Malevolent Dark’s Ultimate Guide to 41 Horror Genres!
Navigating the dark dark basements of the horror archives is hard. We are here to make it easy for you. We spent long hours pulling together a massive compendium of the horror genres complete with examples and links to reviews and articles on the the related films. We have everything from Cosmic Horror, Slasher films, Found Footage and good ole Zombie Horror flicks. We are extremely proud to present Malevolent Dark’s Ultimate Guide to 41 Horror Genres!
1. Curse Horror
The “curse” subgenre of horror films typically involves a supernatural power or force that brings misfortune or harm to those who encounter it. This force is often depicted as being caused by a curse that has been placed on an object, person, or place. These films often feature elements of suspense, jump scares, and psychological horror, and they often rely on a sense of unease and dread to build tension and scare the audience. Often films in this subgenre depend on building extensive backstories to explain both the curse and the remedy against the curse, if any. Likewise, curse horror films create a rich tapestry of backstories through investigative narratives.
Technology horror involves stories that focus on the darker side of technology and its impact on humanity. These stories often focus on themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying reality of technology gone wrong. In technology horror stories, the characters are often portrayed as struggling with the darker side of technology, such as the dangers of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, cyber-bullying, or the loss of privacy and security. The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful enemy, and the fear of being captured, experimented on, or killed by technology.
Technology horror is a popular subgenre that taps into people’s fear of the unknown and the idea of something seemingly harmless turning out to be deadly. The setting of technology horror often provides opportunities for jump scares and other horror tropes, making it a classic staple in the horror genre. Additionally, it often explores the darker side of human’s relationship with technology and the impact it can have on one’s life, as well as the consequences of not addressing it. It also reflects on how technology can be both a blessing and a curse, and how it can change the world in unexpected ways.
Medical horror involves stories that focus on the medical profession and the horrific and terrifying aspects of medicine. These stories often focus on themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying reality of the medical profession. In medical horror stories, the characters are often portrayed as doctors, nurses, patients or researchers who are struggling with the darker side of medicine, such as unethical experimentation, medical malpractice, or the outbreak of a deadly disease.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful enemy, and the fear of being captured, experimented on, or killed by the medical profession. Medical horror taps into people’s fear of the unknown and the idea of something seemingly harmless turning out to be deadly. The setting of medical horror often provides opportunities to overlap with technology horror and body horror tropes. Additionally, it explores the darker side of human’s relationship with medicine and the impact it can have on one’s life.
Phobia horror involves stories that focus on specific fears or phobias. These stories often focus on themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying reality of their own fears. In phobia horror stories, the characters are often portrayed as struggling with a specific phobia, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), or agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle against their own mental state to overcome their greatest fears.
Phobia horror is popular because it taps into people’s fear and there is no escaping one’s own mind. The setting of phobia horror often provides opportunities for jump scares, horrific dreamscapes and overwhelming terror.
Madness horror tells stories about characters who become increasingly mentally unstable and experience hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms of mental illness. These stories often focus on themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying reality of their own minds. In madness horror stories, the characters sometimes are portrayed as struggling with a specific mental illness or condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Other times, the subject is seemingly normal, but they gradually descend into madness.
The setting of madness horror often provides opportunities for jump scares and it keeps the audience off-balance because what they see on screen may be real or fantasy.
Home invasion and survival horror are subgenres of horror fiction that involve stories about characters who are trapped in their own home, or in a similar confined space, and are forced to defend themselves against an attacker or attackers. These stories often focus on themes of fear, and violation of sanctity as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying presence of the invaders and fight for their survival. In home invasion and survival horror stories, the attackers are often portrayed as ruthless, savage, and inhumane creatures that are driven by a need to harm or kill the characters.
They can be portrayed as possessing supernatural abilities or intelligence, or they can be portrayed as being controlled by some kind of supernatural or evil force. The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful enemy, and the fear of being captured, experimented on, or killed by the invaders. Home invasion and survival horror are popular because many times they are so easy to relate to. Many times, the themed explored are reinforced by the evening news.
The setting of home invasion and survival horror often provides opportunities for jump scares and other horror tropes. Additionally, it often provides a vehicle for violent revenge by the initial victims. Often this revenge pushes the already lofty boundaries set by the initial attack.
Slasher horror involves stories about a serial killer or other sociopath who stalks and kills a group of people, often in a brutal and graphic manner. These stories often focus on themes of revenge for sins of the past, mental illness and sometimes no discernable motive at all. The characters are forced to confront the terrifying presence of the killer and often fight to survive in a game of attrition as their friends are picked off one by one.
It could be said that the slasher film forms the bedrock of the horror lexicon. If not, there is no denying that the rise of the slasher film is largely responsible for launching the horror genre into the stratosphere. It represent one of the most distilled and pure examples of good versus evil.
