Stalker films tap into deep and primal fears: the loss of personal safety, for example, or the violation our private space. Indeed, when done well, these movies are as chilling as they are compelling. Whether it’s the relentlessly suspenseful build-up, the eerie, unmistakable sense you’re being watched, or the horrifying culmination of the hunt, stalker movies strike nerves, lingering long after the credits roll.
A unique cinematic landmark, both Cape Fear films (the first released in 1962, the second in 1991) are noted for their chilling depiction of obsession and revenge.
Each garnered acclaim and continue to enjoy shared statuses as classics of the stalker film sub-genre. While bearing more or less the same plot, the two movies offer different perspectives and degrees of intensity in their storylines.
The films concern the same horrifying ordeal: Max Cady, an ex-convict, stalks Sam Bowden and his family, the latter being a lawyer who once testified against Cady in the convict’s rape trial. When Cady is released from prison, he seeks revenge, targeting the lawyer, horrifying his family, and endangering their lives.
Adapted from Stephen King’s disquieting thriller novel, the stalker film classic Misery tells the harrowing story of a famous author held captive by his obsessive, deranged, violent “number one fan.” Kathy Bates’ iconic performance as Annie Wilkes, the ultimate “Stan,” both mesmerizes and terrifies.
Oscillating between a concerned bedside nurse and a sadistic, psychopathic abuser, Bates/Wilkes forces her caged, beloved scribbler to rewrite his latest manuscript (because he killed off her favorite character in the current draft).
When he eventually tries to escape, she breaks his kneecaps. Bates’ Oscar award for Best Actress for her work in the film was undoubtedly well deserved.
Play Misty for Me
A pioneering stalker thriller, Play Misty for Me premiered in 1971 and marked the directorial debut of Clint Eastwood, who was already at the time an established and celebrated actor.
Located in the picturesque seaside town of Carmel, California, the movie explores the tragic consequences and terrifying implications when a casual fling turns dangerously obsessive.
Eastwood plays Dave Garver, a popular jazz radio DJ who becomes entangled in a torrid, strange affair with his most loyal listener, a woman named Evelyn, who often calls into his show and always requests the song “Misty.”
Casual romance evolves into nightmarish stalking as Evelyn’s obsession cannibalizes Dave’s life.
One Hour Photo
A stalker thriller serving up a haunting mediation on loneliness, obsession, and the relatable yearning for human connection, 2002’s One Our Photo is also remembered for its emphatic portrayal of the otherwise scary photo technician (played terrifically by Robin Williams) obsessed with the family of his client.
The movie is equally renowned for Williams’ brilliant work in a thoroughly dramatic role (as opposed to the comedic acting he was previously famous for).
Audiences marveled and recoiled as Williams depicted Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a meticulous, dedicated photo tech harboring an obsessive fixation on the unsuspecting Yorkin family, whose photos he develops and lives he delusionally feels he’s a part of.
The Cable Guy
This Ben Stiller-directed stalker film classic interestingly and partially doubles as a comedy film. It costars the zany Jim Carrey, portraying a deranged, eccentric cable installer, and Matthew Broderick as said cable guy’s toned-down counterpart.
An intriguing departure from both the comedy-free stalker movie norm and the stalker-free comedy movie norm, The Cable Guy blends humor with dark, psychological thrills.
The narrative follows Steven, Broderick’s character, a down-and-out guy undergoing a rough stretch in his personal life. Upon moving into a new apartment, Steven enlists a cable serviceman, Chip (Carrey), to get his channels up and running.
Chip eagerly, desperately gifts Steven some free cable channels—then inserts himself into his favorite customer’s life, ratcheting up the stalking, manipulation, and sabotage till things go very much too far.
Single White Female
At the beginning of this stalker film classic, all seems well, as software designer Allison, played by icon Bridget Fonda, places an ad seeking a roommate for her roomy Manhattan apartment. Of all who answer the ad, Hedra, portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, seems the perfect candidate, given she’s neat, quiet, helpful, and considerate.
But things are sometimes different from what they seem. Hedra, it’s unsettlingly obvious, is fixated on Allison. She wears her roommate’s clothes after stealing them from her closet, from her closet. And the situation doesn’t improve from there.
Like One Hour Photo and, to an extent, The Cable Guy, this stalker thriller also delves into the thematic complexities of isolation, the need for social contact, and the (sometimes dark) complexities of personal identity.
A stalker thriller painting an unnerving portrait of what happens when fandom blooms into perilous, unrelenting obsession, 1996’s The Fan stars Robert De Niro as baseball devotee Gil Renard. He’s also a knife salesman—a worrisome career path, to be sure, for a rageaholic and would-be psychotic.
Gil’s life is not going well: his career implodes, and his divorce proceeds messily. His only solace and emotional port in the storm are the San Francisco Giants and their star player, Bobby Rayburn, played by Wesley Snipes.
When Rayburn’s playing starts to suffer, and it appears a rival player, Juan Primo—wonderfully portrayed by Benicio Del Toro—overshadows Rayburn, Gil’s fixation swells, leading to dangerous, destructive places.