Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
HORROR MOVIES: The Subgenres

As we approach Halloween, and the October Horror Movie Challenge, I've been thinking a lot about the genre, and in particular, how many branches there are from the main tree. The Folk Horror thread suggests a new one I've never heard defined but I knew exactly the moment it was articulated, and it occurs to me there's probably more offshoots for Horror than any other genre. I was thinking I'd compile what I can here, and see what I'm forgetting, and what I've never heard of in the first place. It will assist with my watching calendar next month, at least.

Some of these Subgenres are very specific, based on such oblique criteria as the studio that released them, etc., while others are more liquid. There's obviously going to be overlap and bleeding, and there's no lines that can't be crossed. But the main thing is I would like to try to catalogue as many viable subgenres of Horror as can be defined.

UNIVERSAL MONSTERS - This is a defined list of titles, released by Universal from the 20s to the 50s. They feature classic characters, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, and have more or less made those characters cultural icons in perpetuity. Whether this listing includes the Abbott and Costello films (or any latter day attempts to jump start the IP) is a matter of personal preference.

SILENT ERA HORROR - This is a blanket term, covering all the real old school stuff, in particular Nosferatu and its ilk. German Expressionism certainly makes up a portion of this, probably best exemplified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Criterion fare like The Phantom Carriage and Haxan would fit here as well. Probably most interesting for the film historians among us.

GOTHIC HORROR - Lots of overlap with both the above, but wider reaching in scope, this would be anything inspired by Gothic literature, with its dips into medievalism, psychology, religious themes and even the architectural aesthetic. Pretty much any version of Phantom of the Opera, lots of Draculas, certainly anything with a foot in the Victorian era, and all the films influenced by these. Guillermo del Toro's Horror films all qualify. There's even sub-subgenres within, such as Southern Gothic. This can branch outside Horror as well of course, into mystery or romance and everything besides.

HAMMER HORROR -  Speaking of Gothic, I think this qualifies for it's own listing. As with Universal, it refers to a specific time and place, and is distinct because of the studio's specific aesthetics and themes. Actors like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed appear prominently, and the sensibility is uniquely British, circa 1960s.

ATOMIC AGE - In the wake of Hiroshima, there was a wave of movies that dealt with the unthinkable new sciences and the new world order. All the Z-grade nuclear monster movies of the 50s fit here, Them, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, etc. Also any Red Scare metaphors, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or SciFi nightmares like The Incredible Shrinking Man. Enormous overlap with other genres, but still specifically 1950s in its worldview.

KAIJU - Giant monster movies, plainly enough. In my opinion, these are barely horror in practice. The original Godzilla is a Horror film. The following twenty-seven? Less so. Would it include the nuclear monsters of the Atomic Age? Eh, sometimes. Or non-Japanese characters like King Kong? Sure, why not? As I say, this is pretty borderline, but when it is Horror, the focus is usually on the untamable destructive power of the natural world.

ALIEN INVASION - This is a subgenre that is more likely to wade into the Action tent nowadays, but there's specific examples of this as pure Horror, and those Atomic Age entries are great examples. Invaders From Mars, Day of the Triffids, plenty of Twilight Zone episodes every Body Snatchers iteration, things of that ilk. More modern examples would be Fire in the Sky, The Fourth Kind or the bulk of The X-Files.

This is apparently going to be a bigger project than I imagined, so I'll just post this for now, and come back in later as I think more about this.


There's a bunch of Actors/Writers/Directors I would consider genres unto themselves. Repeating themes or characterizations, similar aesthetics, things like that. Mostly, they'd be people that left their mark on the genre in a significant way. Each one worthy of their own marathon. Not everything was great all the time, but they're all distinct.




STEPHEN KING (all adaptations)




The problem with such a list is deciding what names belong on it and which don't. Including Karloff but not Lugosi, for example, is probably bad form. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing probably qualify, although I'd mostly stick that under the Hammer umbrella. Hitchcock made some of the best Horror, but would you consider him a Horror director? And on and on. The names listed above would be my picks for people whose works counts as a subgenre unto themselves. Any other listing would be equally definitive.

