A Very Brief History of the Horror Genre

Posted October 5, 2018 by Amber in Memes / 7 Comments


One of my best friends loves horror.

Every Halloween, he likes to dress up as Michael Myers from the Halloween movie.  When he does this, he’s totally in character and creepy.  You can’t ask the guy where the extra bags of candy are because he just stares at you behind that creepy mask and says… nothing… ever.  Until Halloween is over.

I haven’t seen him dress up in a couple years (I believe his four-year-old is not crazy about the costume, and she’s daddy’s girl), but when I think of horror, I always think of him.

Universally, I think a few things come to mind when we talk horror:  Stephen King, Frankenstein, ghosts.  Hiding in bed and pulling the covers up to our chin because there might be an axe murderer.  Maybe.  Probably not, but you can never be too careful.  There’s probably definitely a monster in your closet.

The human race loves to be scared for fun.  Some of the oldest references of the horror genre (which is really about fear – not serial killers and vampires) date back to Ancient Greece*.  The Greeks had several examples of horror fiction, with themes that feel familiar today:

  • Hippolytus by Euripedes – wherein Asclepius revives Hippolytus from death in a very Frankenstein parallel.
  • The Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans: Cimon by Plutarch – contains a story describing a murderer, Damon, and how the man in turn was murdered.
  • Athenodorus’s Ghost – discovered in one of Pliny the Youngers letters or manuscripts, we hear about how Athenodorus bought a manor, but a ghost kept appearing to him… until he dug up the courtyard and discovered an unmarked grave.

Zombies, chilling murder tales, ghost stories?  All the spooks we still enjoy today were popular two-thousand years ago as well!  Some things just transcend time.  Werewolves joined the genre in the medieval era, with Countess Yolande’s “Guilliame de Palerme”.

Then, of course, there are the famous historical figures who inspired very specific characters.

  • Wallachia Vlad III – one of Stoker’s sources of inspiration for Dracula and the historical figure who inspired the whole genre of vampire fiction.  I won’t go too deep on him here, since I wrote a whole post about Dracula last year.
  • Giles de Rais – one of the most historically famous, horrible serial killers who became immortalized in the tale of “Bluebeard”.  Bluebeard is actually a bit undertold these days in horror fiction, the genre preferring to move in the direction of new, original serial killers.
  • Elizabeth Bathory – another vampire figure, most famous for supposedly bathing in the blood of her victims to keep her youth and beauty.  Salem had a great, creepy character inspired by her, and her historical record is touched on a little bit in Rejected Princesses.

Horror as we know it today erupted after a touch of gothic literature in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Starting with Hansel and Gretel in 1812 and ending with Dracula in 1897, the classic horror stories that continue to inspire us came to life in that time.


In the modern era, we are led by the immortal Stephen King, whose haunts and thrills continue to keep millions up at night, too deliciously scared to turn off the lights.

*I’m not even going to pretend I’m this smart – most of this blog post is a mix of my own collected knowledge of the genre, led and driven by the facts in this article.

**Small piece of advice:  do not Google “horror GIFs” and scroll through looking for the right one.  Not sure if I want to scream or vomit right now…. +10pts for Young Frankenstein saving the day.


This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks:

It’s getting close to Halloween. If you HAD to read one of these two genres, which would you prefer — urban fantasy, or horror, and why?


Short answer:  For me, it really depends on the book?  I hate horror movies, but horror books don’t bother me too much.  Urban fantasy I like, except I feel like it always turns into paranormal romance which is steamy and cheesy and not my thing.  So yup, depends on the book.


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7 responses to “A Very Brief History of the Horror Genre

    • Amber

      Urban Fantasy has a huuuuuuge following, especially in paperbacks, so there are loads of really great books out there for you! 🙂 Dracula is good though – I think a lot of people think “gore” with horror, but I think psychological thriller should count, too. 😉

  1. I have been fairly inactive with blogging the past few months and am just getting back into it.
    I didn’t really remember your blog until I came here just now and remembered that you were the one who always writes very lovely and thorough (while still easy to understand) posts about various subjects. 🙂 It just always brings a smile to my face.

    I agree with you on depending on the book. I ended up choosing Urban Fantasy because UF is UF is UF. I enjoy the genre, but it’s pretty straight forward about what it is. Horror is literally almost anything that might be scary. I enjoy the more thriller/cerebral types, but can’t get down with the gore for the sake of gore ones.

    • Amber

      Welcome back to the blogosphere! 💜💕. And you’re so kind – I often worry about rambling too much! 😊

      Urban fantasy definitely has a huge following, but you’re right, it’s more straightforward. Horror really is anything under the sun. I like be psychological thrillers, but I’m a hard NO on mindless violence and gore.

      Do you have any favourite urban fantasy series?