Parapsychology and clairvoyance, the ability to gain information about an object, person, location, or event through extrasensory perception, makes for a strong companion in horror. Especially when navigating the already confusing waters of puberty or adolescence. Life is hard enough, but the discovery of burgeoning latent powers lends a very complicated, and often horrifying new layer. Horror’s clairvoyants often have their worst fears realized with the discovery of their power, making for some of the most gripping stories. Which is why some of the best horror films to feature clairvoyants and psychics have earned accolades and sometimes even Oscar buzz; from Sissy Spacek’s best actress nomination for Carrie to Norway’s official foreign-language Oscar submission of Thelma, clairvoyants are some of horror’s most interesting, captivating characters. In celebration of Thelma‘s (one of 2017’s best) digital release, here are the 10 best clairvoyants and psychics in horror:
Carrie White – Carrie
Based on Stephen King’s first novel, and the first novel of his to be adapted for the big screen, there’s perhaps no other character that manages to elicit fear and sympathy quite like Carrie White. Played by the great Sissy Spacek, Carrie’s home life is one of oppression and abuse, and her life away from home isn’t much better. Already afraid of her own puberty, of which her mother failed to prepare her for, the realizing her powerful telekinetic abilities only frightens her further. Until her power teaches her to finally stand up for herself. The truly horrific part, though, is that that poor Carrie White’s story might have taken a very different path if she hadn’t been pushed too far.
Gillian Bellaver – The Fury
Brian De Palma followed up Carrie two years later with a sort of companion piece in The Fury. While the entire premise centers on a government agent searching for his son Robin, a powerful psychic that’s been kidnapped and experimented on to be used as a weapon, the one worth noting is young psychic and clairvoyant Gillian (Amy Irving). Robin may be the central plot point, but he remains off screen for most of the film. It’s Gillian that we get to know, and it’s her journey that’s far more interesting. With the ability to harm to people that physically touch or provoke her, finding out that the school she thought was a safe haven was anything but makes for the film’s best moments. Gillian’s character arch, and coping with her growing powers, builds into one powerful final scene.
Danny Torrance – The Shining
Another film based on a well-regarded Stephen King novel, the child at the center of this story must contend with a crazed father as well as a strong ability the “shine,” a name given to clairvoyance by fellow clairvoyant Dick Hallorann. This meant the most terrifying moments in Kubrick’s classic horror film, particularly when it came to room 237. Being able to see the lingering ghosts of the woman who died there is scary enough, but Danny’s ability meant the ghost could physically cause harm to him as well. Throw in torrential blood waves, spooky twins, and one of the worst father’s in horror history, and Danny Torrance understandably needs therapy.
Daryll Revok – Scanners
David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror features a group of characters with an array of parapsychological powers; from clairvoyance to telekinesis, and everything in between. Nearly all of them on the run from a company that wants to harvest their powers and use them as weapons. It’s Michael Ironside’s Daryll Revok that steals the film, though, giving insight as to what happens when power corrupts. Initially seeming to hunt down any “scanners” that refuse to join him, and company ConSec, becomes something far more sinister, leading up to an epic showdown of combustible, explosive proportions.
Tangina Barrons – Poltergeist
The American dream turned nightmare becomes even more nightmarish for the Freeling family once youngest child Carol Anne gets sucked through a portal in her closet. Even the parapsychologists they enlist to help find her are stumped by the off the charts poltergeist activity. Enter Tangina, played by the charming Zelda Rubinstein. Her short stature and calm demeanor belies her incredible clairvoyant strength. Though it may be a smaller supporting role, Tangina all but steals the show as the one person capable of saving the Freelings.
Johnny Smith – The Dead Zone
If you’ve been paying attention so far, then it shouldn’t be any surprise to find the lead character in a David Cronenberg directed film based on a Stephen King novel. For Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), his latent clairvoyance is triggered once he wakes up from a coma after a horrific car crash. It’s not enough that he has to cope with the world having moved forward in the 5 years he was asleep, but now he has to contend with visions every time he comes in physical contact with someone. Johnny’s clairvoyance means he can save people from the future he sees, but as with all gifts, it comes with a price.
Tina – Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Tina’s story is often underappreciated, and shares more in common with Carrie White and Thelma than first appears. Her psychokinetic powers came to her as a child, causing her to unwittingly kill her father during a moment of heightened emotions when he drunkenly beat her mother. It’s a complex set up that leads to her unknowingly wake up Jason Voorhees from his watery grave when attempting to make peace with her father and her remorse. In a way, this is two films in one, a teen girl dealing with both her powers and her profound guilt, and Jason Voorhees continuing his teen slaughter. They just happen to meet up for one big showdown at the end.
Elise Rainier – Insidious series
A parapsychologist and powerful clairvoyant when we first meet her in Insidious, Elise Rainier acts like a modern day Tangina in her guidance of the Lambert family in getting their lost son Dalton back from The Further. Played by the always fantastic Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell found a way to bring her back, again and again, despite her character’s conclusion at the end of the first film. Not only the most empathetic and toughest character of all introduced in the series, Elise’s powerful clairvoyance and knowledge of The Further makes for no better audience proxy than her.
Lorraine Warren – The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2
Vera Farmiga’s take as potent clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, the perfect complement to Patrick Wilson’s demonologist Ed Warren, is easily one of the best things about the world James Wan has crafted in his Conjuring universe. Fully in control of her abilities when we meet her, Lorraine is both extremely empathic to other families in peril as she is in love with her own, always putting herself at peril to save the day, and a powerful fighter against the demonic forces in this universe. Vulnerable because of her love for her family, we’re deeply invested in her story. We’re also just as excited to see her take charge and save the day.
Thelma – Thelma
Sharing much in common with Carrie White, Thelma also comes from an oppressive, sheltered upbringing by a religious parent. It makes going out into the world, experiencing college on her own, a core shaking experience that awakens a latent power Thelma didn’t know she had. Though they may share common themes, including the devastation their powers unleash, Thelma and Carrie’s paths diverge in unexpected ways. Joachin Trier’s exquisite supernatural narrative, resting solely on the very capable shoulders of Eili Harboe as Thelma, makes it plain why this was Norway’s Oscar submission. Heartbreaking, mysterious, and often terrifying, Thelma is one of horror’s strongest clairvoyants.
Thelma is now on digital platforms everywhere from The Orchard.