Horror Subgenres Explained
Horror movies have been around since the beginning of moving pictures and have become one of the most popular genres in all of media. However, not all horror movies are made the same. The horror movie genre is made to play on the fears of its audiences, and of course, people are afraid of many different things.
Horror has its hands in all types of human fears. This includes monsters, diseases, serial killers, ghosts, and technology. Horror films prey on our feelings of paranoia, existential dread, trauma, grief, and the fear of the unknown. We’ve curated some of the most popular horror movie subgenres right here. We’re going to explore the different subgenres, how they’re represented, and how you can define them.
But first, let’s clear up what a subgenre actually is. A subgenre is a facet of a larger genre but with key elements that differentiate it from the rest. As we go on, we’ll clear up these differences. Today, we want to break down the many subgenres of horror media. If we missed any of your favorites, let us know on social media!
Horror is filled with terrifying people and creatures. Sometimes you need to pull out the big guns to save the day. Action horror blends the high intensity of action movies with the fears and chills of the horror genre. Often riddled with monsters and high-powered weapons, action horror is often your standard action flick with a horror backdrop. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the action horror subgenre is Robert Rodriguez. Check out these examples of the action horror subgenre below!
Get Started With These Action Horror Movies
- Predator (1987)
- Aliens (1986)
- Blade (1998)
- Resident Evil (2002)
- Mayhem (2017)
RELATED: The 30 Best Action Horror Films
This style of horror film preys on people’s fears of societal collapse. The world, and the comforts associated with it, is no longer operating the way it should. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the apocalypse horror subgenre is George Romero. This is often due to causes such as nuclear war, disease, or natural disasters.
Get Started With These Apocalypse Horror Movies
- Panic In Year Zero! (1962)
- Day Of The Dead (1985)
- The Last Man On Earth (1964)
- It Comes At Night (2017)
- A Quiet Place (2018)
Body horror aims to scare its audiences through the use of biological manipulation. Victims in these films have their bodies changed in grotesque ways through the use of mutilation, disease, sex, and violence. Body horror has its roots in gothic horror, with books such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, the body horror subgenre has carved out its own section in horror history. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the body horror subgenre is David Cronenberg.
Get Started With These Body Horror Films
- The Fly (1986)
- Videodrome (1983)
- Basket Case (1982)
- The Human Centipede (2009)
- The Thing (1982)
- Eraserhead (1977)
The universe is an extremely large and mysterious place. Cosmic horror, often based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, exploits humans’ fears about what is lurking in the unknown depths of space. These films often deal with the existential dread that we feel from being tiny organisms in this vast world. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the cosmic horror subgenre is John Carpenter.
Get Started With These Cosmic Horror Films
- Event Horizon
- The Thing
- The Void
- Color Out of Space
Dark Fantasy Horror
The fantasy genre is filled with unique creatures, monsters, and characters that are often not available in other genres of media. Dark fantasy aims to inject an element of horror into these creative worlds. Many dark fantasy films are marketed toward children. Fantasy in general often plays to the imagination and child-like wonder of humans. However, there are dark fantasy movies for people from all walks of life. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the dark fantasy horror subgenre is Guillermo del Toro.
Get Started With These Dark Fantasy Movies
- Army of Darkness
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- Tigers Are Not Afraid
- Sleepy Hollow
Folk horror aims to strike fear in its viewers through the use of folklore. The tales in these films have been passed down from generation to generation. Maybe our ancestors were onto something. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the folk horror subgenre is Robert Eggers.
Get Started With These Folk Horror Movies
- The Wicker Man
- The Ritual
- La Llorona
- The Blood On Satan’s Claw
Found Footage Horror
Found footage is a style of horror movie that invokes fear by creating a sense of realism. Most found footage movies utilize film styles that replicate real-life cameras. This includes home movies, handicams, documentary footage, trail cams, and security cameras. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the found footage horror subgenre is Rob Savage.
Get Started With These Found Footage Horror Movies
- The Blair Witch Project
- The Taking of Deborah Logan
- Paranormal Activity
- Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Giallo is a subgenre of horror popularized in Italy. This genre combines elements of murder mysteries, thrillers, slashers, and erotic horror. Many see Giallo as the precursor to the slasher genre. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the Giallo horror subgenre is Mario Bava.
Get Started With These Giallo Horror Films
- Deep Red
- Blood And Black Lace
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
- A Bay Of Blood
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Gothic horror is one of the oldest forms of horror to ever exist. Classic gothic literature helped paved the way for the gothic media that we love in the modern day. Gothic horror stories often build dark and tense atmospheres and play to our fears of the dark emotions of humanity. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the gothic horror subgenre is James Whale.
Get Started With These Gothic Horror Movies
- The Witch
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
- House of Usher
- The Masque Of The Red Death
Home Invasion Horror
Everyone loves being at home. It is our safe space and a place of comfort. Home Invasion horror movies use this sense of security to scare their audiences. People breaking into our homes is a common fear, and these films bring that fear to life.
