What is the psychological thriller: origin and works

what is thriller

El thriller is a genre that transcends formats, any narrative can become a thriller, a film, a book, a story or a sound fiction can be defined as such. Following this path, the RAE defines thriller as "intrigue or suspense film or narrative".

It is also said that every good story must have that point of thriller. That nuance of suspense is welcome and necessary in almost most stories. You can talk about mystery or tension when it comes to solving a story. that's why here Many questions remain to be resolved, especially when thriller we want to add the label of “psychological”. So let's go find answers.

What is psychological thriller

The gender of thriller what it does in a movie or in a book is convey mystery, create an atmosphere that is normally unsettling and that in other stories we can only talk about tension. Tension is crucial in any narrative, even if we are talking about a comedy. All stories have a suspense point.

However, el thriller brings that tension to the center of the story and turns it into essence. a thriller then it would cease to be if we remove the suspense. A thriller it is emotional tension generated by the suspense itself. And sometimes it can wrap the reader or viewer in a frenzy whose only solution is to release the accumulated tension. In discovering the questions that the author has left behind. Precisely it is the unknowns that shape a thriller.

All this may seem obvious, but this is a genre that we sometimes find in other stories, or that can overlap with psychological horror, and that is why it is difficult to catalog it. The truth is that if the thriller It's a very hackneyed term thrillers there are many (thriller dramatic, thriller of survival, thriller of adventures, thriller of murders, thriller political, etc.), Perhaps the one that comes closest to the general idea is the thriller psychological.

It is usually the confrontation between two brilliant intelligences, a Machiavellian who hides a dangerous game and another vigilante who seeks redemption or glory, but whose only vital purpose is to win the mind of the disturbed person she faces. It is a psychological opposition that becomes personal.

a dark street

Origins of the genre

Polanski and Hitchcock are the forerunners of the genre in cinema. However, they relied on suspense novels to make their feature films. Polanski lit the tape The chimerical tenant (1976) which was based on the novel of the same name by Roland Topor (1964), a tremendous story of restlessness and self-destruction that lead to human alienation. Y Hitchcock dabbled in film noir in the 40s.. Although it had already started long before, the black cinema that expanded in these years is also a precedent of psychological suspense. This was also the case with the diabolical (1955) by filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot, which in turn was based on Boileau-Narcejac's 1951 novel.

If we talk about literature we must go to the XNUMXth century with the gothic narrative. There we find the origins of terror and suspense. Edgar Alan Poe may be a name that sheds light on a type of narrative that has been reviled as a genre literature far from the most classic and purist. And yet Poe brings prestige to stories within this subgenre with his quality and indisputable timelessness, proving that they can become classics.. We can take as examples The Tell-Tale Heart o The black cat. These stories and the genre that we know today, because it has obviously evolved, share the signs of the sinister, the unspoken horror and psychopathy.

6 psychological thriller novels

Straw dogs

The novel Straw dogs (The Siege of Trencher's Farm) by Gordon Williams was published in 1969. It is an abominable story about a family that comes to the mother's hometown. The father hoped to find peace and a life in community, but things have changed a lot since his wife left the place where he was born. That space has become a town of detestable and violent inhabitants who will go beyond making them a miserable life.. a thriller disturbing and heartbreaking.

Sales Straw Dogs...
Straw Dogs...
No ratings

The Shining

Stephen King's novel brought to the big screen by Kubrick, whose production annoyed the author who did not agree with all the changes made by the filmmaker. The truth is that the filmmaker modified history to the point of transgressing it. The film and the novel apparently offer two different stories, although the central plot is respected..

Jack Torrance is a writer with alcohol problems who takes his family to the hotel Overlook to spend the winter. In an isolated place like that, he thinks he can work on his novel. But he will also develop a psychopathy inherited from a place steeped in a terrible past.

Beyond better or worse adaptations of his work, the novelist from Maine has been one of the authors who has contributed the most to the thriller Psychological without a doubt. The Shining It is one of his most acclaimed novels and is representative of the genre. Other stories by the same author and on this theme are: Gerald's game o Misery.