In slasher horror stories, the killer is often portrayed as a ruthless, savage, and inhumane creature that is driven by a need to kill. They can be portrayed as possessing supernatural abilities or intelligence, or they can be portrayed as being controlled by some kind of supernatural or evil force. The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful murderous force.
Slasher horror is also famous for introducing the trope of the “Final Girl” as many of these films feature a final heroine that must defend herself as the lone survivor. The slasher film also evokes a sense of nostalgia as they represent the B-movie classics of their time.. The setting of slasher horror often provides opportunities for jump scares and other horror tropes, making it a classic staple in the horror genre. Additionally, it often explores the darker side of human’s relationship with violence, death, and the concept of a “final girl”.
Backwoods horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that involves stories set in rural, isolated, and often wilderness areas, such as the deep woods, mountains, or swamps. These stories often focus on fish out of water stories where the highly refined city slickers must confront a danger from outside of their experience. In backwoods horror stories, the wilderness is often portrayed as a dangerous and hostile environment that is home to various threats, such as dangerous animals and hostile locals. While may consider these to be slasher films by another name, we felt that due to vast number of films that fit this description, and the importance of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), a dedicated genre was justified.
The horror often comes from the fact that the aggressors are all too human, and they are unable to be reasoned with because their habits have been ingrained through their upbringing. Often here is no where to run because the locals are in on the crime. Backwoods horror feeds off of the fear of the unknown that might lie just outside of the city boundaries. It brings a whole new significance to a flat tire on a lonely road or directions from a strange man at the ‘last chance’ gas station.
Body horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that involves stories that focus on the grotesque and disturbing aspects of the human body. These stories often focus on themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying physical changes that occur to their bodies. This sub-genre often times crosses over with medical and technology horror. In body horror stories, the body is often depicted as something that is malleable, changeable and ultimately vulnerable.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to stave off the changes to their body and the ultimate horror of their body’s eventual transformation. The stories often depict mutations and physical changes that results in grotesque and disturbing imagery. Body horror also triggers anxiety as the audience must watch the transformation slowly manifest over the course of the entire film. Director David Cronenberg famously spent much of his time creating and evolving many of the concepts in the body horror sub-genre.
Body horror is a popular subgenre because it taps into people’s fear of their own body and what might be housed in it. It may even feed off of the human fear of a sickness or cancer that may be hiding in plain sight. It plants the idea that our bodies may turn against us, and when they do, there is no where to hide. Body horror provides a classic vehicle for special effects and many of the films in this sub-genre have pushed the limits of practical effects.
Splatter horror is exactly as it sounds. It is known for its graphic and explicit violence and gore, often depicting scenes of brutal bloodshed and mutilation in a highly realistic and graphic manner. These stories are often intended to shock and disturb the audience, and they often push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in horror fiction. In splatter horror stories, the violence and gore are often depicted in a highly exaggerated and over-the-top manner.
The horror comes from a general fear of extreme injury and normal empathetic responses create aversion and disgust towards the events on the screen. Interestingly enough, the violence is often so over the top, those conditioned to the violence often find humor in splatter horror as it successfully transcends into the realm of disbelief. In fact it is this unrealistic over the top nature that separate splatter horror from other sub-genres like extreme horror or torture porn.
Splatter horror is a popular subgenre among a niche audience, as it appeals to people who have a high tolerance for graphic and disturbing content. However, it is not for everyone as the explicit content can be disturbing and not suitable for all ages. It is important to note that splatter horror can be triggering for some people and should be approached with caution.
This subgenre is often seen as a form of exploitation cinema, and is known for its over-the-top gore and violence which is meant to shock and entertain the audience. The late great Herschell Gorgon Lewis made this sub-genre famous by pushing the boundaries of grindhouse cinema in the early 60’s. Since splatter horror is not really a trope, but rather an escalation in presentation, many splatter films fit neatly into other horror sub-genres.
Cannibal horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that involves stories about cannibalism, which you probably know as the act of eating the flesh of one’s own species. These stories often focus on fear of the unknown and the clash of cultures that occur when adventures uncover a centuries old gap in cultures. Another popular trope in this genre involves the duality of modern man being both the victim and the aggressor as confront cannibals.
In cannibal horror stories, the cannibals are often portrayed as mostly sticking to themselves and their own customs until infiltrated by modern man. In response to the culture shock, the cannibals transform into ruthless, that are driven by self-defense (and their insatiable hunger for human flesh).
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive in a hostile environment against an enemy with all of the advantages. It also confronts the horror that one would experience if they witnessed their friends and family being devoured by man.
