This topic guide will help you work with the horror genre. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as Media Studies or Psychology. 


Scary stories have existed in human cultures for thousands of years. At first the frightening stories were mostly passed on orally, but once written languages started to emerge more and more stories were written down - and were therefore more easily preserved for future generations. We therefore know of stories of monsters dating back to the Ancient world, while tales of devils and demons have always been a part of Christianity. In the English-speaking world, Shakespeare's famous plays also featured horror elements such as ghosts, witches and spirits. 

However, horror did not become established as a particular literary genre until the second half of the 18th century, when Horace Walpole was one of the founders of the Gothic horror genre with his novel The Castle of Otranto (1764). Gothic horror is characterised by a gloomy atmosphere, which is often combined with supernatural events, places or creatures. The genre reached its golden age in the 19th century, when it was taken up by landmark authors such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker. 

In the early 20th century horror became more mainstream, and the stories often appeared in cheap pulp magazines, giving them wide exposure. At the same time, more and more realistic horror stories started to emerge, focusing on human serial killers and criminals rather than supernatural creatures. 

The classic horror stories from the 19th century lived on in the world of cinema, however, where some of the most popular early movies were adaptations of gothic classics from the previous century - people could now experience iconic figures like Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and Mr. Hyde on the big screen. 

In the second half of the 20th century, many new horror writers started to emerge, and the genre was pulled in many new directions. The most famous of these writers is Stephen King, who has written a staggering number of horror stories, many of which have been adapted into movies or TV shows. 

In the world of cinema, it gradually became more acceptable to show scenes of explicit violence and gore, which lead to the emergence of slasher and splatter movies in the 1960s and 1970s - genres which have greatly influenced the modern idea of horror movies. 

In the 21st century, horror is still a popular genre within both literature and cinema. New forms of media also experiment with horror - for example, the latest developments in the field of virtual reality provides access to horror experiences on a new level of intensity.   

The popularity of horror has led to much debate and many studies. In the scientific world, many have attempted to examine exactly what it is that makes horror scary. Another interesting question is focused on people's motivation to subject themselves to the horror genre, even though this genre is designed to provoke emotions that human beings normally try to avoid.

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