Subgenres of Horror from A to Z

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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.

The Best Movies About the End of the World

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Remember when everybody thought the world would end in 2012? Nearly a decade later and we’re still here, but the terrifying apocalyptic movies will never stop… and we like it that way. These films are the ideal combination of action, suspense, and horror – watching society unravel as the main characters quite literally run for their lives, often to no avail. What would you do if you were simply getting your hair done at the salon, when buildings started to collapse all around you? Is there any imaginable way to escape a natural disaster of this capacity? Answer these questions and get a fix of apocalyptic horror with these top-rated films about the end of the world.

These Final Hours (2015)

These final hours movie poster

If you found out the world was ending, what’s the first thing you would do? Some would say goodbye to their loved ones or chill out with Netflix and good food, but the protagonist in These Final Hours wants to party. And party hard. The film begins in Perth, Australia as an asteroid collides with Earth, with about twelve hours to go until a firestorm reaches the country. James wants to experience the “party to end all parties” before he exits the planet, but things take a unique turn as he meets new people and comes across terrifying things. This is definitely one of the most underrated end-of-the-world thrillers, ever. 

Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter movie poster

The end of the world is even more terrifying when it’s all happening inside your head, and that’s exactly what happens to Curtis LaForche in this apocalyptic thriller. He sees raindrops made of oil and swarms of black birds, while nobody else does… and his increasing anxiety and strange behavior begins to cause issues with his job, family, and life. Is he simply going through a rough time period, struggling with mental illness, or foreshadowing a future disaster? You’ll have to watch this Jessica Chastain thriller (her specialty) and find out. 

2012 (2009)

2012 end of the world movie poster

For many years, there were conspiracy theories about the world ending in 2012, as this was the conclusion of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Obviously, it didn’t happen… but we did get a pretty sweet disaster movie out of it. Released in 2009, this film centers around Jackson Curtis and his attempts to save his family from impending doom. And by that, we mean a series of natural disasters that are slowly crumbling the Earth and killing off the population. This film has the ideal combination of action and scares, and you can sleep easy knowing that we all survived the year 2012. 

I Am Legend (2007)

I am legend movie poster

I hope you are enjoying the apocalypse. So what do you do when 90% of the Earth’s population is killed by a virus, while you’re the 1% who lives and the other 9% are terrifying mutants who want to kill you? Ask scientist Robert Neville, who is living a post-apocalyptic life in the ruins of Manhattan. Will Smith gives a breathtaking performance as he tries to survive and find a cure for the virus, while tracking down any fellow survivors and trying not to get attacked by the mutants. As you can imagine, it’s an eventful film!

Children of Men (2006)

Children of men movie poster

The premise of this film is quite simple. Humans have mysteriously become infertile and society is quickly (and not so quietly) dying out. There are less natural disasters and more quiet moments of fear, but Children of Men still has plenty of action. When a woman is believed to be pregnant, it becomes a symbol of hope for society… and the film follows a group of people as they do whatever it takes to stay alive. 

World War Z (2013)

World War Z Movie Poster

Brad Pitt spending a nearly 2 hour movie trying to stop a zombie pandemic, and looking amazing doing it? That’s why you need to watch World War Z. Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations agent who is assigned to gather clues about how to stop zombies from taking over the planet – guided by his duty to his job and need to protect his family. This movie is based on the 2006 novel World War Z, which you should also check out! If Brad Pitt can’t make the apocalypse fun who can?

28 Days Later (2002)

28 days later movie poster

This film hits a bit close to home in 2021, as it centers around four individuals trying to rebuild their life after a contagious virus hits and destroys society as they once knew it. Before there was Bird Bo or The Quiet Place, there was 28 Days Later… as this film shows the survivors trying to cope with their losses while avoiding the zombies that could possibly infect them. Among many, many other things. Some critics even say that it revived the zombie genre all the way back in 2002!

