Horror Genres and Sub-Genres
Trying to see clear in the maze of horror genres and sub-genres is not an easy task! HoS tried to untangle it all for you. Of course, a comprehensive classification of the horror subgenres is impossible since it would be different for each of us….but here is how we see things!
There are 4 main horror genres: Killers; Monsters; Paranormal and Psychological horror
To this, we add 2 sub-genres that are so popular that they can be considered as proper genres: Zombies, and Gore/Splatter
All this makes 6 main horror genres and lots of subgenres….have fun reading!
Probably the most famous of the horror style. This genre describes films that features a killer, natural or supernatural, usually a psychopath, which for some reasons decimates people. The genre mixes thriller, crime and psychological horror.
Basic Slasher have existed for a long time but really became popular in the
early 80’s with the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. This sub-genre usually features a lot of pursuits and a lot of gruesome murders. Teenagers are often their favorite prey.
Crime & Giallo
This sub-genre is the closest to thriller as horror gets. Crime usually follow police investigation, wherea Giallo describes the waves of horror-crime movies that became really popular in Italia in the 80’s with films from Mario Bava or later Dario Argento. It differentiate itself from classic thriller mostly by featuring really gruesome murders.
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- Deep Red (1975)
Backwoods & RedNeck
Created with early movies such as 2000 Maniacs (1964) or Deliverance (1972), this unofficial sub-genre plays on the myth that backwoods and remote countryside are populated with inbred freaks and maniacs. The sub-genre, which became famous with the success of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. often features families or clans of crazies, and often treat of cannibalism.
Home invasion & Survival
Initiated by the oppressive atmosphere of earlier films such as Scream or Funny Games, the home invasion became a genre in itself only quite recently. The sub-genre is now getting increasingly popular. The assailants are often masked, or not shown at all, which reinforce the almost claustrophobic fear induced by these films.
Existing from the early 1910’s with the first versions of Frankenstein or King Kong, the monster genre is “the” classic of horror. It is also the more diverse and widespread horror genre, so let’s look directly at its large sub-genres compilation.
Classic Monsters/Mythological Monsters:
This sub-genre regroups the monster films that have either been inspired by early roman (e.g. Frankenstein in 1818 or The Invisible Man in 1897), or by well-known myths and legend such as BigFoot or the Bogeyman. We can also throw in it the monsters from the fantastic world (Trolls, Dragons, etc) and those who became really famous in the 30’s such as The Mummy or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, since they now became a part of the modern mythological bestiary.
Let’s call it the monster genre by default. Filmmakers are constantly bringing new monsters to the screen and, unless they belong to another of the sub-genres below, this is where they fall. Featuring very diverse creatures and film style, the only thing that bound them is their usual aggresivity or taste for human flesh
This subgenre of horror could be listed with the mythological sub-genre since the creatures it features are often derived from the fantastic world (Ghouls,
Trolls, etc.). However small creatures films are way too similar not to group them in their own sub-genre. Since small creatures tend to be cute, these films often contain a part of comedy. For some unknown reasons, they are often quite bad and followed by a myriad of crappy sequel (Gremlins excluded).
- Gremlins (1984)
- Ghoulies (1985)
- Critters (1986)
- Trolls (1986)
The monster genre has always been trying to justify the presence of its horrible monsters: nuclear reasons, scientific experiments, evolved species, etc. This sub-genre regroups these films whose solid science-fiction plots make them often closer to sci-fi than to the rest of the mediocre scenario monster films.
Initiated by the huge success of King Kong, this subgenre became particularly famous in Asia and more precisely Japan with the rise of Godzilla (1954) and its 27 sequels, or Gamera (1956). Typical of this sub-genre, giant monsters films are almost always featuring a scene in which the monster devastates a city.
- King Kong (1933)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Attack of the 50 feet woman (1958)
- Cloverfield (2008)
Nature & Animals:
This sub-genre embrace all the films whose horror can be related to something found in nature: famous predators such as sharks, crocodile or inoffensive creature such as insects, birds, dogs, etc. Almost every animal has its horror movies! Even if 95% of this sub-genre’s film features animals, a few of them have plants in it (The Day of the Triffids (1962); The Ruins (2008)) or even vegetables (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)).
