Psychological horror

by Rebecca


I need to write a paper on psychological horror and need a clear definition. Do you have one, and from where to you have it? Sure, I can find one on wiki, but I would really like to write something other than wiki on my reference list...
Hope you can help and thanks in advance!


One reason you may be having trouble is that Psychological Horror is one of the names sometimes given to the genre I call Psychological Suspense. It is also sometimes called Psychological Thriller and is sometimes seen as a subgenre of Suspense, Thriller, Horror, or Mystery. There is a lot of grey area here, and the terms are seldom used precisely. A particular story may be labelled differently by different people.

Psychological Suspense (obviously) has two components.

1. Psychological. The trait that separates this genre from others is that it deals with a main character who is going mad. They are likely suffering from delusions, obsessions, guilt, or the like. Often they are losing their grip on their identity or their sense of reality. The story is told largely from the main character's point of view, so reader faces the task of trying to figure out how much of the main character's perceptions are real and how much is delusion.

2. Suspense. Like Suspense stories, the main character is either being stalked or is slowly walking into a trap. The reader generally can perceive this threat long before the main character -- which is what generates the suspense.

A novel might get labelled Psychological Horror if it appears that the threat may be supernatural. (Of course, the threat might not be real or it might not be supernatural. It might
be part of the main character's delusion.)

A novel might get labelled Psychological Thriller if the threat is clearly not supernatural but comes from a human villain. (Again, this threat might not be real. It may be that the main character is only imagining the villain exists. Or the villain might be a real person, but not be a real threat. Or they might be a real threat, but the main character could still have delusions about them.)

The difference between Psychological Thriller and Psychological Suspense is that a Psychological Suspense will rely more on suspense, while Psychological Thriller will use more direct physical threats. However, this is really splitting hairs. The differences between the two are so small that one regularly gets labelled the other.

What compounds the problem is that genre labels are used by book marketers to target audiences. So if a marketer is trying to sell a book to fans of Suspense, they might label it Psychological Suspense. Whereas, if they are trying to market the same book to fans of Horror, they might label it Psychological Horror.

Personally, I feel a good source of definitions is The Reader's Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Joyce G. Saricks. This book was written to help librarians in classifying genres in order to help their patrons. I feel the 2001 edition is better than the most recent.

What you should probably do is look up all these terms in the academic literature. You will have to pay attention to how each critic defines the genre which books they include and don't include, and where they draw the lines between subgenres, to make sure they and you are on the same page.

Best of luck.

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