Horror Themes That Haunt Me

Spooky season isn’t spooky season if horror movies aren’t involved, right?  To close out this fantastic month—and in the spirit of the grueling in-progress edits on my young adult horror novel, HUNGERS THE FOREST—I’d like to share my favorite horror sub-genres and themes, along with my top-rated movies from each one. Let’s get into it!

Religious Themes

I grew up in the southern Baptist church, so I’ve heard my share of Sunday morning fire and damnation sermons; oratories meant to scare everyone into “clean Christian living.” They just scared me, period. To my impressionable young mind, the devil was an actual, real-life entity of pure evil lurking in the dark to harm me. Even though I’ve since left my religious beliefs behind, demonic possession and gateways to hell are still terrifying concepts. Damien: Omen II is one of the first horror movies I (wasn’t supposed to have) watched, and it scared the crap out of me. The Amityville Horror (1979) is a close second. I avoided the basement in our Missouri home for years because of this movie. Prince of Darkness still ranks as one of my top five horror movies, right under director John Carpenter’s other masterpiece, The Thing (which I talk about below).  For modern religious horror, The Nun and Legion are favorites. The VVitch is on my list to watch soon.


Zombies are my number one irrational fear. I know they cannot exist, and yet, I find the idea of them supremely terrifying. I’ve spent hours (maybe days, maybe weeks accumulatively) mulling over zombie apocalypse survival plans. I even have the book (well, it’s more a manual…) What I find disturbing about zombie movies is not so much the gory cannibalism but the depravity in the survivors’ efforts to survive. Murder, rape, and torture are part of their lawless worlds, and that frightens me because deep down, I expect that is exactly how it would be. For classics, I like the Romero films, of course: Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. For modern interpretations, I prefer zombie movies that take a different approach, like Cargo, Dead Snow, It Stains the Sands Red, and Warm Bodies, but World War Z and 28 Days Later are also no-brainers (no pun intended). On my to-watch list? Train to Busan.

Disaster Movies

I absolutely LOVED disaster movies as a kid. Hell, I still do! I know, I know. Disaster movies aren’t usually filed under horror. They’re considered thrillers or even action movies. But for me, the horror aspect is apparent in how the powerful few make deadly decisions that affect the helpless many. I’m also drawn to idea of deadly consequences—what happens when humanity doesn’t heed warning signs of imminent doom and destruction. It’s a “reap what we sow” type of horror, and one we live out every day, I fear. Oh, and the higher the body count, the more intrigued I am with the movie. I grew up watching the likes of The Swarm, The Towering Inferno, When Worlds Collide, and The Day After (what’s more horrifying than nuclear apocalypse?) For more modern fare, I like 2012, Contagion, The Day After Tomorrow, (what is it with ‘day after’ titles?), and Deep Impact.  On the to-watch list?  I couldn’t find any…I think I’ve seen them all!

Killer Aliens

There’s something about the cross-section of science fiction and horror that hits a particular sweet spot for me. These films exploit the human fear of alien invasions (though in some cases, it’s humans invading alien worlds) and the deep, dark, deadly emptiness of space. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Blob (both ’58 and ’88 versions), and The Day of the Triffids are some of my favorite childhood sci-fi scares, but in my humble opinion, John Carpenter’s The Thing is the ultimate horror movie. It prays on human fear of the unknown and the darkness of paranoia. The Alien franchise is another sci-fi horror classic (well, the first two films are, anyway), while Event Horizon is deep space horror at its finest. Pitch Black and A Quiet Place are also both excellent entries in this category. My “to-watch” here is A Quiet Place II.

I know I’m leaving out tons of great horror movies and subgenres, but it’s not intentional. Okay, that’s a partial lie. I am purposefully leaving out slasher movies—like the Saw, Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th, and Child’s Play franchises—because they’ve never been my thing. Having said that, I’ve seen some of them and can appreciate their enduring importance in pop culture. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is a landmark movie for Gen X’ers, after all. But when I’m seeking terror-based entertainment, zombie films are pretty much the limit on what I can take, gore-wise. And in that case, I have the wisdom of the zombie survival manual to help me sleep at night afterwards.

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