- The Birds (1963)
- Jaws (1975)
- Piranha (1978)
- Cujo (1983)
Werewolves are human who, after being infected by a lycanthropic virus or curse, can transform into big wolf-like beasts. The transformation can be self-decided or, as in most movies, occurring unwillingly during the full-moon. Werewolf films are often quite dramatic, since the werewolf curse is often seen as a tragedy. One of the highlight of these film is the great human-werewolf transformation scenes that they often features.
Vampires are mythical creatures that seem to have always existed in various folklores. However, the vampire concept as we know it really took off with “Dracula”, the 1897’s novel from Bram Stoker. Vampires in horror films are invariably undead creatures thirsty for blood and vulnerable to sunlight. Additional rules then differs slightly depending on the movie: contagious when biting, allergic to garlic, sensitive to crosses or holy water, killed by a stake in the heart, cannot enter without being invited, etc.
Zombie & Virus
Zombie’s films could be part of the monster genre, but the sub-genre has been so exploited that it now deserves its own main separate genre. Technically zombies are undead human that wakes up from their grave for whatever reason: nuclear, apocalypse, witchcraft, etc. But recently, new movies that features zombie-like virus and infection have started to come out. Whether these films are zombie’s film is quite a topic of discussion, so while people decide, I have decided to put them in a separate sub-genre.
Classic zombies are typically seen rising out of their tombs, or as the results of someone being bitten by another zombie. In any case, they are dead, or more precisely undead. They are usually slow (although they tend to run in modern movies, resulting in increased tension), stupid and numerous. This sub-genre appeared quite early, with White Zombie (1932) being considered as the first zombie film. They then become hugely famous thanks to the work of Georges A. Romero and its “Trilogy of the Dead”.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Zombie (1979)
A little later, filmmakers found more scientific ways to create zombies. Multiples movies started to based their story on viruses that would turn people into zombie-like creatures. Whereas the rules of contamination are usually similar to those of classic zombies, variants can be found such as infection triggered by some words like in Pontypool (2008), by adrenaline like in Rammbock (2010) or by TV waves like in The Signal (2007).
The paranormal and the fear of the unknown is naturally a classic topic of horror. Gathering everything from ghost to demons and even witches, it is usually the part of horror cinema that gets the scariest.
Ghosts, specters, or spirits need no introduction for they exist since forever. In horror cinema, they usually are the soul of dead people which, for whatever reason (unfinished business and revenge are the most common reasons) does not go to the hereafter but stay on earth, haunting people.
- Poltergeist (1982)
- The Frighteners (1996)
- Ju-On (2002)
- Mama (2013)
This one talks for itself. The difference with the ghost sub-genre comes from the fact that the spirits here belongs to the house itself, and are not following someone in particular. Sometimes, like in 1408, it is the room itself that is alive.
The possession/exorcism is a sub-genre in which people’s body is infiltrated by an evil spirit, or a demon, that will take control over that person. The genre owns its success to The Exorcist (1973), one of the most famous horror films of all. The sub-genre found a renewed interest in the past ten years with the release of multiples exorcism blockbusters.
Devil & Demon & Hell
Whether it is the devil itself, or its demon servants, religion have always been a major source of inspiration for horror film. This sub-genre often appear as cross-over between possession film and zombie film, but also include film relating to hell.
Witches & Occult
Been feared since the early middle-ages, witches and the science of the occult naturally appear as common horror themes. Witches are mostly women, but men can be found (Warlock (1989)). In any case, witches are cruel, merciless person who use their paranormal power to do evil things.
At the limit with science-fiction, this sub-genre often features a hero (quite often a teen or a kid for some reasons) with paranormal powers but who, unlike super-hero, is often unable to control them properly, resulting in pretty bad things.
Psychological Horror & Thriller
Psychological Horror & Thriller is the part of horror that feels the most real since it features the work of humans, either that have become crazy or that are stranded in exceptional situations. Often linked with the thriller genre, these films build most of their horror around psychological tension.
Madness & Paranoia
Human mind is something we will never truly understand and this genre is here to remind us. Often close to the Slasher genre, these films are nevertheless different in that they do not emphasize on the killing but on the madness, induced by supernatural forces or not, of the character(s).
Phobia & Isolation
A sub-genre that typically put people in a situation related to our worst fear and phobia. The most commonly used is probably claustrophobia, but modern horror tends to strand people everywhere.