Cannibal horror was made famous in Italy in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It’s popularity spread to other parts of Europe. While there are many films predicated on the cannibalistic consumption of human flesh, films concerning cannibal tribes become so definitive and so prolific that it should be considered its own sub-genre (sorry Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Several character actors repeatedly appear in these films like Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai and Robert Kerman.
Cannibal horror is a popular subgenre among a niche audience, as it appeals to people who have a high tolerance for graphic and disturbing content. Furthermore, it resonates with fans of mondo grindhouse cinema. However, it is not for everyone as the explicit content can be disturbing and not suitable for all ages. It is important to note that cannibal horror can be triggering for some people and should be approached with caution… or not.\
In an interesting aside, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is often cited as one of the first examples of a found footage horror film. Respect.
Extreme horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that is known for its graphic and explicit content, which often includes graphic violence, gore, and other disturbing imagery. These stories are often intended to shock and disturb the audience, and they often push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in horror fiction. In extreme horror stories, the violence and gore are often depicted in a highly realistic and graphic manner, and they may include themes such as cannibalism, mutilation, and other forms of physical and psychological abuse.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an oppressive entity that takes pleasure in the brutal and gruesome methods of torture they employ. There are further categories that include the pejorative term torture where the entire enterprise seems to be fixated on the explicit acts of violence itself. In France, a movement called Cinéma vérité that endures the same acts but instead dives deep into the emotional struggle of the victims.
Other attributes of extreme horror sometimes include the victims tolerating filth and human excrement. Also, sever psychological trauma is also at play in these films.
Extreme horror appeals to a niche audience with a high tolerance for graphic and disturbing content. Many seasoned horror fans shy away from extreme horror as it simply is too traumatic to consume. Many of the most extreme horror films are underground independent films that can bypass any scrutiny. While this is not always the case, many of them come through this channel. It is not for everyone as the explicit content can be disturbing and not suitable for all ages. It is important to note that extreme horror can be triggering for some people and should be approached with caution.
Vampire horror is well known and historically significant a sub-genre of horror fiction that involves stories about undead creatures that survive by drinking the blood of the living. Some of the earliest horror films like Nosferatu (1922) focus on these mythical beings. Then of course if Bram Stokers tale of “Dracula” that has been made it to film countless times. Owning to the the vampires in culture, these stories often employ aspects of gothic horror as well as those of folk horror. Vampire films also incorporate romantic drams components as well.
Vampires are often portrayed as a powerful, immortal, and seductive creature that is driven by its thirst for blood. They can be portrayed as possessing supernatural abilities and intelligence. More interesting, many species of vampires exist. Some of these sustain themselves on human energies other than blood. Furthermore, vampires exhibit a variety of weaknesses that may not be consistent across all species.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful enemy, and the fear of being captured, killed or worst-case turned by the vampire. Vampire horror serves as a metaphor for people own desires and anxieties. The fact that vampires are so human while also being so monstrous creates a compelling dichotomy. Additionally, it explores the darker side of human’s relationship with immortality, power and seduction.
Like Vampire horror, werewolf horror has a deep historical context steeped in folklore. Werewolves are typically depicted as humans who can transform into wolves or wolf-like creatures. Other variants of this this theme include transformations into other creatures such as big cats. In modern werewolf movies, the transformation from human to beast also borders on themes common in body horror. The transformation rarely is without severe pain.
These stories often focus on themes of loss as the werwolf becomes estranged from the people they love. Sometimes they incorporate investigative tropes as a community tries to find the villain. Many times these films culminate in the monster being killed by those he loves most. The werewolf often portrayed as a monstrous, bloodthirsty creature that is driven by its primal instincts.
Werewolf horror is a popular because it combines the humanity of man with the basal instincts of a beast. Furthermore, it carries a historical significance for being one of the early Universal movie monster (The Wolfman 1941). The setting of werewolf horror often provides opportunities for fantastic practical effects in support during the transformation. As a classic staple in the horror genre werewolf horror explores the darker side of human’s relationship with primal instincts and how it can be dangerous when unconstrained.
Mythological horror involves stories that incorporate elements of ancient myths and legends. These stories often draw inspiration from the monsters, gods, and other supernatural entities that are found in myths and legends from different cultures around the world. They often explore themes of the unknown, the fear of the other, and the fragility of humanity.
In mythological horror stories, the monsters, gods, and other supernatural entities are often depicted as powerful, malevolent and ancient beings that have been worshipped, feared or revered for centuries. They can be portrayed as possessing supernatural abilities, superior intelligence and omnipotence. The characters’ must struggle to survive against an overwhelming and powerful enemy and must fight against all odds.
Mythological horror evokes a sense of nostalgia for old myths and legends, and the secrets they might hold. The setting of mythological horror often provides opportunities for soul crushing ramifications for the character, making it a classic staple in the horror genre. Additionally, it often explores the darker side of human’s relationship with religion and how it can be dangerous when it turns against us.
