The Ultimate Guide To Horror Sub-genres With 100+ Movies

In this guide, I will be explaining the origins of horror in brief, as well as talking about the many sub-genres and filming styles that dominate horror films. You will see that a lot of horror films fall under many sub-genres, and employ different types of shooting techniques to evoke different types of fear. 

There is a perception of horror that is not seen as high-brow amongst the other film genres, probably due to its more shocking sub-genres such as Gore or Slasher films. But as someone who has a love for horror, I would take pains to argue that one only has to pay closer attention to see the depth that horror has to offer. In fact, a lot of horror films have made important societal statements throughout their history.

A Brief History of Horror

In its basic form, horror is meant to provoke fear in a viewer to provide entertainment. It is probably the extreme sport of the film world. Horror filming and editing techniques get their inspiration from early trick films in the 19th century. Though horror in its more familiar film format is a fairly recent addition in the grand scheme of things, it actually has a much earlier history. 

From the time that humans could share stories, there have been myths, folk tales, poems, ballads, and so on, that have talked of otherworldly beings or paranormal elements such as ghosts, witches, or vampires. These were, however, weren’t meant for entertainment in the same way it is today. 

It wasn’t until the emergence of the gothic novel in the 18th century that horror as entertainment gained traction. In 1764, The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole is widely regarded to be the first true gothic horror story. These types of scary stories began to be brought to life on screen in the 1920s, by German Expressionists. 

What was the first horror movie?

Cabinet of Dr Caligari

The first-ever horror film was a 3-minute short film called Le Manoir du Diable (1896), known in English as both The Haunted Castle or The Devil’s Castle. This early film was not meant to scare or shock the viewers like horror films these days, but its goal was to amuse the audience. Nevertheless, due to its themes and characters, it is quite a fair assessment to classify it as the first horror film.

However, it wasn’t until The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene that horror films really drew the attention of a global audience. At its release, it became a worldwide success that ended up having a profound effect on film, but more importantly horror. 

Though its story was not exactly unique, what set this film apart was its use of scenery to immerse the viewer in its nightmare. This was successfully done through its crooked backdrops, harsh lines, painted shadows that created a surreal and terrifying atmosphere.

The techniques employed in this film were widely praised and helped influence directors across the world. You can see its influence across many other classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein, as well as in the more modern works of Tim Burton and David Lynch.

If you want a more in-depth horror history guide, Horror Film History written by Karina Wilson has an extensive list from the 1890s onwards.

But when did horror become popular?

The Exorcist

As I stated previously horror has a long history, however, horror did not make it into the mainstream Hollywood arena until the 1970s, especially with the success of The Exorcist. Though The Exorcist was a smash hit, it wasn’t until films like Halloween, The Amityville Horror, and Alien later on in the 70s that horror really made a mark in the public domain. A lot of modern horror movies can trace their roots back to the 1970s, where a lot of the canon, structure, and special effects were refined.

Horror movies have changed throughout the decades with lulls and peaks in popularity and quality throughout, but the core themes of sub-genres have largely remained the same. Read on for my extensive guide on horror sub-genres and their categories and themes.

Psychological

Psychological horror is probably the most unsettling excluding Gore, as it features humans that have either gone crazy or end up isolated in extreme circumstances. It is the possibility that it could happen to anyone which makes it so horrifying. They often feature thriller elements as well.

Home Invasion/Survival

Hush movie

Home Invasion is pretty self-explanatory. It usually involves a woman home alone or a group of people that are threatened by one or more assailants. The main focus of the home invasion is whether the victim(s) will survive these assailants. 

And unlike slashers, the focus is more on the stalking of the victims rather than their bloody deaths. Just like slashers, a lot of the villains wear masks or do not reveal themselves until much later in the story, which enhances the claustrophobic fear they are trying to create in the viewer.

  • You’re Next (2011)
  • Funny Games (1997)
  • The Strangers (2008)
  • High Tension (2003)
  • Them (2006)
  • Hush (2016)
  • The Purge (2013)
  • Us (2019)
  • Don’t Breathe (2016)

Madness/Paranoia

Event Horizon

This sub-genre focuses less so on the deaths of the characters, but on the mad minds that instigate the terror encompassed. Whether they have lost their minds due to circumstances, mental illness, or just psychopathic tendencies. Not to be mistaken with the slasher genre, in which they overlap, it is less focus on the killings, but the forces that drive the character to kill.

