Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Comics Best of Movies Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

Subgenres of Horror from A to Z

Are you a die-hard horror fan? Are you someone looking to expand your horizons, and find just the right kind of horror for you? Well, we’ve got just the thing. We’ve dissected the horror into the nine main subgenres of horror with our recommendations on where to start with each.

How many types of horror are there?

Categorizing the subgenres of horror genre is harder than you might think. We’re not talking about the periodic table of elements here. It gets murky. There’s a lot of overlap, a lot of genre-bending and crossover. If you asked ten popular horror writers to make a list of subgenres within the main genre, you’d get ten different lists.

But let’s tackle it anyway!

We’ve broken horror down into fourteen categories or subgenres. These subgenres of horror account for the majority of horror fiction available today, while also harkening back to the origin of the genre.

Apocalyptic | Avant Garde | Cosmic | Comedy | Dark Fantasy | Found Footage | Gore | Gothic | Lovecraftian | Paranormal | Post Apocalyptic | Psychological | Sci-Fi | Supernatural

What are Horror Genre Characteristics?

Horror can range from internal terror to jump scares. Each sub genre has different characteristics but they all have one thing in common. They are intended to scare you.

Without further fanfare, let’s explore the most popular subgenres of horror fiction, with some sterling examples and basic characteristics of each genre.

Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic horror centers around the collapse of civilization. The world you know it can no longer exist with a complete collapse of systems and order. In horror this subgenre is often closely tied to sci-fi creatures such as the classic alien invasion, mysterious demons like Aamon coming to enslave mankind, and of course major religious events coming to fruition.

Best Apocalyptic Horror Movies

Avant Garde

For this subgenre, we’re getting a little weird. Avant Garde is as social a movement as it is an artistic one, with artists standing at the forefront of our preconceived notions of acceptable art and ideas. In horror literature, this takes the shape of mind-bending twists and impossible odds. In comics, it is the same incredible evil with terrifying and spine-tingling art. Recommended reading: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. Uzumaki, by Junji Ito. Sleep of Reason, by Spike Trotman.

Best Avant Garde Horror Comics

Body Horror

This subgenre of horror intentionally focuses on grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. From disease to dismemberment the core of it is what can happen to the human body. It is not unusual for this to also include sexual, alien infestation, strange movements, transformations, and utter destruction of the human body. We’re talking everything from Human Centipede (is this really even horror?) to John Carpenters “The Thing.”

Comedy Horror

Tucker and Dale vs Evil Movie Poster

When dark humor just isn’t enough we have comedy horror. Accidental gore films like Tucker and Dale vs Evil to subtle quips from Ash Williams in the Evil Dead. A common theme in Comedy Horror is the victim who stumbles through the film and somehow manages to survive.

Cosmic Horror

The cosmic horror genre is both personally existential, and darkly expansive. The darkest corners of space, the pitch-black pits of demons, the sense of no real control, the fear of the unknown, and dread that comes with the ineffable size of the universe. This genre is strongly tied to H.P. Lovecraft who brought it to life with novellas such as At the Mountains of Madness (1936), The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936), and The Shadow Out of Time (1936). “The Shape Of Water” by Guillermo Del Toro or “The Imago Sequence and Other Stories” 2009 by Laird Barron are other strong modern works of cosmic horror. Space itself and extraterrestrial adventures also play a preeminent role in the genre, with standout comics like Nameless, by Chris Burnham & Grant Morrison, and Southern Cross, by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belager.

Best Cosmic Horror Movies | Best Cosmic Horror books | Best Cosmic Horror Comics

Dark Fantasy

These novels give readers the best of both worlds. They contain fantasy elements like magic, strange creatures, etc. They also add a dark layer of terror and suspense, just to keep things interesting. Recommended reading: The Citadel of Fear, by Gertrude Barrows. The Girl From The Other Side , by Nagabe. Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Marrie Pommepuy.

Folk Horror

Folk horror is a subgenre of horror for film, books, comics or television which includes elements of folklore or urban legends as the inspiration of the main focus of horror for the story. Sometimes stated as “based on a true story” this subgenre loosely uses the phrase “true story” as many of these legends have little fact checking if any at all.

Found Footage

The Blair Witch Project movie poster

Although found footage films date as far back as the 1960’s the seminal work in horror is often considered to be The Blair Witch Project. Shakey cameras with low production quality are the foundation of the story. This genre has exploded with cell phone footage and continues to grow today. Possibly due to the ease in which someone can create a found footage horror film.

