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Freaky Flicks: 5 psychological horror films that aren’t for the faint-hearted

In the lead-up to Halloween, Techly is spotlighting 25 Freaky Flicks that’ll scare the pants off the most seasoned horror fan. Part 1: Psychological horror.

It’s finally October! That month in the calendar created exclusively so we could shamelessly binge on horror, the genre where we explore the darker side of life and the more uncomfortable and sometimes painful themes within ourselves and society.

Aside from providing the ultimate adrenaline shot, a great horror film can be strangely cleansing. Some films just turn our very soul inside out and leave us so shell-shocked that we feel ready to start anew.

Today, we’re looking at five films from the psychological horror genre: the stories that rely on phobias, traumas and the unstable mental state of the protagonists to instil fear.

Although the menace can come from a material threat, like a disease or even a monster, psychological horror focuses more on distressing atmospheres and suspense. As such, to many this is one of the most intense horror genres; what scares is not what you see on screen, but what’s left in your mind.

Ready? Turn the lights off and take your partner by the hand, this is going to get scary.

Fair warning, these films contain some controversial and disturbing themes, so watch at your own risk.

Possession (1981)

Cult Polish director Andrzej Żuławski created what could well be one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable films ever made with Possession. And it’s not distressing because of scenes of graphic nature or brutality – it honestly has very little of that.

The movie is impactful because of its thick, grotesque atmosphere, which just wraps your mind in a coat of thick slime. Really, this is one of those films that doesn’t make your stomach churn, but your mind.

Starring Sam Neill, our beloved hero from the original Jurassic Park movies, and Isabelle Adjani, who won the award for Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in this film. Possession is so bizarre it’s difficult to sum in simple terms, but let’s just say it’s a story about a divorce gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Neill is a spy coming home from a secret mission. He’s shocked to find that his wife – played by Adjani – is behaving very erratically, almost as if she were a different person. On top of that, she’s determined in asking for a divorce, though she states no reason for it.

Neill hires a private detective to follow her in an attempt to discover what the hell is happening, and that is when shit hits the fan. From that point on, both protagonists, along with the audience, fall into a pit of absolute madness.

Surreal and nauseating, this is one that will stick with you for days.

Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier is one of the most controversial film directors of the 21st century. A guy who has used scenes of extreme sexual violence, emotional torture and even animal cruelty to shock the viewer.

And from all his movies, Antichrist is probably the most disturbing. Featuring powerful performances from Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the film tells the story of a couple who retreats to a cabin in the woods to deal with the horrific death of their child.

Surrounded by this eerie environment, they start a slow descent into a mental, emotional and physical hell.

The film is disturbing, violently graphic and highly allegorical. It’s a piece you have to watch with your brain on, as most of its impact relies on the heavy symbolism and multiple layers of meaning.

If you want to be shocked, Antichrist has it all. Religious undertones, genital mutilation, and lots of disturbing sex.

Prisoners (2013)

At first, this film doesn’t appear to be horror at all. But the monster in this film is so real, it’s could be the scariest movie on this list.

Featuring a star-studded cast including Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano and Viola Davis, the film tells the story of the abduction of two young girls in Pennsylvania and the families’ efforts to find the culprit.

Prisoners will make you rethink your morals and tear your very soul. It’s a heart-wrenching, incredibly perturbing ride that will leave you exhausted and empty inside. Imagine putting your soul into a meat grinder, then leaving it to sit under the rain with “The Sound of Silence” playing in the background.

This film is so disturbing it left me incredibly worried about my children – and I’m not even a parent.

Eden Lake (2008)

Part psychological horror, part slasher, this is perhaps the most graphically violent film of the list and probably the one with the simplest and most straightforward plot.

Kelly Reilly plays a nursery school teacher who takes a trip to a remote lake in the English countryside with her boyfriend, who is played by none other than Michael Fassbender, to have some time away from all the chaos and noise of city life.

But of course, as is the case in all horror films, everything goes terribly wrong. The pair ends up being raided and tormented by a group of hoodie-clad teenagers, and holy shit is this a brutal, gut-wrenching ride. The film masterfully manages to go from disquieting suspense thriller to brutally graphic slasher, yet always delivering a coherent, tight experience.

Aside from being upsetting and shocking, Eden Lake is at its core a tale about the class divide present in contemporary societies and serves as a commentary on the social issues of today’s Great Britain.

À l’intérieur (2007)

This film belongs to the new wave of French extreme horror, a movement portraying disturbing scenarios that impact audiences with their realism. This is horror that doesn’t deal with tentacled aliens or ghosts, but things that can well happen to anyone at any time.

Directed and written by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, À l’intérieur – which translates to “Inside” – tells the story of a pregnant woman being stalked by a stranger on Christmas Eve. I won’t tell the motivation, nor the objective of this stalker, the only thing I will say is that this film is shocking as hell.

Just imagine yourself locked in your flat alone, pregnant and hiding in that small space from a freaking maniac hellbent in harming you.

Beloved by critics and fanatics of extreme horror, this film is absolutely brutal and will leave you clinging to the seat from start to finish.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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