Here’s our guide to how we categorize the many subgenres of horror here at Girl Meets Freak. Obviously much of this is subjective and could be thought through differently, but these are the definitions that work well for us. Please note that most films fit comfortably into multiple categories. Also note that we are not purists about defining “horror” and that many of the films cited below and reviewed on the blog are commonly attributed to other genres, especially the thriller, science fiction, fantasy and action genres.
Alien Invasion – A science fiction hybrid genre in which alien life forms invade, attack or infiltrate humanity. Some of these pictures depict the invasion as an overt, large-scale military conflict (Independence Day, War of the Worlds). In many others, the conflict is small-scale, isolated to one specific area (Predator, Attack the Block). A more psychological, paranoid iteration of this genre is the “soft invasion” film, where the aliens quietly infiltrate our world by posing as human beings (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders from Mars, They Live). Another key subset involves a single non-humanoid alien “monster” who goes on a rampage (The Thing, The Blob).
Animated Horror – This subgenre is defined by its medium, including any horror narrative told using animation. One major strain of this genre involves films made for and appropriate for younger audiences (Coraline, Monster House, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Spirited Away). The other major strain consists of adults-only animation. Much of this is Japanese anime (Vampire Hunter D, Wicked City, Perfect Blue, Akira, Blood: The Last Vampire), though there are many based on contemporary video games as well (Dead Space: Downfall, Resident Evil: Degeneration). Some of these adult-themed animated films can veer towards the “artier” side (Fears(s) of the Dark) or the “campier” side (The Haunted World of El Superbeasto).
Anthologies – This subgenre is defined by the structural element of the films within it. Also referred to as “portmanteau films,” these movies consist of multiple, independent narratives (the horror movie version of a short story collection). The different stories are often loosely connected by a “frame story.” The earliest example of the modern anthology film is often considered to be 1945’s Dead of Night. One film company, Amicus Productions, specialized in producing anthology films in the 1960s/’70s, their most famous works being Tales from the Crypt and The House That Dripped Blood. There are several classic “arthouse” anthologies such as Black Sabbath, Spirits of the Dead and Kwaidan. Well-known mainstream examples would be Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Tales from the Hood and Three… Extremes.
Backwoods Horror – Also called “redneck” or “hillbilly horror.” Films in this genre involve people from urban or suburban environments travelling into rural settings and being hunted, tortured or killed by the local residents. This type of movie often combines elements of the slasher, splatter and/or torture porn genres (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Just Before Dawn, The Hills Have Eyes, Eaten Alive, Mother’s Day). Some of the classic “Rape/Revenge” movies of the 1970s fit into this category (I Spit on Your Grave, Deliverance). Some of these films contain Southern Gothic elements, such as Spider Baby. One bizarre substrain are “human hunting” movies, in which human beings are hunted through wilderness areas by deranged sportsmen (The Most Dangerous Game, Surviving the Game, The Naked Prey).
Blaxploitation – A strain of exploitation horror cinema set in an African-American milieu. These are often “black versions” of classic horror properties (Blacula, Blackenstein, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) or movies that borrow the basic premise of a popular horror film and reimagine it in an all-black world (as Abby does with The Exorcist). In contemporary cinema, these are often horror movies set in stereotypically African-American environments such as the inner city (Tales from the Hood, Bones, The People Under the Stairs) or movies that insert a young black cast into a classic horror scenario such as the “cabin in the woods” (Holla, Somebody Help Me) or the “zombie apocalypse” (Dead Heist).
Body Horror – For Girl Meets Freak, body horror refers to films in which the slow deterioration or disintegration of the human body is central to the plot of the film. Key examples of this would be Cronenberg’s take on The Fly, Cabin Fever, From Beyond and Slither. This subgenre also includes films in which the human body mutates, changes or evolves in ways that have profound psychological effects on the characters (Videodrome, Teeth, Altered States, Tetsuo: The Iron Man). This also includes films in which the fetishization of damaged or altered bodies is key to the plot (Crash, Dead Ringers, Antichrist). A distinct substrain would be “medical horror” films in which bodies are modified or surgically altered in grotesque ways (The Human Centipede, Eyes Without a Face). Some of these movies also feature the body turning against itself (The Hand, Body Parts, The Eye).
