9 Horror Sub-Genres That Can Launch Your Career
By Eva Contis
As the end of the year approaches and October comes to a close, here in the states we love to settle in for spooky films. If you’re a screenwriter it’s also the time of the year you remember how fun horror movies are and you contemplate writing one! And why not? The horror genre is in its Golden Age.
For filmmakers horror has been a classic way to break into the industry, made ever-popular by Roger Corman who used low budget horror to not only to build an empire but to launch the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest directors - George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and James Cameron among plenty of others. So if you have been thinking about dipping your toes in the horror genre, if you can write a good one, you could have producers pounding down your door.
Why? Producers know there will always be an audience for horror stories because its fans always come back for their dopamine fix and pay cold, hard cash to get it. So why not give it a shot? Of course, it comes with a caveat: horror audiences are pretty sophisticated these days, so you better know what you’re doing or they will tear you apart like a werewolf in the light of a full moon.
Now, now, you have nothing to be afraid of! Just zero in on a sub-genre and do what you’re so good at - weave a story. Take a look and see what inspires you and how you can mix them up or pave a new path. But beware, mashups have succeeded as much as they have failed, so consider the sub-genres as you would consider the scale in music - they’re good to know. My research on the subject started with the book Writing the Horror Movie by Marc Blake and Sara Bailey, who broke down the sub-genres as follows.
Here is the world of Zombies, Vampires, and the like. There is a ton of mythology wrapped around the creatures and one really needs to know how it works. Zombies never sleep and move slow. Vampires sleep during the day, move fast and fly. In order to get this genre right, you really need to know the rules of operation for the creature itself but also how one becomes this kind of creature. And even more so, please let us know how you kill one!
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, from aliens to King Kong. A monster can come from pure imagination and you can make up the rules of engagement with this sub-genre. The threat just has to feel real. It can also be something you can’t see like fog or mist; or if you are thinking about production costs it can even be a “real” monster that we, the viewer, never sees.
Psychological horror is all in our heads. It’s the threat of our imagination, eating us up. Poe was a master at this - people going mad or losing their faculties destroying either themselves or others. These stories are more character-driven combined with a strong plot, such as Fight Club or Repulsion. Hitchcock also played with this sub-genre in Psycho. Though the story involves murder, we experience the film through the mind of the crazy man rather than through the eyes of people fleeing a crazed killer, as one does in a Slasher (we will get to that).
Demons and Possessions
Ah, the devil made me do it. When you tackle this sub-genre, you are playing on the fear of the devil. An atheist isn’t going to be very afraid at the thought of a possession. In this sub-genre, the stories tap into the deep belief that the devil exists and it is something that we unlock or unleash. If it latches onto us, we have no control and must invoke God’s power to save us. The most famous of these films is, of course, The Exorcist but exorcisms have inspired every generation, from The Exorcism of Emily Rose to Insidious.
Hauntings are always en vogue. From found footage to full-blown productions, ghosts are always going to scare us. Aren’t they always lurking in the dark? Unlike the undead, ghosts are the dead trying to communicate with us. Most of them are trying to terrorize us, but in some cases, they may be trying to save us from a real threat as in the movie Ghost. The fun here is to explore how ghosts appear in various cultures. In Japan a ghost behaves differently from, say a poltergeist, so doing some research here could set your story apart.
Similar to exorcist movies, this genre depends on the existence of white and black magic, but unlike a possession movie, it is the performance of witchcraft that invokes the evil. Perhaps the best example of this kind of film is Rosemary’s Baby or more recently The Witch.
Werewolves are like Vampires and Zombies. In order to make it work, you must know the lore behind it. How does one become a werewolf? What happens when you do? And why should I be afraid? Any kind of story in which the human body transforms would fit into this sub-genre. So films like Jon Carpenter’s The Thing or Cronenberg’s Videodrome or Dead Ringers fall into this category. The idea here is humans becoming un-human.
The first film that comes to mind here is Frankenstein, but this sub-genre draws from any kind of science that wreaks havoc. Whether it’s The Island of Dr. Moreau or one that combines with Zombies like 28 Days, in which a virus turns people into zombies.
Unlike Psychological horrors like Silence of the Lambs or Psycho, Slashers are all about the hunt. Though backstory is crucial, the fear here comes from the adrenal of being pursued. And usually one, smart girl, who abstains from sex and is the smartest of the group survives.
There you have it! What scariness can you stir up? Put it on the page because we at Roadmap can’t wait to read it!