Since I’ve started paying more attention to the way I curate my reviews, I’ve come to realise quite how much horror I read (turns out it’s a lot). That got me to thinking about all the sub-genres I enjoy and emphatically don’t enjoy, coupled with a well-timed comment on a ghost story review by Shalini, I’ve decided to write a Beginner’s Guide to Horror.
I’ve always been a fan of the macabre, gothic and generally effed-up but it’s taken a lot of exploration and reading to find what I like, with a lot of duds fallen by the wayside. I’m still no expert but I’m confident that I’ve read enough horror to set complete horror novices on their path to nightmares….
One of my favourite sub-genres. These books normally follow a strict set of rules when it comes to how to generate a haunting:
- House was built on a burial ground
- House used to be a hospital or from a time when ‘lunatic asylum’ was an acceptable term
- Someone died in the house under mysterious and/or tragic circumstances
- Someone eeeeeevil lived in the house, THEN DIED IN IT
- Nuns. Anything to do with nuns
- Ouija boards are a terrible idea
The more ‘normal’ the house is, the more likely a book like this is going to creep you out if you’re home alone at night. Big ol’ mansions on a hill are fine, but it’s the 2 up, 2 down semi-detached house ghosts and entities you have to look out for.
My favourite variation of this trope is when there are kids involved and the story is told from the perspective of a parent – it’s TERRIFYING.
There’s no guarantee of a happily-ever-after here so be careful!
Think haunted IKEA and you’re not far off…
Horror authors visit a haunted house and awaken something old and evil.
This one’s a tear-jerker! A sad story about a broken family trying to find peace after the death of a child.
Yay!!! Abnormal psychology and a series of crimes that could be happening in your neighbourhood!
The best thing about this category is that there are so many variations, authors have to get creative with their characters and storylines to make them stand out. This can result in some outrageous creations that can be seriously disturbing, bizarre and sometimes inadvertently very, very funny. The synopses are always over dramatic and dark though so check out the reviews to get an idea of what you’re getting.
Brutal and nasty – this one isn’t for the faint of heart!
This one’s a little milder and a well written intro to serial killer mysteries.
Possibly not everyone’s opinion but I rarely find these leave-the-lights-on scary. The beauty of gothic horror is how atmospheric they are, they’re really moody and gorgeously written, perfect for getting your fix of angst. They tend to follow classic storylines so they’re easy to predict but are really enjoyable all the same (though there are always outliers here!).
This book is beautifully written, with a dash of romance, mystery and classic haunting.
Mysterious and oh so angsty!
Don’t be too intimidated to pick up the classics – you’d be amazed how readable they are, even over a century after they were written. I tend to listen to the audiobook versions of them because, being classics, they attract some famous voice actors and I’m shallow that way.
Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde
Some people find more horror in the familiar but personally, space horrors scare the shit out of me. You’re light years from home, the cold infinity of space lies just outside whatever artificial atmosphere you’re living in and suddenly…. HORROR FILLED HORROR STARTS TO HORRIFY YOU. Normally something slimy, bitey or stabby.
Because these things aren’t ghosts or based on classic tropes, they’re usually unpredictable and gross which makes them scary, in my book.
Space pirates and wormy body snatchers.
Murder mystery IN SPACE.
Yes. This is a thing. This is perfect for easing your way into the genre but not for the squeamish – they usually have a lot of body horror (gore, mutations, brutal ickiness) but aren’t the stuff of nightmares. To make up for the use of dark humour and jokes, things can get a little bit weird so you have to kinda go with it and not question anything too much…
A bridal party and some power tools go up against the undead.
This is such a multifaceted and wondrous category! There’s something for everyone, as long as everyone likes the undead.
- Super-strong and intelligent rage zombies
- Shambling walking-dead style zombies
- Post – apocalypse
- Lead up and immediate result of infection
- Group of people finding each other
- Single person’s journey
- Cure…. No cure
- Virus, naturally occurring, fungus, alien, other
- Claustrophobic psychological suspense (a lot of hiding)
- High action and gory violence (f* hiding!)
Personally, I love the first-person narratives when someone is trying to escape a zombie outbreak but there’s so much to choose from!
Pulp noir detective zombie shenanigans!
A dry-humored man survives the zombie apocalypse in his underground bunker.
An ordinary woman escapes a zombie infested St Louis with her infant daughter.
Of course, there are loads of other different flavours of horror that I haven’t mentioned in this post but these are probably the best gateways to the weird, wonderful and blood curdling.
What other categories of horror do you think I should add to this guide to horror? Any good book recommendations for the categories I’ve mentioned?