Horror: 101 [The Beginner’s Guide]

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The horror genre has been around for centuries, and it continues to captivate audiences with its ability to evoke fear and suspense. For beginners, however, delving into this genre can be a daunting task. With so many sub-genres, tropes, and themes, it can be challenging to know where to start.

Your Beginner’s Quick-Start Guide to Everything Spooky

That’s where our Beginner’s Quick-Start Guide comes in. This guide is designed to provide newcomers with the essential information they need to get started with the horror genre. It covers everything from the origins of horror to the different sub-genres, such as supernatural horror, slasher horror, and psychological horror.

Whether you’re a fan of Halloween or simply looking to explore a new genre, this guide will help you get started. From tips on how to identify the different sub-genres to recommendations for classic horror films and books, The Horror Genre 101: Beginner’s Quick-Start Guide is the perfect resource for anyone looking to dive into the world of horror.

Key Takeaways

Here are five quick key takeaways to help beginners understand the horror genre:

  1. Horror has several sub-genres: Gothic, paranormal, slasher, creature feature, and psychological horror are some of the most well-known sub-genres of horror. Each sub-genre has its own distinct characteristics, themes, and tropes that make it unique.
  2. Horror is all about creating fear: The primary goal of horror is to evoke fear and terror in the audience. This can be achieved through a variety of techniques such as jump scares, suspense, gore, and psychological horror.
  3. Horror is not just about monsters: While monsters are a common feature in horror, they are not the only source of fear. Horror can also be about the unknown, the supernatural, and the psychological. It can also be about everyday things that become terrifying in the right context.
  4. Horror is a reflection of society: Horror often reflects the fears and anxieties of society. For example, zombie movies can be seen as a reflection of our fear of disease and pandemics, while slasher movies can be seen as a reflection of our fear of violence and crime.
  5. Horror can be fun: Despite its reputation for being scary and disturbing, horror can also be a lot of fun. Many horror movies and books have a dark sense of humor or are tongue-in-cheek. Horror can also be a way to confront and overcome our fears in a safe and controlled environment.

By keeping these key takeaways in mind, beginners can start to understand the horror genre and appreciate its unique qualities.

What is Horror?

The Definition of Horror

Horror is a genre of storytelling that is intended to frighten, shock, and thrill its audience. It is a genre that plays on our fears and anxieties, and often features supernatural or monstrous elements. Horror can be found in many different mediums, including movies, books, TV shows, and video games.

The horror genre is characterized by its ability to elicit strong emotions such as fear, disgust, and terror. It often features graphic violence, gore, blood, and other disturbing imagery. Horror stories can be psychological or supernatural, and can include elements of slasher, thriller, vampire, zombie, and ghost stories.

The History of Horror

The horror genre has a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times. Stories of ghosts and monsters have been a part of human culture for centuries, and have been used to explain the unexplainable and to explore the darker side of human nature.

In the early 20th century, horror movies began to gain popularity with classics such as Psycho and Poltergeist. These movies helped to establish the horror genre as a staple of popular culture, and paved the way for the horror films that followed.

In the 21st century, horror movies and TV shows have become more popular than ever, with series like Saw and American Horror Story capturing the attention of audiences around the world. Horror books and video games have also gained a significant following, with many fans of the genre seeking out new and terrifying stories to experience.

Overall, the horror genre is a fascinating and complex one, offering a wide range of stories and experiences for those who are brave enough to explore it.

Types of Horror

When it comes to horror, there are many different sub-genres to choose from. Here are some of the most popular types of horror:

Slasher Films

Slasher films are a type of horror movie that typically involve a killer who stalks and murders a group of people, usually teenagers. These movies are known for their graphic violence and gore, as well as their use of jump scares to keep audiences on edge. Some popular examples of slasher films include “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “Scream.”

Psychological Horror

Psychological horror movies focus on the mental and emotional state of the characters, rather than relying on graphic violence or jump scares. These movies often explore themes of paranoia, delusion, and fear, and can be just as thrilling as more traditional horror movies. Some popular examples of psychological horror movies include “The Shining,” “Black Swan,” and “Get Out.”