The Best Supernatural Horror Streaming Now

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Updated March 19th 2021

Have you been endlessly clicking through each of your streaming services looking for the best supernatural horror movies and series? Look no further as we have taken the time to watch them all and select the best supernatural horror currently streaming on HULU, NETFLIX, and AMAZON PRIME. You won’t find slasher films in this list because we prefer the supernatural. Included but not limited to hauntings, possessions, monsters, and complete and total psychological mind f#$%ks. We’ll keep updating so you don’t have to mindlessly scroll through endless movie lists like the zombie you might be someday.

Best Supernatural Horror on HULU

  1. The Wretched

75% Tomatometer “The atmosphere is eerie and there’s a nice twist I did not see coming.” Staci Layne Wilson

A young boy begins the journey of navigating not only his parent’s divorce but also fighting the old witch that has possessed the next-door neighbors. Great story and very well executed with a classic twist in the end. Like witch horror movies? So do we and here is our best of witch horror list.

  1. Pyewacket

82% Tomatometer “The director is out for blood, and while this is a slow-burn affair that craftily bides its time until just the proper moment to unleash a flurry of dexterously ominous thrills, the craven wickedness of it all is portentously intoxicating.” Sara Michelle Fetters 

The angst of a teenage girl mixed with a bumpy relationship with her mother leads to grim things. Out for blood, the young girl performs an ancient death curse. Whose demise will it really end in?

  1. Lights out

76% Tomatometer “A lean, mean scare-machine, and a surprise contender for horror of the year. Seek it out. Then, for God’s sake, buy a bedside lamp.” Simon Crook

Rebecca could never tell fact from fiction in the dark as a child, and now her young brother faces the same problem. A supernatural entity has come to torment the two holding a strange attachment to their mother.

  1. Thelma

93% Tomatometer “Thelma is a wonderfully composed work, one that involves you at a pace of its own.” Rhys Tarling

A college student experiences a series of extreme seizures resulting in new supernatural abilities. Her new powers are dangerous and frightening, seemingly triggered by her love for another student. (In Norwegian, only has English subtitles)

  1. Welcome to Mercy

70% Tomatometer “A rare horror movie whose creators seriously represent both sides of a dilemma, and is therefore more mature than it seems at first glance.” Simon Abrams

Madaline visits a convent and learns she is on her way to becoming the Antichrist. She must work together with her friend August to confront and fight and demons inside of her.

Best Supernatural Horror on NETFLIX

  1. The Ritual

74% Tomatometer “It is a haunting film, with immaculate direction, impressive creature design, as well as well-acted and well-realised characters.” Adi Pramana

After a death in their group, four friends go for a hike through the Scandinavian wilderness. When they become lost in the forest, a series of evil and mysterious events plague the travelers.

  1. His House

100% Tomatometer “His House is a terrifying debut that breathes a fresh voice into the haunted-house subgenre.” Robert Daniels

A refugee couple from South Sudan have just escaped the horrors of their world, only to be thrown into another. Evil hides in the corners of their new English town life.

  1. Girl on the Third Floor

84% Tomatometer “Stevens shows that he is ready to earn his chops in the directors chair and it’s easy to get excited about what he plans to tackle next. Girl on the Third Floor has a lot of heart and some of it might be bleeding out right on the living room floor.” Ryan Larson

A couple moves into a house with plans to renovate it. The house has other plans though. 

  1. Apostle

78% Tomatometer “Evans departs from his usual action fare to weave a gripping story centered around unique Pagan-like mythology steeped in blood and sacrifice. It’s folk horror, but with a new level of brutality and viscera unlike most of its ilk.” Meagan Navarro

Thomas Richardson comes home to discover that his sister has been kidnapped by a cult. Thomas infiltrates the cult and learns of the true evil lurking within it.

  1. Polaroid

The critics hated it but we really enjoyed it so it’s on our list. Give it 15 minutes and you decide if it really is that rottne!

A highschool girl who has an innocent interest in photography finds a vintage polaroid camera and begins to experiment with it. But the people who have their picture taken with the camera are mysteriously met with a sudden and gruesome death.

  1. Little Evil

92% Tomatometer “Little Evil is fast-paced, funny, and more clever than you think it will be.” Eddie Strait 

This one has a comedy twist but who doesn’t love a horror comedy? A newlywed couple is enjoying their life with their five-year-old son who may or may not be the Antichrist.

