The 25 Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time
Directed by Roman Polanski, this is the first film in what was to become known as ‘The Apartment Trilogy’ along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant.
Filmed in London, it tells the story of Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, who has moved in with her older sister Helen. In a truly unforgettable performance we watch Carol’s paranoia spiral out of control after her sister leaves the apartment for a few days.
It leaves the viewer not knowing exactly what is real and what is purely imaginative in the claustrophobic, sexually repressed mind of Carol.
Manhunter is the pioneer of all films Hannibal Lecktor. Directed in 1986 by Michael Mann it stars William Peterson and Brian Cox. Telling the story of the hunt for a serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’, Manhunter spawned another 4 films and a television series, featuring the infamous Dr Lecktor.
Will Graham (Peterson) has been persuaded to end his retirement from the FBI and reunite in order to catch a serial killer on the loose. However, in order to progress, Will must pay a visit to Lecktor (Cox), an imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer, who incidentally is the cause of Will’s retirement, after attacking him. Despite Lecktor agreeing to help capture the killer,
Will now has to deal with Hannibals’s mind games as well as the psychological trauma of his past events. With time running out, a desperate pursuit leads to a thrilling final confrontation with ‘The Tooth Fairy’ (Tom Noonan). But between another victim and his own family, will it all be in vain?
Based on the novel Red Dragon, Manhunter contains some great performances, most notably Brian Cox and Tom Noonan. If you are a fan of the Hannibal Lecktor series and are yet to see this, you are in for a suspenseful, atmospheric treat.
Homicide, Sleaze, torture, S&M, nihilism – Videodrome.
Welcome to the world of cult Canadian director David Cronenberg. James Woods stars as Max Renn, the president of a TV channel, searching for that quantum leap to the most in demand of broadcasting.
The breakthough arrives when Renn discovers Videodrome, an Asian television show airing brutal torture and snuff TV. With his girlfriend Nicki (Blondie’s Deborah Harry), immediately aroused and obsessed with the show, they delve further and find that the show is in fact broadcast out of Pittsburgh, USA.
Eager to audition for the show, Nicki sets off to Pittsburgh, however when she fails to return, Max starts to become apprehensive. The more Max explores, the more he submerges into a world of mind regulation, sex, violence and disturbing hallucinations.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the visceral experience of Cronenberg’s 1983 mind-trip masterpiece, Videodrome.
14. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
Whatever happened to Baby Jane is a 1962 American psychological horror. Directed by Robert Aldrich, the film infamously stars two screen icons together in Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The film is extremely intense and dark yet slightly comical.
The story opens in 1917, characterizing Baby Jane Hudson (Davis), the very spoilt, child vaudeville star and her rather neglected younger sister Blanche (Crawford). However, in teenage years, roles reverse and Blanche went on to achieve stardom, with Jane becoming no more than just a has-been.
Years later, both women are now confined to a shared mansion, with Blanche now crippled and in a wheelchair, after a tragic car accident involving what was widely thought to have been Jane, at the wheel.
Now Jane ‘cares’ for her sister, handing out brutal beatings and mentally torturing her, whilst still living in a world of distorted dreams and high hopes. With the insane and hysterical former child star becoming more violent, can the imprisoned Blanche escape Baby Jane’s stronghold?
Both Davis and Crawford play the feuding sisters impeccably as they argue back and forth. (Mainly due to the well-documented tale that they actually loathed each other)An important and distinguished piece of Hollywood history, Whatever happened to Baby Jane is a riveting drama that is an absolute must see for all film fans.
13. Eyes Wide Shut
From the brilliant mind of director Stanley Kubrick, we have his 1999 showpiece ,Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Kubrick once again leads us down a path trying to differentiate between real world and the subconscious.
Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and wife Alice (Kidman) are a young married couple living in New York with their young daughter, Attending a Christmas party thrown by a rich patient, (during which they are both involved in separate sexual temptations) Bill is reintroduced to an old school friend Nick, who has been hired to play piano there.