Neo-monster horror is a subgenre involves stories that incorporate elements of traditional monster horror with modern storytelling techniques and themes. These stories often draw inspiration from classic monster horror stories, such as those featuring zombies, vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures, but update them with modern elements. Some of the key features of neo-monster horror include a focus on more realistic and relatable characters, a more nuanced and subtle approach to horror, and a greater emphasis on storytelling and characterization.
They also often explore social and political issues, such as the fear of the other, societal prejudices, and the consequences of science and technology. Neo-monster horror is a popular subgenre because it allows for a fresh take on traditional monster horror stories, and it appeals to both horror fans who enjoy classic monster stories, as well as those who appreciate modern themes. The blending of traditional and contemporary elements makes for unique and exciting storytelling possibilities and provides a new perspective on classic monsters.
Animal and nature horror involves stories about animals or nature that are portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. These stories often focus on the consequences of not respecting nature as characters are forced to confront the terrifying presence of animals that hold all of the advantages. In these stories, animals or sometimes posses extreme qualities, ferociousness or size. This sub-genre is closely related to eco-horror, but has enough representation in the industry to be considered on its own.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against an overwhelming animal force in a hostile environment. It often portrays the victims as “fish out of water” so to speak, although some aquatic variants could be coined “humans in water”. The genre is popular because it involves monsters that can be found in local aquariums and zoos. It feels real because Animal/Nature horror is usually based in reality.
It also evokes a sense of nostalgia for old, classic B-movies. While the sub-genre has continued to stay relevant, it became extremely popular in the late 70s and 80s following the advent of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). The setting of animal and nature horror often provides opportunities for jump scares. It also creates drama and tension through survival themes. Additionally, it also explores the darker side of human’s relationship with nature and how it can be dangerous when it turns against us.
Giant creature horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that involves stories about giant, typically animal-like creatures that are portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. These stories often incorporate aspects of eco-horror as the catalyst for the creatures existence. The giant creatures can be of any form, including giant insects, giant reptiles, giant mammals, or even giant monsters. They are often depicted as being extremely aggressive, powerful, and having the ability to cause great harm and destruction.
This sub-genre of horror rose to prominence in the 1950’s as WWII ushered in the nuclear age. Again, owing to its eco-horror roots, nuclear radiation often provides trigger for giantism. The sub-genre often evokes memories of classic B-movies as many of them have their origins there. It should also be noted that these films provided a boost for special effects techniques including miniaturization, stop-motion, blue screen and even CGI. Periodically these films make a resurgence as they provide a fantastic vehicle for massive destruction.
Small creature horror stories about small, typically animal-like creatures that are portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. These often involve overwhelming numbers of small creatures overtaking the victims. They generate fear and tension because small creatures can almost always find a way in. The small creatures can be of any form, including insects, rodents, and even small mammals. In other films they are little monsters or mythological creatures.
They are often depicted as being extremely aggressive, moving fast and swarming their victims. They possess the ability to cause great harm, despite their small size. The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against a seemingly harmless, yet deadly creature. Often times these small creatures double as a source of dark comedy as they create choas through mischief.
Eco-horror tackles topics concerning the horrors that can occur if we do not respect mother nature and take care of our environment. It contains several sub-categories and often times can find itself working in conjunction with other sub-genres. A common theme involves the dangers of a world that has descended into chaos due to nuclear war or environmental catastrophe. That world may be filled with mutated monsters, pirates, cannibals and other denizens that might evolve in a lawless world. The horrors come both from the challenges of a world without resources, loss of humanity as well as the more traditional monsters that hide in the rubble.
Other times, it is nature itself that revolts. Animals attack, plants rise up against man and plagues of locusts descend on man. Eco-horror often stems from man’s unquenchable thirst to conquer and control nature. This creates drama because when nature breaks bad, these same techniques are to work, leading to a sense of helplessness.
The Happening (2008)
Silent Night (2022)
Into the Woods (2015)
The Last of Us (2023)
The Bay (2012)
The Birds (1963)
21. Alien Horror
Alien horror incorporates extraterrestrial life forms that are portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. Sometime these stories take place in hostile settings on distant planets. Sometimes these stories take place on Earth. In all instances, these films deal with the theme of human fragility in an infinite Universe. I many cases, the aliens are extremely advanced technologically. As a superior race, they gold little or no empathy for human life. They may be seeking to invade or conquer Earth, or they may simply view humans as inferior and insignificant.
