Horror Subgenres Every Filmmaker Should Know (and Why)

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A horror subgenre in film is a category or classification within the broader horror genre that focuses on specific themes, elements, or storytelling techniques.

As I’ve already covered, horror is a great genre to explore as a first-time filmmaker.

For screenwriters, directors, and other filmmakers interested in creating horror films, it’s important to study not only horror in general but also some of the subgenres.

Why Filmmakers need to study Subgenres

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Horror filmmakers need to study horror subgenres for several reasons:

  1. Understanding Audience Expectations: Horror subgenres have their conventions, tropes, and expectations that are familiar to fans of that specific subgenre. By studying subgenres, you can understand what audiences are looking for and deliver on those expectations.
  2. Inspiration and Creativity: Studying horror subgenres can provide inspiration and new ideas for films, e.g. unique themes and settings to incorporate into your work.
  3. Effective Storytelling: Each horror subgenre has its own storytelling techniques and narrative structures that are specific to that subgenre. Learn how to effectively tell a story within that particular context to create a more cohesive and engaging narrative that resonates with the audience.
  4. Building a Personal Style: Studying and understanding horror subgenres can help you develop your style and voice within the genre, which sets you apart from other filmmakers.

List of Horror Subgenres with Explanations and Examples

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Here is a list of horror subgenres, you should know about. For each subgenre, I’ve briefly described its defining traits and mentioned a couple of movie examples to check out.

Remember, that some movies might fit within several genres, which can be a deliberate

When possible I’ve also linked to articles with more movies within the particular horror subgenre to explore.

