5 Best Horror Films Set in Mental Institutions


Reader Jessica Legg requested we do an editorial on the Best Horror Films Based in a Mental Institution and around here we are all about delivering what you want. As a filming location, mental institutions hold a special place in every horror fan’s heart as well as in Hollywood’s template designed “scary” psyche.  There aren’t many places where the previous inhabitants had mental instabilities that more often than not are almost entirely misunderstood by the average person. 

The pain, anguish, and nightmares of those haunted by severe mental illness still populate the building long after it’s been torn down, abandoned, or repurposed which results in the same arena as the haunted house or “built above an Indian burial ground” sort of lore that all horror fans have come to relish and enjoy.  There is a certain amount of allure that comes along with setting your scary movie in a building that when in its normal and functioning everyday behavior is already terrifying to those of us that don’t have the mental capacity to understand what the patients, nurses, and doctors are going through.  So why don’t you sit back and let me caress your eyes and brain with a look into five great horror movies that revolve around mental institutions.

The Butterfly Effect (Dirs: Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber – 2004) The Butterfly Effect was a major studio production, shot on a smaller budget and filled with disturbing scenes and sequences involving time travel and the ultimate consequences of your actions on the future.  Since the main character Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is constantly shifting through various outcomes of his own life, at one point he ends up in a mental institution because no one believed that he is time traveling.  The movie itself doesn’t focus solely on the institution, but it’s a logical conclusion to a character that if you didn’t have the insight the viewer has, would appear completely insane to everyone.  It’s kind of like Catcher in the Rye, where else would the main character end up besides a mental institution?  

Session 9 (Dir: Brad Anderson - 2001) I would guess that I mention this film in about one in five list based editorials that I write and for good reason.  We the viewers follow an asbestos cleaning crew as they work to clean a building that used to be a massive insane asylum.  Running short on time and resources, they struggle to get the job completed and after exhaustion starts to set in, they begin to experience odd sounds, corporeal images, and all around creepiness.  Brad Anderson masterfully crafts a tension filled film that pulls at all of your nerves while coming to a satisfying conclusion.  If you haven’t seen this one yet, then shame on you.  Oh yeah and by the way, Session 9 was shot right before a large percentage of the building was torn down then repurposed as apartments, which you can live in right now 

Gothika (Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz – 2003) When Gothika first came out, Halle Berry was a huge star, Robert Downy Jr. was quietly building up his comeback, and Penelope Cruz was a powerful and budding talent.  Yet with all this power behind the film, the movie was ripped apart and destroyed by critics which I personally felt was unfair.  This was one of those rare cases where a Hollywood studio invested a lot of money into a script that was just too dark and disturbing for mainstream audiences.  Although the film is predictable in spots, and you have to pay attention carefully to understand what is unfolding in front of you, I still feel that the film is a good horror flick that will satisfy all of you gore hounds.   Plus Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz aren’t too hard on the eyes either….

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (Dir: Chuck Russell – 1987) After a fairly disappointing sequel to one of the most critically well received horror films of all time, Chuck Russell and New Line Cinema realized that they had to take Freddy in a different direction.  That direction was in a mental institution filled with the remaining children from Elm Street that Freddy hadn’t gotten to yet.  They all believed that this man was out to get them in their dreams, but yet no one believed them, which according to the adults in the Freddy universe, made them insane.  What makes the film most effective for me is the fact that most of these kids may have social problems (and drugs too), but they aren’t insane enough to be retrained constantly by Lawrence Fishburn.  They are normal kids who have a crippling fear that the adults don’t understand which makes them crazy.  That in itself is terrifying enough before Freddy even enters the picture.

Patrick (Dir: Richard Franklin – 1978) Rounding out the list, we have an Australian film about a man named Patrick (Robert Thompson) who killed his mother and her special guy friend and has since been in a catatonic state.  If that isn’t creepy enough, he just sits in his bed with his eyes wide open while occasionally hocking loogers at people as a sort of unavoidable reflex.   When the new nurse gets hired (Susan Penhaligon), Patrick falls in love with her and uses telekinesis to make life a living hell for any guy that tries to take her away.  It’s a low budget classic that is in the remake works, so you best get your hands on this one now so you can say “the original can’t be topped” before your friend even knows the remake exists.  Plus, it is a pretty great flick from the Land of Oz


We make the connection that in order for someone to commit the atrocities that are practically a given in horror films, they must be mentally unstable.  And what is worse than a single unstable person?  Well that would be a whole building full of them.  I’m not saying this connotation is correct to believe at all, but in the realm of horror where most of us call home, it’s certainly a well established cliché’. If you have your own requests for editorials you would like to see us write feel free to shoot us an email at scoops@horror-movies.ca and we will oblige you!

blog comments powered by Disqus