Psychological Horror Has Been A Thing Since ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’

By  · Published on September 20th, 2017

I’m tired of genre pedants.

It and mother! have led to a disturbing number of people misunderstanding genre. Psychology is not just for the action-filled thrillers – that’s crazy. It’s a longstanding horror tradition that just happens to work well in other contexts because your movie can never become worse by making your audience think harder about its events and characters.

The introduction of mental-state-as-visual-metaphor began, argues the essayist behind One Hundred Years of Cinema, with 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You want wild, ragged, mountains of briar-like houses? We got ‘em. Twisted streets and flailing, damaged, howling actors that aren’t Jennifer Lawrence? Welcome to the disharmonious world of director Robert Wiene.

Throughout the history lesson, this video explains how set design, color, and acting technique all compliment a narrative structure that makes the audience aware that all is not well. This film is here to unnerve you without gunfights, car chases, or any of that ilk. This is creeping discomfort, crawling in your trapezoidal windows and haunting your dreams. And modern horror has learned these lessons without changing the genre at all, so just cut it out.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).