Cannibalismo! – Films about non-supernatural human beings who consume the flesh of other humans. Many of these are exploitation films dealing with “savage” indigenous tribes who hunt, capture and eat white foreigners (Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive!). Sometimes the cannibals are Westerners who live seemingly “normal” lives but secretly kill and eat people (We Are What We Are, Parents). More often these cannibal families are social outcasts, either isolated and/or inbred rural families (Motel Hell, Frontiers) or the urban homeless (Raw Meat, Creep). Another key substrain consists of “survival” films in which people stranded in the wilderness must turn to cannibalism to survive (Ravenous, Alive).
Demons & Possessions – Films that deal with demonic entities or beings. Many of these focus on instances of demonic possession (The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, Demons), while some deal with demonic creatures that have been conjured or summoned from another plane of existence (The Gate, Hellraiser). In others, a primordial or chthonic beast is awakened and goes on a rampage (Pumpkinhead, Rawhead Rex, Jeepers Creepers). There is a distinct substrain of this genre that deals with malevolent angelic beings and Christian mythology (Constantine, The Prophecy, Legion).
Documentaries – Non-fiction films that chronicle horror cinema, either from behind-the-scenes or as a cultural overview. Many horror documentaries focus on specific popular film franchises (Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th). Others focus on the biography of single producer or director in the genre (Corman’s World, Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows). There are the more general surveys of horror cinema (Terror in the Aisles, Nightmares in Red, White & Blue), as well as documentaries that zero in on specific aspects of the industry (American Scary, Machete Maidens Unleashed, Not Quite Hollywood, American Grindhouse, S&Man). Some documentaries are about real-life horrors, often presented as true crime thrillers (Cropsey, Capturing the Friedmans). There are also “mondo” movies (or “shockumentaries“): lurid exploitation documentaries about sensational topics like cannibalism or “caught-on-tape” death sequences (Mondo Cane, Mondo Bizarro, Faces of Death).
Eco-Horror – Films in which nature retaliates against mankind in some way. Oftentimes this takes the form of a specific species of animal “going haywire” (Frogs, The Birds, Slugs, Kingdom of the Spiders), though there are also many pictures where a single, individual animal preys on people (Jaws, Cujo, Lake Placid, Razorback). Sometimes the animals’ behavior results from scientific experimentation (Deep Blue Sea, Monkey Shines). In others of these films, “Nature” as a whole strikes back at humanity (Day of the Animals, Long Weekend). A minor substrain of this would be “killer plants” movies (The Happening, The Ruins).
Erotic Thrillers & Sexploitation – Many erotic thrillers feature a stalker who harasses the protagonist until a confrontation in the final act. Oftentimes, there is a sexual affair or marriage that the stalker cannot let go of. The stalker is usually a possessive and deranged woman (Fatal Attraction), though sometimes it is a man (Fear). The “whodunit” erotic thriller is another key substrain, in which a protagonist – often a police officer, detective, psychiatrist or lawyer – gets caught up in a steamy love affair while trying to solve a murder or series of killings (Basic Instinct). In a slightly different iteration, the torrid affair is the thing that leads the protagonist into a world of crime and conspiracy (Body Heat). Meanwhile, sexploitation movies consist of softcore trash cinema aimed at titillating the audience, such as Russ Meyer’s “nudie cuties” (The Immoral Mr. Teas) or the more violent “roughies,” like H.G. Lewis’ Scum of the Earth! A key subset is the Japanese “pinky” (Entrails of a Beautiful Woman), though many of the exploitation subgenres (such as “nunsploitation” and “Nazisploitation” movies) contain softcore and/or sexually explicit content.
Evil Children & Monstrous Pregnancies – Movies in which the antagonists are, or appear to be, children. In its most common form, a single homicidal child goes on a killing spree (The Bad Seed, Joshua, The Good Son). Sometimes the “reason” for the child’s nature is supernatural or Satanic (Case 39, The Omen, Whisper). Some of these films feature gangs of children who kill together (Children of the Corn, Eden Lake, Devil Times Five, Who Can Kill a Child?). Others feature mutant or monstrous children or infants (It’s Alive, Grace, The Kindred, The Brood). Another key substrain are films featuring aberrant or parasitic pregnancies (Rosemary’s Baby, Baby Blood, Demon Seed, The Unborn).