The horror often comes from the characters’ struggle to survive against a strange and overwhelming enemy with physical capabilities far outside that of man. Alien horror is a popular sub-genre because it taps into people’s fear of the unknown and the idea of a hostile, advanced life form that could pose a threat to humanity. The concept of an extraterrestrial invasion also evokes a sense of global threat, making the story more impactful and relevant. The blend of science fiction and horror allows for creative storytelling as it can blend elements like space travel, advanced technology, and biology with horror elements. These films often provide a platform for special effects extravaganzas.
Sci-fi horror combines elements of fantastic technology and advanced scientific topics as a basis for crafting a scary story. These stories often involve the depiction of futuristic or technologically advanced settings, where characters are faced with terrifying and deadly situations that are caused by scientific or technological advancements. Sometimes the movies take place in space, fantasy worlds. Others take place in the real world that we know, but that world has advanced technology. The horror in these stories often comes from the unknown, such as unknown creatures, unknown technology, or unknown consequences of scientific experimentation.
Sci-fi horror often explores the darker side of technology and science, and how it can be used for sinister purposes. Themes such as the dangers of playing God, the consequences of genetic experimentation, or the loss of humanity are common. They also often portray a sense of impending doom, as the characters may be the last survivors of a catastrophic event caused by technology or science.
Sci-Fi horror allows the audience to explore their fears and anxieties about the future, technology and science through the lens of horror. It also allows for creative storytelling as it can blend horror with other sci-fi elements like time travel, artificial intelligence, and space exploration. The blend of two different genres makes for unique and exciting storytelling possibilities.
Ghost and spirit horror forms the bedrock of the horror genre. Ghosts stories are eternally relevant and there fore timeless. These stories about disembodied souls of a rich opportunity for creating emotional depth due to grief over the loss of loved ones. Other stories tell tales of betrayal and revenge. In some stories, the ghosts are even benevolent forces helping characters navigate real world horrors. However, in most ghost and spirit horror stories, the ghosts or spirits are often portrayed as malevolent or vengeful entities that have unfinished business in the living world, and they often torment or haunt the living characters.
The horror often comes from the characters not knowing what the ghost or spirit wants, or why it is haunting them. SOmtimes the spirit is attached to a house, and object. Sometimes it even follow people.
Ghost and spirit horror taps into people’s fears about death and the afterlife, and the idea of the dead not resting in peace. It also often explores the idea of the past not being fully gone, and the way it can influence the present. The ghost or spirit is a versatile horror trope that can be used in a variety of settings and stories.
Haunted house horror is a sub-genre of horror fiction that is often closely related to ghost and spirit movies. These are movies about house, castle and other buildings that house spirits or other supernatural entities. Also, these movies can sometimes overlap with movies about demons and demonic possession. These stories focus on the themes of fear, dread, and the unknown, as the characters are forced to confront the terrifying presence that inhabits the house. The home is supposed to be a place of safety. When over run with ghosts and demons it violates any sense of safety for the characters.
The haunted house can be a metaphor for the characters’ inner demons, anxieties, and traumas. The horror often comes from the characters being trapped in a confined space with no escape, and the building itself can be a character, with its own personality and agenda. Because the abode plays such a large role in the story, fantastic buildings are often featured in these films.
Art house horror combines artistic cinematic techniques with standard horror tropes. These techniques can be applied to just about any other sub-genre of horror. More times than not, these film are independent productions that focus on unconventional stories. The incorporate non-linear story telling devices and experimental cinematography. These themes focus on exploring complex emotional landscapes, intellectually profound themes, atmosphere and sometimes deep psychological subject matter. Likewise, they often eschew cheap thrills like jump-scares and monsters to drive the story.
Sometimes these films explore deeper themes such as mental illness, existentialism, and the human condition through a horror lens. Art house horror films also tend to be more visually striking, with a focus on unique cinematography, editing, and sound design.
Art house horror is a niche sub-genre that appeals to a more discerning audience, who appreciate the artistic and experimental approach of these films. They tend to be more thought-provoking and challenging than traditional horror films, and often leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
Virus or outbreak horror is pretty self-explanatory in that it outbreak of a deadly virus or disease. These stories themes of contagion, infection, and the subsequent unraveling of society as the outbreak spreads across the globe. These may incorporate elements of science fiction, as the virus or disease may be the result of genetic experimentation, alien origin or a mutation. In this subgenre, the story often centers around a small group of survivors trying to survive and find a cure while avoiding getting infected by the virus or disease.
Interestingly, these stories often overlap with the zombie horror and eco-horror sub-genres. Virus or outbreak horror resonates with modern horror audiences because most of us have lived through a pandemic. Tt taps into people’s fears about the spread of disease, and the idea of losing loved ones to something beyond human control. These films also include themes explore the darker side of human nature, as characters may resort to desperate and unethical measures in order to survive.
