Who doesn’t love a scary movie? But what makes a good psychological thriller?
A psychological thriller focuses on the inner makeup of its characters and their unstable mental states. According to British director John Madden, a good psychological thriller book focus on story, character development, choice and moral conflict; with fear and anxiety driving the psychological tension in unpredictable ways.
Sounds good to me. But as a psychologist and novelist, I would add that psychological thrillers don’t necessarily involve a murder.
Why are Psychological Thrillers Popular
Readers enjoy psychological thrillers because of their signature ingredients: secrets, deception, betrayal and dilemma. The psychopathology or mental instability of at least one character fuels the conflict between protagonist and villain. While some psychological thrillers may overlap with other genres, notably crime fiction and horror books, the presence of psychological instability and its impact on the plot places the story in the thriller genre.
So let’s go to the movies. Here are ten classic psychological thrillers and the reasons I love them.
- 1. Rosemary’s Baby – Based on one of the best horror novels of all time by Ira Levin, this deliciously creepy film lives on the corner of horror and thriller. The plot device is supernatural: Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow, sporting an iconic Vidal Sassoon haircut) is impregnated by (gasp!) Satan. But the psychological chills come from her husband’s callous betrayal and Rosemary’s increasing isolation and desperation to convince someone – anyone – that she’s a victim, not a paranoid. So, there’s a dollop of the domestic noire genre here, to boot. Bonus Goose Bump Factor: Roman Polanski directed.
That’s a wrap for my ten classic thriller films. More in the future on the movies, directors and actors who keep us in suspense.
Looking for a riveting psychological thriller book?
Check out Shrink Rapt, a medical and crime thriller book and Tell on You, a domestic thriller – both psychological suspense novels that depict characters driven to the edge and then forced to let go.