Upon his wife’s admission of a recent sexual fantasy involving a naval officer, Bill’s emotions are turned upside down. After meeting up with Nick again, finishing his set at the jazz club, Bill learns of an engagement Nick must attend to for his next set. However, to gain entrance to the party, one requires a mask, costume and finally a password. With the appeal of the party too difficult to turn down, Bill’s night unravels into an erotic, violent, unsettling sexual odyssey.
Sadly, Eyes Wide Shut was to be Stanley Kubrick’s final film, being released just several months following his death.
12. The Tenant
The last film in Polanski’s ‘Apartment trilogy’. Another brilliant psychological horror that this time has Polanski himself starring. Again, claustrophobic, disturbing and intense, the film shows how Trelkovsky (Polanski) moves into an apartment in which the previous tenant had thrown herself out of her window.
Evidently, insanity and obsession gradually tiptoe in, resulting in a slightly comical yet tragic climax.
The Tenant will leave you with more questions that it does answers but nevertheless, another Polanski masterpiece in my opinion.
11. The Conversation
Most directors struggle to achieve that once-in-a-lifetime piece de resistance, yet in 1974, one man delivered two. Please step forward Mr Francis Ford Coppola.
Despite missing out to Oscar winner The Godfather 2, The Conversation is still well and truly classified as one of the definitive films from the 70’s, The fantastic Gene Hackman ingeniously plays the paranoid, neurotic, freelance surveillance expert, Harry Caul.
Running his own surveillance business in San Francisco, Harry is a loner, who rarely lets anyone into his apartment, let alone his life. After being given a job to tap into the conversation of a young couple talking in Union Square, the more Caul filters the recordings, the more unsettled he gets.
Averting the opportunity to hand in the tape to his employer, due to what might happen to the young couple, he finds himself on the wrong end of the bugging. As his mental state collapse, can Harry find the solution before he self-destructs?
Containing superb performances by none other than John Cazale, Harrison Ford and an electrifying cameo from Robert Duvall, The Conversation is a haunting thriller that lingers long in the mind.
10. Hour of the Wolf
Regarded by many as one of the most important and influential directors of all time, Ingmar Bergman made many great films, a lot of which handled death, disease and the downfall of the human mind. Hour of the Wolf is no different.
The film is set on a modest, harsh looking island, where Johan, played by Max Von Sydow, has sought refuge, along with his wife Alma (Liv Ullman). Johan is a painter who is battling insomnia and is haunted by the demons of his past. Despite coming across as being very cold and a bit of a bully, his loving wife is loyal and helps him through his obvious psychological illness.
Things however take a turn for the worst, as Alma discovers Johan’s secret diary, followed by an eerie invitation for dinner with fellow islanders, who live in a nearby castle. As ‘the hour of the wolf’ approaches, the truth is unravelled and the shocking past that has been torturing Johan is frighteningly revealed.
This gothic horror is a chilling, claustrophobic journey, which displays the psychological torment one man suffers. A gritty, surreal work of art from a genius director, Hour of the Wolf is a beautiful but bleak movie that easily stands the test of time.
9. The Wicker Man
Robin Hardy’s 1973 occult horror, The Wicker Man, is the crème de la crème of British cult movies. This is a haunting, chilling tale of desolation, symbolism and pagan rituals. Starring Edward Woodward and Hammer favourite Christopher Lee, this is a film that will shake you to your very core.
Upon receiving a letter begging for help in finding a missing girl named Rowan, Sergeant Howie (Woodward) travels to a remote Scottish Island to investigate. On arrival, Howie instantly receives a rather inhospitable reception, which sets the atmospheric tone for the rest of the film.
Realising that life is very contrasting here than on the mainland, Howie speculates that the disappeared may have been the subject of a ritual or sacrifice. Further delving leads him to a meeting with the seemingly sinister island leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee), where he soon grasps that there is much more to explore than a missing child on this isolated island.
Those viewers in search of a gore-laden action flick will be disappointed, for this is a much more intelligent, thought-provoking, brutal-beast of cinematic brilliance.