Best Supernatural Horror on AMAZON PRIME

  1. Annabelle: Creation

71% Tomatometer “It’s perhaps one of the most exciting connective twists I’ve seen in a horror film.” Jordy Sirkin

Based on the famous haunted Annabelle doll. A nun and 6 orphaned girls are welcomed into a new California home. The owner’s 7-year-old daughter had passed away in that home a few years earlier, leaving a mysterious doll behind in her bedroom. One of the curious orphans discovers it and the evil inside of it.

  1. Devil

50% Tomatometer  This is another one where we watched and really enjoyed it. Critics be damned for messing with the devil in an elevator. “A taut, expert and engrossing thriller with sense of visual restraint that is refreshing in this age of abhorrent overexposure.” David Keyes

5 strangers are on a normal elevator ride until it gets stuck in the Philidelphia office tower. Their normal ride turns dark when they learn that the Devil is among them.

  1. It

86% Tomatometer “In the end, Muschietti’s film is a big, fat, gorgeously produced love letter to King’s epic novel.” Sara Michelle Fetters

Based on Stephen King’s novel, this movie follows the journey of seven young outcasts. They meet the evilest ancient being out there that emerges from the depths of the sewers every 27 years. They all must overcome their fears to banish the clown, Pennywise.

  1. Midsommar

83% Tomatometer “Ari Aster’s approach to horror filmmaking seeps into your subconsciousness with great effect, lingering like an uninvited guest.” Wenlei Ma

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/midsommar

A young couple struggling with their relationship decide to go on a trip to a Swedish festival. It turns into a nightmare when the locals show their true colors.

  1. Possum

90% Tomatometer “[Possum’s] shiver-inducing, claustrophobic, hauntingly brilliant nightmare fuel, powered by an engagingly disturbing central performance from Sean Harris.” Joey Keogh

A puppeteer has to relive his childhood nightmares and past secrets.

The Sounds of Nightmares: The Best Horror Soundtracks

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Horror films rely on a number of factors to deliver scares, attacking as many of a viewer’s senses as possible with a carefully concocted cacophony of sight and sound. On-screen efforts are restricted to targeting our eyes and ears, though let’s be honest, if Tobe Hooper could’ve made us smell the Sawyer family home, he would. This limitation on horror’s sensory maelstrom means that sound is just as, if not more important than the visual nightmares on display. Music is as intrinsic and essential to horror as it is to a musical; each grumbling synth drone and eerie pluck of a harp can conjure dread, unease, tension and suspense from the most unlikely places. More often than not they can punctuate violence and psychological torture to the abject degree, enhancing some of the greatest standout moments in horror cinema history. Look to the stabbing staccato strings in the infamous shower scene in Psycho (1960) or the equally sudden and unnerving strings of Jaws (1975). The best horror soundtracks have inspired these new sounds for decades.

While respect must be paid to the classics, we are indeed living in a golden age of horror cinema and, as a result, an exciting and experimental time for original horror soundtracks. Recently we have seen experimental artists like Jóhann Jóhannsson and Mica Levi growing into Oscar-nominated star composers, musicians like Thom Yorke shifting into the world of movie soundtracks and even indie game composer Disasterpeace taking on the duty of decorating the brilliant It Follows (2014) with his unsettling, synth-led dreamscapes.

Without further ado, here are some of the best horror soundtracks from throughout the ages.

The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone

The Thing Album cover vinyl.


Kicking things off with a personal favourite of 80’s sci-fi horror, John Carpenter’s frostbitten opus The Thing stars Kurt Russel as a helicopter pilot in Antarctica, battling a shape-shifting extraterrestrial being. By this time in his career Carpenter had written original scores for every picture he released, ironically enough what is now widely known as his strongest film was actually the first to feature another composer’s music. Ennio Morricone, known for spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and his Oscar-winning music for The Hateful Eight (2015) (which included music he’d originally written for The Thing), took the helm after long conversations with Carpenter in which the director said he wanted the sound “really simple, synth-driven, effective”. The end result is just that, a sparse and minimal synth score which echoes the endless frozen desert surrounding the research base and its inhabitants’ horrific struggle. Not bad considering Morricone was shown an incomplete version of the film with little to no context on what the director wanted.