Ghosts & Hauntings – Any film that deals with malevolent spirits or ghosts. A major strain of these are “haunted house” movies that focus on hauntings relegated to a specific residence (Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Haunting, The Amityville Horror). Others focus simply on paranormal phenomenon in which the spirits of the dead intrude on the living (Insidious, Pulse [Kairo], Lake Mungo). In some, the focus is on a deadly, but vaguely-defined, supernatural force (Final Destination). There is a substrain of “artier” horror movies that use the conceit of hauntings as metaphors for mental deterioration and/or the presence of evil in the world (The Shining, Hour of the Wolf). In these films, whether or not the haunting is “real” is unclear.
Giallo – An Italian iteration of the slasher genre. These films center around a mysterious unseen killer (often in black gloves and/or a trenchcoat) who will be “caught” in the final act. Giallo films often function more as Hitchcockian thrillers than the traditional slasher, with pronounced procedural/detective elements, but they retain the brutal, elaborately-staged kill scenes of the slasher. The term giallo (“yellow”) comes from the Italian tradition of publishing lurid crime thrillers with yellow covers. Key auteurs in the giallo genre are Dario Argento (Deep Red, Tenebrae), Mario Bava (Twitch of the Death Nerve, The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin). Other key films in the genre include The Black Belly of the Tarantula, Torso, Stagefright and The House with Laughing Windows. Some American films have self-consciously adopted the tropes of the giallo (Dressed to Kill, Eyes of Laura Mars, Alice, Sweet Alice).
Giant Monsters & Kaiju – Movies that feature gigantic creatures. These could be common animals that have grown or mutated beyond their normal size (Anaconda, Them!), or fantastical creatures of great size (The Host, Tremors). Daikaiju movies like Godzilla or Mothra would be classic examples of this genre. Another distinct strain of this subgenre is the “ocean monster” movie, as in DeepStar Six, Leviathan, Deep Rising, It Came from Beneath the Sea, et al.
Hagsploitation – A certain kind of exploitation film that features an older woman who is dangerous, insane or mentally unstable. These roles are often played by Hollywood stars who had “aged out” of leading lady roles, such as Bette Davis in The Nanny, Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket, Joan Fontaine in The Devil’s Own, Barbara Stanwyck in The Night Walker, and Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling. In some of these films, the leading lady is the victim of psychotic or murderous youths (such as Olivia de Havilland in Lady in a Cage or Lana Turner in The Big Cube). Often these films pit two older women against one another, with one trying to drive the other insane, as Bette Davis does with Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (other examples are found in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte). More recent examples would be Misery with Kathy Bates, Hush with Jessica Lange and Mother’s Day with Rebecca De Mornay.
Horror-Adjacent Dramas – These are films which have little to no horror elements, but feature characters related to or involved in the horror movie industry. Mostly these are biopics of important horror luminaries (Ed Wood in Ed Wood, James Whale in Gods & Monsters, Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces). In other instances, they are films that are considered to be dramas but take place partially or mostly within the world of genre film-making (Baghead, Barton Fink). Many of the films of Pedro Almodóvar fall into this camp (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Bad Education, Broken Embraces).
Horror Comedy – Some horror comedies are spoofs, where slapstick and absurdism are employed to send up the tropes of the genre (Scary Movie, Young Frankenstein). In some, popular comedians are placed into classic horror movie scenarios (The Ghost Breakers, The Private Eyes). Some horror movies employ over-the-top gore and ridiculous premises for comic effect (Dead Alive, Evil Dead II). Some movie studios, like Troma Entertainment, make purposefully-bad B-movies that play as comedies (The Toxic Avenger, Rabid Grannies). One distinct substrain of horror comedy are “meta-commentaries” that act as both love letters to the genre as well as send-ups of their conventions (Shaun of the Dead, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil). Meanwhile, many “mainstream” horror movies aimed at a more general audience employ humor and absurdity to balance out the scares (Ghostbusters, Gremlins).
Infections & Plagues – These are movies that feature a deadly plague or virus that has no supernatural elements (like re-animating the dead, for instance). For this reason, plagues that turn the infected into psychotic killers (like in 28 Days Later or The Crazies) would qualify, because the infected are not re-animated corpses, but simply deranged people. But usually these movies simply feature fast-acting, degenerative diseases that kill their victims in horrible ways (Panic in the Streets, Carriers, Contagion, The Masque of the Red Death) or, in rare cases, simply incapacitate them (Blindness). This genre overlaps with “Body Horror” when they deal with deterioration of the body as the disease kills the infected person (Cabin Fever, Infection [Kansen]).
