Thursday, 26 May 2011

essay on psychological terror


In this short essay I will be discussing the ways in which psychological terror is used in films and how these films compare. I will start with a brief summary of what psychological horror is followed by small pieces about ‘The Shining’ ‘Alien’ and ‘The Machinist’. These will be compared against one another to determine which best portrays psychological terror. I have chosen these three films as I think that they best show the use of psychological horror and compare well against each other as they use it so differently.

Essay Body

Unlike most horror movies, psychological horror movies are a sub-genre of horror films that do not rely on gore and death to make it scary. Instead, they collaborate the use of music, effects and a characters portrayal of emotions. The emotions used in psychological horrors are fear, guilt and beliefs to portray suspense to the audience. Blood and gore may be used alongside the emotions but they are not the main giver of the suspense more the end result of it. Stephen King said in the book The Films of Stephen King, ‘I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.’ (Lloyd 1993:10) this was said after a conversation about how King is frightened to turn the lights out at night unless his legs are completely under the covers. This suggests that horror writers and directors could play on their own fears and anxieties when creating their scripts. No one knows as much about a fear as the person who fears it so this works well when trying to scare other people.

“The Shining’ was directed by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel by Stephen King. At the time of its release ‘The Shining’ was considered dark and scary, to this day it is known as a classic. An obvious attempt at portraying psychological terror is used throughout the film with long shots and little dialogue however, compared to modern films where the shots change every ten seconds, Jack Nicholson’s character used the long shots well to show his growing insanity as well as the character Danny to show his own mental instability. The title suggests that the main theme will be the power of ‘The Shining’ but disappointingly it is not used often. This may help to keep the film from travelling into the realms of supernatural however. Stephen King, in the book The Films of Stephen King said, ‘ I know that it isn’t going to be exactly the same as the novel because a lot of people have interpreted it. But I also know that it has an idea that I’ll like because that idea occurred to me, and I spent a year of my life working on it.’ (Lloyd 1993:7) this seems to suggest that his novels are changed dramatically when made into films and perhaps the books are more horrific that psychological. ‘The Shining’ is deffinatly set within the minds of the characters rather than the hotel and therefore the psychological effects on the audience are great, making the film creepy and on many levels, terrifying.

‘Alien’ was directed by Ridley Scott and is unique by being a space horror rather than science fiction. The start of the movie is long and lethargic however, the point of it is to set up the rest of the movie. Like “The Shining’ ‘Alien’ shows characters everyday life and findings before the terror commences. Before the film even begins the audience is filled with suspense at the famous line written on the movie posters ‘In space no one can hear you scream’. Viewers already get a sense of the film being lonely which ironically ends with the six-week journey home made by the only surviving character that Sigourney Weaver plays. ‘The Shining’ uses insanity to show horror but comparatively “Alien’ uses mist, darkness and lighting to show suspense.

‘The Machinist’, directed by Brad Anderson, is a completely different film entirely. Instead of death being shown literally more of a sense of death is staring the viewer in the eye. Christian Bale’s character is thin, skeletal with hollowed eyes and almost an aura of death and suffering following him. His paranoia and insomnia work its way throughout the film and leaves the viewer guessing at points as to whether what he is seeing is real or just a figment of his imagination. It seems as though the character simply just wants to let go and finally sleep, possibly forever, and he doesn’t seem to take acknowledgment when the line ‘ If you get any thinner you wont exist’ (The Machinist: 2004) is said to him throughout the movie. Although ‘The Machinist’ is very different in many ways it is apparent to be similar sometimes to that of ‘The Shining’ and ‘Alien’. Like ‘The Shining’, insanity slowly creeps its way in throughout the film however not by using long shots but with the appearance of Bale. Also like ‘Alien’ bale is being chased, although not by a monster, but by his paranoia and mysterious characters which suggest impending doom, rather than show it.


To conclude my findings on psychological horror, each film discussed uses the horror in very different ways. From insanity to a monster chase to appearance and paranoia. All three films are good and show the use of psychological terror well but personally I think that ‘The Shining’ shows it best. Nicholson’s obvious decent into madness really engages with the viewer’s own sanity and so fits the profile of being psychological very well.

alien film review

this is a short review on alien focusing on the psychological aspects of the film in conjunction with the on screen gore.
408 words.

Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and is in some ways unique in the fact that it is more of a horror movie in space than a science fiction film. Although the film does use a mixture of killing and fast paced music to show horror the greater effects are more psychological. The beginning of the movie is often said to be long and lethargic however the point of this is that it sets up the rest of the movie. With viewers seeing a relatively normal beginning to a film they then get thrown into a suspense filled chase with terror lurking around every corner. The most famous line from alien ‘ in space there is no one to hear you scream’ sets up the horror perfectly in itself. Before even seeing the movie the viewer is already filled with suspense and the thought of the characters being completely alone. Continuing with the lonesomeness of the film the alien picks the crew off one by one leaving only Sigourney Weavers character left behind destroying the ship and escaping in a smaller one. In the final scenes she is heard saying that it will take her six weeks to return home, which leaves the viewer with a strong sense of her loneliness and reminds them of the famous line that preceded the film.