SubgenreExplanationMovies
AlienFocuses on extraterrestrial beings as the source of horror.Alien (1979), The Thing (1982)
Animal attackInvolves animals or creatures attacking humans. Fx Bear Horror Movies.Jaws (1975), The Birds (1963)
AnthropomorphicFeatures non-human entities taking on human characteristics.The Cat Returns (2002), Gremlins (1984)
Astral ProjectionCharacters experience out-of-body experiences, encountering terrifying and supernatural events in alternate realms.Altered States (1980), Astral (2018)
B-movieLow-budget films with exaggerated elements for entertainment.Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Body horrorFocuses on grotesque transformations or mutilations of the body.The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982)
Body swapInvolves characters swapping bodies and dealing with the consequences.Freaky Friday (2003), Your Name (2016)
Comedy horrorBlend humor with horror elements, creating a mix of scares and laughs for audiences to enjoy.Shaun of the Dead” (2004), Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Cosmic horrorCenters around incomprehensible cosmic entities and existential dread.The Void (2016), Color Out of Space (2019)
Creepy dollFeatures eerie dolls that come to life or possess supernatural powers.Annabelle (2014), Child’s Play (1988)
Creepy kidFocuses on children who exhibit creepy or malevolent behavior.The Omen (1976), The Children (2008)
CrimeCombines horror elements with criminal activities or investigations.Se7en (1995), Zodiac (2007)
CultInvolves cults or cult-like groups as the central theme of horror.Midsommar (2019), The Sacrament (2013)
Cyber horrorFocuses on technology or the digital world as sources of horror.Unfriended (2014), Pulse (2001)
DisasterHorror stemming from large-scale disasters or catastrophes.The Mist (2007), 28 Days Later (2002)
DystopianSet in dystopian societies with bleak, oppressive conditions.Children of Men (2006), The Road (2009)
Eco-horrorDeals with environmental themes and nature turning against humans.The Happening (2008), Long Weekend (1978)
Erotic horrorCombines horror with eroticism and sexual themes.It Follows (2014), The Hunger (1983)
ExorcismInvolves the expulsion of demonic entities from possessed individuals.The Exorcist (1973), The Last Exorcism (2010)
Fairy taleTwisted adaptations of traditional fairy tales with horror elements.Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Company of Wolves (1984)
Folk horrorRooted in folklore and rural traditions, often involving pagan rituals.The Witch (2015), Midsommar (2019)
Found footagePresents horror as if recorded by characters within the story.The Blair Witch Project (1999), REC (2007)
GhostFocuses on spirits or supernatural entities from beyond the grave.The Ring (2002), Poltergeist (1982)
GothicEvokes a sense of mystery and dread in ancient, dark settings.Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), The Others (2001)
Haunted houseRevolves around haunted or cursed houses, often with malevolent spirits or ghosts.The Amityville Horror (1979), The Conjuring (2013)
Haunted shipSet on haunted or cursed ships, typically involving ghostly encounters at sea.Ghost Ship (2002), Death Ship (1980)
Holiday horrorHorror movies with a holiday theme, often featuring dark and twisted events surrounding celebrations.Black Christmas (1974), Krampus (2015)
Home invasionStories where individuals or a group of people forcibly enter a residence to terrorize the inhabitants.The Strangers (2008), Funny Games (1997)
Killer dollHorror tales involving dolls that come to life and commit violent or supernatural acts.Child’s Play (1988), Annabelle (2014)
K-HorrorHorror movies from South Korea, known for their unique storytelling and chilling atmosphere.The Wailing (2016), Train to Busan (2016)
Love storyHorror stories that incorporate elements of romance, often with a dark or tragic twist.Crimson Peak (2015), Spring (2014). See also famous horror movie couples.
LovecraftianBased on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, characterized by cosmic horror and ancient, incomprehensible beings.The Call of Cthulhu (2005), The Void (2016)
Man vs NatureStories where humans face off against natural elements or creatures in a fight for survival.The Grey (2011), Jaws (1975)
Meta horrorSelf-aware films that comment on or subvert traditional horror tropes, often blurring the line between reality and fiction.Scream (1996), The Cabin in the Woods (2012), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Mind-bendingHorror movies that mess with the viewer’s perception of reality and challenge conventional storytelling.Triangle (2009), Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
MockbusterLow-budget films made to cash in on the success of big-budget blockbusters, often with similar titles and plots.Transmorphers (2007), Almighty Thor (2011)
MockumentaryFictional horror stories presented in a documentary-style format, blurring the line between reality and fiction.The Blair Witch Project (1999), Trollhunter (2010)
MonsterHorror films featuring monstrous creatures or beings terrorizing the protagonists. Fx Mermaid Horror.Godzilla (1954), The Thing (1982)
MumblegoreA subgenre that combines mumblecore aesthetics with elements of horror, often focusing on relationships and dialogue.Baghead (2008), Creep (2014)
MusicalHorror films feature monstrous creatures or beings terrorizing the protagonists.The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
MysteryHorror stories centered around solving a mysterious or supernatural event or crime.The Others (2001), Identity (2003)
NaziHorror films involving Nazis or Nazi experiments, often mixing historical elements with horror fiction.Dead Snow (2009), Overlord (2018)
