Taking the "Psycho" out of "Psycho-Killer"

The Impact of Criminal Portrayals of Psychiatric Disorders in Horror Film


  • Makayla Edwards Ball State University (DLR)




film, mental illness, violence


           “Psycho”, “maniac”, and “madman” are all words that are found to be synonymous with serial killers and criminal activity. For decades, the media has perpetuated an extremely harmful image that those suffering from mental illness are violent and dangerous. These portrayals can be found across mediums from fictional books and movies to docuseries and podcasts. In the realm of fiction, specifically, some of the most harmful depictions can be found in horror films. These films tend to paint their villains to be caricatures of various psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), and narcissistic personality disorder. These misrepresentations are not only grossly exaggerated but also highly inaccurate. In this piece, I will explore and expose the negative distortions of mental illness in various horror films. The scope will focus on two of the most influential psychological thrillers in the industry: Psycho and The Shining. These films each depict an antagonist who displays exaggerated traits indicative of mental illness. By deconstructing and comparing these traits with modern research on the mental illnesses they are meant to represent, I will expose the inaccuracies of these portrayals. Furthermore, I will outline the lasting impacts of these inaccuracies on both the public perceptions of mental illness, as well as help-seeking among individuals suffering from psychological disorders. Even if the characters in these popular films are fictional, the stigma they direct toward mental illness is very real and must be addressed.


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How to Cite

Edwards, M. (2023). Taking the "Psycho" out of "Psycho-Killer": The Impact of Criminal Portrayals of Psychiatric Disorders in Horror Film. Digital Literature Review, 10(1), 37–49. https://doi.org/10.33043/DLR.10.1.37-49

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