The other obvious group of subgenre would be by monster, so to speak. The following all clearly lend themselves to a particular set of tropes and styles.





That list could get pretty long and pretty specific if unchecked, so best to leave it at that. Or throw Aliens on there. They're sort of a special case. And even within that, there's tons of branching offshoots. Vampires have probably half a dozen familiar modes, from the forbidden Gothic romances to splatter gore action flicks. Zombies you could almost say Pre-Romero or Post-Romero, but it's probably more useful to specify Apocalyptic Zombies - the endless wave that threatens the world - or Voodoo Zombies - the Caribbean black magic form of enslavement. And Ghosts may be the biggest subgenre in all of Horror. To say nothing of 'Monsters', which could include so many things its practically useless as a descriptor. But how else to describe movies that are specifically Monster-driven, such as the recent 'The Monster'?


There's tooooons. You could probably fill several posts with nothing but the Exploitation subgenres.

I might have been born yesterday sir, but I stayed up all night!

Yeah. I think this is just going to be a hobby of mine for a week or two. See what I can come up with. I wasn't able to find a decent listing online, and now I'm starting to realize why. It's an enormous undertaking.

AYou somehow didn't include Slasher, which has to be the most recognizable subgenre of horror, to the point where it has postmodern deconstructions of its tropes that are iconic in their own right.

Home Invasion is another, that can be traced back to the 70s at least, but saw a real resurgence post-9/11.

Torture Porn, if that's your thing. When you mix it with the former, you can get a sub-subgenre of Redneck Monster Torture - Texas Chainsaw, The Hills Have Eyes, Rob Zombie's output.

Haunted House dips its toes into a lot of the other subgenres (Hammer, Gothic, and King at least), but I think you can also distinguish it from the Haunted Town/Cult movie - Wicker Man, Children Of The Corn, The Crazies, Who Can Kill A Child?, etc.

You can separate Body Horror from Cronenberg, and Surrealist Horror from Lynch, but there may not be a lot of point. They'll remain the touchstones for quite some time.

Possession/Excorcism movies were a real fad for a minute there in late aughts/early teens.

Found Footage seems like an iffier qualifier, since its about form without dictating any particular content, which is the primary basis for differentiating the rest of these from each other. But it could definitely be called its own thing.
AI wouldnt call 'found footage' a genre, it's more a style used to explore those (sub) genres.
AOh Schwartz, I'm nowhere near done. Slasher is the biggest umbrella by far.

All right, Slashers

SLASHER - This is the big one that everyone can identify. I wonder how much Scream has to do with that, in the long run, pointing out the tropes so deliberately. There's so many variations here. The first Slasher is popularly thought to be Peeping Tom in 1960, some say Psycho (even though I think it barely qualifies). Black Christmas defined the structure, and Halloween perfected it, and most entries exist in its shadow. Ebert called them Dead Teenager movies, which is fairly accurate in spirit, at least. The basic, essential component is an ensemble being picked off by a murderer, usually with something sharp. Everything else comes second, even such beloved tropes as the Final Girl. You can separate them into the Whodunnit, Agatha Christie mysteries, the purely formalist exercises like The Burning, and of course the 80s glory days of supernatural mascots.

Everything overlaps with Slashers, it seems. Such as:

PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR - This would be Psycho. Or any other film that portrays the source of the Horror as coming from a mental breakdown of some kind. Madness is pretty much the big bugbear here, and so it covers a large amount of territory. I think it kind of requires at least a bit of consideration to be put into neurosis being presented - Jason Voorhees wanting revenge on the counselors that let him drown is not exploring psychology in any way - but Jame Gumb's desire for sexual metamorphosis totally counts, whether you find it facile or offensive or shocking. And it need not be the antagonist's psychology. Repulsion is all about the unreliable POV. It can have supernatural triggers, like The Shining and The Babadook. And it springs off into non-horror crime thrillers pretty quick too, a la Single White Female.