Gore

Also sometimes labeled as a splatter film the main focus of the film is well the blood, guts and dismembered body parts. Shock is a key element of this genre. Movies such as the SAW series are famous for the difficult to watch torture sequences. The main goal is for the audience to wince in disgust as the victims bodies are torn to bits. This genre crosses out of fiction with some popular series in the 80’s and 90’s with actual death in them but we only focus on fictional horror here so we will leave that for other sites and forums to discuss.

Gothic

Gothic horror goes way, way back. In fact, it’s the literary predecessor to the horror genre we know and love today. So in terms of cultural education, this subgenre warrants some attention. These dark, brooding stories often blend romance and horror, with a side dish of death. They’re usually atmospheric stories, where the setting itself becomes a kind of character. Recommended reading: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Dracula (The Graphic Novel), by Bram Stoker and Jason Cobley. Gotham by Gaslight, by Brian Augustyn. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.

The Best Gothic Horror Comics

Lovecraftian

H.P. Lovecraft often described his own work as “weird tales.” But they contain horror elements as well. He created his own subgenre that many writers still emulate today. Lovecraftian fiction often focuses on cosmic elements that are beyond human understanding. Thus, it’s also referred to as “cosmic horror.” These stories can make us humans feel small and insignificant, in the grand scheme of things. Recommended reading: At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft. Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti. The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle.

ghost or supernatural spirit

Paranormal

Merriam-Webster defines paranormal as something that is “not scientifically explainable.” That’s a broad definition. When it comes to horror fiction, the term “paranormal” usually refers to ghosts, hauntings, demons and possession. And there is some truly frightening fiction that falls into this subgenre. Recommended reading: The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. The Shining, by Stephen King. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (it fits here, as well).

Post-Apocalyptic

The world as we know it has ended, and something terrible has risen in its place. Post-apocalyptic fiction challenges us to envision a world beyond our own, a doomsday scenario that takes us into uncharted and often terrifying territory. Not all post-apocalyptic fiction uses horror elements. Some of it falls into the dystopian category. But there are plenty of good stories out there that paint the end of the world in horrifying hues. Recommended reading: Swan Song, by Robert McCammon. Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne. Feed, by Mira Grant. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Psychological:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari poster

Put the ghosts, monsters and slashers aside for a moment. Let’s talk about the psychological effects of horror. The internal terror and the long lasting trauma that occurs under moments of major duress. Psychological horror fiction uses intense human emotions like fear and dread to grip the reader, with a healthy dose of anxiety and suspense on the side. Recommended reading: Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin. Come Closer, by Sara Gran. Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.

Psychological horror also has a rich history in books and film that dates back to the late 1800s.

Scary Documentaries

Yep even documentaries can be a subgenre here and these have certainly become more popular. Unlike the found footage genre these have at least some reason to believe the experience were real. They are often paranormal experience but also look at things like serial killers. We’ve compiled a list of the most terrifying documentaries and it sure looks like horror to us.

Sci-Fi

Mad scientists, experiments that did not go as planned, alien invasions and creatures we never wanted to know coming into existence. This subgenre of horror crosses well into Cosmic Horror but maybe with a touch less existential dread. You know where the alien came from and you know the moment the scientist crossed the line. We’ve explored the history of sci-fi horror here.

Best Sci-Fi Horror Books | Best Sci-Fi Horror Comics

Supernatural

The supernatural subgenre of horror overlaps with the paranormal category. Again, we’re dealing with things that “appear to transcend the laws of nature,” according to Merriam-Webster. I’ve broken this out into a separate category to distinguish it from the ghostly and haunting world of the paranormal. Here, we’re talking about werewolves, witches, and other things that defy the laws of nature. Recommended reading: Wytches, by Scott Snyder. Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. The Hunger, by Alma Katsu. B.P.R.D., by Mike Mignola.

Best Supernatural Horror Comics | Best Supernatural Horror Streaming Online

So there you have them, the popular subgenres of horror with some representative works to keep you up at night. For more literature, Puzzle Box has original literature as well as features on Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker.

Survival Horror

This subgenre of horror is typically found in video games. The point of tension, like much of horror, is surviving the environment. The main character is often put to the test to survive against all odds. It’s often considered “action horror” due to the physical activity often required to survive. Apocalyptic horror scenarios are often used for survival horror.

True Crime

Pretty straightforward as the title implies. The subgenre of horror is based on real life horrors that have happened. The most popular arena here is serial killers with movies and documentaries about people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and more. The main focus is it must be from a real life crime. With that said, these are often dramatizations of the events not to be confused with the scary documentaries subgenre.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

The Best Cosmic Horror Books

One thing that is evident when you look for and inevitably read books, is that are a lot of authors that have been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. Some take influence by crediting his creations, some crediting his name–others his style, short story form that truly resonate within the genre. Others still have found their own path within the genre, by taking the essence of cosmic horror and making it their own. Finding something genuinely original can oft be an exercise in futility, due to the very nature of this sort of horror, but when that originality is found it is truly like discovering gold. Here are Puzzle Box Horror’s best of cosmic horror book recommendations.

blank
Quote by David Wong, from “What the Hell Did I Just Read?”