Killer Machines – Often a science fiction hybrid genre that features murderous machines. There are many different subsets to this category: movies that feature killer robots or cyborgs (The Terminator, Chopping Mall, Hardware); movies that feature cursed cars or trucks that go on killing sprees (Christine, The Car, Maximum Overdrive); movies featuring a malevolent computer system (2001: A Space Odyssey, Demon Seed); or movies about a haunted piece of software or media (The Ring, Pulse [Kairo]). A bizarre substrain of these films concern human killers who become digitized or computerized and use technology to commit their crimes (The Horror Show, Virtuosity, Ghost in the Machine).
Killer Manikins – Movies that feature a murderous non-mechanized artificial humanoid, such as dolls (Dolls, Small Soldiers) or dummies (Dead Silence). This also deals with human killers who fetishize or channel their crimes through mannequins (Tourist Trap, Magic, Pin). The most popular iteration of this genre is the Child’s Play film series, in which the spirit of a dead murderer is transferred into a Cabbage Patch Kid-like doll through a voodoo ritual. The other major subgenre franchise is the mostly direct-to-DVD series of Puppet Master films.
Mad Scientists – Films that feature a scientist who is either deranged or who compromises their own ethics in the pursuit of science. Almost always, the “mad” scientist character is responsible for the creation of a monster who causes havoc (Splice, Re-Animator, Deep Blue Sea). Any iteration of the Frankenstein story that focuses on the “Dr. Frankenstein” character would fit this subgenre. In many classic horror scenarios, the scientist transforms themself into a monster (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man). Others focus on scientists who “open doorways to other worlds” in the course of their experimentation, letting strange creatures into our reality (From Beyond, Hellbound: Hellraiser II).
Mindfuck – Movies with pronounced surreal elements or fractured narrative structures. These films may also contain ambiguous plot elements or unresolved endings that defy easy interpretation, leaving key aspects of the narrative “up for debate.” Films that deal with time travel are a key substrain of this genre, usually featuring narratives that loop back in on themselves and are thus difficult to decipher (Timecrimes, Triangle, Primer, Donnie Darko). Surrealist horror films often partially or completely eschew plot structures (Santa Sangre, Mulholland Drive, Hour of the Wolf). In other examples, the narrative continually blurs what is “real” and what is “not real” throughout the course of the movie (The Game, Gothic, Naked Lunch). Lastly are “twist ending” films, whose final act changes and recontextualizes everything that has come before it, often requiring a second or third viewing of the film to truly unpack the layers of meaning (The Sixth Sense, The Uninvited Guest, Dead End).
Monstrous Mythology – Monster movies that draw their horror elements from folklore and mythology. Often these creatures are associated with the fantasy genre, such as leprechauns (Leprechaun), trolls (Trollhunter, Troll), genies (The Lamp, Wishmaster) or fairies (Darkness Falls). Another common substrain features “reimaginings” of classic fairy tales or folk stories (Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Red Riding Hood, Sleepy Hollow). Others draw inspiration from common folklore or urban legends, such as the Yeti/Bigfoot (The Legend of Boggy Creek, Horror Express), the boogeyman (Boogeyman, They) or the Mothman (The Mothman Prophecies). Another strain involves films featuring creatures from pagan mythologies, sometimes of ancient civilizations (Q: The Winged Serpent, Gargoyles, The Gorgon).
Mummies & Golems – These films feature revenants or reanimated corpses distinct from zombies in that they do not feed on human flesh and are often created or summoned by humans. Mummy films concern the reanimation of bodies left behind by ancient civilizations, sometimes accidentally awakened by people who disturb their graves, sometimes purposefully brought back by people who wish to use them as instruments of murder (The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand, The Awakening). Golem films either concern beings made of clay who are magically animated (The Golem, It!), or beings sewn together from disparate human parts who are brought back to life by human hands (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, May, Frankenhooker).
Mutants & Man-Beasts – Most often films about mutated humans who kill and eat the living, much like zombies do (Mutants, The Descent, C.H.U.D.). In these films the mutated persons are usually animalistic, driven by instinct rather than higher reasoning skills. In others, the mutants retain human intelligence and organize themselves into feral clan or tribe-like communities (Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes). There is often overlap with the “Mad Scientists” subgenre, where the mutations occur as the result of scientific experimentation (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Splice, The Fly).