28 Days Later (2002)
World War Z (2013)
The Last of Us (2023)
Andromeda Strain (1971)
The Crazies (1973)
27. Religious Horror
Religious horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that incorporates elements of religion, spirituality, and the supernatural. These stories often involve the depiction of evil forces or entities that threaten to harm or destroy the characters, who may be religious or spiritual in nature. An important aspect of religious horror is the reoccurring theme of questioning one own beliefs or deeply religious people performing acts against their faith. This sub-genre overlaps with devil worship and possession horror, but it tends to focus on the religious aspects more than the monsters.
Common themes in religious horror include the struggle between good and evil, the power of faith, and the dangers of blasphemy or apostasy. Another common theme is the idea of an ancient and powerful evil can cross into the real world through worship and belief. Religious horror can also include less conventional themes such as the idea of abuse, God being evil, or the devil being portrayed as a sympathetic character.
This sub-genre is a favorite among horror movie fans and writers for its ability to evoke fear and unease in the audience by tapping into deep-seated fears and anxieties about the unknown and the supernatural.
Devil horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that involves stories about demons or Satan. As opposed to standard demonic possession horror, these stories more often portray the devil as a physical manifestation rather than a spiritual influence. This sub-genre is interesting in there is not just one visual depiction of the devil. Some films go with cloven hoof images. Others depict him as a beautiful man, while others go to the tried and true red skinned man with horns and a pitchfork.
These stories often focus on themes of evil, sin, and the battle between good and evil and often tackle the topic of Armageddon and The Book of Revelations. They may also involve elements of religious or supernatural horror. In general, these stories evoke fear through confrontation with the original and omnipresent evil.
Possession horror confronts the idea that a persons body could be possessed by demons or other evil supernatural entities. The genre explores the idea of losing control of one’s own body or mind, and the fear of being possessed by an outside force. Furthermore, it deals with the anguish family members dealing with their loved one transforming into am monster. On the topic of transformation, often these films incorporate a heaping helping of body horror.
Likely the most famous example of Possession Horror is William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist(1973), directed by William Friedkin. This film spawned an explosion of like movies all around the world.
The possession can manifest in various forms such as possession of the body, mind or soul. These stories often depict the possession leading to bizarre behavior, supernatural powers and even violence. They also often involve characters, often a priest or other religious figure, attempting to exorcise the possessing entity from the possessed person. The final confrontation of good and evil often serves as a trope. The genre often deals with themes of good versus evil, the power of faith, and the nature of reality.
Possession horror deals with the idea of the afterlife and the consequences of one’s actions beyond death. These stories often use elements of suspense, tension, and atmosphere to build a sense of dread and unease. They also often play with the idea of the unknown, the unseen, and the inexplicable, which can make them particularly unsettling to audiences.
Supernatural horror deals with supernatural and paranormal themes such as ghosts, demons, and other entities that exist outside the natural world. Naturally, this one may possess some cross-over with possession and occult horror. The genre often explores the fear of the unknown and the unseen, and plays on the idea that there are things in the world that we cannot fully understand. It necessarily must assume that another supernatural world or dimension hides behind the reality that we see everyday. In literature, examples of supernatural horror include the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.
Supernatural horror stories often involve characters who are confronted with terrifying and inexplicable events, such as ghosts, poltergeists, or other supernatural entities. The stories often explore themes of good versus evil, the power of the mind, and the nature of reality. Often times, these events center around a special individual that seems particularly susceptible to channeling these supernatural entities into our reality.
They also often deal with the idea of the afterlife and the consequences of one’s actions beyond death. Supernatural horror stories often use elements of suspense, tension, and atmosphere to build a sense of dread and unease. They also often play with the idea of the unknown, the unseen, and the inexplicable, which can make them particularly unsettling to audiences. The genre also often deals with themes of the forbidden and the taboo, and explores the darker aspects of human nature and the consequences of dabbling in the supernatural.
Much like Supernatural Horror, Occult Horror deals with not only the entities on the other side of the living, but the esoteric arts that traverse the gap between the reality we see and the one the lies under the surface. In that, this genre often makes a much stronger connection to themes involving witchcraft, summoning, Ouija boards and other occult artifacts. Likewise, these films can also delve incorporate aspects of demonology.
The genre is often associated with knowledge or practices that are hidden or secret, and are often associated with supernatural or religious beliefs. In occult horror, stories often involve characters who are drawn into a world of dark magic and supernatural forces. They often feature elements of occultism, such as rituals, spells, and supernatural entities, and explore themes of good versus evil, the power of the mind, and the nature of reality.
In film and television, The Witch, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist are some examples of occult horror. These stories often involve outsider characters who are drawn into a world of dark magic and supernatural forces. They often feature rituals, spells, and supernatural entities, and explore themes of good versus evil, the power of the mind, and the nature of reality.