  • Misery (1990)
  • Event Horizon (1997)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Take Shelter (2011)
  • Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Phobia/Isolation

Last Shift movie

As the name describes this focuses on isolation and usually is a survival horror. Sometimes there is a distinct phobia presented such as claustrophobia, or it can involve normal animals or supernatural forces. If the characters do make it out alive, there is usually a heavy price that they have to pay to survive. You will find a lot of self-disfigurement or risk-taking. 

  • Frozen (2010)
  • The Descent (2005)
  • Last Shift (2014)
  • Gerald’s Game (2017)
  • The Ritual (2017)
  • Cold Prey (2006)
  • The Silent House (2010)
  • The Lodge (2019)

Slasher

Behind The Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon

This is possibly the most famous of all the horror genres, with many iconic villains, such as Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, that have created an empire of sequels. Slashers usually feature a psychopathic human killer (sometimes with supernatural powers) that hunts down a group of people, usually teenagers. The deaths are usually bloody and unique. This sub-genre features the trope of Final Girl pretty heavily as well.

  • The Classics
    • Halloween (1978)
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    • Scream (1996)
    • Child’s Play (1998)
    • Candyman (1992)
    • Psycho (1960)
    • Intruder (1989)
  • Modern gems
    • Happy Death Day (2019)
    • The Final Girls (2015)
    • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
    • Stay Alive (2006)
    • Eden Lake (2008)

Supernatural

Supernatural horror is similar to psychological horror in that they usually have the same oppressive atmosphere, but unlike psychological horror, the laws of what we know is possible (at least so far) are broken. The main paranormal occurrences are usually ghosts or demons, and they often feature religious elements heavily.

Haunted House

Thirteen Ghosts

This is similar to the ghosts category, but with a haunted house, the ghosts are only in one location, as you can have ghosts that stalk a person or are attached to objects. Not only are their ghosts in the haunted house sub-genre, but they often feature the house as a living thing that torments its victims. Houses are the most common locations in this type of horror, but there are many horrors where the haunting occurs on a submarine or spaceship, etc.

  • Haunt (2019)
  • Below (2002)
  • The Amityville Horror (2005)
  • Thirteen Ghosts (2001)
  • 1408 (2007)
  • The Orphanage (2007)
  • The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Ghosts

Lights Out movie

This is probably one of the oldest and more common themes of horror movies. Our fascination with what happens after we die has created thousands of these films. Though there are benevolent ghosts in films, horror focuses on the nastier side of ghosts – often featuring poltergeists. 

These ghosts are usually upset with the victims or just their available targets. The main reasons for the ghosts terrorizing the characters in movies are usually revenge or having unfinished business. Sometimes it is because they happen to disturb something sacred to the ghosts. Like all sub-genres, this can have an overlap with haunted houses and possession.

Possession

Oculus

Possession involves an evil spirit or any other malevolent supernatural being taking over the body of a human. Sometimes it may be a being that is a devil or demon, but that is not always the case. The characters in these films, often hurt, maim or kill close family members or friends as well as mutilate their own bodies. A religious leader (usually from the Christian faith) will try to expel the spirit via exorcism with varying degrees of success.

  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • Oculus (2013)
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
  • Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
  • Hereditary (2018)

Devil/demons

End of Days

Just like ghosts, demons and devils are an old tradition in horror. A lot of the devil-related films, naturally have a religious slant, due to the mythos of the devil but there are exceptions. A common theme is the corruption of the innocences or of the soul by temptation or other means. Often this is crossed over with possession and sometimes zombies, and on occasion will feature hell as its backdrop or final destination.

Witches/occults

The Void

Harking back to the persecution of witches during the Middle Ages, witches have featured in our history for a long time. Just like the historical persecution of “witches”, many of the accused were women. 

This gender dynamic has filtered through to horror films featuring witches, though there are some male witches or warlocks. But often the male protagonist is usually in the demon or devil sub-genre. Some movies depict a hierarchy with other lesser magical beings worshipping the higher power and sometimes have formed cults in this supernatural world.