The best of Old-school Cosmic Horror books

What sets old-school cosmic horror apart from the newer literature within the genre, is pretty much what sets old classic literature apart from newer literature in any genre–language, surrounding culture, and societal advantage. It goes deeper than that of course, but what is important when getting acquainted with any form of literature is understanding the time within which it was created.

The Willows (1907)

The Willows book cover (1907) by Algernon Blackwood

While not exactly a book, The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, is technically the first cosmic horror novella that began to establish the cosmic horror genre. It was originally published among a series of other stories in 1907, as a part of his collection The Listener and Other Stories. It’s a great example of early modern horror and despite not receiving the credit it was due, was very much connected within the literary tradition of “weird fiction,” a genre later realized as cosmic horror.

The Willows is a story that invites fear of the unknown, there is a sense of agitation, fear, exhaustion, and eternal trepidation that does not leave the characters or the readers, because there is never a relief from the situation at hand. Available on Amazon here.

And, apart quite from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power, moreover, not altogether friendly to us.

Excerpt from The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Listen to Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows below through HorrorBabble.

The Man Who Found Out (1912)

Another shorter existential horror story, Algernon Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out really just begs the question about personal religious beliefs–what is the ultimate question and answer when it comes to a higher power, particularly that of “God?” Do we really know anything with any certainty? Or is belief and faith what matters most when seeking a higher truth? These unanswered questions are what make this one of the best cosmic horror books out there. Available on Amazon here.

LibriVox has given us Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out through audiobook and it’s worth checking out.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (1927)

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories book cover (1927)

It seems that the most successful additions to the cosmic horror genre are generally shorter stories; short stories are benefitted in this particular genre due to the fact that they limit the amount of information that can be conveyed within the confines of the short story’s maximum of ten thousand words.

All of the stories that appear within this particular anthology are by H.P. Lovecraft and are, of course, part of the public domain, so we have included a list of the stories with external links to the stories themselves. Those interested in reading some of the most well-known cosmic horror pieces can find them below. The entire anthology is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Shadows of Carcosa (2014)

Shadows of Carcosa book cover (2014)

Yeah, we know that this book came out in 2014–but that doesn’t discount the fact that it is actually full of old-school cosmic horror, because it’s actually an anthology from some of the best horror writers that literary culture has ever had to offer. These stories span almost an entire century, which illustrates how many authors can be credited for their contributions to cosmic or existential horror.

Luckily for readers who haven’t been well-enough introduced to cosmic horror by now, all of these stories are also within the public domain; we hope that these stories from Shadows of Carcosa (2014) give readers a full picture of what cosmic horror is truly about. The collection is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

The best of Modern Cosmic Horror Books

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe (1985)

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe book cover (1985)

Thomas Ligotti’s debut short horror story collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe possibly made his career–he’s often spoken of in the same manner as authors such as Poe and Lovecraft, and has been referred to as “horror incarnate.” Ligotti never seems to have to try to make his stories work, they take on settings that immediately put the reader into a mood where horror is inescapable without being presumptuous or predictable.

Ligotti’s style is singular and everything he has put into this particular anthology is wholly worth the time to read. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Songs of a Dead Dreamer
  • Dreams for Sleepwalkers
    • The Frolic
    • Les Fleurs
    • Alice’s Last Adventure
    • Dream of a Manikin
    • The Nyctalops Trilogy:
      • The Chymist
      • Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes
      • Eye of the Lynx
    • Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story
  • Dreams for Insomniacs
    • The Christmas Eves for Aunt Elise
    • The Lost Art of Twilight
    • The Troubles of Dr. Thoss
    • Masquerade of a Dead Sword: A Tragedie
    • Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech
    • Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror
  • Dreams for the Dead
    • Dr. Locrian’s Asylum
    • The Sect of the Idiot
    • The Greater Festival of Masks
    • The Music of the Moon
    • The Journal of J.P. Drapeau
    • Vastarien
Grimscribe
  • The Voice of the Damned
    • The Last Feast of Harlequin
    • The Spectacles in the Drawer
    • Flowers of the Abyss
    • Nethescurial
  • The Voice of the Demon
    • The Night School
    • The Glamour
  • The Voice of the Child
    • The Library of Byzantium
    • Miss Plarr
  • The Voice of Our Name
    • The Shadow at the Bottom of the World
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories book cover(2007)

