Psychological horror aims to create discomfort by exposing common or universal psychological and emotional vulnerabilities and fears, such as the shadowy parts of the human psyche that most people repress or deny referred to in Jungian psychology as the archetypal shadow characteristics: suspicion, distrust, self-doubt and paranoia of others, themselves and the world. Thus, elements of psychological horror focus on mental conflict. These become important as the characters face perverse situations, often involving the supernatural, immorality and conspiracies. While other horror media emphasize fantastical situations such as attacks by monsters, psychological horror tends to keep the monsters hidden and to involve situations more grounded in artistic realism.
Plot twists are an often used device. Characters commonly face internal battles with subconscious desires such as romantic lust and the desire for petty revenge. In contrast, splatter fiction focuses on bizarre, alien evil to which the average viewer cannot easily relate.
The novel Silence of the Lambs written by Thomas Harris, Robert Bloch novels such as Psycho and American Gothic and Stephen King novels such as Carrie, Misery, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and The Shining are some examples of psychological horror.
Psychological horror films differ from the traditional horror film, where the source of the fear is typically something material, such as creatures, monsters or aliens, as well as the splatter film, which derives its effects from gore and graphic violence, in that tension is built through atmosphere, eerie sounds and exploitation of the viewer's and the character's psychological fears.
Roman Polanski directed two films which are considered quintessential psychological horror: Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby. Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining is another particularly well-known example of the genre. The Changeling (1980) directed by Peter Medak is another good example of a psychological haunting story.
Another influential category is the Korean horror films, commonly referred to as "K-horror". Notable examples are A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Hansel and Gretel (2007) and Whispering Corridors (1998).
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While video game genres are based upon their gameplay content, psychological horror as narrative is used in some video games. A few successful video game franchises have spawned from using psychological horror as a main form of creating fear, the most well known being Silent Hill. Other psychological horror games include Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Manhunt, Nocturne, Condemned: Criminal Origins, LSD, Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, F.E.A.R., SCP: Containment Breach, The Suffering, Anna, Lone Survivor, BioShock and to some extent, Spec Ops: The Line and The Swapper.
- Psychological thriller
- Category:Psychological horror films
- Japanese horror
- List of films featuring home invasions
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