Ozploitation & Kiwi Horror – A kind of exploitation cinema defined by its location. Ozploitation pictures are both made in and set in Australia, drawing on the landscape and cultural fabric of the country to drive the story and the style. These movies “exploit” uniquely Australian settings, themes and motifs, often commenting on and mythologizing “the Outback” for horrific effect (Wake in Fright, Long Weekend, Razorback, Road Games). Often these films are set in dystopian near-futures (Turkey Shoot, Mad Max, Dead End Drive-In). In other instances, the Australian setting is incidental to the plot but essential to the mood and tone of the film (Patrick, Night of Fear, Fortress, Next of Kin). Recent examples would be Wolf Creek, Black Water, The Loved Ones, and Lake Mungo. Kiwi horror films hail from New Zealand, the best known of which are Peter Jackson’s splatterfests (Bad Taste, Dead Alive).
Parasitic Horror – Movies in which parasitic organisms invade and “take over” the bodies of human beings. The earliest classic example of this subgenre is the William Castle production The Tingler, which is famous for the “Percepto!” gimmick technology that accompanied theater screenings of the film (which were simply vibrating devices installed in the chairs). There is often overlap with the “Body Horror” subgenre, as the presence of the parasite leads to the deterioration of the host body (Shivers, Brain Damage). In many of these films, the invading organism is extraterrestrial in origin (The Hidden, Night of the Creeps, The Faculty). One of the campiest iterations is The Stuff, in which a chthonic organism disguises itself as a popular snack food in order to take over the minds and bodies of the American people.
Pop Trash Amphetamine – Cult or camp classics that employ some of the tropes of horror films. These are often maximalist exercises that utilize over-the-top gore, stylized dialogue with lots of pop culture references and hallucinatory or dream-like imagery to shock and/or titillate. The films of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble), Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Private Parts) and Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, The Living End) are classic examples of this genre. Other notable movies would be Repo Man, Liquid Sky, Forbidden Zone and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Contemporary films in this subgenre include Southland Tales and Detention.
Post-Apocalyptic & Dystopian Horror – Often films which take place after a global catastrophe has significantly reduced the Earth’s population. The apocalyptic “event” varies from film to film. In many, it is a global pandemic that wipes out most of humanity (The Road, 12 Monkeys, Carriers, Doomsday). In others, it is a virus that turns victims into bloodthirsty killers and/or cannibals (28 Days Later, The Last Man on Earth). In fact, the most common horror movie apocalypse is now the zombie outbreak, coming in many iterations from low-budget art film (Colin) to comedy (Zombieland) to television drama (The Walking Dead). However, others of these films are science fiction hybrids set in a dystopian near-future, centering on the new, often barbaric, civilization that rises from the ashes (The Road Warrior, Delicatessan, The Book of Eli, Stake Land, Cherry 2000, Escape from New York, Rollerball, Dead End Drive-In). There’s also a key substrain of “teensploitation” pictures in which the antagonists are bands of rampaging teenagers who embody moral and social decay (Class of 1984, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, A Clockwork Orange).
Protohorror – A historical subgenre, consisting of silent films made during the early days of cinema, from about 1896 to the early 1930s. Many of the tropes, traditions and conceits of horror cinema began to take shape during this period. Many of these films were based on classic works of literature (The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Fall of the House of Usher). Several horror masterpieces came out of the German Expressionist movement during this time (The Man Who Laughs, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Faust, The Golem, The Hands of Orlac).
Psychics & Telekinetics – Movies that feature characters who have special powers, like the ability to tell the future, read people’s thoughts, control others, move objects or start fires with their mind. In most cases, it is the protagonist who possesses these abilities and uses them to fight their enemies (Firestarter, Scanners, The Fury). In some cases these films contain “detective” or procedural elements, as the protagonist uses their powers to solve crime (The Dead Zone, The Gift). A weird substrain of these films involves dream projection and takes place largely in dream-like or hallucinatory states of consciousness (The Cell, Dreamscape).
Psychological Thrillers – One strain of this genre is the “serial killer” film that does not contain slasher elements. In these movies the focus is on a law enforcement officer or detective who works to “solve” the crimes and catch the killer. These films have significant procedural elements to the plot (Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs). The other strain is the “descent into madness” film in which the protagonist struggles to keep a hold on their own sanity. It is often unclear, in the course of the film, if the main character is insane or not, or to what degree they are disturbed (Black Swan, Take Shelter, Gaslight, The Talented Mr. Ripley). Two key substrains here are “hostage” movies, in which the protagonists are beset upon by criminals (Panic Room, Wait Until Dark, The Collector, Funny Games), and “stalker” movies, where a protagonist is targeted by an unhinged person who harasses them until a confrontation in the final act (Cape Fear, Pacific Heights, Strangers on a Train, Play Misty for Me, One Hour Photo).
