Many of the greatest horror movies ever made incorporate psychedelic elements, either through visual motifs, kaleidoscopic editing, or direct reference to hallucinogenic drugs and psychedelia in the narrative.
This is because these psychedelic elements can bolster the literal horror with abstract concepts that have spooky ramifications, allowing filmmakers to tap into the fear of the unknown. Experimental editing, colorful and imaginative imagery, and dream-like story progression are all hallmarks of psychedelic horror that aid in making the viewer feel uncomfortable and more receptive to being scared.
Psychedelic horror may have reached its zenith during the counterculture haze of the ’60s and ’70s, but it’s never gone away. No, the subgenre is alive and well, and still taking unsuspecting viewers on long, strange trips into the deepest, darkest regions of dread, derangement, and depravity. In the following list, we’ve counted down the top 25 disorienting psychedelic horror jams ever made.
25 I Drink Your Blood (1970)
I Drink Your Blood is a wild Night of the Living Dead-inspired proto-slasher about a group of devil-worshiping hippies with a firm belief that “Satan was an acid head,” and a serious case of the munchies. Their voracious hunger is temporarily satisfied when they get their hands on a batch of meat pies that are, unbeknownst to the hippies, spiked with the blood of a rabid dog.
Upon contracting the terrible disease, the Satanists are turned into bloodthirsty maniacs bent on infecting and killing everyone in town. Although the film is not as experimental or hallucinatory as others on this list, the dazed and deranged carnage and bonkers premise make I Drink Your Blood a worthwhile trip.
24 Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder is a disturbing horror film that tackles the post-traumatic stress of a Vietnam War veteran. The veteran is constantly tormented by bizarre hallucinations and nightmares that eventually lead him to question his own sanity. Mixing war movie tropes and psychological horror with a dash each of legal drama, psychosexual experimentation, and conspiracy caper, Jacob’s Ladder is a thoroughly warped horror oddity that’s well worth checking out.
23 Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Yes, as a sequel to the single scariest horror film ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic is a complete and utter failure of a movie. When taken as a bizarre, psychedelic horror headtrip, however, it goes outrageously hard. This demonic freakout picks up four years after the original film, and sees Regan MacNeil once again tormented by an otherworldly oppressor.
This time around, however, she’s treated in a top-of-the-line research facility by experts in hypnotism. It’s a very silly merging of sci-fi and Satanic spookiness, but it somehow works as a wacked-out fever dream full of locusts, surreal nightmare sequences, and a tomato-spitting James Earl Jones.
22 Possessor (2020)
Possessor is not just one of the best sci-fi horror movies of the 2020s, but a stellar psychedelic horror treat to boot. It follows an assassin who carries out her hits with a device that allows her to assume control of other people’s bodies. It works quite well, until she enters a mind that refuses to let her out. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Possessor is an ultra-gory mind-bender packed with creative ideas that prove that psychedelic horror is alive and well.
21 Brain Damage (1988)
Brain Damage is an exploitation classic about an average Joe who becomes the host of an evil parasite. When the man allows the parasite to feed on innocent people, he receives a euphoric sensation that keeps him coming back for more. No matter how thinly veiled its drug addiction allegory is, Brain Damage is lots of fun, and one of the most colorful and visually interesting horror flicks of the ‘80s.
20 Blue Sunshine (1977)
Cinema Shares International
Blue Sunshine is a cult horror gem about a batch of bad LSD called “Blue Sunshine” that seems to be at the center of a series of bizarre murders committed by bald psychopaths. As you may have already put together, it’s a very strange movie; part satire of the “moral panic” of the ‘60s and ‘70s and part Giallo-esque murder mystery, Blue Sunshine is a darkly humorous delusion worth experiencing.
19 A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a trippy Giallo film from Italian “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci. It tells the twisted tale of a sexually frustrated woman who is tormented by surreal and salacious visions involving her unruly neighbors. Soon, the erotic dreams turn into violent nightmares, which are discovered to be terrifying realities. Fulci’s film wraps the viewer in a captivating mystery, accentuated with moments of shocking, psychedelic terror that is both appalling and impossible to look away from.
18 Midsommar (2019)
Midsommar is a modern folk-horror masterpiece about a couple who attend a festival in an idyllic small town in Sweden. The relaxing trip takes a disastrous turn when the hosts of the festival turn out to be a violent pagan cult that disorients its victims with psychedelic drugs. Directed by modern horror master Ari Aster, the film is richly textured and stylishly put together. It also contains some of the scariest cinematic depictions of a “bad trip” ever to disgrace the big screen, and is a hallucinatory horror for the ages.
17 Color Out of Space (2019)
Color Out of Space is a freewheeling adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Colour Out of Space.” With cult director Richard Stanley at the helm and the inimitable Nicolas Cage in the leading role, this wild flick is a pulpy fever dream that never lets up once it gets going. Color Out of Space is a pinkish-purple nightmare like no other.
16 Fascination (1979)
Compex Les Films ABC
Fascination is one of French euro-horror extraordinaire Jean Rollin’s many hazy vampire sagas. Although the controversial filmmaker made several films of a similar ilk, Fascination may just be his baroque masterpiece, as it nails a certain dream-like atmosphere that is truly visionary. Replete with psychedelic editing and surreal visuals, this sensual tale of vampire lust is one of the finest slow-burn bloodsucker movies ever made.