Alien is fairly fast paced after the initial slow beginning, the use of darkness, mist, and lighting creates the psychological horror in the film. This especially works well when the character Dallas is crawling through the air ducts to find the creature. With a flamethrower in his hand this is the main source of lighting and with flickering flames the darkness is shown all around him. With darkness come the unknown and with the unknown comes fear and the character portrays this well. The use of the lighting in conjunction with the claustrophobic space really delves into the characters on screen emotions and fear of death. When the alien finally catches up with Dallas and takes him the audience sees the inevitable but are still left shocked with another crewmembers possible death. The fact that the death is not shown either due to it being shown later leaves the viewers wondering whether Dallas could still be alive or even if he succeeded in destroying the creature.

This was personally the most memorable scene in terms of psychological terror and I believe that it works very well.

the shining film review

this is a short film review focusing mainly on how psychological terror is used within the film rather than how good or bad the film was. 438 words.

The shining is a classic horror film made by Stanley Kubrick. Unlike many well known horror films the shining does not use gore and blood to create suspense but the characters own mental state, fears, guilt and emotions. The film is based on the novel by Stephen King, a famous horror novelist and at the time of the films release it was considered dark and scary. To this day the film remains a classic however, by word of mouth rather than by viewings. Compared to films today the shots in the shining are long and slow with little dialogue in places. This is an obvious attempt to create the psychological terror that the book suggests but, to generations today it makes the film boring and uninteresting. Younger viewers do not seem to have the attention span needed to appreciate this film due to modern films flashing between shots every 10 seconds. With this in mind the film seems strange and long however, unique. Jack Nicholson’s character uses the long shots well to show his growing insanity. The character Danny uses them in places as well to show his own mental instability. There are certain uses of repetitiveness in the film such as the hallway filling with blood and Danny riding around the hotel on his tricycle. This breaks the film up nicely and shows the viewers that they are not stuck in a long film about a family in a hotel but a horror film depicting a families decent into madness.

As the title suggests, the shining is a psychic power that the chef and Danny seem to possess. However, being the title of the film this power is not portrayed much at all. It is used memorably, twice. Once in the kitchen when Danny and the chef meet, and once at the end when the chef comes to rescue Danny. It is not explained particularly well and was a disappointment and it could have been used further. However the fact that the power is there further suggests the psychological terror at hand. Not only is Danny mentally ill, but also he possesses a power that not many know about. The film is strongly set within the minds of the characters and in turn, in the minds of the audience. Although the little use of the power within the film it may have been in the films best interest as the genres may have crossed from psychological horror into the realms of supernatural.

The shining was a good film and is obviously a classic however I feel that its classic status may wither in time with newer generations.

photo day and filming

unfortunatly i missed a chunk of filming as i had to leave early. below are a few good pictures of the day. after finalising the room we had some photographers come in to help us film and document our project. they gave us a talk on cameras and lighting, gels and effects plus a helpful bit on health and safety. the pictures came out great and even though our set will be taken down soon we have an excellent record of what the group collectively spent weeks building.

quick note

although the project was very stressful and there were worries that we wouldnt finish in time it was very enjoyable and great to work in such large groups to see everyone showing off their talents. this is a quick document of some of the fun that we had along the way:

melting a lot of wax to cover things like hands and candlesticks. good thing someone in the class had a lighter!

rhyan chilling in her creation the love seat. it was about time for a rest

sarah is death! who knew it?

hiding ivan the dulux dog from group 1

casting hands. they looked great

kirby, along with many others were unfortunatly eaten by the shark. r.i.p

thunderbirds are go! shoe covers can be much fun

everything looked great and now that we are finished the stress is over. i found this project both fun and stressful but i would deffinatly do it again.

final touches

the last few days of the set build were stressful and full of panic. here are some of the final touches that we added over the last week.


the panelling, dado and skirting was left until quite late into the project. this is because it was quite tedious work and with everyone doing their own pieces to go into the rooms we ignored it for a while. however when we started it was not as bad as we thought. we simply cut MDF into strips and screwed it into the flats to create the panelling and skirting that we wanted. the dado was routed pieces of pine that were painted and stuck on top of the panelling. once it was all up the inside of the panelling was routed and the whole lot was painted.


the flooring was not something that i was asked to do but was very important. we did it by laying sheets of plywood down and staining them with wood varnish. for something so simple the flooring looked great and i was told off a lot when i trod on it in dusty shoes.

last day

on the day of the photo shoot and filming we had to darken the set and block out the view of the studio. we hung black fabric over all the windows and draped it over the top of the study to make a roof. simon and andy put up cardboard sheets at the top of the drawing room to block out some of the light.

after that we had a small rush of finishing things off. such as getting all furniture in place with all the knick knacks and junk in the room. putting flowers in vases, hanging plates and mirrors and generally just placing the final touches of the room.


a small team of people including myself decided to make the braces whilst the painting and wallpapering was completed. the braces were very simple to make with lengths of 3x1 pine screwed together to make an 'L' shape. once these were made we put them around the outside of the set. at 2 foot up on the back of the flats we screwed the braces into every other strut. we also did this to the top of the drawing room. it was a very simple job and quick to do the only problem that we ran into was manouvering the braces within the small space that we had around the outside of the set.