Splatter & Exploitation & Gore
This genre is linked to pretty much all the genre mentioned above and vice-versa, most horror genre features some amount of gore in it. This special genre however, is for films that especially emphasize on showing the horrible, the bloody and the gross.
Splatter is the default term to define gory films. Emphasizing on gruesome scenes, splatter films slightly differs from torture films by the fact that they use graphics and gory scenes within a story that is not centered on the torture itself.
- Blood Feast (1963)
- The Last House on the Left (1972)
- I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
- Battle Royale (2000)
Strongly related to the previous sub-genre, the torture films actually focus their story on the torture itself. Whether it has a goal (like in Saw or Martyrs), or for pure pleasure (Hostel, Guinea Pig), these films often relate the story of mad people and the poor innocents that meet them.
This sub-genre classifies these movies that go further torture and splatter, and that really make a point of showing the most disgusting and sick things that can exist. This sub-genre often treat of themes such as rape, necrophilia, coprophilia, etc..
Cannibalism is one of the favorite themes of the exploitation/extreme cinema. Most of these movies come from the Italian horror cinema and were produced during the late 70’s-early 80’s. They always include extreme violence and cruelty, including the killing of real animal.
- Man From Deep River (1972)
- Last Cannibal World (1977)
- Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
- Cannibal Ferox (1981)
This list regroups other types of horror that are not really genre, but more horror styles. For examples, comedy is indeed a genre, but you’ll find that each horror-comedy can be fitted into one of the genre above: zombie (Shaun of the Dead), ghosts (The Frighteners), monsters (Troll Hunter), etc.
There are elements of comedy in a large number of the films genre presented above, but only a few movies really emphasizes on the comedy itself. This is however a rising sub-genres and expect to see more horror-comedies in the coming years.
- The Little Shop of Horror (1960)
- Braindead (1992)
- Shaun of the Dead (2004)
- Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Post-Apocalyptic & Sci-fi Horror
Horror and Science-Fiction are two close friends who like to interact with each other’s. Again, a lot of horror movies have sci-fi elements in them, but most can be classified in one of the sub-genres above. If you are into sci.fi-horror, David Cronenberg is the name you want to look for.
Even the horror genre cannot escape the success that romance encounters in any type of cinema. Often linked to vampires (not the sparkling one please!), they are nevertheless a few exceptions such as Warm Bodies (2013).
Their innocence making them truly scary, kids have always been a favorite in horror. Creepy Kids is not a genre in itself, but a recurrent theme of horror that cannot be left aside.
- The Bad Seed (1956)
- The Omen (1976)
- Children of the Corn (1984)
- The Chidren (2008)
Gothic Horror defines a very atmospheric type of horror, a blend between dark horror, melancholy and romance. Associated with the gothic culture, its main inspirations are Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Body Horror defines films that are centered on the human body, usually involving body transformation, deformation and/or destruction. It also covers body transformations such as the human-werewolf ones.
Other sub-genres that didn’t make it to the list
When I started to do research for that list, I realized that it could be endless if I wanted to. It is impossible to list everything, but here are some examples of sub-genres that are recognized by some, but that didn’t make it in my list:
Again, not really a sub-genre in itself since it describes a kind of film that can be found in almost any sub-genre (slasher mostly, but also vampires, monsters, ghost, etc.). Usually very cheesy, this kind of movie always features dumb teens, a childish romance and an almost compulsory happy ending. Appeared mostly in the late 80’s- 90’s.
Lovecraftian horror and King’s horror
There exist two novel writers that are so popular within the horror genre that they created a proper sub-genre for themselves. The first one, H.P. Lovecraft, is the one who created the mystical world of Cthulhu and other dark tales of abomination. The second is the notorious Stephen King, whose novels have inspired something like 30 horror films.
H.P Lovecraft: Re-animator (1985)
Stephen King: The Shining (1980)
and more that really aren’t subgenres…
- Action Horror (what is that really…almost every horror has some action right?)
- Asian Horror (I do not think they should be a genre for each country/continent)
- Clown Horror
- Creepy dolls and toys
- Dark Fantasy
- Erotic Horror
- ESP horror (extrasensory perception) such as Carrie, Scanners, etc
- Found Footage (really not a genre, but a way of shooting…)
- Mummies and Golem (included in monster)
- Weird Horror