Supernatural Horror

Supernatural horror movies involve ghosts, demons, and other supernatural entities that are often beyond human understanding. These movies often rely on suspense and tension, rather than gore or jump scares, to create a sense of unease in the audience. Some popular examples of supernatural horror movies include “The Ring,” “The Exorcist,” and “Poltergeist.”

Creature Features

Creature features are horror movies that feature monsters or other terrifying creatures as the main antagonist. These movies often rely on special effects and makeup to create realistic and terrifying creatures that can instill fear in the audience. Some popular examples of creature feature horror movies include “The Thing,” “Alien,” and “Jaws.”

Found Footage Horror

Found footage horror movies are a relatively new sub-genre of horror that involve the use of shaky, handheld camera footage to create a sense of realism and immersion in the audience. These movies often involve a group of people who are being stalked or haunted by a supernatural entity, and are forced to document their experiences on camera. Some popular examples of found footage horror movies include “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity,” and “Cloverfield.”

Paranormal Horror

Paranormal horror movies involve ghosts, haunted houses, and other supernatural phenomena that cannot be explained by science or reason. These movies often rely on jump scares and suspense to create a sense of fear and unease in the audience. Some popular examples of paranormal horror movies include “The Conjuring,” “Insidious,” and “The Amityville Horror.”

Overall, horror movies can be thrilling and terrifying, and there is a sub-genre to suit every taste. Whether you prefer slasher films or psychological horror, creature features or found footage horror, there is something out there to scare you.

Horror Sub-Genres

Horror is a genre that encompasses a wide variety of sub-genres, each with its own unique themes and tropes. Here are some of the most popular horror sub-genres:

Zombie Horror

Zombie horror is a sub-genre that focuses on the undead. It is characterized by stories of reanimated corpses that feed on the living. Zombie horror often features gore and violence, as well as themes of survival and isolation. Some popular examples of zombie horror include “The Walking Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “28 Days Later.”

Vampire Horror

Vampire horror is a sub-genre that centers around the undead, blood-sucking creatures of the night. It often features themes of seduction, power, and immortality. Vampire horror can be both terrifying and alluring, and it has been a popular sub-genre for centuries. Some popular examples of vampire horror include “Dracula,” “Interview with the Vampire,” and “True Blood.”

Werewolf Horror

Werewolf horror is a sub-genre that focuses on the transformation of humans into wolves. It often features themes of identity, control, and the primal nature of humanity. Werewolf horror can be both terrifying and tragic, and it has been a popular sub-genre for centuries. Some popular examples of werewolf horror include “An American Werewolf in London,” “The Howling,” and “Ginger Snaps.”

Haunted House Horror

Haunted house horror is a sub-genre that centers around ghosts and other supernatural entities that haunt a particular location. It often features themes of isolation, fear, and the unknown. Haunted house horror can be both subtle and terrifying, and it has been a popular sub-genre for centuries. Some popular examples of haunted house horror include “The Haunting,” “The Amityville Horror,” and “Poltergeist.”

Body Horror

Body horror is a sub-genre that focuses on the physical transformation of the human body. It often features themes of mutation, disease, and the loss of control. Body horror can be both grotesque and thought-provoking, and it has been a popular sub-genre for decades. Some popular examples of body horror include “The Fly,” “The Thing,” and “Cronenberg’s The Brood.”

Horror sub-genres can be combined or expanded upon to create new and exciting stories. Whether you prefer zombies, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, or body horror, there is a sub-genre of horror that is sure to terrify and delight you.

Dark fantasy concept art showing the boy with a torch facing horror creatures with demon’s horns

Horror Games

See the full list of horror games

Classic Horror Books

The Shining by Stephen King

This is a classic horror novel that tells the story of Jack Torrance, who takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and becomes possessed by the building’s supernatural forces. This book is often mentioned in various horror book lists and is highly recommended by many horror book enthusiasts.