Rape/Revenge – In these movies, acts of rape lead to vigilantism where someone, in the manner of a slasher, stalks and dispatches the rapist(s). Often the vigilante is the woman who was herself raped by the perpetrators (I Spit On Your Grave, Ms. 45). But in some cases, the vigilante is a woman (or group of women) either close to the rape victim or simply fed up (Savage Streets, Hard Candy), or the parents of the rape victim (The Last House on the Left, The Virgin Spring). Sometimes the film becomes a dark female buddy picture, as two women join forces and go on a rampage (Thelma & Louise, Baise-moi). A distinct substrain of these movies feature a male vigilante avenging the rape and/or murder of a woman (Irreversible, Death Wish, I Saw the Devil). The strangest subset may be the “couples-in-danger” films, where a married couple is kidnapped and held hostage by an attractive but dangerous criminal who menaces the wife sexually (sometimes, but not always, raping her) until the couple can turn the tables and exact vengeance (Dead Calm, Cape Fear, Straw Dogs). Some Japanese “pinkies” follow a rape/revenge model (Go, Go Second Time Virgin).
Religious Cults & Satanists – Films that feature devil worship or Satanism (House of the Devil, Rosemary’s Baby, The Devil Rides Out). Many of these films come from the 1970s, when “Satanic thrillers” were a pop culture fad (The Omen, Race with the Devil, The Sentinel). Also includes movies about religious cults or fanaticism, whether they be fringe Christian sects (Red State, End of the Line) or pagan cults that worship pre-Christian deities (The Wicker Man, Children of the Corn). Some “nunsploitation” movies feature nuns being seduced by Satanic forces (Satánico Pandemonium, Alucarda).
Slashers – Films that feature a psychopathic killer stalking and dispatching victims. In the “classic” slasher, the killer is often masked or unseen by the audience, and the film ends with a confrontation between the killer and the only remaining victim, who is usually female (Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street). In some the killer is the protagonist and the film makes his psychology central to the story (Maniac). This subgenre has its roots in the Italian “giallo,” with films like Blood and Black Lace and Twitch of the Death Nerve establishing many of the genre conventions that slashers rely on. The “Golden Age” of the slasher is considered to run from the late 1970s though the end of the 1980s, during which dozens of “body count” slashers were churned out, often with titles that reference holidays (Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day) or scenarios unique to teens (Graduation Day, Prom Night, The House on Sorority Row, Slumber Party Massacre).
Space Horror – This subgenre is defined by its setting. These films most often take place on a spacecraft or space station (Alien, Event Horizon). In others, the setting is any planet or planetoid other than Earth, such as Mars, the Moon or a fictional world (Screamers, Pitch Black, Apollo 18). The space horror film arose during the science-fiction boom of the 1950s, when paranoia and fascination with the Atomic Age infiltrated all aspects of American culture in films like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and This Island Earth. In the 1960s, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey codified the genre’s two dominant modes: pulpy, low-budget thrillers and high-concept, philosophical epics.
Splatter Flicks – This subgenre is defined by the style of special effects used. These movies focus on detailed depictions of graphic violence and gore, often with a comic sense of exaggeration and theatricality. The splatter genre is widely considered to begin with the exploitation films of Herschell Gordon Lewis (called “the Godfather of Gore”), such as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! and The Wizard of Gore. The Italian director Lucio Fulci is also considered an important figure in the history of splatter or “gore” cinema, especially his films Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead. Classic examples of splatter cinema are Dead Alive, The Evil Dead, Re-Animator and Demons. Film companies like Troma Studios specialize in comedic, low-budget splatter (The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead). There’s a distinct Japanese subset of contemporary splatter films notable for their stylized comic book violence and excessive gore (Tokyo Gore Police, Versus).
Teensploitation – These “teens gone wild” films are similar to the “Evil Children” subgenre, in which teenagers are the antagonists of the horror/thriller narrative. Many of movies are set in dystopian near-futures (Class of ’84, A Clockwork Orange), while others are set in “average” communities in which social decay has led to violent and/or anti-social behavior in teenagers (River’s Edge, Disturbing Behavior). Some of these films center around teenagers literally turning into monsters (I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Ginger Snaps). Some of these invert the formula of the classic slasher and cast deranged teens as sadistic killers rather than simpering victims (Funny Games).