Laird Barron’s first short story collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories set a precedent for the rest of his career; what could be expected from him in his other works really was set up with this collection. The fact that it received the Shirley Jackson Award for best collection was not even the most wondrous part of this particular body of work–Barron has an ability to create an image within the reader’s mind that is unlike any other author. He has been compared to the likes of Stephen King, but with the advantage of making his details count for more than just words towards an ultimate goal. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Old Virginia (2003)
  • Shiva, Open Your Eye (2001)
  • Procession of the Black Sloth (2007)
  • Bulldozer (2004)
  • Proboscis (2005)
  • Hallucigenia (2006)
  • Parallax (2005)
  • The Royal Zoo Is Closed (2006)
  • The Imago Sequence (2005)

White is For Witching (2009)

White is For Witching book cover (2005)

Helen Oyeyemi’s White is For Witching reads almost like a journal, which has always given the reader less of a feeling that they’re getting the full picture. Why look at the forest when you can see the trees more clearly? In truth, focusing on the details from a personal perspective often leaves much more to the imagination and that is a huge part of weird fiction and cosmic horror.

When you don’t know what is going on outside of the perspective of the narrator, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness–what is happening beyond their ideal truth? Available on Amazon here.

Cthulhu’s Reign (2010)

Cthulhu's Reign book cover(2010)

Another anthology designed to pay tribute to the father of cosmic horror, this collection of short stories gives a more complete image of what would happen once the old ones have taken over the world as we know it–when humans are no longer the dominant force on the Earth and when we can no longer rely on what we have become accustomed to.

What kind of horror would we endure when the old ones take over the world? What would we be able to expect from an uncaring force of nature and could we really hate the force that overwhelms society as we know it when it is not maliciously ending our world, or would it simply be something that we fear beyond anything else? Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • The Walker in the Cemetery (2010) by Ian Watson
  • Sanctuary (2010) by Don Webb
  • Her Acres of Pastoral Playground (2010) by Mike Allen
  • Spherical Trigonometry (2010) by Ken Asamatsu
  • What Brings the Void (2010) by Will Murray
  • The New Pauline Corpus (2010) by Matt Cardin
  • Ghost Dancing (2010) by Darrell Schweitzer
  • This is How the World Ends (2010) by John R. Fultz
  • The Shallows (2010) by John Langan
  • Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names (2010) by Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
  • The Seals of New R’lyeh (2010) by Gregory Frost
  • The Holocaust of Ecstasy (2010) by Brian Stableford
  • Vastation (2010) by Laird Barron
  • Nothing Personal (2010) by Richard A. Lupoff
  • Remnants (2010) by Fred Chappell

The Croning (2012)

The Croning book cover(2012)

The Croning can be considered, without a doubt, the debut cosmic horror novel by Laird Barron–unlike his collection of short stories, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, this is a full-length novel within the genre of cosmic horror.

We see cults, dark magic, and a plethora of other themes that are common fixtures of the genre and we can’t look away–we highly recommend this particular literary spectacle, it’s a novel that without which, this list would be incomplete. Available on Amazon here.

Dreams From the Witch House book cover(2016)

Dreams From the Witch House (2016)

This particular anthology, Dreams From the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, while honoring the origins of the genre is something different and singular. This anthology of short stories contains, as can be derived from the title, stories of cosmic horror that were written by female authors in the genre. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Shadows of the Evening (1998) by Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Genesis Mausoleum (2015) by Colleen Douglas
  • The Woman in the Hill (2015) by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Face of Jarry (2015) by Cat Hellisen
  • Our Lady of Arsia Mons (2012) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  • The Body Electric (2015) by Lucy Brady
  • The Child and the Night Gaunts (2015) by Marly Youmans
  • All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts (2015) by Sonya Taaffe
  • Every Hole in the Earth We Will Claim As Our Own (2015) by Gemma Files
  • But Only Because I Love You (2015) by Molly Tanzer
  • Cthulhu’s Mother (2015) by Kelda Crich
  • All Gods Great and Small (2015) by Karen Heuler
  • Dearest Daddy (2015) by Lois H. Gresh
  • Eye of the Beholder (2015) by Nancy Kilpatrick
  • Down at the Bottom of Everything (2015) by E.R. Knightsbridge
  • Spore (2015) by Amanda Downum
  • Pippa’s Crayons (2015) by Christine Morgan
  • The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward (2012) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
  • From the Cold Dark Sea (2015) by Storm Constantine
  • Mnemeros (2015) by R.A. Kaelin

The Ballad of Black Tom (2016)

The Ballad of Black Tom Book cover (2016)

Victor LaValle grew up reading the horror stories that came from the life of H.P. Lovecraft, but it wasn’t until much later in his life that LaValle realized the excessive amounts of racism and agoraphobia that was present in Lovecraft’s body of work. As an African-American man, he used this eye-opening moment in his life to respond in kind, from one writer to another, by reinventing Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook from the perspective of a black man.