It’s arguable whether Torture Porn represents a true sub-genre of horror, or if it is simply a characteristic of any horror that emphasizes the fear and emotional distress of of extreme torture and suffering. Torture porn may involve graphic and often sadistic depictions of violence, particularly torture. Often these films include overt sexual violence and injury. The term is regularly used pejoratively.
Torture porn is often criticized for their gratuitous violence and lack of story or character development. Some examples of films that have been labeled as torture porn include the SAW and Hostel franchises.
The films in this genre are often focused on the physical and psychological pain of the victims and the pleasure of the perpetrators. They often depict graphic violence, including torture, mutilation, and murder, and feature little in the way of character development or plot. Critics have argued that torture porn films glamorize and trivialize real-world violence and that they are morally and ethically problematic. They also believe that the films desensitize viewers to violence and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about marginalized groups.
Zombie horror features reanimated corpses as the primary antagonist. These stories often detail a group of survivors trying to evade or fight against hordes of zombies in a post-apocalyptic world. The genre has roots in Haitian folklore, where the belief in the zombie, a corpse reanimated through various methods, such as voodoo, has been popularized in literature, film, and video games.
The modern zombie horror as we know it, as portrayed in pop culture, is a result of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) which introduced the idea of a zombie as reanimated corpses, driven by a need to consume human flesh. Since then, the zombie have become a staple of horror genre, it has been depicted in a wide variety of media, from literature and film to video games and comics. Zombies are often portrayed as shambling, mindless creatures, driven by an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Zombies are immune to traditional forms of attack and can only be killed by destroying the brain.
It should be noted that the zombie genre has begun to collapse with the viral outbreak style of horror. In these films a virus cause living beings to become ravenous murdering machines. Still other zombie tales tell of clandestine government chemicals creating crazy killing machines, or re-animating life.
Zombie horror stories often deal with themes of survival and the breakdown of society in the face of a zombie outbreak. They often explore the psychological and emotional effects of living in a world overrun by zombies, and the difficult decisions that survivors must make in order to stay alive. Additionally, the genre also often explores the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise when people are forced to make life or death decisions in a crisis.
Horror comedy, also known as “splatstick”, combines elements of horror with humor (No Duh!). These films often take traditional horror scenarios and characters, and present them in a comedic and exaggerated manner. They create a sense of satire and irony, and provide a different perspective on the same horror elements. Horror comedies often use elements of slapstick comedy, satire, and parody in order to mock the conventions of the genre. They may also use references and homages to other horror films in order to create a sense of nostalgia and familiarity.
Some obvious examples of horror comedy include films like Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009) and the “Scary Movie” franchise (2000-2013). However, horror and comedy have existed on a continuum for some time. Films like An American Werewolf in London (1981) successfully mixed these ingredients while still staying very close true horror movie.
Depending on where the film lands on the continuum of comedy and horror, the sub-genre could be an acquired taste. Still, horror comedy films often balance the scares with humor, and can make for a unique and entertaining experience for the audience.
Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror that is inspired by the works of… wait for it… keep waiting… H.P. Lovecraft. H.P. Lovecraft famously wrote horror, fantasy, and science fiction during the first half of the 20th century. Lovecraft’s stories often feature cosmic entities, ancient and powerful gods, and forbidden knowledge, and often deal with the theme of humanity’s insignificance in the face of the vast and uncaring universe. Outside of the direct correlation to H.P. Lovecraft, these films may be referred to the more generic cosmic horror label.
Lovecraftian / cosmic horror is characterized by its emphasis on that vastness of the universe and the unknown powers that intertwine the cosmic fabric. These entities are often depicted as being so immense and alien that their very existence is incomprehensible to the human mind, and their powers are beyond human understanding. The genre also often features a sense of cosmic indifference and the insignificance of human life.
Lovecraftian horror is also known for its use of cosmic horror and weird fiction elements, and often features a sense of existential dread, the idea that humanity is nothing more than a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things, and that the universe is full of ancient, malevolent beings who are indifferent to human existence.
Gothic horror combines elements of horror, romance, and the supernatural. It originated in the 18th century and reached its peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in works such as Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” (1764), Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794), and Matthew Lewis’s “The Monk” (1796).
Gothic horror stories often take place in gloomy, atmospheric settings such as castles, ruins, and other grand, decaying architecture. They often feature elements of supernatural and the occult, such as ghosts, witches, and supernatural forces. The stories often center around a sense of mystery rooted in the past, and often include themes of forbidden love, madness, and the corruption of innocence.
Gothic horror is also known for its emphasis on atmosphere and setting, creating an eerie and gloomy ambiance that adds to the sense of horror. It often uses elements of the supernatural and the occult, such as ghosts, witches, and supernatural creatures to create a sense of unease and terror. Accordingly, many traditional horror films like Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) find their way onto gothic horror lists.
