I love a good slasher horror, preferably one that grosses me out, makes me jump and has grown adults hopping the gap under the bed (don’t lie, we all did that after paranormal activity) and as any horror fan knows, low-budgets can often bring out the best in film-makers. Psychological horrors and thrillers though tend to demand bigger budgets than a lot of horrors, probably since they tend to be seen as slightly more highbrow. Is it necessary?
The thing about psychological horror is that it gets into our heads by placing normal people into terrifying situations which play on our deeper instincts rather than making us jump. If this is the case then surely the terror is in the story right? Check out the below list of my top 5 psychological horror thrillers and see if you can imagine them being just as good on a shoestring budget…
1. Stephen King’s Misery (1990) Rob Reiner
What more could you possibly want – an ordinary guy, a psychotic fan, constant peril and some toe curling torture that will undoubtedly mess with your head. Although Misery was a high-budget Hollywood production made for a respectable $20 million it is actually a one-set move with two actors and minimal special effects. What’s scary about this film is the constant tension of what the insane Annie Wilkes will do next – and of course a relatable main character. The rare scenes of violence (hobbling anyone?) are more powerful for their scarcity. This film could have been made on zero budget and the story would still have been terrifying.
- Cape Fear (1962) J. Lee Thompson
Again, this wasn’t exactly a low-budget movie (nor was its ’91 remake at $35 million) but this is a film that coils with tension from beginning to end; the combination of Robert Mitchum’s silently threatening Max Cady and terrified father in Sam Bowden played by Gregory Peck, It’s the epitome of psychological thriller. The great thing is that again there is very little violence in this film until the climactic ending; it’s all in the performance and how those actors get into our heads. This is a great example of how a powerful story could have been told on a much lower budget.
- Black Swan (2010) Darren Aronofsky
Does this film belong here? Love it or hate it (and I know that many are in the latter camp not least for the many controversies which surrounded the film and cast after its release) Black Swan was a very creepy movie and a prime example of the ‘descent into madness’ genre. You may disagree but I actually thought that the combination of sexual themes, the psychotic mother and Portman’s fragile performance made it a powerful thriller despite its reliance on expensive visuals, take out those effects and I think the themes hold their own.
- Black Narcissus (1947) Michael Powell and Emeric Presburger
While we can’t all boast the Hollywood budget or inherent cinematic talent of Powell and Pressburger we can hope to emulate the classically thrilling storytelling technique of Black Narcissus. This film may not be horror per say but it certainly carries our horror thriller themes. Another descent into madness and temptation film this actually hinges thematically on the back-painted setting, however I’ve included it because this film was shocking for its time dealing in themes of female sexuality and hysteria and as a result achieves horror through the story before its big-budget effects.
- Seven (1995) David Fincher
This semi-nior crime thriller is, in my mind, one of the best of psychological horror movies out there balancing gruesome violence with the question of good and evil – is there really any good in people and what does it take to push somebody over that precipice? The whole film of course hinges on the haunting ending (I won’t describe it here just in case) which is built up with at least ten minutes of toe-curling anticipation. Interestingly, they originally wanted to change the ending but Brad Pitt fought to have it included. I can’t think of a more complex and resonant story which is only enhanced by the high-budget visuals. One thing I can say for sure though is that this film wouldn’t have stayed with us if the story hadn’t backed up those effects!
What do you think of this list? Do you have any to add?
Written by Jennifer Inman
Social Media Team for Savage Blood Film and blogger at grahaminman.com
Jennifer is involved with Film making and Finance, she studied English Literature at UEA, now studying Accountancy with the ACCA