LaValle’s re-imagining of this story was invigorating, riveting, and a triumph of creative responses to unacceptable biases–he succeeded in showing that Lovecraft’s work would have been even better had it not been rife with bigotry and bias for those who were not like Lovecraft. Available on Amazon here.

It’s important to understand that while we here at Puzzle Box Horror greatly appreciate the body of work that Lovecraft added to the horror genre, we recognize his biases and do not endorse them or agree with them. We were more than ecstatic when we found that there were actually literary responses to these particular issues and hope that such responses continue to appear within the literary community. Read the original story, by Lovecraft, that this novella was based off of, The Horror of Red Hook, then read Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

Lovecraft Country book cover(2016)

Lovecraft Country (2016)

Following The Ballad of Black Tom, the novel Lovecraft Country also addresses the topic of racism within the context of Lovecraftian horror–this particular book has been adapted to screen recently and will soon be seen on HBO as a series–we certainly hope it will be as good as it looks, because the prospect of this one making it to infamy on screen makes us incredibly excited. The novel is available on Amazon here.

From executive producer Jordan Peele, we believe that this production will be worth every minute of time it takes to watch!

The Fisherman (2016)

The Fisherman book cover (2016)

Another from our list of best cosmic horror boos is The Fisherman. Described as a captivating read from beginning to end, John Langan’s The Fisherman gives us a dark, mysterious, fictional assertion of horror and cosmic fantasy. It follows the story of two widowers through their quiet and powerful story of loss and grief, by acknowledging the melancholy situation and the fact that things are never the same after the loss of a loved one. A definite addition to any cosmic horror novel list and one of the best out there. Available on Amazon here.

It would be a lie to say the time passes quickly. It never does, when you want it to.

What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017)

What the Hell Did I Just Read? book cover (2017)

The third installment in the trilogy that started with John Dies at the End (2007), was followed with This Book is Full of Spiders (2012) and finally What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017). This book is largely hinged upon the narrative–we live in a world where we largely base our opinions on the story that the narrator presents, but what happens when the narrator isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of sources? Does it change how we view the story? Do we realize before it’s too late that our entire perception has been incorrect? Available on Amazon here.

The true weird tale has something more than a secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains. An atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; a hint of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

H. P. Lovecraft

We’re curious to know what you thought about these best of cosmic horror books, novellas, and anthologies. Have you read anything that’s not listed here that fits the cosmic horror genre? We’re interested in reading it too, so leave us a comment and let us know!

Don’t feel like reading about cosmic horror? No problem, check out our list of recommended cosmic horror movies too.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books

The Best Horror Books About Urban Legends

Urban legends are all fun and games until you hear scratching at your window, and start to wonder if it’s the escaped mental patient with a hook for a hand. Good times. Passed down for decades, or even centuries, these tales are believed to have happened “to a friend of a friend,” and often contain terrifying elements from both the real world and otherworldly realms. Sure, the serial killer hiding in the upstairs attic as he makes mysterious calls to the babysitter downstairs is a classic example of real-world horror. But don’t underestimate the power of Bloody Mary, the game played by teenagers across the world as they chant in front of their mirror hoping to witness a ghostly apparition. While often told at sleepovers or around the campfire, these tales are also scarily fun to read on your own… in the form of a classic paperback book that pays tribute to these age-old stories. Folklore has never felt so good in your hands, and you’re about to discover a new type of horror with these horror books about urban legends.

Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark

Author: Alvin Schwartz

Published: 1981

Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark Book Cover

Any 90’s kid will remember Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – a children’s book about hauntings and urban legends that many have argued is not for children at all. And can you blame them? Besides the references to urban legends like the man with a hook for a hand, or the one who fled to Baghdad to escape an appointment with Death… the illustrations in this book are simply terrifying. Regardless of how many decades ago you read this book in the school library or under the covers with a flashlight, it’s not easy to get the image of The Haunt out of your head. And if you’re brave enough, just Google it. After you’ve ordered your new copy of Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, watch the 2019 movie for even more childhood nostalgia.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends

Author: Jan Harold Brunvand

Published: 2004

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends Book Cover

All the stories you’ve heard around the campfire come to life in Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Jan Harold Brunvand is a professor and folklorist who has dedicated his entire career to the art of urban legends – and you’ll be shaking, crying, and laughing with this collection of tales old and new. You’ve definitely heard a million adaptations of the babysitter who receives mysterious calls from the man upstairs, but what about the snake in the strawberry patch? Or the Mexican dog that wasn’t even a dog? One of the most scary aspects of urban legends? Most of them can definitely still happen in real life, even if it’s seemingly rare, and this book will bring out your deepest fears in the best way. 