  • The Void (2016)
  • The Craft (1996)
  • Lord of Illusions (1995)
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Pyewacket (2017)
  • Silent Hill (2006)

Supernatural powers

Brightburn

Touching on the sci-fi side of things, supernatural powers often features a teenager or child that has inexplicable powers that they often cannot control. Often this leads to a lot of terrible things happening to the people around them, sometimes leading to mob attacks or ostracization by the community. Some of the supernatural protagonists will be sympathetic at least at the start, often being corrupted or pushed to desperation, taking their rage out on those who shunned them.

  • Brightburn (2019)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • Firestarter (1984)
  • Seconds Apart (2011)

Found-footage

Afflicted

Found-footage is not technically a subgenre of horror, it is more a filming technique. However, it is more frequently used in horror than any other genre – barring perhaps science fiction, and has become so widely used that it has effectively become a sub-genre. The usual style is of one of the characters filming the other characters, usually employing a shaky camera when things get heated. Often the character who is filming will be providing a commentary or narration of what is happening on screen.

However, not all found-footage is the same, they usually employ one or more of the following cinematic perspectives: first-person perspective, mockumentary, news footage, or surveillance footage. Even if a horror film is not completely a found-footage film, you will often find that the other sub-genres use these different perspectives.

  • As Above, So Below (2014)
  • REC (2007)
  • Cloverfield (2008)
  • V/H/S (2012)
  • Afflicted (2013)
  • Quarantine (2008)
  • Grave Encounters (2011)

Body Horror

Splinter

Body Horror in its more basic form shows grotesque or disturbing violations of the human body. Body horror can take many forms, but the most popular forms showcase mutations through disease or infections, uncontrolled transformations as well as depicting unnatural movements of the body. An example of the latter, Black Box and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark both depict monsters that use these movements. Like other sub-genres, it originated from early gothic literature.

  • The Classics
    • The Fly (1986)
    • Videodrome (1983)
    • Cronos (1993)
    • The Faculty (1998)
    • Reanimator (1985)
    • Scanners (1981)
  • Modern gems
    • Splinter (2008)
    • District 9 (2009)
    • Spring (2014)
    • Tumbbad (2018)
    • Antiviral (2012)

Backwoods Brutality

Wolf Creek

This sub-genre often features a bit of gore and torture, usually based in the outback or remote parts of the country. Rednecks, isolated tribes, or even inbred, deranged humans are amongst the likely villains in these films. Of course, they often have maniac tendencies and their victims are either lured or stumble into their dangerous playground. Rape and sometimes cannibalism also feature in their stories in graphic or disturbing detail.

  • Wolf Creek (2005)
  • Wrong Turn (2003)
  • The Hill Have Eyes (2006)
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Gore

Gore films, also known as splatter films, focus on depictions dealing with the vulnerability of the human body and the theatrics of its mutilation, usually featuring CGI heavily. Though it is often criticized as being gratuitous and referred to as torture porn, many gore films have social commentary attached to them. This sub-genre which has achieved some success, most notably with the Saw franchise, is falling out of favour more recently with audiences and critics.

  • Battle Royale (2000)
  • Final Destination (2000)
  • Maniac (1980)
  • Ichi The Killer (2001)

Torture

Saw

Torture, as the name implies, depicts torture of varying degrees. But unlike gore, the focus is on torture as the main modus operandi of the villains, often in the form of complicated and inventive methods for inflicting pain. The tormentor in these films, often derives pleasure from torturing its victims, or as in Saw, is retribution for some wrong that have done.

  • Saw (2003)
  • Hostel (2005)
  • The Collector (2009)

Extreme/Cannibalism

The Human Centipede

This is the most extreme example of gore, featuring torture, mutilation and cannibalism in abundance, with graphic detail that is hard to stomach. Often featuring elements such as rape, necrophilia, coprophilia, hyperrealistic murder that people do not want to talk about or witness. Due to their taboo nature, a lot of these films will have been banned in various countries by their respective film boards.

  • Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
  • The Human Centipede (2009)
  • A Serbian Film (2010)

Monster (creature feature)

A creature feature film, like the name suggests, is a film that features some type of monster as the villain. Usually, a good number of characters are struggling to survive the attacks by these monsters. Though this is not a sub-genre that is only in horror, it is often used. Sometimes the monster may be a sympathetic character rather than a straight-up malevolent entity, such as a person who undergoes a transformation against their will: see werewolves. 

There are several subsets under the creature feature banner which I have divided up below into categories.

Animal attack

Animal attacks can be broken up into three categories: giant, small and normal. 

Giant

The Host movie

Giant features animals and/or monsters of unusually large size, often bigger than buildings. The success of the original King Kong has made this sub-genre hugely popular in Asia and established a long tradition of really big monster movies. Most notable not only for the terror on the populace, but the devastation that havoc on the cities they inhabit.

Small

Critters

Not a particular favourite of horror film-makers, often tinged with comedy as well as horror, playing on the idea of the creatures being more cute than frightening. Just like slashers, this sub-genre tends to spawn sequels following more or less the same structure as the original films. This type of monster was most popular during the 1980s, but has since fallen to the wayside.

  • Feast (2005)
  • Gremlins (1984)
  • Critters (1986)
  • The Gate (1987)
  • Leprechaun (1993)

Normal

Deep Blue Sea movie

Just like psychological horror, this sub-genre is based mostly in reality, with some creative storytelling, as most normal animals would not attack humans. Sometimes this involves the splicing of the genes of two animals that has “unforeseen” consequences, or an external force that has aggravated the animals. Though natural animal attacks had a lot of classics in the past, the genre has fallen by the wayside a bit, often spawning B movie sequels that are of lower quality.

  • Jaws (1975)
  • Deep Blue Sea (1999)
  • Lake Placid (1999)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • The Reef (2010)
  • Arachnophobia (1990)

Werewolf

An American Werewolf in London

Werewolves are an underutilized subject, and it was a struggle to find many quality horror examples. Unlike vampires, werewolves are not given the same reverence, often being comedies or poorly received by audiences. Werewolves, though under the animal heading, however, have a lot of connection with the body horror sub-genre. 

Werewolves usually involve a human who has been infected or bitten by those with the lycanthropic virus/curse. The transformation is usually painful and unwanted. However, for the viewer, the werewolf transformations are some of the most interesting body horror to watch.

  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Dog Soldiers (2002)
  • The Wolfman (2010)
  • Howl (2015)
  • Wer (2013)

Vampire

Blade

The most famous vampire of all would have to be Dracula, whose depiction in earlier movies helped spawn a whole swathe of vampire films. Vampire films have different rules (sensitive to crosses, killed by a stake in the heart, cannot enter without being invited, etc) depending on their time and style, but most stick to undead bloodthirsty creatures who are extremely vulnerable to sunlight.

  • 30 Days of Night (2007)
  • Near Dark (1987)
  • Blade (1998)
  • Vampires (1998)
  • Stake Land (2010)
  • Fright Night (1985)

Aliens

Life

Unlike the rest of the monster genre, aliens are closer to science fiction than the rest in this category. Whereas the monster genre may offer a loose or fluid explanation for the animal attacks, often with aliens, there is a lot of investigation into where they came from and why. This sub-genre also overlaps with elements of survival and isolation horror, as they are usually in a remote and isolated location such as space or an icy landscape with no means to get help.

  • The Thing (1982)
  • Life (2017)
  • Pandorum (2019)
  • Species (1995)
  • Dark Skies (2013)

Comedy Horror

Slither

Though there are comedy elements to a lot of the films in the previous categories, comedy horror as a sub-genre focuses on having comedy as their main theme. Some of this may be a black comedy or feature slapstick. Deaths are not usually as gruesome unless it is to provide laughs and sometimes the victims die rather slowly whilst monologuing.

  • Grabbers (2012)
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
  • Ready or Not (2019)
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • The Babysitter (2017)
  • Nekrotronic (2018)
  • Slither (2006)
  • Planet Terror (2007)

Sci-fi Horror

Alien

Sci-fi horror is perhaps my favourite genre out of this list, combining the terror of the unknown (whether that is space or aliens) with science, featuring futuristic threats or species that have been disturbed unwittingly by humans. Unfortunately, the level of quality and abundance of the films that stay strictly within these two crossover genres has been frustratingly and bafflingly lacking in modern times.

