We’ve covered the creepy, quirky, and scary. Now it’s time for my favorite: psychological horror. The films listed below don’t rely on squick and jump scares to grab your attention. They keep you up at night and creep up behind you. They prey on you long after the credits roll.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro, R)
Pan’s Labyrinth is more of a dark fantasy than a horror film proper. But it’s undeniably eerie and atmospheric with a stunning soundtrack and gorgeous aesthetic. It showcases the beauty and horror of both the imaginary and the mundane, reminding us that humans tend to be more terrifying than any monster could ever be.
2. Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Adrian Lyne, R)
A brilliant, haunting mind mess of a thriller, Jacob’s Ladder follows a Vietnam War vet struggling to hold on to his sanity. It’s as tragic as it is terrifying and is worth multiple viewings. Also of note: this film is the inspiration behind the Silent Hill series.
3. Session 9 (2001, Brad Andersen, R)
This is a dark, meaty, psychological piece that suggests–like Pan’s Labyrinth does—that the most horrific things are not monsters or ghosts but the darkness within. Andersen shot most of Session 9 at the tragically now-demolished Danvers State Asylum in Danvers, Massachusetts—a gorgeous Kirkbridge building and functional insane asylum from 1878 to 1993. The scenery alone is worth the price of admission. (That and the fact that most of the sets and props were discovered in the actual asylum.) The closing line haunts me to this day. Session 9 used to be my number one horror film of all time until . . .
4. The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent, NR)
. . . The Babadook swooped out of nowhere and knocked Session 9 out of its spot. I don’t want to reveal much about this absolute masterpiece and its crucial message, but I will say this: It’s not a ghost story. It’s not about monsters. It’s not about what you think it’s about. You will either sit with your mouth hanging open and tears all over your face as the credits roll or you’ll want your two hours back. The Babadook speaks to a very specific crowd. You’ll know who you are.
What are your favorite horror films and why? I’d love to hear from you!