NoirHorror movies that blend elements of film noir with the supernatural or macabre.Angel Heart (1987), Se7en (1995)
OccultHorror stories dealing with supernatural forces, rituals, or practices beyond the realm of normal human experience.The Witch (2015), Hereditary (2018)
Occult detectiveStories featuring investigators or protagonists who specialize in solving occult or supernatural mysteries.Constantine (2005), The Ninth Gate (1999)
ParanormalMovies that involve unexplained phenomena, psychic abilities, ghosts, or haunted locations.Paranormal Activity (2007), Insidious (2010)
PossessionHorror tales where individuals are possessed by malevolent entities or spirits, leading to terrifying consequences.The Exorcist (1973), The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018)
Post-apocalypticHorror stories set in a world after a catastrophic event, focusing on survival and the breakdown of society.The Road (2009), A Quiet Place (2018)
Pregnancy horrorFocuses on the fears and anxieties surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.Inside (2007), Prevenge (2016)
PsychologicalEmphasizes the psychological torment and fear experienced by characters.Black Swan (2010), Shutter Island (2010)
PuzzleInvolves complex mysteries or puzzles that drive the plot.Cube (1997), Exam (2009)
ReimaginingModern reinterpretation or reimagination of classic horror stories or characters.The Ring (2002), Evil Dead (2013)
RevengeFocuses on seeking revenge for past wrongs or injustices.I Spit on Your Grave (2010), Oldboy (2003)
RitualCenters around dark rituals or ceremonies with supernatural elements.The Wicker Man (1973), Hereditary (2018)
Road tripHorror that takes place during a journey or road trip.The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Sci-Fi horrorCombine elements of science fiction and horror to create eerie, otherworldly stories that often involve futuristic technology, aliens, or dystopian societies.The Thing (1982), Prometheus (2013)
Serial killerFocuses on a killer who commits multiple murders with a specific pattern.Psycho (1960), The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
SilentHorror movies without any dialogue or sound.The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), A Quiet Place (2018)
Slapstick horrorBlends horror elements with slapstick comedy for a humorous effect.Shaun of the Dead (2004), Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
SlasherFeatures a killer who stalks and murders victims in a violent manner.Halloween (1978), Scream (1996)
SplatterFocuses on graphic and exaggerated depictions of gore and violence.Dead Alive (1992), Saw (2004)
StalkerInvolves a character being stalked or pursued by a relentless antagonist.Cape Fear (1991), The Strangers (2008)
SteampunkBlends horror with technology and aesthetics inspired by steam-powered machinery.Frankenstein’s Army (2013), The City of Lost Children (1995)
SupernaturalInvolves supernatural entities or phenomena as the primary source of horror.The Conjuring (2013), Paranormal Activity (2007)
SurvivalFocuses on characters struggling to survive against extreme odds or situations.The Descent (2005), 127 Hours (2010)
Time loopCharacters are trapped in a time loop, repeating the same events over and over.Happy Death Day (2017), Groundhog Day (1993)
Time travelInvolves time travel as a central element of the horror narrative.Triangle (2009), Timecrimes (2007)
TortureFocuses on extreme physical or psychological torture inflicted on characters.Hostel (2005), The Human Centipede (2009)
Urban legendBased on popular urban legends or folklore, often with a modern twist.Candyman (1992), The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
VoodooInvolves dark magic, curses, and rituals associated with voodoo practices.The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Angel Heart (1987)
Virus/outbreakFocuses on the spread of a deadly virus or infectious outbreak.28 Days Later (2002), Contagion (2011)
WarThis subgenre focuses on horror elements set within war scenarios, often combining the horrors of warfare with supernatural or monstrous elements.Overlord (2018), Deathwatch (2002)
WitchcraftWitchcraft horror involves witches, spells, and occult practices as central themes, often delving into the dark side of magic and its consequences.The Witch (2015), Suspiria (1977)
Zombie horrorfeature reanimated corpses seeking human flesh, often set in post-apocalyptic worlds with intense survival themes.Dawn of the Dead (1978), Train to Busan (2016), 28 Days Later (2002)

Conclusion

Studying different horror subgenres allows you to expand your creative horizons, experiment with various storytelling techniques, and understand the diverse ways in which fear can be evoked in audiences.

Fx, by exploring subgenres such as psychological horror and body horror, you can learn the importance of building tension through character development and exploring themes related to the human condition.

For example, studying psychological horror films like “Psycho” can provide insights into the power of suspense and the impact of unreliable narrators on audience perception.

Similarly, delving into body horror films like “The Fly” can offer lessons on the use of grotesque imagery to explore themes of transformation and decay.

Overall, a deep understanding of different horror subgenres can equip you with the tools to create more engaging and innovative horror films that resonate with audiences on a deeper level.

Up Next: The Difference Between Horror and Thriller movies

Author

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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