SPLATTER FILMS - Obviously the Slasher traffics in gore frequently, so that would be well represented here (more of a sub-subgenre, really). The emphasis here would be on gore, front and center. This is pretty straightforward, and we're usually talking films that lean heavily into Exploitation (another large umbrella). The Friday the 13th films apply here, as would Torture Porn, Eli Roth, the new French Extremism, anything where the focus is on the artistry and effectiveness of the gore effects. The argument could be made that the more a film rejects traditional narrative in favor of excess and gore, the more of a splatter film it is.

GIALLO - Another catch-all term, this one would refer to the Italian form of exploitation cinema. It often was as much crime and suspense as it was Horror, but the intensity of the visuals tend to push it into traditional Horror, often as not. And sometimes it just leapt straight in, as with Argento and Bava. Narratively, very similar to a proper Slasher (and a huge influence on them), stuff like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage feels like a particularly frightening crime film, but as it went on, you get more outrageous, things like Suspiria and Bay of Blood. I have to admit, this is one of my less familiar subgenres, and I'd like to change that.

HOLIDAY HORROR - Simple enough, horror films based around a specific holiday. Christmas and Halloween, most often. They usually take the form of a Slasher, but not always. Sometimes there's elements of fantasy, like Krampus or Trick R Treat, or Home Invasion. You could even make the argument that The Purge films contains elements of this, days specified by the calendar for certain behavior. They often involve a family unit (as holidays are about family!) but not always.

HILLBILLY HORROR - Does Texas Chainsaw Massacre count as a Slasher? I guess it does, but it so deeply defines this subgenre I kind of instinctively push back a bit. Of course, it's unusual to find Hillbilly Horror that isn't kind of a Slasher. Separate from Folk Horror, which is being explored so much more definitively elsewhere, this is more in line with the dark corners of the world, personified as insane, often subhuman rural clans, lashing back at modernity, as personified by interloping teens from the city or somesuch. Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, even such weird ones as the House of Wax remake feature, these often feel very Red State/Blue State in their politics, being wild exaggerations of innate prejudices everyone has about the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. X-Files did this a lot, sometimes stumbling into, other times quite directly (as in the classic, Home).

I'd continue on, but I think I'm done for tonight. I think Metatextual Horror, while still touching on Slashers quite directly, might be its own post.

AMaybe the key difference between slasher & 'hillbilly' is that the slasher invades your life where you intrude upon the hillbilly's.

Then that would technically make the F13 movies hillbilly horror (at least the first 4 or 5), but they really don't qualify as such. I feel like to qualify as hillbilly/backwoods horror, that the antagonists have to be depicted as having something orbiting sexual desire/aberration, which is generally missing from your masked slasher types.


That's definitely something you'd commonly see in Hillbilly Horror, to be sure. And while I'm not trying to write a definitive essay on Slashers here, the sexual component, or lack thereof, is usually fascinating. Sometimes stifled sexuality, or even a kind of metaphorical impotence, is heavily implied. It's certainly a noted feature for real life serial killers, like Il Mostro. The act of stabbing, or penetrating, becomes a symbolic act. Which is to say nothing of the 'sex & drugs = death' conservative narrative most classic era slashers trafficked in.

So, how about some talk about Exploitation cinema?

EXPLOITATION HORROR - In my mind, this is an umbrella term that covers anything cheap, and obviously extends well beyond horror. Blaxploitation, Kung Fu, Sex Comedies/Thrillers, Biker movies. The list goes on and on. I tend to think most Slashers fall in here, as do most Splatter films, just about anything that aims low and for profit. There's any number of dumb entries here, and I recall reveling in the box art at the local video store. Titles like Blood Diner, Don't Go Into the Woods, and Maniac all fit like a glove here. So many, in fact, that it barely counts as its own subgenre, I'd say. It's more a Topic header, for stuff I've already mentioned and for the stuff below.

