The horror genre of movies has earned a loyal following over the decades since its roots in the 80s. And while several offshoots and subgenres exist, few are quite as riveting and mind-bending as psychedelic horror movies.
So turn down the lights and whip out your glow-in-the-dark pipe for your toking pleasure. Cause this is about to be a wild ride.
Scary Psychedelic Movies
Designed to subvert what would be considered normal, psychedelic horror takes the standard tropes that inform scary movies and adds elements that can make the movie feel as trippy as it is unsettling. What truly makes the subgenre so fascinating, however, is its ability to unnerve you in a way that stays with you forever.
Here are some of the best psychedelic horror movies to watch stoned.
A biologist embarks on a treacherous journey into a mysterious, inexplicable zone where nothing makes sense. On the surface, this seems like a straightforward enough plot. Yet Annihilation indulges in mind-bending themes that reveal themselves in subtle ways throughout the movie.
Psychedelic visuals and sound blend seamlessly with bloody gore and psychological thrills. And by the end, we’re left with both answers and questions.
Color Out of Space (2019)
When a movie involves a family moving out to a secluded farmhouse in search of a peaceful, quiet life, you already know they’re going to find anything but that. Yet, this absolute spectacle of a movie somehow transcends all expectations, especially with our very own Tommy Chong!
Color Out of Space is an H. P. Lovecraft adaptation directed by Richard Stanley and starring Nicolas Cage. And this combination of eccentrically gifted artists has delivered one of the best psychedelic horror movies of our time.
But be warned: you’ll never see pink quite the same again.
Writer and director Lukas Feigelfeld’s feature directorial debut makes an extremely bold statement in the quietest ways possible. An audiovisual treat, Hagazussa – which translates to “Witch” – follows the story of an outcast in a mountain village that is subject to the torment of all she encounters. How these experiences shape her and inform the choices makes form the crux of the story.
The spellbinding atmospheric visuals, unsettling score, and stellar performances make up the core of what would be one of the most arresting psychedelic horror movies to come out of this decade.
Yet another folk horror story to add to your psychedelic horror movie list, Midsommar is something rather unique within the subgenre. It follows the same tropes of a group of disillusioned, detached city folk seeking refuge and comfort in a distant off-grid town only to realize they are way out of their depths.
Except what this film does is take that core idea and with the help of mushrooms and psychotropics, a brilliant cast, and some inspired direction from Ari Aster, delivers an extremely chilling portrayal of a descent into euphoric insanity.
Recent years have definitely leaned into the folk horror genre, and it’s not a surprising shift. While the idea has always been a popular approach in horror, there has been a greater yearning for quiet farm living. More people are pining for the simple life, away from the anxiety-inducing hustle and bustle of the city. So, naturally, the biggest fear many people have is the chilling idea that out on the supposedly peaceful, simple farm life is some nightmarish supernatural cult that’s out to murder you and use your skull as a singing bowl.
Nic Cage is one of those performers that never lets you know his next move. He goes from insane highs to inexplicable lows, yet his recent body of work suggests he has found quite the calling in the psychedelic horror movie genre.
Mandy, like Color Out of Space, features similarly trippy visuals and an equally stellar performance from Cage.
Under the Skin (2013)
Regardless of which genre you prefer, there’s an alien invasion movie to quench your thirst. But no matter how many alien-themed films you’ve consumed, you’ve never seen one like Under the Skin.
Director Jonathan Glazer’s vision for the film centered around the idea of observing the human condition through the eyes of an alien. The horror stems, largely, from the alien’s descent not into madness, but humanity. The more it sees itself in humanity, the more of humanity it sees in itself. And very few things are more horrifying than that.
The film’s psychedelic visuals are understated and enthralling. And Scarlett Johannson’s performance serves as the anchor that binds everything together.
Where films like Under the Skin make liberal use of technology to craft their unsettling worlds, movies like House deployed a level of ingenuity unique to an era before modern visual effects. The result is something that truly gets under your skin – and lingers.
House is an experimental comedy horror, which is already trippy in itself. It features amateur actors who portray a group of teens on a trip that begins innocently enough and ends with the group in danger of being devoured by the house that was meant to be their solace.
Director Nobuhiko Obayashi encouraged playfulness on the set, filming without a storyboard and using techniques that involved not being able to see what the final scene would look like till the film was completed. Several people involved with the project found the story to be incomprehensible. The final product is a fever dream that feels like a wild trip, yet somehow the harder you trip, the more it seems to all come together.
Kafka’s Supermarket (2019)
Categorized as an “experimental surrealist science fiction dystopian horror film,” Kafka’s Supermarket is as psychedelic as they come. But it also leans into some punk themes, seeing as it deals with anti-capitalist and anti-commercialism themes. Mostly, though, it offers a mind-melting array of audiovisual experiences that will make your skin crawl and the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
It’s like watching an episode of Adult Swim’s Off The Air. Except much, much more trippy.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
As far as audiovisual experiences go, Berberian Sound Studio easily makes it to the top of the list as one of the trippiest. A uniquely unsettling horror experience that relies on sound as its vehicle, this film centers on a sound engineer named Gilderoy who is roped into working on a what he believes is a film about horses.