“The Shining” is a masterclass in suspense and psychological horror. King’s ability to create a sense of dread and unease is unparalleled. The isolation of the Overlook Hotel and the slow descent of Jack Torrance into madness is a chilling exploration of the human psyche. It’s a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

This book tells the chilling story of a demonic spirit that possesses an 11-year-old girl, leading to an exorcism. The book was so popular that the iconic film adaptation was released just two years after its publication.

“The Exorcist” is a terrifying journey into the unknown. The concept of possession and the battle between good and evil is presented in a way that is both horrifying and thought-provoking. It’s a book that challenges your perceptions and leaves you questioning the nature of faith and the power of belief.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

This novel initiated the “horror boom” of the 1960s and tells the story of a woman who is pregnant with the spawn of Satan. The book is known for its intense and disturbing narrative.

“Rosemary’s Baby” is a fascinating blend of horror and psychological thriller. The slow build-up of tension and the creeping sense of dread as Rosemary uncovers the truth about her baby is incredibly effective. It’s a book that plays on our deepest fears and insecurities, making it a truly unsettling read.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This 1897 classic horror novel introduces the iconic character of Count Dracula. The story follows Dracula as he leaves his home of Transylvania to find fresh blood in England.

“Dracula” is a classic that has shaped our cultural understanding of vampires. Stoker’s Dracula is both terrifying and captivating, embodying the allure and horror of the vampire myth. The book’s epistolary format adds a layer of realism that makes the story even more compelling.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is a key element of every classic horror novel with its lasting omnipresence of its characters in popular culture. The story revolves around the scientist Victor Frankenstein who conducts an experiment to create a sentient being, but the creature he makes ends up being more grotesque and sinister than he could have imagined.

“Frankenstein” is a deeply philosophical and tragic tale that explores themes of ambition, responsibility, and the human condition. The monster, arguably the most sympathetic character in the book, is a poignant representation of our fear of the unknown and the consequences of playing God.

Each of these books, in their own unique way, delves into our deepest fears and anxieties, making them timeless classics in the horror genre.

Classic Horror Films (Good Horror Movies for Beginners)

For those who are new to the horror genre, it is important to start with some of the classics that have stood the test of time. These films are not only iconic but also provide a great introduction to the horror genre.


Dracula, the 1931 film directed by Tod Browning, is one of the most famous horror films of all time. Based on Bram Stoker’s novel, the film stars Bela Lugosi as the infamous Count Dracula. The film’s eerie atmosphere, haunting music, and iconic performances make it a must-see for horror fans.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, released in 1980, is a slasher film that has become a classic in the horror genre. The film follows a group of counselors at a summer camp who are stalked and killed by an unknown assailant. The film’s suspenseful plot, jump scares, and graphic violence make it a perfect introduction to the slasher subgenre.

The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror, released in 1979, is a supernatural horror film based on the true story of the Lutz family and their experiences in their new home in Amityville, New York. The film’s use of suspense, jump scares, and eerie atmosphere make it a classic of the genre.

Evil Dead

Evil Dead, released in 1981, is a horror film that combines elements of supernatural horror and comedy. The film follows a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods and unwittingly unleash evil spirits. The film’s over-the-top gore and humor make it a fan favorite.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist, released in 1973, is a supernatural horror film that follows a young girl who becomes possessed by a demon. The film’s use of practical effects, suspenseful pacing, and intense performances make it one of the most iconic horror films of all time.

The Shining

The Shining, released in 1980, is a psychological horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel by Stephen King. The film follows a writer who takes a job as a caretaker at a remote hotel and begins to experience supernatural events. The film’s use of suspense, eerie atmosphere, and iconic performances make it a must-see for horror fans.

These classic horror films provide a great introduction to the genre and showcase some of the most iconic films in horror history.

The Future of Horror

As the horror genre continues to evolve, it’s difficult to predict what the future holds. However, there are a few trends that seem to be emerging.