The silence of the lambs

Thomas Harris's novel was a milestone in terms of the genre. Clarice Starling is a stubborn and brave young woman who faces a wave of kidnappings and crimes. committed by a certain Buffalo Bill. He is still in the FBI academy, but he is entrusted with the case to catch the killer. The insightful Clarice will look for help and resources in Hannibal Lecter, an extremely dangerous prisoner who murdered and then cooked his victims, albeit with superb manners and education. Clarice thinks she's ready to get information from Lecter, but she finds herself drawn into a dangerous game that can paralyze her. Although who would not be intimidated by Hannibal Lecter?

Shutter Island

This is a novel written by Dennis Lehane that has also been very successful on the subject of psychological suspense. Shutter Island It is a somewhat special island because it is very small and the only thing on it is a psychiatric center specific for inmates with mental illness, Ashcliffe Hospital. It's close to the Boston waterfront, but at the same time it feels like a far away, forgotten place. When a very dangerous prisoner escapes from the psychiatric jail, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule arrive to stop him, knowing that there is no escape from there. There everyone is at risk of getting caught up in a chilling psychological game.

Mrs. March

This novel by Virginia Feito published in 2022 in Spanish has been a revolution. Written in English by the Spanish author has caught the attention of Elisabeth Moss herself who has bought the rights because she plans to turn Feito's story into a movie. She herself will star. The critics are very strong and are unanimous when they say that it is one of the best novels of the year.

George March is a successful writer. Together with him, Mrs. March leads a peaceful life in a residential neighborhood in Manhattan. But when she discovers that the character developed by her husband could be her, her fantastical world vanishes. Mrs. March has a touch of irreverent humor, but is above all a journey through the mind and delirium of a woman who suddenly does not know who her husband is.


A little more unknown is the novel by Mark Edwards. But it is currently having great success among readers of the genre, having been published in 2019. It is a disturbing story where ordinary people live in tragic and complex situations. The protagonist is a horror novel author who arrives at the literary retreat that Julia has created for writers.. The woman has suffered unspeakably after losing her family and he, Lucas, becomes obsessed with discovering the truth of what happened. The narrative takes place in an isolated region of Wales, dark and sad. It could be perfect for a literary retreat, or to discover a horrible secret.

Influences: cinema and Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

The greatest influence of cinema for this genre is undoubtedly Hitchcock. He worked the thriller and very especially the psychological part of the characters and their conflicts. His films were based on the ideas and novels of other authors. But without this detracting from his work, Hitchcock has made the work of other writers authentic masterpieces for the audiovisual medium. Without disdaining one or the other, the filmmaker has gone a step further and where he sees a good story, he arrives and achieves a transformation for the big screen. His creations have dubbed him "the master of suspense".

With an impressive number of films behind him, this prolific director achieved great notoriety and became one of the greatest exponents of cinema in general and of the thriller in particular. Hitchcock knew where there was an opportunity to do something great and successfully adapted the work of writers from the thriller psychological, like Robert Bloch (Psychosis), Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window), Daphne duMaurier (Cardigan), and Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (Vertigo).

Many psychological thrillers are based on literary works. But a large number of cinematic masterpieces also have an original script. Some examples are The sixth Sense (1999), or the saga of films by M. Night Shyamalan (The protégé, Multiple y Glass), Cube (1997), the films by Robert Eggers or Ari Aster (which are situated between psychological and supernatural terror), Let me out (2017) Black Swan (2010) Blue velvet (1986) F (1997) Seven (1995), or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

The content of the article adheres to our principles of editorial ethics. To report an error click here.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *



  1. Responsible for the data: Miguel Ángel Gatón
  2. Purpose of the data: Control SPAM, comment management.
  3. Legitimation: Your consent
  4. Communication of the data: The data will not be communicated to third parties except by legal obligation.
  5. Data storage: Database hosted by Occentus Networks (EU)
  6. Rights: At any time you can limit, recover and delete your information.