15 Videodrome (1983)
Videodrome is David Cronenberg’s ultimate body horror masterwork and a nightmarish and prescient satire of the mass media. The film follows a sleazy TV programmer named Max Renn who is determined to find a sensational show for his channel. In his search, he stumbles upon a bizarre program that exclusively depicts very realistic torture and violence called “Videodrome.”
The depraved content seems to be just what Renn had in mind, until his girlfriend auditions for the show and never returns. The movie takes the viewer on a grotesque descent into madness, and is absolutely one of the best trippy horror flicks ever made.
14 The Love Witch (2016)
The Love Witch is a dreamy and hallucinogenic horror tale that pays tribute to the sumptuous Technicolor terrors of the ‘60s. It’s about a beautiful witch who sets out to find the perfect lover using potions and spells, which ultimately backfires and leads her down a murderous path. The Love Witch is satirical and subversive, as well as an essential psych-horror, given its hazy look and dream-like narrative.
13 All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
All the Colors of the Dark is an underrated Giallo movie about a woman who struggles with terrifying nightmares that inspire her to join a Satanic cult. She soon becomes involved in strange rituals that lead to psychosexual awakening and cause her to go insane. As the title implies, the movie is extremely colorful and frequently dazzles with creative cinematography and experimental editing. This stylish and surreal murder mystery is one of the greatest examples of the Giallo genre, and an essential psychedelic horror movie.
12 Enter the Void (2009)
Fidélité Films / Wild Bunch
One of the trippiest movies ever made, Enter the Void is not typically classified as a horror film, but its nightmarish tone and disorienting visuals make it a solid contender for the psych-horror subgenre. It follows an American drug addict who dies in a drug bust in Tokyo, but continues to live on and watch over his prostitute sister as a ghost. It’s a wild journey through time and space, appropriately fitted out with psychedelic visuals, bewildering pacing, and heady concepts.
11 Mandy (2018)
Mandy is a wild, horror-tinged revenge movie about a man whose peaceful life is disrupted by a savage cult, which sends him on a quest for violent vengeance. With an enjoyably unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage at its center, Mandy is a well-acted, stylishly shot, and utterly hypnotic odyssey that is wholly original. As Screen Rant explains, “director Panos Cosmatos offers up a thick atmosphere, wonderfully displayed through various hues, to create a nightmarish world ruled by a Manson-like figure with command of the occult.”
10 House (1977)
House is a wacky, Japanese horror-comedy chock-full of stunning visuals and nonsensical story elements. It’s about a group of schoolgirls who stay in a remote mansion and experience strange, supernatural happenings. Although the premise may not sound all that original, it barely scratches the surface of all that’s going on in this weirdo movie; demonic possession, evil cats, eviler aunties, and a whole slew of experimental filmmaking techniques unlike anything before or since await in House. It is an acid-drenched art-house horror masterpiece full of spectacle and unadulterated creativity.
9 White of the Eye (1987)
White of the Eye is a strange slasher that borders on both neo-noir and Giallo, and features enough spiraling surrealism to make it a psych-horror classic as well. Directed by cult director Donald Cammell, White of the Eye follows a woman who discovers a connection between her husband and a string of grisly killings that are plaguing their town. Downbeat, shocking, and stylish, White of the Eye is a desert sun-scorched, post-hippie slasher nightmare that never lets up.
8 Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
One of the weirdest Japanese horror films of all time, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is Shinya Tsukamoto’s twisted, genre-defining cyberpunk body horror movie about a salaryman who falls victim to a curse that turns his flesh into metal. This is the film that established Tsukamoto as a powerhouse for strange shockers, as well as inspired many imitators. Narratively incoherent and unabashedly experimental, this low-budget industrial nightmare is a psychedelic tokusatsu like no other.
7 Altered States (1980)
Altered States is visionary director Ken Russell’s controversial thrill ride into the darkest depths of humanity. It’s about a scientist who becomes obsessed with the idea of unlocking novel states of consciousness through the use of psychedelic substances and sensory deprivation. Soon the scientist’s experiments go too far, and result in mental and physical reversions to primitivity, and a total loss of his grip on reality.
Like the evolution of Stanley Kubrick’s ideas in 2001: A Space Odyssey and a hallucinatory precursor to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Altered States goes where few films have endeavored to go before.
6 The Visitor (1979)
American International Pictures
The International Picture Show Company
The Visitor is a puzzling Italian cult film that is, depending on who you ask, a classic “so-bad-it’s-good” flick, an intellectual hippie masterpiece, or a meaningless and incomprehensible B-movie. In reality, The Visitor is a little bit of all those things, and so much more. It’s about an ancient being who visits Earth to protect it from a devilish child that plans to unleash hell upon humanity.
Strangely for a weird Italian genre movie, it features a plethora of well-known actors, including Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Glenn Ford, and Sam Peckinpah. The film is riveting and rewarding, so long as the viewer has the patience to sit through a seemingly endless slew of incongruous scenes haphazardly strung together and dissonantly scored. If that sounds like your kind of psychotronic fever dream, then move The Visitor to the top of your watchlist.