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Genre Breakdown: The Different Types of Horror Films

Jourdan Aldredge

In this tour of the horror film genre, we break down some of the best-known sub-genres for tips on how to improve your own horror filmmaking endeavors.

In what has almost become a rite of passage for aspiring filmmakers and their friends, the “let’s go out into the woods, rent a cabin, and shoot a horror film” probably happens a hundred times every weekend, around the world.

When you go back the origins of the horror genre in film history, it’s no surprise that one of the earliest adopters would be the French filmmaker George Méliès, with his short film Le Manoir du Diable (The House of the Devil) in 1896. However, we would have to note, as well, that the Japanese weren’t far behind, releasing two of the earliest horror films ever documented in Shinin No Sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse), and Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook) in 1898.

However, as we follow the genre from its international roots into the modern day, we find that horror not only lends itself to indie and DIY filmmaking, but it also includes some of the most diverse and creative sub-genres. (If you need a quick primer on genre theory, check out this article first.)

Slasher Horror

Helene Udy and Peter Cowper in "My Bloody Valentine"

George Mihalka‘s My Bloody Valentine is a cult classic of the horror sub-genre. (Image via Paramount Pictures.)

Let’s start with one of the most beloved horror sub-genres. Many consider the horror slasher film one of the most sensational and popular of the genre. You can trace its origins to John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, where it enjoyed a prominent run in the ’80s and ’90s, perhaps culminating in the mainstream success of the slasher-esque thriller The Silence of the Lambs.

The slasher is still alive today, but like most contemporary horror, it’s often self-aware — if not self-deprecating. Slasher films can be pretty straightforward to write and shoot, though, as they simply need to follow standard thriller plot points, leading back to the systematic hunting of an unknown assailant.

Zombie Horror

Scene from "Dawn of the Dead"

George A. Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead was one in a series of zombie sub-genre films. (Image via United Film Distribution Company.)

Another of the most recognized horror sub-genres is the zombie film. Introduced in 1968 by horror maestro George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead quickly became a fan favorite. As the sub-genre evolved, we saw a diversion as the sub-genre embraced comedy and lightheartedness with Shaun of the Dead, compared to hyper-realized franchises like 28 Days Later.

Zombie films are often fun projects for aspiring horror filmmakers, as the styles and tropes are so widely known at this point. And other than some makeup and costume design, the zombie horror film doesn’t require much, and you can film it pretty much anywhere.

Folk Horror

Scene from "Children of the Corn"

Folk horror is a sub-genre that explores both the unknown and the terror of nature. (Image via New World Pictures.)

Outside of such hallmark styles as slashers and zombies, there are many horror sub-genres that more thoroughly explore what we find fascinating and frightening. Folk horror is a sub-genre that explores the terror of the unknown in natural and rural regions — beyond the safe confines of urban life. We see folk horror cross into other genres, but it remains strong with its core themes in classics like Children of the Corn and modern films like Midsommar.

Body Horror

Michael Ironside in "Scanners"

The body horror sub-genre explores the possible abominations within our own selves. (Image via Embassy Pictures.)

Body horror is a sub-genre that examines the terrors of our own human bodies. The sub-genre often gets associated with the career of horror filmmaker David Cronenberg and his classics, including Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly. However, you can find traces of body horror in everything from Alien to The Human Centipede.

Found Footage Horror

Heather Donahue in "The Blair Witch Project"

Since The Blair Witch Project, found footage horror has only continued to grow in popularity as a filmmaking technique. (Image via Artisan Entertainment.)

One of the most surprisingly successful horror sub-genres of the past few decades has been found footage horror. This is great news for limited-budget and micro-budget filmmakers, as this sub-genre certainly lends itself to minimal and DIY productions.

It’s an odd marriage between the rapidly advancing modern technologies like video recording, home video, and smartphones, and the same classic horror fears we explored above — like those we find in slasher, folk horror, and zombie films.

The hallmark found footage horror film would, of course, be The Blair Witch Project — released in 1999 with a $60,000 budget. It earned well over $200 million. Since then, we’ve seen big franchises and films like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and V/H/S, thrive.

Cover image via Warner Bros.

For more genre theory and horror filmmaking tips and tricks, check out some of these articles:

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