Instead, he finds himself working on a horror film. A consummate professional, he gets to work using vegetables to create the sounds required. But as the horror and gore intensify and the voiceover cast and crew begin to unravel, Gilderoy finds himself trapped in a never-ending horror story of his own, helplessly watching his mind slip away.
Unlike the other psychedelic movies on this list, you won’t find Dark on streaming sites. At least, not by that name
Dark is the “Schrader Cut” of the movie “Dying of the Light.” Starring Nic Cage and Anton Yelchin, the movie was panned upon release. It was subsequently disowned by the cast after it was revealed the film had been subjected to heavy editing by the producers against the wishes and vision of the film’s writer and director, Paul Schrader.
Regardless of your views on the controversy, the film did ultimately lack heart and it’s understandable why the minds behind it were devastated by how it turned out. Dark, however, proves to be a completely different experience, one worth watching. Especially when you’re stoned.
Dying of the Light is an action thriller that has Cage playing a decorated CIA veteran named Evan Lake whose light is fading out owing to dementia brought on by his traumatic torture at the hands of a terrorist. He makes it his lifelong mission to find the man that did this to him, despite being repeatedly told his target died during the operation to rescue Lake.
Where the original film focuses on this cross-country chase, Dark focuses instead on Lake’s deteriorating mind. Schrader uses unique directorial techniques to take the viewer on this spiraling journey, culminating in one of the trippiest sequences you’ve ever seen.
The film was released by Schrader as a torrent and is now offered as a digital file via the UCLA Film Archives.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
A war veteran attempts to cope with the traumatic loss of his child but his gradually dissociating mind blurs the lines between reality and the horrifying extremes of his imagination.
Most reviews of Jacob’s Ladder call it “disorienting,” and there’s really no other way to describe it. It serves as a precursor to a lot of modern horror movies, particularly in the psychedelic subgenre. Shades of it are also evident in the vision behind movies like Dark.
Ultimately, there are many ways a horror movie can spook you. But the theme of a mind deconstructing before your eyes is truly one of the most unsettling ways.
A man and his child are playing on a farm when he is suddenly abducted. Three years later, he emerges fully grown from the womb of a woman. And that’s just the beginning of what this spectacle has to offer.
When XTRO was first released, it was met with disapproval all around, despite earning praise for its special effects. The film’s low budget meant its creators had to get, well, creative. And as such, it tells a really creepy alien horror story using some truly weird visuals. All in all, an absolute treat for the stoned mind.
What’s trippier than a psychedelic horror movie? A horror movie about psychedelics.
Bliss follows Dezzy, a young artist facing a creative block that threatens to destroy her life. Willing to try anything, she indulges in a hallucinogenic drug. One binge leads to another, and soon, Dezzy is spiraling and losing her mind. This, of course, is only intensified by her sudden, inexplicable thirst for blood.
There are several high points in Bliss and a few low ones. Overall, however, it stands out as a visual masterpiece. At several points, it delivers some wonderful acid trip aesthetics, not unlike other films on this list, such as Mandy.
If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, psychedelics and horror movies are a match made in a hellscape. The combination of the two somehow brings out the most jarring, unsettling, and stunning work a creator is able to offer.
Climax opens with a group of dancers who gather at a house party for a rehearsal and some general fun. When they realize their drinks have been spiked with LSD, the crew descends into the ultimate bad trip that progresses into total mayhem as the night rolls on.
The film is based in part on a true event where dancers gathered at a party found their drinks spiked with LSD. The rest of the events of the film are fictional, yet knowing that somehow does not make it any less of a disturbing watch.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
Psychedelic horror, psychological thriller, a bad trip, and the mind that brought Mandy to life all come together in this wildly trippy, unsettling horror flick.
A young woman with ESP battles heavy sedation and impenetrable walls in her attempt to escape from a quasi-futuristic commune that is holding her captive. The facility’s purpose revolves around the concept of perpetual happiness and enlightenment. The focus on these ideals is nestled uncomfortably amid torturous captivity and psychological torment.
The film earned significant praise for its visuals, earning comparisons to classics like THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, and many more.
In describing the themes that influenced the film, writer and director Panos Cosmatos has stated that the “black rainbow” referred to the insatiable desire to reach an unattainable state, to one’s own detriment. Black Rainbow is ultimately a commentary on and criticism of outdated power structures and the control “boomers” wield over the identity and agency of the modern youth.
Psychedelics and Horror: The Devil’s Tango
Blending the aesthetics of psychedelics with the beauty of horror is perhaps one of the greatest creations in modern film. After all, nothing quite embraces and deconstructs the human condition quite like psychedelic horror movies do. It’s impossible not to descend from that high feeling like you’ve been changed forever. And that’s precisely why this subgenre remains irreplaceable.
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