Urban Legends: Bizarre Tales You Won’t Believe by James Proud

Author: James Proud 

Published: 2016

Urban Legends: Bizarre Tales You Won't Believe by James Proud book cover

Sure, you love the traditional urban legends that you’ve heard for years… but sometimes you’re in the mood for something a bit weird. Like alligators in the subway or a two-headed dog. Oh and aliens, all the aliens. Skeptics need not read this collection of beautifully bizarre stories, which may or may not give you weird dreams. Not nightmares, per se, but dreams about unknown creatures that aren’t exactly evil, just misunderstood. Just like us. 

The Creepypasta Collection: Modern Urban Legends You Can’t Unread

Author: MrCreepyPasta

Published: 2016

The Creepypasta Collection: Modern Urban Legends You Can't Unread book cover

Yes, it’s those Creepypastas. The horror stories you’ve seen posted around the internet – telling the tales of ghosts, demons, serial killers and otherworldly creatures. But the world wide web is a big place, and these new-age chronicles are somehow even more frightening when placed in good, old-fashioned print. Discover these tales of modern terror with The Creepypasta Collection, including some of the popular stories you may have read online. Ben Drowned, Jeff the Killer, Ted the Caver… oh, and Slenderman. The tall and terrifying creature that launched countless nightmares, YouTube documentaries, and even a feature film. Take a break from the decades-old urban legends, and treat yourself to this collection of new horror stories.

Superstitions: A Handbook of Folklore, Myths, and Legends from around the World

Author: D.R. McElroy

Published: 2020

Superstitions: A Handbook of Folklore, Myths, and Legends from around the World book cover

A book about urban legends that’s both spooky and educational? What more could a horror enthusiast want? You won’t just hear about the most common legends and superstitions across all cultures – you’ll also learn exactly why they’re a “thing,” and how they’ve affected certain communities over the centuries. For example, did you know that the number 13 is considered lucky in Italy – despite being a symbol of bad luck in the United States? Or that the seven years of bad luck that supposedly comes when you break a mirror, originates from the Romans and their glass mirrors? The main goal of this book isn’t to terrify you, but to teach you about the origins of the most popular urban legends and superstitions. As it turns out, it does both!

Scary Urban Legends 

Author: Tom Baker

Published: 2010

Scary Urban Legends book cover

After you’ve finished reading D.R. McElroy’s sophisticated handbook on urban legends, you might just be in the mood to tremble with every page turn. And that’s exactly what you’ll get with Scary Urban Legends. It’s a collection of all the scary stories you heard around the campfire in high school, and possibly even did on a dare once or twice. Looking at you, Bloody Mary. Share it at a scary sleepover or simply read on your own time to discover the horrors of hitchhiking ghosts (not the Disney kind,) serial killers, and swarms of insects. Because as Jack Skellington once said, life’s no fun without a good scare.

Creepy Urban Legends

Author: Tim O’Shei

Published: 2010

Creepy Urban Legends book cover

Even if you’re not usually much of a reader, you can still uncover all the details of your favorite creepy urban legends with this book. In only 32 pages. It has major Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark Vibes, telling the tales of your favorite urban legends in a simple way. It’s perfect for beginners, or those who want to read about their favorite superstitions and stories before watching the movie it was based on.

Say Her Name

Author: Juno Dawson

Published: 2010

Say Her Name Book Cover

Bloody Mary is one of the greatest urban legends of all time. So great, in fact, that she inspired this terrifying tale by Tim O’Shei – in which a group of teenagers unknowingly summon her from the afterlife. And not the same night they chanted her name in the mirror, either – but with a sneak attack that includes threatening messages on the bathroom mirror and strange everyday occurrences. The things you’ll do to get your high school crush to notice you, are we right? The three teenagers must find out a way to save themselves before their five days are up, and Mary comes for them like she has countless others. 

Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend…of a Friend of a Friend

Author: Thomas J. Craughwell

Published: 2005

Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend...of a Friend of a Friend book cover

Friend of a friend of a friend. It’s the basis of most urban legends, and these stories come together in this book by Thomas J. Craughwell. They’re scary, hilarious, and often extremely inappropriate… ranging from the alligators that supposedly roam in NYC sewers to the new parents who left their baby on a car roof. That’s right, it gets dark. You’ll be feeling all sorts of things with 666 Absolutely True Stories, and you can even convince your friends to read it for all the “did it happen, or not?” debates. 