One of the most significant changes in recent years is the shift towards more realistic horror. Rather than relying on supernatural creatures or otherworldly beings, many horror films and books are exploring the darker side of human nature. This trend is likely to continue as audiences crave more relatable and grounded stories.

Another trend that is gaining popularity is the resurgence of classic monsters such as Godzilla. These iconic creatures are being reimagined for modern audiences, with updated special effects and more nuanced plots. This trend is likely to continue as filmmakers explore new ways to bring these classic monsters to life.

Found footage films are also becoming more prevalent in the horror genre. These films use a documentary-style approach to create a sense of realism and immersion for the audience. While this trend has been around for a while, it shows no signs of slowing down as filmmakers continue to explore new ways to use this technique.

As for the future of horror plots, it’s likely that we’ll see more stories that explore the unknown and unexplainable. With advances in technology and science, there are still many mysteries in the world that we have yet to uncover. These mysteries provide ample inspiration for horror writers and filmmakers.

Overall, the future of horror looks bright as filmmakers and writers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Whether it’s through exploring the darker side of human nature or reimagining classic monsters, there’s no shortage of creativity in the horror genre.

Find, Grow and Live Your Passion For The Horror Genre

For those who are looking to get into the horror genre, the first step is to find what it is that draws them to it. Horror can be a very broad genre, encompassing everything from supernatural thrillers to slasher flicks. Some people may be drawn to the suspenseful and thrilling nature of horror, while others may be interested in the psychological aspects of horror.

Once you have identified what it is that draws you to the horror genre, it’s time to start exploring. There are countless books, movies, and TV shows that fall under the horror umbrella, so there is no shortage of material to choose from. It’s important to keep an open mind and try different things, even if they don’t seem like they would be your cup of tea. You may be surprised at what you end up enjoying.

As you start to explore the horror genre, you may find that certain sub-genres or themes speak to you more than others. For example, you may be particularly interested in zombie movies or haunted house stories. It’s okay to have preferences, and in fact, honing in on what you really love about the horror genre can help you better appreciate it as a whole.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the horror genre is not for everyone. Some people simply do not enjoy being scared, and that’s okay. It’s important to respect other people’s boundaries and not force them to consume horror content if they are uncomfortable with it.

In summary, finding, growing, and living your passion for the horror genre is a journey that starts with identifying what draws you to it, exploring different sub-genres and themes, and respecting others’ boundaries. With an open mind and a willingness to try new things, you may find that the horror genre becomes a beloved part of your entertainment repertoire.

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Interests and Hobbies Related to the Horror Genre

Horror is a genre with a vast, dedicated fanbase, and there are many interests and hobbies related to it that you might enjoy exploring.

Reading and Writing Horror Literature

Many horror fans enjoy reading horror literature, with authors like Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe being among the most popular. Some fans also delve into writing their own horror stories, allowing them to creatively express their ideas and fears.

Watching Horror Films

Horror cinema is a vast field with numerous sub-genres, from classic Universal monster movies and Hitchcockian psychological thrillers to modern slasher films and paranormal horror. Many fans enjoy discovering and analyzing horror films, often participating in movie clubs or online discussion groups.

Playing Horror Video Games

Video games provide an immersive horror experience, and many fans enjoy the interactive element that games provide. Popular horror game franchises include Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Outlast. Some fans also dabble in creating their own horror games.

Horror Cosplay and Makeup Artistry

Many horror fans enjoy expressing their love for the genre through cosplay, often dressing up as their favorite horror characters during conventions or for Halloween. This hobby often ties in with makeup artistry, where fans can create impressive (and sometimes gruesome) transformations.

Horror Collecting

From action figures and posters to limited edition DVDs and original movie memorabilia, collecting is a major hobby in the horror community. Some fans even collect horror-themed artwork or comic books.

Horror Podcasting and Blogging

For those who enjoy discussing and analyzing the genre, podcasting or blogging about horror can be an engaging hobby. This can range from reviewing horror movies, books, or games to exploring horror tropes and history.