RAPE REVENGE HORROR - This is pretty hard to miss. Obviously it's a premise for a thriller or an action movie, sometimes, and that's generally classier. Lots of Korean cinema does that without dipping into proper Horror. But when it comes to I Spit On Your Grave and its imitators, the goal is plainly titillation through sex and violence. Or perhaps just catharsis, if you're being nice. Out of its pure Exploitation form, you don't really get a Horror movie out of this, e.g. Virgin Spring is not really a Horror film in its goals, while Last House on the Left absolutely is. The most lurid of the lurid.

CANNIBAL HORROR - This mostly refers to Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and every weird Italian or Spanish piece a garbage emulating them. Gross as shit, often racist, and as frequently as not infamous for some kind of off screen scandal (or on, in the case of Holocaust's animal killing). But I expect it applies to anything where cannibalism is the source of the horror. I wouldn't say Texas Chainsaw Massacre is proper Cannibal Horror, for example, as that's sort of an added bonus of grossness, almost incidental after the chainsaw/meathook killings that preceded it. Meanwhile, Ravenous bears very little in common with Ruggero Deodato, but it's still a Cannibal Horror film. As is Bone Tomahawk. Or Motel Hell.

DEMONIC/RELIGIOUS HORROR - A mainstay of the 70s and periodically ever after, these are films where Religion is true and therefore Satan is real, and an active force in the world. The Exorcist is of course the most famous, but you've got hundreds of examples. The number one mode of these seems to be Possession, as it comes from the wellspring of Exorcist, but there's also The Omen, or anything featuring demons, really. Sometimes it deals with the biblical Apocalypse, taking on Angels, Thrones, Principalities, Dominations, etc. Maybe it's in my head, but I feel like these get hot every fifteen years or so, and currently Blumhouse is doing a modern version with Demons both so secular they're pretty much ghosts (Insidious) and straight up Catholic (The Conjuring-verse). Would also apply to Cult Horror, sometimes, at least when those Cults are Satan-based.

ANIMALS ATACK! - This goes two ways, which would be the 50s era 'Oh no, all the Frogs/Spiders/Rabbits are attacking us!', which is less common nowadays, and Jaws, plus Jaws clones. I bet about half of these directly involve sharks, and the rest tend towards other large predators, like bears. Sometimes they're ridiculous, like Razorback or Black Sheep. There's maybe some inherent subtext about Mother Nature's Revenge, but I personally find these to tend towards some of the lower end of Horror movie goals, and any subtext is accidental, often as not. But still, Jaws.

MONSTERS - As I mentioned above, this is a pretty big category, and I'm comfortable putting anything here with a fucking monster in it. Everything from Deep Rising to The Blob to Godzilla. I don't care to define it beyond that, because like Exploitation, this can cover way too much. Honestly, one of the least helpful subgenre types.

AKiller doll flicks!

Another way of grouping to consider might be films that shared a certain status e.g. "Video Nasties" in the UK which ultimately became a sort of outlaw badge of honour, or Category III exploitation flicks in Hong Kong that covered rape/revenge, slasher, cannibal, supernatural etcetc but were notorious for being extra shocking, sleazy, extreme or even transgressive.

EVIL CHILDREN - So many. Anything with killer kids counts! The Bad Seed, The Good Son, Orphan. There can be a religious component to this, as in The Omen, or vague supernatural stuff, as in Who Can Kill a Child? or Village of the Damned. Sometimes ghost children are enough to qualify. Anything where the point is the subversion of assumed innocence. Sometimes they're a weird cult, as in Children of the Corn.

EVIL DOLLS - Creepy little representations of people! This would cover the gamut from the inanimate focal points of evil, most recently Annabelle (her solo films in particular are variations on this trope), to overt, walking-and-talking (and wisecracking) Child's Play killer, and everything in between. Stuff like Ken Russell's Dolls, or the Puppet Master franchise. I'd even consider the creepy pieces of stage dressing in the recent Woman in Black remake as qualifying, given how much of the film they seem to take up.