Found footage is a subgenre of horror that utilizes the aesthetic of “found” or “discovered” footage to tell a story. The found footage is presented as if it were raw, unedited footage shot by the characters in the film, typically from a handheld camera or a security camera. The idea is that the footage has been discovered after the events of the story and is being presented to the audience as it was discovered.
Found footage horror films often use the first-person perspective to create a sense of immersion and immediacy for the audience, giving the impression that the events are happening to them. The genre is characterized by its use of shaky, low-quality footage, and often features a sense of realism and verisimilitude.
Some examples of found footage horror films include The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007), Cloverfield (2008), and V/H/S (2012). These films often rely on suspense, tension and a sense of realism in order to create a sense of unease and scares. The genre has been popularized in recent years with the rise of home video technologies, and the fact that it is relatively easy to produce low-budget films with this style.
Another variant of the found footage formula comes in the form of the mockumentary. This format may involve found footage as a plot device, but most of the action follows a documentary film crew solving a mystery and scrounging for Internet points. Many found footage techniques apply. It’s arguable that this class of films deserves its own sub-genre.
Giallo is a type of horror film that originated in Italy in the 1960s. The genre is characterized by its use of stylized violence, graphic murder scenes, and a focus on mystery and detective elements. Giallo films often feature a killer who is never fully revealed or explained, and these films rely on a sense of unease and suspense to create a sense of horror.
The name “giallo” comes from the Italian word for “yellow,” which is a reference to the yellow covers of cheap crime novels popular in Italy at the time the genre was first established. Giallo films are known for their visual style, which often features bold, primary colors, and striking use of lighting and camera angles. They also often feature a strong musical score, which is often used to heighten the tension and suspense in the film.
Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci are often cited as major contributors to the genre, but there are so many more that deserve mention.
Films fans have a tendency to lump all manner of Italian horror films into this genre, but I know an educated man with skinny jeans, a plaid shirt and a smart mustache (love lattes) that assures me that they are incorrect.
Folk horror combines elements of traditional folk culture, mythology, and rural or rural-adjacent settings. Folk horror often deals with the idea of ancient, pagan beliefs and practices coming into conflict with modern society. It also often explores themes of isolation, community, and the relationship between people and the land. The stories of folk horror often take place in remote or isolated rural communities, and feature characters who are disconnected from modern society and the outside world.
Many point to Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) as the forbearer of the folk horror genre. In fact Haggard coined the term “Folk Horror” in a subsequent Fangoria interview (Issue 230, page 72).
Rooted in mythology, these stories often involve elements of supernatural or occult practices, such as witchcraft or pagan rituals. Folk horror has its roots in the British horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973), but it has also seen a resurgence in recent years, with films and TV shows such as Midsommar (2019), The VVitch (2015) and The Ritual (2017).
Apocalyptic horror takes place in a world that has been devastated by some catastrophic event, such as a nuclear war, pandemic, or natural disaster. The stories often focus on the survivors and their struggles to survive in a hostile, dangerous world. They may also explore the psychological and societal effects of the event on the characters. Common themes include the breakdown of civilization, resource scarcity, and the emergence of new forms of evil. This genre may overlap with the zombie horror genre.
Adding spice to the formula of survival, many Apocalyptic Horror films also introduce monsters, mutants or other challenges above and beyond food, water and shelter. Another facet of these films concerns whether the film incorporates elements of the original catastrophe and the attempt to stave it off, or if that event has already been a long-gone conclusion.
Psychological horror deals with the psychological and emotional effects of fear and horror on the characters in the story. Psychological horror films often aim to scare the audience by playing on their emotions and manipulating their perceptions of reality. While the underlying premise relies on emotional darkness, it seems that the genre increasingly works some of it magic through jump-scares.
These films often involve complex, layered stories that explore the inner psychological and emotional states of the characters and may include elements of mystery, suspense, and psychological thriller. Some common themes in psychological horror films include madness, the psychological effects of trauma, the nature of reality and illusion, and the dangers of repressed memories and desires.
Thanks for taking the time to check out Malevolent Dark’s Ultimate Guide to 41 Horror Sub-Genres. Again, if you don’t like how we categorized your favorite film, or you hate our genres lets us know. If anything at all, the conversations are always better than the article. Make a big enough deal about it, we update the article.
Dave was raised on horror movies. The first film to blow his mind was House on Haunted Hill (1959). From that film, Dave caught the fever that keeps him in the horror game today. He has written over 100 posts on malevolentdark.com and continues to manage and grow the site. His favorite horror film of all time is the Tobe Hooper classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Dave’s focus tends to skew towards classic horror from the previous 5 decades. He holds a special love for Italian horror, especially the giallo sub-genre.