Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction, which relies on the mental, emotional and psychological status of characters to frighten or unsettle readers, viewers, or players. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense and horror of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.
Psychological horror aims to create discomfort by exposing common or universal psychological and emotional vulnerabilities/fears and revealing the darker parts of the human psyche that most people may repress or deny. This idea is referred to in Jungian psychology as the archetypal shadow characteristics: suspicion, distrust, self-doubt, and paranoia of others, themselves, and the world.
The genre often seeks to challenge or confuse the audience's grasp of the narrative or plot by focusing on characters who are themselves unsure of or doubting their own perceptions of reality or questioning their own sanity. Characters' perceptions of their surroundings may indeed be distorted or subject to delusions, outside manipulation or gaslighting by other characters, and even hallucinations or mental disorders. In many cases, and in a similar way as the overlapping genre of psychological thriller, psychological horror may deploy an unreliable narrator or imply that aspects of the story are being perceived inaccurately by a protagonist, thus confusing or unsettling viewers or readers and setting up an ominous or disturbing overarching tone. In other cases, the narrator or protagonist may be reliable or ostensibly mentally stable but is placed in a situation involving another character or characters who are psychologically, mentally, or emotionally disturbed. Thus, elements of psychological horror focus on mental conflicts. These become important as the characters face perverse situations, sometimes involving the supernatural, immorality, murder, and conspiracies[disambiguation needed]. 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. At times, the psychological horror and splatter subgenres overlap, such as in the French horror film High Tension.
The novel Silence of the Lambs written by Thomas Harris, Robert Bloch novels such as Psycho and American Gothic, Stephen King novels such as Carrie, Misery, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Shining and Koji Suzuki's Ring are some examples of psychological horror. Grant Morrison's graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is also sometimes considered[weasel words] 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, serial killers 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 (1968). Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining, adapted from the aforementioned Stephen King novel, is another particularly well-known example of the genre. The Changeling (1980) directed by Peter Medak is good example of a psychological haunting story. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) directed by Jonathan Demme is another example of psychological horror, whilst also incorporating elements of the thriller genre.
The Italian film genre known as giallo often employs psychological horror or elements of the psychological horror subgenre. The subgenre is also a staple in Asian countries. Japanese horror films, commonly referred to as "J-horror", have been noted to be generally of a psychological horror nature. Notable examples are Ring (1998) and the Ju-on series. 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). A landmark film from the Philippines, Kisapmata (1981), is an example of psychological horror.
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While video game genres are based upon their game-play 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, Soma, Manhunt, Ib, Nocturne, Condemned: Criminal Origins, The Evil Within, Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, Cry of Fear, Outlast, The Suffering, Anna, Lone Survivor and to some extent, Dead Space, F.E.A.R, Spec Ops: The Line, The Swapper and The Last Door.
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