Suspiria (1977) – Goblin

Suspiria (1977) Goblin Album cover vinyl record.


For our next sonic endeavour we head to Italy for giallo/gore maestro Dario Argento’s most notable grandiose horror-mystery, Suspiria. The film follows Suzy, a ballet student who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet school. Her time at the academy isn’t easy, from strange noises in the night to unexplained illnesses, but when people begin to die around her Suzy starts to uncover the terrifying history of the place.

The tinkling music-box chimes of the main theme in Suspiria are as recognisable to horror buffs as John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) theme and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells combined. Claudio Simonetti and Goblin had collaborated with Dario Argento two years earlier, having scored his film Deep Red (1975) after Argento wanted someone in the vein of Deep Purple or Pink Floyd, and had Goblin suggested to him by his producer. After the success of Deep Red (a soundtrack which sold 4 million copies) both Argento and Goblin were free to experiment with Suspiria, meaning a truly unique pairing of aural and visual stimuli was created. Whatever your tastes, it can’t be argued that Suspiria and it’s accompanying music changed the way a lot of people thought about horror, and pioneered a style all of their own.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – Sinoia Caves

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) - Sinoia Caves


Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 sci-fi/horror debut is bleak, sparse, minimal, and in a lot of senses, slow. It is an ethereal dreamscape in which a heavily sedated woman with extrasensory perception tries to escape from a commune which has her held captive. The plot is thin and, it could be argued, merely an excuse for the aural and visual feast which it amounts to. It has been joked that Cosmatos’ work is best enjoyed under the influence of psychedelics, and for his second release as Sinoia Caves, Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt seemed to have taken this sentiment in stride. With sly nods to John Carpenter, Goblin, Jan Hammer and Jon McCallum, Schmidt created not a specifically referential piece of nostalgia but one that reinforces the films 80s aesthetic and contextual themes without appearing intrusive. Cosmatos creates his pieces from an almost naive love of the genre, while also retaining an originality in his art that would equally work without the inspirational ancestry to pay reference to. Thankfully, he seems to pick composers who do the same.

Mandy (2018) – Jóhann Jóhannsson

Mandy (2018) - Jóhann Jóhannsson Album cover vinly


If Mandy was Panos Cosmatos’ love letter to grindhouse and the 80’s, Jóhannson’s sonic counterpart was the perfect accompaniment. A visceral and fierce arrangement, of melancholic synths, earth-rattling guitars, somber strings and erratic percussion takes viewers through as emotional a rollercoaster as the film does. In a tragic turn, one made even more significant by the emotional depth of the composition he had just released, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died at age 48, shortly after the film’s release. Several vinyl issues have been released of the heavy metal fever dream which includes Seattle-based experimental metal band Sunn O))) providing the moody, overdriven guitar work. In an interview, Cosmatos spoke of his planning the score with Jóhannsson: “I said, ‘I want it to feel like you’re 11 years old, and you’re in the backseat of your big brother’s Trans Am, and he’s smoking weed, and you can smell the vanilla air freshener, and the leather,” the director said. “It’s kind of scary, but it’s also exhilarating at the same time.” Cosmatos recalled that Jóhannsson paused before replying: “I know exactly what you mean.”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell album cover


Tobe Hooper’s 1974 debut classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shocked audiences around the world in a single reverberative gasp with its unabashed and unfiltered violence, grimy aesthetic and wacky cast of insidious antagonists. The picture was helped along massively in its cumulative effect by Hooper and sound expert Wayne Bell’s nightmarish soundscapes which blur the same line between music and noise that many modern industrial and underground pop artists frequently emulate, as well as the French abstract ‘musique concrète’ movement. All focus was given to the scene, whether it be one of building tension, horrific release or a mix of both in something like a chase scene, all sound was specifically engineered to enhance the initial idea. Because of the strange and unique pairings of instruments used in each piece, the overall effect is one of just just as unsettling a nature as the horrific visual brutality on display.

Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann

Psycho (1960) - Bernard Herrmann Album Cover


Alfred Hitchcock is a household name in the world of horror, known best for his terrifying and suspenseful The Birds (1963), Rear Window (1954) and, of course, Psycho. Similarly, composer Bernard Herrman’s career spanned from work with Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre writing the music for The War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane, on dozens of television programs including The Twilight Zone, and later films such as Taxi Driver (1976), whereupon shortly after he died. His work on what is perhaps Hitchcock’s best loved film has come to be one of the best known original scores in horror, particularly the staccato string attack which stabs along with our faceless killer in the infamous ‘shower scene’. Much of the score features a 7th chord that contains both major and minor intervals that film professor Royal Brown calls the ‘Hitchcock chord’. The chord is seen as allowing the films to play out a very ordinary opening scene with its major intervals, while also having the minor intervals to hint at the darkness beyond.

The Lighthouse (2019) – Mark Korven

The Lighthouse (2019) - Mark Korven album cover vinyl record


For his 2019 slow-burning, mythology-laden period chiller The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers reunited with composer Mark Korven, the man who scored cult sci-fi/horror hit Cube (1997) and Egger’s previous horror breakout The Witch (2015). In an age awash with samey, uninspired horror soundtracks that frequently borrow heavily from Bernard Herrmann’s earlier efforts, a pairing such as Eggers and Korven is a rare and unique treat. For The Witch, Korven took a minimalist approach, utilising his own creation ‘The Apprehension Machine’, a contraption of metal rulers and bows which has been described by some as the most terrifying instrument around. While this fit with the themes and aesthetic explored in The Witch, for The Lighthouse a different approach had to be taken. Heavy use of booming brass permeates the score, echoing the raging sea which surrounds the characters, along with glassy string sections that almost seem to pour from the mysterious light itself. The score acts almost as a third character, diving into the madness the other two end up gleefully embracing.

Under The Skin (2014) – Mica Levi

Under The Skin (2014) album cover

To accompany the alien, otherworldly, uncanny feeling of Jonathan Glazer‘s sci-fi/horror Under The Skin, composer Mica Levi took a rather elemental approach to her score. The lead character in Under The Skin, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a blank-eyed extraterrestrial predator with apparently no human emotion or relatability. Of course Levi would look to György Ligeti’s strikingly impersonal and unsettling work on The Shining (1980) for inspiration. The soundtrack for Under The Skin plays out much like a thought process from something far from human, as if trying to emulate other music the way Johansson’s character tries to emulate other people. “We were looking at the natural sound of an instrument to try and find something identifiably human in it, then slowing things down or changing the pitch of it to make it feel uncomfortable,” Levi said in an interview. Sounds range from swarming dry tremolo strings, insectile digital whirring and buzzing and pitch-shifted drones that seep under the skin in a truly addictive way.

Hellraiser (1987) – Christopher Young

Hellraiser soundtrack album cover (1987) - Christopher Young. Featuring Horror Icon Pinhead


Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, shocked audiences in 1987 with a new blend of gothic, torturous horror. Featuring a mostly amoral cast of characters being tormented by the insidious Cenobites, Barker’s gleefully cruel outlook was a lot for audiences to stomach at first. So much so that production company New World Pictures decided against the avante garde synth soundtrack that John Balance and Peter Christopherson of the underground British electronica group ‘Coil’ were creating, opting instead for a more traditional approach. Thankfully this decision was backed up by the idea to use Chistopher Young (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), Sinister (2012)) and arguably one of the greatest traditional horror soundtracks was realized. Predominantly orchestral and with some synth textures added for good measure, the score weaves its way through a myriad of melodies, harmonies and interesting and emotional instrumentation to match Barker’s pitch-black, dissonant romanticism, treading the line between pain and pleasure.