Encyclopedia of Urban Legends

Author: Jan Harold Brunvand

Published: 2004

Encyclopedia of Urban Legends Book Cover

Another book from the father of folklore, Jan Harold Brunvand. He’s here to answer all your questions about urban legends, alphabetized and ready to discuss each one’s history and contribution to popular culture. And we’re not just talking about the much-talked-about tales that have been made into movies, but urban legends so weird and obscure that even your most folklore-obsessed friends will say “what?” Become a scholar of scary and supposedly true stories with this encyclopedia by Jan Harold Brunvand, and don’t forget to read his entire collection of books on urban legends!

Also check out our very own book based on Oregon’s Urban Legends. Atlas of Lore #1 – Oregon

If you want more Urban legends and paranormal lore check out our Encyclopedia of Supernatural horrors.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Movies Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

Werewolves Through Years of Books and Film

Aggressive wolf snarling
Photography by Philip Pilz

Myths and Legends of Werewolves have been popular throughout their history, not only as a source of inspiration for writers of fiction but as the fiery spark of terror that haunts the dreams of those who believe–their origin story from Petronius Arbiter’s The Satyricon has been built upon for almost two millennia has resulted in an enthusiastic following in the last century. Within medieval folklore, there are numerous tales of villages in rural areas being ripped apart by werewolves–uncontrollable beasts with blood-lust and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. By day the only evidence of their existence would be dead bodies, bloodied and torn by enormous claws, and a trail of bloody paw prints that marked their presence. As noted by Petronius and a plethora of other writers, this was centralized around the appearance of the full moon. So, while werewolves are considered exciting, dangerously fun, and possibly even a little sexy (thanks to authors like Charlaine Harris by Patricia Briggs) in today’s horror culture and paranormal fiction, they were vicious and brutal beasts that threatened the lives of villagers in the middle ages.

5 Werewolves in History

While the mythology of the Werewolf is vast, there are actually more modern historical accounts of these creatures actually existing, so we present these five Werewolves that were found throughout history.

Wolf howling near the pack
Photography by Thomas Bonometti

The Beast of Gévaudan

In the former province of Gévaudan–Lozère and Haute-Loire–in the south of France, the presence of La Bête du Gévaudan terrorized the countryside beginning in 1764 and lasting until 1767. This beast was reported as a massive wolf-like creature–about the size of the cow–that had razor-sharp claws, a mouth that housed giant fangs, and reddish-brown hair. Its head and ears were said to be shaped like a greyhound’s, with a wide chest and a back streaked with black.

In May or June of 1764 was the first known encounter with the beast, where it charged a young woman tending to her cattle in the Mercoire forest in the eastern part of Gévaudan–it is said the bulls in her herd were able to keep it at bay and finally drive it off after two attempts to charge the woman, and she was able to escape with her life. What followed was a continuous onslaught of the region against what was deemed easy prey–women, children, and men who were tending to their livestock alone in secluded pastures. Unusually, it wouldn’t target the legs or throat like a wolf might, instead it went for the head; victims that were left behind partially eaten were often with their heads completely crushed or without one at all. There was such a high volume of attacks that there was suspicion of there being more than one beast, as well as a person training these creatures to do the killings–but as the attacks continued, the supernatural quality of it increased, when it was seemingly unaffected by gunshot wounds inflicted upon it by two hunters in October 1764. Having believed they had mortally wounded the beast, they followed the blood trail to the woods the next day and instead of finding the body of the wolf, they discovered freshly slaughtered victims.

Seeking the large reward that was posted for slaying the beast, soldiers and hunters traveled from far and wide to find the creature, but months passed and it was no closer to being captured or slain. After hearing of a brutal public attack of two young children, Louis XV sent a Norman squire and hunter by the name of Denneval to aid in the hunt of the beast and in February of 1765, this man began tracking it with his six best bloodhounds. He was joined by Jacques Denis, a sixteen-year-old who lost his twenty-year-old sister to the beast and sought vengeance. After hunting it for several months, Jacques was killed and Denneval retired from hunting the beast at all. The Beast continued its rampages, was shot through the eye by another hunter, fell to the ground, seemingly deceased, then rose and went for a final attack, but was met with another barrage of bullets and was at last killed. Upon examination, they determined that this beast was actually a rare wolf that was on the larger end of the reported spectrum.

This tale would seem to be fairly run of the mill in circumstances with a bloodthirsty wolf, except that after a year of peace returning to the community, in the spring of 1767 the beast was reported to have come back to life and start massacring once again. This time, they took no time assembling the largest hunting party yet, comprised of over three hundred men, as well as a man by the name of Jean Chastel; Chastel had heard rumors that the Beast of Gévaudan was actually a werewolf, so he loaded his gun with silver bullets that were blessed by a priest. Turned out that the rumors allowed him to be well-prepared, as after shooting the beast twice in the chest with these silver bullets, it was instantly killed.