Get Started With These Home Invasion Horror Movies
- The Strangers
- Don’t Breathe
- You’re Next
- The Purge
Horror and comedy seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to film genres. However, they do have one important similarity. Both genres cause involuntary emotional reactions (fear and laughter, respectively).
When combined correctly, the blend of horror and comedy can make for a great film. Many horror movies are campy by nature, and comedy can help elevate and enhance those aspects. Also, most comedy movies do not deal with horror-based settings and characters. Horror comedy creates a unique spin on these genres.
Get Started With These Horror Comedy Films
- Jennifer’s Body
- Shaun Of The Dead
- Idle Hands
There is a lot of scary stuff in the world, and not all of it is man-made. Sometimes the scariest parts of being alive come from organic sources. The natural horror subgenre preys on our fears of animals and natural events.
Get Started With These Natural Horror Films
- The Ruins
RELATED: 15 Best Killer Plant Movies
Paranormal horror preys on our fears of unknown entities. This includes ghosts, spirits, and apparitions. These films typically take place in haunted houses, or other haunted locations such as abandoned buildings, mental health facilities, and cemeteries. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the paranormal horror subgenre is James Wan.
Get Started With These Paranormal Horror Movies
- The Exorcist
- Paranormal Activity
- The Conjuring
- The Sixth Sense
Sometimes the scariest things come from our own minds. Psychological horror creates a sense of terror in both the characters and the audience. These films build up paranoia and suspense. You don’t know who you can trust. Most importantly, you don’t know if you can trust your own brain. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the psychological horror subgenre is Darren Aronofsky.
Get Started With These Psychological Horror Films
- When A Stranger Calls
- Get Out
- The Silence Of The Lambs
Science Fiction Horror
Science fiction and horror often go hand-in-hand. This subgenre shows what happens when science goes awry. This includes failed (or sometimes even successful) experiments, visits from alien creatures, and trips into outer space.
Get Started With These Science Fiction Horror Films
- War Of The Worlds
- The Invisible Man
- A Cure For Wellness
RELATED: 30 Of The Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies
When most people think of horror movies, I bet they immediately think of slasher films. There is a killer on the loose with a giant knife. They lurk in the darkness and stalk their victims.
Get Started With These Slasher Horror Movies
RELATED: 8 Movies Referenced In Scream (1996)
Part of what makes horror such a compelling genre is the use of blood, guts, and violence. Horror is meant to play on people’s fears, and many people are afraid of bodily fluids and seeing people inside on the outside. The splatter horror subgenre turns this up to the max. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the splatter horror subgenre is Herschel Gordon Lewis.
Get Started With These Splatter Horror Films
- The Evil Dead
- Cabin Fever
RELATED: The 10 Most Brutal Saw Traps
Similar to paranormal horror, supernatural horror deals with bending the boundaries of reality and showing unexplainable circumstances. Characters in supernatural horror films usually have some sort of power that regular humans cannot possess. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the supernatural horror subgenre is Dario Argento.
Get Started With These Supernatural Horror Films
- It Follows
- The Omen
Not all horror is fictional. There are plenty of examples of real-world horror that creatives can use for inspiration. True Crime horror films are often based on true events and offer a dramatized version of events. There are also true crime horror films that are completely fictional but pride themselves on realistic situations that often involve police and detective work. One director to check out if you’re looking to explore the true crime horror subgenre is Alfred Hitchcock.
Get Started With These True Crime Horror Films
- The Black Dahlia
Vampires are a very popular type of horror movie monster. While vampires differ from franchise to franchise, we typically see them as immortal creatures that need to feast on human blood.
Get Started With These Vampire Horror Movies
- Interview With The Vampire
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
- 30 Days Of Night
- Fright Night
Witches are one of the oldest horror creatures found in folklore. These people, typically women, can use dark magic to do their bidding. Their skills can vary wildly, from the use to potions to turning into shape-shifting monsters. These creatures, and the films involving them, use the supernatural to create a sense of fear.
Get Started With These Witch Horror Movies
- The Craft
- The Witch
- The Blair Witch Project
- Autopsy Of Jane Doe
RELATED: The 14 Greatest Witch Horror Movies
Zombies are a classic form of horror monsters, and one of the most popular horror subgenres. These undead humans stalk and eat living humans. Depending on the lore, they can walk slowly or run fast. Sometimes their bites turn you into a zombie. There are many types of zombies out there, and they are very dangerous in groups.
Speaking of, zombies are often used in allegories for how groups of humans behave in real life. Zombies have been used to show concepts such as conformity, consumerism, zealots, and adherence to propaganda.
Get Started With These Zombie Horror Movies:
What Are Your Favorite Horror Subgenres?
We hope you enjoyed our breakdown of the various horror subgenres. Let us know your favorite on social media!