The Beyond (1981) – Fabio Frizzi

The Beyond (1981) - Fabio Frizzi album cover featuring a rotting corpse


Often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Gore’, Lucio Fulci is known for a string of gruesome giallo flicks from Zombie (1979) to The New York Ripper (1982) and A Cat in the Brain (1990). His films range from grounded murder mystery to psychedelic nightmare, all retaining a healthy splattering of his signature excessive style of blood and guts. One of the most off-the-wall endeavors the Italian director ever undertook was 1981’s The Beyond, a truly wacky horror about an old hotel in Louisiana that contains an entrance to Hell. Fabio Frizzi’s score focuses on variations on a few central themes in a tasteful combination of traditional orchestration and electric progressive rock. While tailoring pieces to fit the building of tension, dreamy atmospheres and striking intensity that run throughout, Frizzi’s score provides more bass-driven funk than one might expect to hear over a scene of tarantulas eating someone’s face.

The Devil’s Candy (2017) – Michael Yezerski

The Devil’s Candy (2017) - Michael Yezerski soundtrack cover image with bloody guitar


Sean Byrne’s second offering of violent, visceral horror after his 2009 shocker The Loved Ones features a metalhead artist who becomes obsessed with a demonic painting seemingly created by his subconscious, as well as a disturbed giant of a man whose existence threatens the family’s very lives. Featuring an almost perfect arrangement of existing metal music, from the earth-rattling soundscapes of Sunn 0))) to the groove laden riffing of Machine Head, the film also features an original score by Michael Yezerski. This is truly the heavy metal horror film of the 2010s, in fact any time there isn’t an actual metal band playing viewers are treated to Yezerski’s semi-industrial blend of brutal guitar shredding, atonal clangings and screechings and gut-wobbling drones. Subtlety isn’t the intent of either aural or visual elements here, rather a heart stopping face-slap from start to finish.


Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter

Halloween Soundtrack cover (1978) - John Carpenter featuring a pumpkin and knife


When John Carpenter made the legendary and timeless Halloween he was thirty years old, yet still running things like a college student. Everything he could possibly do himself, he would, including the chillingly minimal and infinitely recognizable score that would help propel his low-budget slasher to worldwide stardom. Drawing on Goblin’s sinister Suspiria score along with Bernard Herrman’s masterfully suspenseful music for Psycho, Carpenter (who recognizes himself as having zero chops as a musician) wrote a simple 5/4 piano rhythm that would end up being one of the most recognized pieces of music in horror. Like the theme from Jaws, the sparse and basic nature of the tune helps build suspense without being intrusive, allowing just enough space between notes for the horrors on screen to set in. The score features many simple, descending piano lines creating an acute sense of foreboding before the sharp, “cattle prod” keyboard stabs have viewers jumping from their seats. Proof that true art is born from limitations, Carpenter’s Halloween theme has been adopted by Pop and Hip-Hop artists alike, and remains to this day one of the most influential horror scores in existence.

References

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/best-horror-movie-soundtracks/
https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/periods-genres/film-tv/scariest-horror-soundtracks-music-scores/
https://www.stereogum.com/2063184/best-horror-music-movies-tv-2010s/lists/ultimate-playlist/
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-thing-ennio-morricone-and-john-carpenters-thriller-soundtracks-get-special-rereleases-981073/
https://noisegate.com.au/behind-the-score-suspiria-by-goblin/
https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19753-sinoia-caves-beyond-the-black-rainbow-ost/

https://thequietus.com/articles/23290-texas-chainsaw-massacre-soundtrack-article
https://www.npr.org/2000/10/30/1113215/bernard-herrmanns-score-to-psycho?t=1628191357826
https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19239-mica-levi-under-the-skin-ost/
http://magazine.scoreit.org/there-is-a-light-that-never-goes-out-mark-korven-on-the-lighthouse/
https://moviemusicuk.us/2017/09/14/hellraiser-christopher-young/
https://filmschoolrejects.com/lucio-fulci-movies/2/
https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-beyond-original-motion-picture-soundtrack-mw0000012511
https://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3428439/exclusive-devils-candy-director-sean-byrne-provides-soundtrack-commentary/
https://mondoshop.com/products/the-devils-candy-original-motion-picture-soundtrack
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/35-greatest-horror-soundtracks-modern-masters-gatekeepers-choose-126190/halloween-john-carpenter-1978-126731/

Under the Sea with Leviathan, Underwater and More

Categories
Best of Movies Scary Movies and Series
Underwater horror movie poster 2020

Oceans are believed to be one of the most stunning places in the world – and they are. But like most beautiful things, these bodies of water have a dark side. They cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface and go thousands of feet in depth, to places that no human could even dream of going. What lurks on the ocean floors? Are there an underwater species we know nothing about? These are the frightening questions that plenty of horror movies have asked.

