’s a rather sad story, because you can understand Brigitte’s pain. She had a special bond with her sister but upon reaching this hallmark of maturation Ginger develops a sudden intense interest in boys. Ginger is the better looking of the two sisters and so that makes the severance of the bond only more painful.

Ginger however, inherited a curse. Upon reaching the age of menstruation, some girls in the family transform into werewolves. They seduce guys and upon seducing them turn into werewolves who eat them alive. Brigitte has to figure out a way to cure Ginger and stop her from killing too many people.

What I like about Ginger Snaps is that it captures a sense of teenage angst that I haven’t really seen any other movies capture. It captures the feeling of “I didn’t ask for any of this, I don’t want to do any of this and I hate everybody”. I think this feeling isn’t really depicted that much, because it’s kind of hard for most people to empathize with it.

You get the occasional Goth kid, you get the occasional bullied kid and you get the occasional outsider in movies about teenagers. But the kid who really has no desire to get along with other people, or even any real desire to live and go to school, is rarely sympathetically depicted.

Ginger Snaps does this and that’s why it turned into a cult hit despite being a financial failure. People sometimes call it a “feminist movie”, but I would disagree. The girls don’t really specifically and narrowly reject the gender role that’s forced on them. They reject the reality of life altogether. The movie doesn’t really have a theme of patriarchal gender norms or something along those lines being cruel, it has a theme of nature being cruel.

Suspiria (1977)

This is one of those examples of a movie that’s accidentally good. The whole movie feels like a bizarre fever dream. This is made worse by the acting. The movie is about a bunch of girls living in a ballet school that’s owned by centuries old witches. The movie was supposed to feature 12 or 13 year old girls, but all the roles are played by young adult women who act out lines that don’t reflect normal adult behavior, so it feels completely surreal.

The sequels are boring, I’m guessing the remake is just as boring. The original is amazing however. I watched it sober, but you’re probably best off taking a big hit from the bong before hitting play and pouring yourself a glass of wine.

Black Sunday (1960)

This one may be rather hard to find, it seems to be pretty obscure. It’s definitely not a scary movie and the pace is a little slow. If you watch it, it should be for the aesthetics. This movie revolves around a noble woman who is killed by her own family when she is discovered to be a witch. She curses her family and pronounces that she will continue to reincarnate in their descendants. This is of course what subsequently happens.

De Vierde Man/The Fourth Man(1983)

This is going to be the most difficult one to find, particularly for people who don’t speak Dutch. It’s an extremely Dutch movie. If you appreciate Dutch culture, you’ll appreciate this movie. Out of this whole list, it’s my favorite of the bunch.

De Vierde Man tells us the story of a bisexual alcoholic man who makes a living as an author (aka Gerard Reve). On his way to a presentation for his book, he encounters a handsome young man. He steps into a train, where he has all sorts of strange foreshadowings of imminent doom. Eventually he meets a young woman at his book presentation, she invites him to his house.

He finds out that the handsome young man he saw earlier is her boyfriend. However, to his shock, he also finds out she has been previously married three times, all three of her husbands died under suspicious circumstances. This raises the inevitable question: Who is going to be the fourth victim?

Like Suspiria, this whole thing is filmed like a fever dream, so the same advice that applied to Suspiria applies here.

The Witch (2015)

There’s something lurking in the woods, in 17th century New England. That’s basically all you need to know. A period horror set in the 17th century, where a Puritan family that has found itself isolated from the rest of the community is struck by misery. It can be hard for me to follow the 17th century dialect, but I’m assuming that’s easier for Americans.

The Shining (1980)

Yeah, everyone already knows this one. It has been analyzed to death. A man goes to a dark place with his family, where he succumbs to his own weakness. What’s there to say about it? Well, let’s start with what makes it good. Kubrick always wanted to make a movie about the Holocaust, but he could never figure out a way to do it in a dignified manner. You can see this in The Shining, because it’s filled with the haunting presence of another genocide, that against the Native Americans. The overlook hotel can be thought of as a microcosm of America, a place with great potential that can never quite shake off its sordid past.

The other thing you can see in the movie is the idea of free will. It’s represented in the form of imperfect mirroring. Is it predestined for Jack Torrance to lose his sanity and begin killing? It’s not entirely. There’s a certain path that Jack can embark upon and there’s a hotel that harbors a dark evil force, but it can’t fulfill its objective without Jack succumbing to his own weakness.

Conclusion

This will do for today. If anyone has any recommendations for psychological horror movies, particularly ones that feel like some sort of bizarre fever dream, then I’m of course all ears.

5 Comments

  1. Nice recs, I recognize a few that my horror/film buff dad had mentioned; I’ll check out the few I haven’t yet seen.

    I’ve mentioned a few works of Lynch’s before; if you haven’t delved into his filmography, I’d recommend most of it. Mulholland Drive is probably a good starting point, as it starts out a seemingly straightforward noir mystery and delves into the surreal at a sort of comfortable gradual pace. Lost Highway is my favorite and probably the logical next one, with a similar bent but more of an ebb and flow structure with regards to the mundane and surreal. The path sort of diverges with Eraserhead which is like a nightmare or bad trip all the way through and Blue Velvet which never quite goes supernatural but attains some surreality just with its presentation—DFW and I both seemed to be struck by the same split-second shot of something as seemingly simple as a man in a yellow coat leaning into a doorway: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wie8uPgQOYE
    Wild at Heart is alright. Inland Empire I haven’t seen but has some who swear by it and some who consider it a little self-indulgent. Also haven’t seen any of his shorts yet but I understand they’re good.

    Otherwise, from recent memory Il Medaglione Insanguinato/The Cursed Medallion/The Night Child sounds a little bit up your alley. A lot of the story revolves around a cursed painting with a few figures that correspond to a few characters. Those correspondences are much of the overt focus, but interestingly the very last shot is on a depiction of Satan off in his own spot in the painting. Satan didn’t come up often by direct invocation, but the events of the story were kicked off by a researcher doing a documentary on satanic imagery; shows what the overarching theme seems to be.

    Like a lot of post-Evil Dead horror, it’s pretty hokey, but if you can handle a little camp, the 1986 reimagining of From Beyond has a fair bit going on beneath the cheesy 80s horror-isms.

    Might add to this later if anything else comes into mind, those were just a few I’ve seen relatively recently.

    • I liked Eraserhead. I watched Lost Highway but couldn’t get into it, it was too nonsensical for me. I’m going to check out the others, thanks!

      • I wouldn’t call Lost Highway nonsensical, but I can imagine it would come off that way if you don’t really know where it’s coming from; Mulholland and Blue Velvet would probably serve as better points of entry and might make it more digestible later. Or not, nothing is for everyone.

        These aren’t horror films, but The Neon Demon seems up your alley for its own reasons, and I think you might find The Believer (2001) engaging as well–it might well be my favorite film of the 21st century, just as long as you understand it’s not really about Nazis or Jews (not that it’s not at ALL about them, but it’s hardly the real focus).

Leave a Reply to Radagast Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


*