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Horror movies cause an adrenaline spike, but the varied subgenres induce fear in different ways. A slasher and a psychological horror prey on different fears.

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What Is Horror?

Horror is a film genre that’s scary for the purpose of entertainment. Horror movies prey on viewers’ biggest fears and worst nightmares, leaving them with a sense of dread and a rush of adrenaline. These films don’t all look the same—in fact, there are many types of horror, from psychological to gore, that filmmakers use to craft great horror films.

Horror overlaps with many other genres: the thriller genre, which aims to feel suspenseful and exciting; and the sci-fi or fantasy genres, which often feature strange creatures or the unknown.

What Are the Characteristics of Horror Films?

Here are some common elements that can be found throughout the horror film genre:

  • More action than dialogue: Show the audience, don’t tell them, what the characters are afraid of.
  • Mounting suspense: Pacing the story and the action to take viewers by surprise.
  • Jump scares: Sudden loud noises or unexpected images that make viewers jump.
  • Gore: Gruesome death or torture scenes with blood and guts to further unsettle the audience.
  • A villain or a monster: Anyone—or anything—that’s beyond control. The audience needs to know what drives the bad guy and what they’re capable of.

8 Horror Subgenres

While all horror films are meant to frighten audiences, there are a number of different methods and subgenres of horror that filmmakers may use to make their films scary:

  1. Psychological horror: Psychological horror films rely on mental and emotional fear, rather than violence or monsters, focusing on characters’ states of mind throughout the story. Examples of psychological horror include The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho.
  2. Slasher: Slasher films usually focus on a serial killer (think Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger) as they go after a group of people. Classic slasher films include Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  3. Gore: Gore films, also called splatter films, zero in on the vulnerability of the human body, often with frequent close-ups. Examples of gore films include The Evil Dead and Saw.
  4. Body horror: Closely related to gore, films in the body horror subgenre may feature scenes of the human body that has been severely altered. Filmmaker David Cronenberg is considered a pioneer in the body horror subgenre. Horror films that feature body horror include The Fly, The Thing, and The Exorcist.
  5. Found footage: Found footage is a horror genre in which the film is portrayed as if it were “discovered” by the filmmakers rather than created by them. For instance, main characters finding footage of an unknown evil on an old video recorder. Examples of found footage films include The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield.
  6. Monster horror: Many horror films capitalize on the fear of the unknown by featuring frightening monsters from science fiction and dark fantasy. Werewolves, vampires, aliens are often the main antagonists of this horror subgenre. Most recently, undead and zombie films have been an especially popular form of the classic monster movie. Examples of monster horror films include Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, Jaws, Godzilla, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, and Alien.
  7. Paranormal horror: The paranormal horror subgenre is similar to monster horror, but rather than featuring corporeal beings, paranormal horror focuses on the monsters we can’t touch—supernatural entities like ghosts, spirits, and demons. Paranormal films often feature haunted houses, possession, exorcism, or occult worship. Examples of paranormal horror include The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, Carrie, and Poltergeist.
  8. Comedy horror: Horror doesn’t always have to leave your skin crawling—there is an entire subset of horror movies that aims to make you laugh at the same time. Examples of comedy horror include Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.