You may have heard about Underwater, the recently released science fiction/horror film starring Kristen Stewart. It follows a group of scientists who delve into the depths of the ocean, only to encounter a mysterious group of creatures who are out to destroy them. If this plot sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is. The movie has drawn comparisons to everything from sci-fi horror classic Alien to Black Sea, as the sea monster genre has been prevalent in cinema for decades. Underwater is especially similar to a group of underwater films released right before the 90’s, featuring a few names you may remember and a giant crab that still haunts your dreams. Do you remember these sea monster films?

Leviathan – 1989

If you thought the Mosasaurus sea serpent in Jurassic World was terrifying, just wait until you meet the Leviathan. This biblical creature is referenced in a variety of ancient Hebrew literature one of the most frightening sea monsters known to man, lurking at the depths of the ocean and coming up to the surface to cause mass destruction to passing ships. While there are many interpretations on the appearance of the Leviathan, it is commonly believed to be gigantic in size and take on the appearance of a serpent – compared certain reptiles such as snakes, dragons, and crocodiles. 

Of course, Hollywood always has its own adaptations. The 1989 film Leviathan follows a group of scientists terrorized by a mutant underwater creature that’s not exactly what the Old Testament describes. The beast in the film resembles a gigantic, hideous and scaly fish rather than a serpent – with multiple tentacles and a randomly-placed human head on its lower back. It enjoys stalking and killing due to chemical mutations by the Russians, giving this film a more modern, science-fiction take on the Leviathan found in the bible. While the creature effects were designed by critically acclaimed special effects artist Stan Winston, the action in the 1989 film is a bit outdated today. Would you be interested in seeing a Leviathan remake? 

DeepStar Six – 1989

Released in 1989 mere months before Leviathan, one of the greatest lessons to take from DeepStar Six is that no good comes from humans living underwater. A group of military and civilians join together in DeepStar Six – an experimental deep sea US Naval facility where they plan to test underwater colonization methods. With the crew already starting to grow tired of each other – and you know, the whole “living underwater with no fresh air or sunlight” scenario – they come across a man-eating sea monster out to destroy both their project and their lives. 

One Google search will bring you countless “Leviathan vs. DeepStar Six” articles, breaking down the similar plot, characters and ending scene. While neither films were box office hits, it was DeepStar Six that took a much bigger hit from the critics. It has a 0% (yes, you read that correctly) rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics looking down on everything from the film’s vision to the design of the monster. They’re not exaggerating, by the way… the thing looks like a gigantic blend of a crab and a frog. 

The Abyss – 1989

After the mediocre releases above, horror enthusiasts of the 80’s were thrilled when The Abyss made its way into theaters in August 1989. Since everything James Cameron touches turns to Oscar gold, it’s no surprise that the film was a box office hit and commercial success. The Abyss received an 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, even winning in the Best Visual Effects category. 

While this film gravitates away from horror and more towards science fiction, it’s still a gorgeous film that deserves a watch. It strays away from sea monsters and towards sea aliens who are friendly in nature. It emphasizes both the frightening and stunning aspects of the ocean, while reminding you that James Cameron is a seriously incredible filmmaker. 

Deep-Sea Scares 

Let’s be honest… Underwater, Leviathan, even The Abyss – none of these films have a completely foreign concept. The sea monster genre is one of the most famous in the history of film, with a creature arriving uninvited into society and seeking to destroy our lives. The sea monster and underwater horror genres combine this concept with another that’s even more terrifying – the unknown. From classics like Jaws to the modern monsters from Underwater… these films aren’t bound to become a sinking ship anytime soon. With so much still unknown the deep abyss of the ocean you better prepare your escape pod as you prepare to outrun the next sea monster from the depths.