  • Screamers (1995)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Pitch Black (2000)
  • Annihilation (2018)
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
  • The Platform (2019)
  • Captive State (2019)

Zombie

Train to Busan

While we are all familiar with the slow shuffling zombies of the Romero era, as well as the faster more sinister zombies in Train to Busan, zombies have a deep and rich history. Zombies are used for entertainment purposes these days, however, zombies have featured in many cultures, most notably Haitian in voodoo. 

These beliefs were brought over by enslaved Africans and their experiences in the New World. It was believed that once someone died they would be able to live free. However, if they committed the sin of suicide, they would forever be a slave, forced to skulk the earth as a soulless zombie. It is perhaps a bit ironic that this belief rooted in African folklore is now entertaining much of the white-dominated world.

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • The Evil Dead (1981)
  • The Night Eats The World (2018)
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004)
  • Train to Busan (2016)
  • Wyrmwood (2014)
  • 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • Resident Evil (2002)
  • Open Grave (2013)

Virus

Crazies

There is a lot of overlap between zombies and viruses, that it can be hard to untangle them. Though some zombies have been attributed to viruses, not all zombies are based on viruses, and not all viruses lead to zombies. In non-zombie-virus films, those infected will often maintain control somewhat, until the virus completely takes control. 

  • Pontypool (2008)
  • The Crazies (2010)
  • Mayhem (2017)
  • The Signal (2007)
  • Hidden (2015)
  • The Bay (2012)
  • The Last Days (2013)
  • Infini (2015)
  • Office Uprising (2018)

Themes

Along with sub-genres, there are noticeable themes that occur frequently in a lot of horror movies. It could be argued that some of these themes constitute sub-genres of their own, but I think they’re a little too specific for that.

Creepy Kid

Ju On

Spinning the innocence of children on its head, the creepy kid film makes the children the horror villains to be feared.

  • The Omen (1976)
  • Dark Water (2002)
  • Better Watch Out (2016)
  • Ju-on (2002)
  • Children of The Corn (1984)
  • Village of the Damned (1960)
  • Insidious (2010)

Gothic Horror

Interview with a Vampire

Gothic horror takes a lot of its tone and atmosphere from gothic literature, for example, Dracula and Frankenstein. It blends romance and melancholy along with horror elements.

  • Interview with the Vampire (1994)
  • Crimson Peak (2015)
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  • The Woman in Black (2012)

Lovecraftian/Cosmic Horror

The Mist

Lovecraftian horror named after its creator H.P Lovecraft, it is horror that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown. Usually coming face-to-face with something so terrible or alien that is beyond human comprehension. Also known as cosmic horror.

  • The Mist (2007)
  • In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
  • Underwater (2020)
  • The Endless (2017)
  • Color Out of Space (2019)

Horror Romance

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Often this sub-genre is most used in vampire-based stories and may or may not have a gothic theme. There are not that many notable horror romances, as it is a rare occurrence in horror.

  • Warm Bodies (2013)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • Odd Thomas (2013)
  • Thelma (2017)
  • Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (2019)
  • Let The Right One In (2008)

Post Apocalyptic

Doomsday movie

Post-apocalyptic features characters set in a wasteland, that has been destroyed by various causes, such as nuclear war or a medical pandemic for example. Though many films feature this theme, many horrors have the other sub-genres as their main focus. Unlike apocalyptic themes, which focus on the end of the world, post-apocalyptic focuses on the aftermath and struggle of those who have survived.

  • Doomsday (2008)
  • The Divide (2011)
  • Bird Box (2018)
  • A Quiet Place (2018)
  • Attack on Titan (2015)

As you can see horror has a lot of depth and various themes and sub-genres to it. In fact, this list could be endless, as there are many variations of horror not referenced here. But I hope I have covered a lot of the main parts of horror to give you a more extensive understanding and overview of this beloved genre, and given you some ideas of what you can delve into next.

Like this article? Share it!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Or support The ScreenSlut

Jump to...

Don't miss my next article!

Featuring everything from horror to sci-fi, reviews and best and worst lists.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x

Don't miss anything!

Horror and sci-fi posts in your inbox every fortnight.