A Beginner’s Guide To The Scary Movie Genre

To make your foray into the bloody world of horror a little less spooky, we’ve broken down the essential sub-genres you need to know.

Brought to you by A Cure For Wellness

From Gore Verbinski, the visionary director of The Ring, comes the psychological thriller A Cure For Wellness, now out on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that horror holds a prime place in the world of cinema. It’s a genre that offers a home for terrible special effects and over-the-top schlock, and it’s how humans can indulge their fascination in their own death and destruction.

As a genre, it’s as varied as it is timeless – zombies, masked killers, ghosts and aliens aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so the only logical thing to do is jump on the horror film bandwagon. To make your foray into the bloody world of horror a little less spooky, we’ve broken down the essential sub-genres you need to know. Happy viewing!

The Psychological Thriller

There’s a creeping feeling you get while watching psychological horror films, but it’s a far cry from “GET THE F*** OUT, THE KILLER IS IN THE HOUSE”. Instead, it’s more of a slow burn towards a crescendo – something is really, really wrong, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

In psychological thrillers, the source of the fear is immaterial, grounded in the psychology of either the hero or the villain (and therefore all the more terrifying, as it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not), and there’s usually some sort of outlandish and unexpected twist at the end.

Korean and Japanese filmmakers like Kim Jee-Woon have especially mastered the genre, but A Cure For Wellness is a modern example of how these devices play out. When Lockhart, a young executive, is sent to a mysterious ‘wellness centre’ in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO, he soon realises things are not as they seem – getting out of the centre is harder than he thought. The movie harnesses psychological tropes well (drawing on the ground laid by classics like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Scorsese’s Cape Fear) – the audience is quickly pulled into Lockhart’s grisly psychological journey, forced to take note of environmental clues in order to determine what’s really happening.

The best bit: You’ll be pondering the storyline long after the credits have finished rolling.

The worst bit: If you’re into your jump scares, you may want to look elsewhere.

Essential viewing: The Shining (1980), Cape Fear (1991), What Lies Beneath (2000), A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003), A Cure For Wellness (2017), Get Out (2017)

The Slasher

Characterised by teenagers dying at the hands of a “psycho killer” (invariably a white male using some shiny, sharp implement as his weapon of choice), sex, drinking and a whole bunch of screaming, the slasher owes its prominence to classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and John Carpenter’s Halloween.

We can thank slasher movies for the horror movie tropes we love to hate: the hot girl running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door, groups of youths splitting up when they should be sticking together, and a million red herrings before the killer turns out to be the butter-wouldn’t-melt boyfriend. Go figure. Next time a stranger asks what your favourite scary movie is, DON’T ANSWER.

The best bit: How self-aware, meta and self-referential these films are.

The worst bit: The acting (sorry, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Neve Campbell in Scream).

Essential viewing: Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978), My Bloody Valentine (1981), Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legend (1998)

The Supernatural Thriller

Often considered to be the “scariest” sub-genre of horror, supernatural horror films hinge on elements that are beyond the control of innocent, everyday humans (unless you’re Buffy). Demons, possessed dolls, angry ghosts and haunted houses appear frequently in supernatural thrillers, as do happy, unsuspecting families and dumb idiots who think ouija boards are a good idea on a dark and stormy night.

Supernatural thrillers are a longstanding sub-genre of horror, so there’s a nearly endless well of movies to churn through – some great, some terrible. Interestingly, it’s the contemporary films like The Witch and It Follows that are pushing the envelope to become modern classics.

The best bit: It’s (probably) all made up, which means clean, no-strings-attached scares for the audience.

The worst bit: Leprechauns: Origins

Essential viewing: The Exorcist (1973), Suspiria (1977), The Evil Dead (1981), It Follows (2014), The Conjuring 2 (2016), The Witch (2016)

The Zombie Film

They can be fast, slow, undead or infected, but one thing remains constant: zombies want your brains. Zombies have their roots in Haitian voodoo culture (the word zombie comes from the voodoo word ‘zonbi’, meaning ghost or departed spirit), and have since come to represent a vessel for discussing everything we don’t really like about the human race, like Nazism and disease.

As a film genre, it’s versatile, enduring and universal: as long as humans are fascinated by death, folklore and immortality, zombie films will have their place.

The best bit: The stakes are always stacked against the humans’ favour (no one’s ever going to outrun a fast zombie), which makes for great action and a healthy dose of gore.

The worst bit: Sometimes the zombie backstories are high up on the ‘unbelievable’ scale, so it’s hard to invest completely. See Dead Snow as an example.

Essential viewingNight Of The Living Dead (1968), Dawn Of The Dead (1978 and 2004),  28 Days Later (2002), Dead Snow (2009), La Horde (2009), Wyrmwood (2014)

The Found Footage

This sub-genre is relatively new, popularised in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project and again in 2007 with Paranormal Activity. The films normally take the form of pseudo-documentaries or mockumentaries, and are pieced together with news or surveillance footage.

There’s something innately unsettling about the grainy realism in found footage, and if pulled off well, this genre is well loved by horror fanatics. We all know (now) that The Blair Witch Project was fictional, but at the time of its release, the use of never-before-seen actors and almost a complete lack of production design and music made it seem so real. It was (and still is) scary AF.

The best bit: These films place the viewer squarely in the protagonist’s seat – we learn what they learn, as they’re learning it. It’s a completely immersive form of storytelling, and when it’s done right, proper scares ensue.

The worst bit: Stories are always linear, erring on the side of basic – there’s only so much you can do with one point of view and a handy cam.

Essential viewing: The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Curse (2005), Paranormal Activity (2007), Rec (2007), VHS (2012), VHS2 (2013)

The Home Invasion

What’s NOT terrifying about being home alone, hearing a noise, and reaching for the knife block only to discover there are a few knives already missing? Home invasion flicks play on our worst nightmares: our sanctuaries morphing into battlegrounds, where we’re unrelentingly taunted and attacked, for no other reason than – as one of the masked assailants in The Strangers says – “because you were home.” NOPE.

While victims have the advantage of knowing the house inside out, villains generally have the upper hand on account of being totally bat-shit crazy with an insatiable lust for blood, so there’s that. One way or another, these films don’t end well.

The best bit: Usually these films are lean and low on cheese, without gratuitous violence and/or cheap thrills. They’re terrifying, plain and simple.

The worst bit: You might never trust the locks in your house again.

Essential viewing: Funny Games (1997 and 2007), When A Stranger Calls (2006), Inside (2007), The Strangers (2008), Hush (2016)

The Sci-Fi Flick

“In space, no one can hear you scream” is one of the most iconic taglines in cinematic history, and also the reason why horror fiends can’t get enough of sci-fi. Films that take place in space, like Alien and Sunshine, are particularly memorable because space represents the great unknown, but even the films that are set on earth are a gold mine of practical effects, weird creatures and bizarre bodily functions. Even as we hurtle towards the years in which the classics were set, sci-fi is the sub-genre that keeps on giving.

The best bit: No one really knows what’s out there, so filmmakers are only limited by their imaginations.

The worst bit: Too much CGI, particularly in modern sci-fi films like Prometheus.

Essential viewing: Alien (1979), The Fly (1986), Event Horizon (1997), The Descent (2005)

Feature image: A Cure For Wellness/Supplied

Ready to get creeped out? A Cure for Wellness is new to Blu-ray and DVD at JB Hi-Fi. Check out the trailer below!