Attending Horror Conventions and Film Festivals

Many cities host horror conventions and film festivals, where fans can meet creators, watch new horror films, participate in Q&A sessions, and generally immerse themselves in the horror community. These events can be a great way to meet other horror enthusiasts and discover new works in the genre.

Horror Genre FAQ

From introductory tips to advanced understanding, and even troubleshooting common issues, this FAQ aims to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the genre. As with any genre, horror has its unique set of characteristics, traditions, and challenges, and this guide hopes to shed light on these elements.

Getting Started

What is the horror genre?

The horror genre is a category of books, movies, and games that aims to elicit feelings of fear, terror, and dread in the audience. The objective is to confront and engage with our deepest fears, often through the use of supernatural elements, psychological thrills, or visceral scenes of violence and suspense.

Why do people enjoy the horror genre?

Different people enjoy horror for different reasons. Some like the adrenaline rush that comes from being scared, while others appreciate the creative storytelling and atmospheric tension that horror can provide. Horror also allows us to explore and confront our fears in a safe, controlled environment.

What are some classic horror books to start with?

There are many classic horror books that can provide an excellent starting point. These include “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley and “The Shining” by Stephen King. These books have left significant impacts on the horror genre and continue to influence new works. You can read more about these books above.

What are some classic horror movies to start with?

Classic horror movies that are recommended for beginners include “Psycho” (1960), “The Exorcist” (1973), “Halloween” (1978), and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984). These films have become iconic in the genre and offer different aspects of horror, from psychological terror to slasher film suspense.

What are some classic horror video games to start with?

For those interested in horror video games, try starting with titles like “Resident Evil” series, “Silent Hill” series, or “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”. These games are renowned for their ability to create tension and fear through gameplay mechanics and atmospheric design.

How much does it cost to get started with the horror genre?

The cost of getting started with the horror genre can vary depending on your chosen medium. Books can often be borrowed for free from local libraries or purchased for a few dollars used. Streaming platforms provide access to many horror movies for a monthly fee. Video games can range from free-to-play indie games to $60 for new AAA releases.

Where can I find more resources about the horror genre?

For books, resources like Goodreads and Reddit’s r/horrorlit are excellent places to discover new authors and books. For movies, websites like IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Reddit’s r/horror offer reviews and recommendations. For video games, Steam, IGN, and GameSpot can be valuable resources.

Intermediate / Advanced Questions

What are some recurring themes in the horror genre?

Horror often explores themes of fear, death, the unknown, the supernatural, and the human capacity for evil. It frequently challenges the boundaries of reality, plays with the concept of sanity, and examines societal or personal anxieties. As you delve deeper into the genre, you’ll notice how different works explore these themes in unique ways.

How has the horror genre evolved over time?

The horror genre has evolved significantly over the years. Early horror, like Gothic literature, often dealt with supernatural elements and human sin. In the 20th century, horror expanded to include psychological elements, focusing on the human mind’s potential for terror. Modern horror has a wide range of sub-genres, from body horror to cosmic horror, and often incorporates elements from other genres.

What are some influential horror writers, directors, or game designers?

In literature, writers like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker have made significant impacts on the horror genre. In film, directors like Alfred Hitchcock, George Romero, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven have defined and redefined what horror movies can be. In video games, franchises from developers like Capcom (Resident Evil series) and Konami (Silent Hill series) have set high standards for horror games.

How can I analyze horror works more deeply?

Understanding the themes, context, and techniques used in horror can enhance your appreciation of the genre. Look for symbolism, metaphor, and subtext in the story or imagery. Consider the cultural and historical context of the work. Pay attention to the use of suspense, pacing, and atmosphere in creating fear. Consider joining a discussion group or reading analyses to gain different perspectives.

How can I contribute to the horror community?

