Courting Creepy: 13 unsettling movies – for psychological horror fans – at Halloween (or anytime.)

In the wake of last night’s psycho-dramatic post – How do you know you aren’t dead? – I’m about to present the next Counting Creepy list.

Before I do that, though, I want to assure you that I was only feeling a little writerly last night, and that none of you need to fear for my sanity. I know I am not dead, and I didn’t mean to leave you with the impression that I am depressed. It’s Halloween-time, how could I be depressed?

Also, I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to whomever Stumbled the first installment of this series,
Courting Creepy: 13 iconic movies – for those in need of a horror foundation – at Halloween (or anytime.)
I’ve never had so much traffic. I like it.

Now on to the films!

Straight Jacket by Glen Bledsoe


13 unsettling films – for psychological horror fans – at Halloween (or anytime.)

Don’t attempt to accomplish anything else while you watch these films. I wouldn’t even recommend knitting, because there are so many visual clues and suggestions that you might miss. (Well, you could probably get away with an easy pattern while watching The Haunting, just because it’s got that old-movie pacing that most of us don’t tolerate well anymore. And Picnic at Hanging Rock has long stretches during which you could look away, but why would you want to?)

Most of them are better upon a second viewing … or at least more interesting from a film-making point of view. You know how some movies are vehicles for actors? These feel like vehicles for everyone but the actors. Many of these define the term plot-driven.

Boilerplate text for Courting Creepy:
Each list in Courting Creepy will have a suggested audience right in the title of the post. All the lists will be gathered onto a page, accessed via a tab, on the main page of my blog. As the lists appear, please let me know if I’m hitting my targets squarely, and feel free (even compelled) to make suggestions for inclusions. (Just remember that 13 is the magic number … for every one that needs to go on, one will have to come off. Delightfully brutal, yes?)

Note: Some films will appear on multiple lists, because some films are awesome that way.

Psycho (USA, 1960)
— It’s repeated viewings of this classic that allow you to really enjoy Anthony Perkins interpretation of Norman’s psychological state.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
— I have to warn you that the music of this movie eventually becomes so overbearing that it drives you mad. I know it’s intentional, and that it’s what the director wanted, but I wish there was a way to watch this film with just the music turned down, because it’s hard to hear the dialog, which feels like it must be important. (‘Truth is, though, this movie is best for its visuals.)
The Haunting (Great Britain 1963)
— The real charm of this film is its lack of special effects. Watch for a long scene, involving wallpaper, that is all about camera work and oh-so-earnest acting by Julie Harris.
Rosemary’s Baby (USA, 1968)
— Special acknowledgment for best performance by a classic board game: Scrabble.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)
— This beautiful film tortures you sweetly by s-l-o-w-l-y meandering along, then it frustrates you by never really explaining wtf happened. If you’re anything like me, that means it will haunt you for the rest of your life. (That may be especially true if you watch it when you’re an innocent and ignorant girl of about 14.)
The Shining (USA, 1980)
— Stephen King is famously irritated by Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining. King felt that the book was about a good man who goes bad when exposed to the duel evils of alcoholism and the Overlook Hotel itself. In the film, Jack starts out as a jerk, and he gets worse – a lot worse – mostly due to his deteriorating psychological state … which makes it perfect for this list. For the record, I agree with King; it was the hotel’s fault. (But maybe I’m biased, says the front desk clerk.)
Angel Heart (USA, 1987)
— I had to read the plot synopsis at IMDb to make sure I was remembering this movie correctly. Now I know I need to see it again, because I’d forgotten a lot of the details. In this case, that’s a good thing. This is a dense, convoluted story with one of those wonderful reveals at the end that makes you think, “Oh, now I’ve got to rethink EVERYTHING I just saw.”
Stir of Echoes (1999)
— Special acknowledgement for most troublesome in-law ever: Lisa Weil.
Frailty (2001)
— When my kids were little, I made a point of occasionally waking them up in the middle of the night to go have some kind of adventure. (Fireflies. A Sunrise. Things like that.) This film can make you wonder about the consequences of your parenting style, and how you turned out as the product of your own family. (There are some seriously hard-to-watch scenes in this one, folks, and blood.)
Session 9 (2001)
— It’s rare to see work – as in a normal-person’s job – portrayed so convincingly. The developing creepy story becomes something special when it unfolds against the backdrop of a crew of guys, just working together.
Identity (USA, 2003)
— Lots of clever wordplay in this one. My favorite little quote though, is this:
Lou: [arguing] Open the fucking door!
Ginny: Not until you calm down!
Lou: [slams door viciously] I am calm! I am very fucking calm!
Secret Window (2004)
— Johnny. Depp.
Shutter Island (2010)
— Special acknowledgement for just being set on an island that can only be reached by ferry. (Who’s idea was it to build a mental hospital on an island … and then make sane people LIVE there?)

Best bet for Halloween night: The Haunting

click for page ‘o lists


15 Comments on “Courting Creepy: 13 unsettling movies – for psychological horror fans – at Halloween (or anytime.)”

  1. ohmyerica says:

    I’ve only seen three of these: Psycho, The Shining, and Session 9. The Shining was only a year or so ago, Session 9 about five months ago, and Psycho… oh… like three weeks ago? I need to watch the rest of these this month (or try)! I can’t believe it took me almost 22 years of my life to see Psycho — not that it would’ve been a good idea to watch it as a baby.

  2. Great list. I love Frailty. A hidden gem. Also Session 9. I used to live near that hospital and actually went there once. Very creepy. That’s a movie worth watching the director’s commentary on.

  3. Carnival of Souls Session 9, The Shining, and Stir of Echoes are some of my favorite movies of all time.

  4. Selena says:

    I LOVE courting creepy! Thanks for this, Ranae. I have seen all of these but The Carnival of Souls, which is now on my list of movies to see this month.

  5. […] Courting Creepy: 13 unsettling movies – for psychological horror fans – at Halloween (or… […]

  6. I’ve have to agree, some of those movies were a little unsettling. Fragility was one of the movies I was given on my job to review and went to the pre-screening in Miami. Needless to say, I wrote how disturbing it was for the newspaper. I’ve always loved Picnic at Hanging Rock. A few others worth mentioned are: Bug, The original Carrie, Jaws(because I am forever paranoid when I go snorkeling now), Ghosty Story. There was also a movie I saw in the 70’s that was quite disturbing but never found out what the title was. Maybe one of your followers will know. The story is set in an old mansion where a mom has lost her child and the ghost child keeps coming back and haunting her crying “mommy” and more. It is not the movie Juilia(which is also disturbing). So here’s a call out to people to post if they have an idea what movie it is. Thanks!

  7. Anne says:

    Did you ever listen to the director’s commentary for Secret Window? If I really like a movie, I like to watch it again with the director’s comments. It’s been awhile but I remeber finding the ones for Secret Window very interesting especially regarding the how the movie begins.

    • I adore good commentary tracks, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to many. I do have some special editions of some classic Universal films like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. These are wonderful because the commentary is by film historians. My husband and I were just discussing starting a collection of Criterion Collection editions of some favorites — mostly for the commentary tracks.

      I just checked. The Secret Window edition i own has commentary tracks! I’ll add listening to it to my to do list. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

  8. Anne says:

    I’m not sure under which list I should ask about these or if they fit any list at all but what did you think of Half Light with Demi Moore (maybe ghost story?) and The Uninvited from 2009?

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