LITTLE MONSTERS - I think there were enough Gremlin clones to justify this. Anything with a little troll like creature, or more likely a horde of them, running amok in some kind of context - usually suburbia. You got your Gremlins, your Ghoulies, your Critters, your Munchies, and so on and so forth. Often with a comic bent. I'd say there's a number of Icon era Slasher films that qualify here, such as the Leprechaun series (and the sad crop of Leprechaun rip offs, such as Rumplestiltskin and Pinocchio's Revenge). I've never heard this specifically described as a subgenre, but I feel there's enough to list it here. A better title may be appropriate.

BODY HORROR - Might as well just be called Cronenberg, who I believe I indicated as a genre unto himself. But the pertinent characteristic would be the horror of something transformative or inexplicable happening to the body, which is a separate thing from just the usual slashing that might occur in a horror film. The Fly would be the platonic ideal of this, but it could also apply to films involving infection, like Cabin Fever, possession, as in Idle Hands, or alien stuff like impregnation, as in the Alien franchise. Body Modification is a newer avenue for this to appear through, as in American Mary, or even Tusk.

META HORROR - Self referential, like Scream. Stuff that's aware of the dichotomy between the way a Horror movie works and the way real life works, and comments on this. Scream is probably the first thing that occurs to anyone, and that ironic approach is familiar in such things as Shaun of the Dead. But it's not an exclusively comedic subgenre, and anything that deals with film reality vs reality reality applies, as in New Nightmare, In the Mouth of Madness, or The Dark Half. You could even include something like Candyman, contrasting what the supernatural slasher means to professional whites and economically depressed blacks in Chicago.

SOCIAL ISSUES HORROR - And speaking of Candyman, Horror is an excellent medium for exploring social ills, sometimes sneakily, as in Romero's Dead films, and sometimes quite overtly, like this year's Get Out. Racism seems to be the most common target, but you'll see them take on misogyny (Rosemary's Baby), consumerism (They Live), or something as specific as the self-actualization movement of the 70s (The Howling). And seeing as Horror movies have traditionally thrived on exploiting the current fears of a generation, it's not a stretch to tease out a social spine to just about anything in the genre!

URBAN LEGENDS - And speaking of Candyman. Urban Legends are fascinating, the outgrowth of societal fears of our time and place. Anything adapting famous urban legends, such as When a Stranger Calls, or inventing new ones (Candyman, again) is playing in this pond. And though this might seem like a small group of films, I think it extends to anything struggling with the hot-button issues of the day. The current crop of Internet-based horror springs to mind, which is probably a subgenre unto itself as well, but has a base in modern day dreads and anxieties.


I guess this is as good a thread as any to link to some of the best writing CHUD ever had, from Joshua Miller (he of the much-missed Franchise Me column), when he broke down Horror 101:

The Solo Hero

The Couple

The Stragglers

The Guy Who Knows Things

The Jokester

The Victim Pool

The Slasher

The Horde


Final Exam


Also I wrote a few weeks ago about a subgenre that I don't think you've mentioned yet: road trip horror. That's when people wander down the wrong highway and get into trouble. I compare Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and the movie Nocturnal Animals, basically saying they're the beginning and end of the genre.

There's a lot of crossover with "hillbilly horror," but whereas that is more about don't go into woods, road trip horror is more about don't leave civilization at all because those backwoods roads are untamed territory:

A[quote name="Bartleby_Scriven" url="/community/t/159636/horror-movies-the-subgenres#post_4371450"]I guess this is as good a thread as any to link to some of the best writing CHUD ever had, from Joshua Miller (he of the much-missed Franchise Me column), when he broke down Horror 101:

The Solo Hero
The Couple
The Stragglers
The Guy Who Knows Things
The Jokester
The Victim Pool
The Slasher
The Horde
Final Exam

I remember those.

And how does that make you feel?


Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)