There are many ways to get involved in the horror community. You can participate in online forums, write reviews of books, movies, or games, create your own horror-themed content, or even organize or attend horror-themed events. Engaging with the community can enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the genre.

How can I write my own horror stories or make my own horror films or games?

Writing or creating your own horror content requires an understanding of the genre’s conventions, a creative mind, and storytelling skills. For writing, start with short stories before moving on to longer works. For filmmaking, begin with short films using basic equipment like a smartphone. For games, consider using game development software like Unity or Unreal Engine. Always remember to create a suspenseful, fear-inducing atmosphere and a compelling narrative.

What opportunities are there for a professional career in horror?

Career opportunities in horror can range from writing novels or screenplays, directing or producing films, designing video games, or working in related fields like special effects makeup, set design, or sound design. There’s also academic interest in horror, offering opportunities for research and teaching. Remember, success in these careers often requires both talent and a deep understanding of the genre.

Troubleshooting and Resources

Why do some horror works not scare me?

Not being scared by some horror works is quite common and can be attributed to a variety of factors. This can include personal desensitization, differences in fear triggers, or simply the quality of the work itself. Horror is subjective and what scares one person might not scare another. Try exploring different sub-genres of horror to find what truly terrifies you.

I found a horror work disturbing or offensive. What should I do?

Horror can sometimes include graphic, violent, or disturbing content. If you come across a work that you find offensive, it’s best to stop consuming it and look for something that aligns more with your comfort levels. Many horror reviews and descriptions will give content warnings to help you avoid material you might find disturbing.

How do I handle nightmares after consuming horror content?

If horror content gives you nightmares, consider consuming it earlier in the day to allow time to decompress before sleeping. Other strategies could include discussing the content with others, focusing on the fact that it’s fictional, or following up with lighter, more comforting content before bedtime.

Where can I discuss or ask more questions about the horror genre?

Online communities are great places to discuss the horror genre and ask questions. Websites like Reddit have numerous horror-related communities such as r/horror, r/horrorlit, and r/horrorgaming. Websites dedicated to horror like Bloody Disgusting or Dread Central have active communities and forums. Also, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have numerous horror-focused groups.

Are there any good tutorials or courses about the horror genre?

Several online platforms offer courses related to the horror genre. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and MasterClass have classes on horror writing and filmmaking. YouTube has numerous video essays and analyses of horror works. For more academic study, some universities and colleges offer literature and film studies courses focusing on horror.

What are some good books about the horror genre?

Books like “Danse Macabre” by Stephen King, a non-fiction exploration of horror in TV, film, and literature, “Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film” by Carol J. Clover, examining gender roles in horror cinema, and “The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror” by David J. Skal, a broad overview of the genre’s history, are excellent resources.

Are there any horror conventions or festivals I can attend?

Yes, there are numerous horror conventions and festivals around the world. These include events like “HorrorHound Weekend” and “Monsterpalooza” in the U.S., and film festivals like the “Toronto After Dark Film Festival” in Canada or the “Sitges Film Festival” in Spain. These events can be a great way to meet other horror fans, see new works, and even meet creators in the genre.

The Horror Quiz

Ready to test your skills and knowledge? Take our quiz to challenge yourself and see which tier you belong to!


Horror Tier List

  • S Tier (Expert): Scores 90-100% correct answers consistently, answers quickly, and can handle high difficulty questions.
  • A Tier (Advanced): Scores 75-89% correct answers consistently, takes a bit more time to answer, and handles medium to high difficulty questions.
  • B Tier (Intermediate): Scores 60-74% correct answers consistently, answers at an average pace, and handles medium difficulty questions.
  • C Tier (Novice): Scores 40-59% correct answers, takes longer to answer questions, and is most successful with low to medium difficulty questions.
  • D Tier (Beginner): Scores less than 40% correct answers, takes a long time to answer, and struggles with anything beyond low difficulty questions.

Remember, participating in quizzes is a journey, and the result is only a reflection of your current knowledge and skills. Keep learning and practicing to improve your abilities!

The Horror Challenge

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