Torture Porn & New French Extremity – A subgenre of extreme violence and psychological depravity. “Torture porn” movies, like slasher films, usually involve a killer or group of killers who hunt down and dispatch a set of victims, but these movies focus on long, drawn-out scenarios of torture, mutilation and humiliation rather than the quick, “explosive” death scenes of the traditional slasher. There’s often a lot of overlap with the “Backwoods Horror” genre here (Wolf Creek, House of 1,000 Corpses). “New French Extremity” is a term applied to a contemporary strain of French cinema featuring shocking, protracted scenes of torture and rape (Martyrs, Inside, Sheitan, High Tension). Many subgenres of exploitation movies are structured around sequences of torture and degradation (usually with some kind of sexually charged or softcore sensibility), such as Japanese “pinkies” (The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Wife to Be Sacrificed),”women in prison” films (The Big Doll House, Caged Heat, The Concrete Jungle), “Nazisploitation” films (Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, Salon Kitty, Saló, The Night Porter), and “nunsploitation” films (The Nun and the Devil, The Devils, School of the Holy Beast).
Vampires & Blood-fiends – Movies about undead creatures who feed off the blood of the living. The classic strain of this genre is based on or inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Many movies reimagine the monster as an attractive human-like figure that often seduces its victims (many versions of Dracula, The Lost Boys, Fright Night). These movies often have a strong sexual undercurrent to the violence. Other vampire films take their cues from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film Nosferatu, an adaptation of the Stoker novel where the monster is hideous and feral rather than enchanting and seductive (30 Days of Night, ‘Salem’s Lot). The most significant substrain is made up of “lesbian vampire” films, in which the antagonist is often a lone female vampire (Daughters of Darkness, The Vampire Lovers, Lair of the White Worm). Other substrains include the “vampire Western” (Near Dark, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat) and the “vampire hunter” film (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade).
War Is Hell – Movies set in and around military conflicts that use the tropes of horror films – such as extreme gore, mental decay/madness, or acts of cannibalism and torture – to depict war as nightmarish and dehumanizing (as opposed to an “action movie” approach to the war film that emphasizes heroism, self-sacrifice and patriotism). Most often, these are anti-war films that use shock and horror in order to drive home war’s brutality and moral wrongness. Classics in this subgenre include Come and See, All Quiet on the Western Front and Fires on the Plain. Many of the American-made or -financed films in this subgenre concern the Vietnam War, such as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter. This subgenre also includes low-budget exploitation movies such as Troma’s War and Combat Shock, international “art films” such as The Burmese Harp, and gory Italian war movies like The Last Hunter.
Weres & Shapeshifters – These are films in which humans transform into animals or animal-like creatures, most commonly a werewolf. The classic werewolf narrative contains heavy psychological elements, as the main character is often someone who has become unwillingly infected with “the curse” and struggles to contain the beast within them (The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps). However in other films the identity of the werewolf is unclear, and the plot focuses instead on the people battling against the monster (Silver Bullet, The Howling, Dog Soldiers). There’s a distinct substrain of werewolf pictures that blend in classic fantasy elements (Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Company of Wolves). Some horror movies depict humanoid shapeshifters who turn into other kinds of animals, such as cats (Cat People, Sleepwalkers).
Witchcraft & Black Magic – Movies which prominently feature the practice of witchcraft, voodoo, santería, brujería or other occult arts. The focus in these films is usually not on the worship of a pagan or primordial deity (such as Satan or other earth god), but instead on the use of “dark arts” to wield power, control others, or channel the forces of nature at will. Some of these films center on small covens or groups of magic-users (The Craft, Suspiria), while others focus on a single antagonist who uses black magic (Black Sunday, Burn Witch Burn). Some of these films center around the use of voodoo and other Afro-Caribbean magicks (The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Skeleton Key).
Zombies – Mostly, films that deal with dead bodies reanimating and feeding on the living (Night of the Living Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, Zombie [Zombi 2]). In some cases, the reanimated dead simply kill and do not feed on their victims (Pet Sematary, The Fog). A key substrain are Caribbean voodoo-style zombie movies (I Walked with a Zombie, White Zombie, The Serpent and the Rainbow), in which the zombie is a not a flesh-eating monster, but a brainwashed automaton who does the bidding of their master (often a voodoo priest or cult).