During its reign of terror over the countryside of Gévaudan, it was said to kill between sixty and a hundred men, women, and children, while injuring more than thirty.

Livonia and the Hounds of God

In the late 1600s, Thiess of Kaltenbrun a man living in Jurgenburg, Livonia–what is now the Latvia and Lithuania regions–was widely believed by neighbors and peers to be a werewolf who regularly had dealings with the devil. Although it didn’t help his case that he admitted that he was one, especially during a time when an association with the devil meant a death sentence. Either way, the local authorities didn’t seem to care, since Thiess was an eighty-year-old man.

The authorities eventually had to question him on an unrelated matter in 1691, which oddly enough ended in him volunteering information about his being a werewolf. His confession to his lycanthropic lifestyle was quite strange, with no real consistency within–he said that he had stopped participating as a werewolf a decade prior, but that he and his companions would wear magical wolf pelts and turn into wolves to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, Pentecost, and Midsummer’s Night.

His claim throughout was that werewolves were the agents of God, that they traveled to hell to battle the Devil himself and bring goods stolen by witches back to the people who lost them, but strangely also kill, cook, then eat farm animals. He also claimed that if they failed to keep the witches and demons in Hell that the community would have poor crops for the entire season. To counter the accusations that he was in league with the devil, he instead told the authorities that he and his companions were actually working for God, that they were a group of lycanthropes that were titled the “Hounds of God.” Thiess claimed that this ensured them an ascent to Heaven when they died. Eventually, when it was discovered that Thiess was not a devout Luthern and that he occasionally performed folk magic, the judge ordered Thiess to ten lashings and permanent exile.

The Wolf of Ansbach

In 1685, in what was the town of Neuses, Ansbach–now Germany–there was a wolf terrorizing and killing people; while this was not completely out of the ordinary, this particular instance coincided with the death of the cruel and unpopular chief magistrate, Michale Leicht. The people of the town believed that this wolf was Leicht who had returned from the dead as a werewolf. Once the wolf had been killed, they paraded the streets with its corpse, cut off its muzzle, then dressed in to look like Leicht, even going so far as to put a mask and a wig on it. After the parade concluded, they hung the body in a prominent position in town so that everyone could see that this creature had been killed, but eventually the wolf’s corpse was preserved and put on display at a local museum.

The Werewolf of Allariz

Manuel Blanco Romasanta, born in 1809, was thought to be Spain’s first-ever serial killer; although, there weren’t many stories other than his own to corroborate his being a werewolf. When he was accused of murder, he actually confessed to thirteen of the incidents but claimed he was cursed with Lycanthropy. When asked to display his ability to transform, he stated that he was no longer afflicted; he was eventually acquitted for four deaths, which were killed by actual wolves, but he was found guilty of the rest. Sentenced to death, but then to life in prison after being seen by a French hypnotist who believed that Romansanta was actually just delusional and had a mental illness. He passed away the same year from stomach cancer.

The Werewolf of Bedburg

Perhaps the most notorious werewolf case is that of Peter Stumpp, in Bedburg, Germany 1589; having gained his wealth as a farmer, he was accused of multiple counts of murder, cannibalism, and ultimately a werewolf. At first, thought to be the work of wolves, incidents started with the mutilated bodies of cattle, but were soon followed by townsfolk, but the creatures couldn’t be caught. In 1589, a hunting part cornered the wolf with its hounds, however, when the hunters approached they saw Peter Stumpp instead–what was more damning was that the wolf they had been hunting had had his left forepaw cut off and when they came upon Stumpp he also had his left hand cut off. After a torture-driven confession was made by Stump, he admitted that when he was twelve he had made a pact with the devil and had been given a magical wolf pelt belt which enabled him to turn into a wolf. He confessed that he had murdered and cannibalized fourteen children and two pregnant women, killing his own son, and molesting his own daughter–so Stumpp was fixed to a breaking wheel, had his flesh torn from his body with red-hot pinchers, then his limbs were broken with the blunt side of an ax so he wouldn’t rise from the grave, and he was beheaded. This is a more controversial story, as it was believed by some that he was the victim of a political witch hunt, as the Catholic church had recently seized the area and Stumpp was a Protestant convert.

These days, it seems like werewolves in the supernatural genre are a dime-a-dozen, so it’s no big surprise that there are too many movies to list here–these are just some of our favorites, but they’re also ones that have contributed greatly to the modern lore that are currently associated to the story of the werewolf. Details change from one story to the next, but the broad picture remains the same.

Movies That Have Made Werewolves Mainstream

The Wolfman (2010)
The Wolfman (2010)