Horror vs. Thriller: What’s the Difference For Movies & Books?

horror vs thriller

Key Takeaways: Horror vs. Thriller

  • Thriller focuses on suspense, tension, and the complex challenges a protagonist must overcome. It often involves crime, mystery, or espionage. Thrillers have many plot twists that keep the audience anticipating what will happen next!
  • In contrast, horror shows scary things happening directly. It involves explicit and disturbing images or actions that directly unsettle the audience.

Do you love a good scare?

Horror is a genre that can leave you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next scare. Thriller books and movies are similar but have a different feel – they tend to be more suspenseful and keep you guessing.

I’m a voracious reader and viewer of both genres, and I’ve written my fair share of each as well. From my horror-themed work, such as Iron Dogs and Boneyard Racers, to my thrillers, such as Spin the Wheel and St. Patrick’s Tear, to the work that combines elements of both, such as Dead Strays – I’ve grown to appreciate the differences and similarities between these types of stories.

In this article, we will compare and contrast thriller and horror genres, show how each genre is unique, and give some fantastic examples of famous horror and thriller books and movies!

If you are a novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, or filmmaker, read on for more about thriller vs. horror movies!

Here’s a visual showing the biggest differences between the horror and thriller genres.

Horror vs. Thriller Infographic

Definition of Horror

what is the horror genre?

Generally, horror is a genre that elicits fear or disgust in its audience.

To achieve this response, horror typically relies on dread, shock, and gore elements. Horror works to unsettle its viewers by playing on their deepest fears, whether those fears are rooted in real-life experiences, superstitions, or more abstract concepts altogether.

Gothic horror novelist Anne Radcliffe said of the genre that the two key elements were “horror and terror,” whereby horror is a feeling of revulsion or disgust following an event. In contrast, terror is the feeling of dread leading up to the event.

The horror genre has been present in art and culture since ancient times. However, it has taken many forms over the centuries, including supernatural, paranormal, extraterrestrial, post-apocalyptic, magical, and realistic.

In more modern times, horror has become one of the most popular genres in literature and film.

Renowned authors such as Stephen King and Anne Rice have helped cement horror’s place in the literary world, while iconic films like The Exorcist (1973) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) have redefined what horror can be on the big screen.

Furthermore, though horror typically relates to supernatural forces, it can be argued that monsters – whether human or otherwise – play a part. Evil is at the heart of the genre, and no matter its form, horror always seeks to send a chill down its audience’s spine.

Definition of Thriller

what is the thriller genre?

The thriller genre has long been among the most popular genres in books, movies, and television.

A thriller is a story that is characterized by suspense and excitement. They may also contain elements of crime, mystery, or the supernatural. Thrillers are often fast-paced and full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.

They may be set in any number of locations, but they often have an element of the unknown or the unknowable. This can make them particularly suspenseful, as the increasingly anxious reader never knows what will happen next.

Thrillers typically involve protagonists who are pitted against powerful or mysterious opponents. The tension and suspense often come from the fear of what might happen to the protagonist if they fail.

This genre can be traced back to some of the earliest works of fiction, including Homer’s Odyssey and Arabian Nights, which use mystery and suspense to craft the narratives.

In more modern times, filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher and novelists such as John Grisham and Agatha Christie have ensured that thrillers continue to be hugely popular today.

Horror vs. Thriller: Similaritites

The horror and thriller genres have a lot in common!

Both are designed to scare, shock, and instill a feeling of anxiety in the audience. They both often deal with dark, taboo, or out-of-the-ordinary topics.

For example, horror may deal with ghosts, witches, demons, and other supernatural creatures, while thriller may deal with criminals, murders, and other dark aspects of society.

Both horror and thriller genres often explore the darker side of human nature, depicting characters struggling to survive in a dangerous or hostile environment.

Furthermore, both genres frequently create suspense and fear to keep readers or watchers interested. This often includes suspenseful music, jump scares, and unexpected plot twists.

Thriller vs. Horror: Differences

While horror creates a feeling of shock and fear, suspense creates tension and unease. As a result, thrillers are often more suspenseful than horror stories, as they build up to a climax designed to leave the reader on the edge of their seat.

On the other hand, horror is more concerned with instilling fear and disgust in the audience by focusing on the act itself and its aftermath.

However, horror elements can still be present in a thriller, and vice versa, providing additional scares or increased tension.

Thrillers are also typically more plot-driven than horror, which tends to be more straightforward. Thrillers are often fast-paced and action-packed, making them adrenaline-inducing reads, while horror can be either fast-paced jump scares or creeping dread.

Additionally, horror often relies heavily on gore and violence, while thriller tends to be somewhat less graphic. As a result, horror movies and books usually have more gore and violence than thrillers do.

In horror movies, death and violence are often shown graphically or overtly, while in thriller films, they are usually implied or suggested. As a result, horror is typically more graphic and explicit, while thriller is more suggestive and understated.

In the simplest terms, horror scares us, while thrillers excite us.

Psychological Thriller vs. Psychological Horror

Psychological thrillers and psychological horror movies are both genres that explore the dark side of human nature. However, there are some critical differences between the two.

Psychological thrillers tend to be more cerebral, focusing on the mental and emotional states of the characters.

In contrast, psychological horror films are more visceral, relying on suspense, shock, and gore to create a feeling of unease and terror. These films often explore themes of madness, isolation, and obsession, at times using elements of the supernatural to heighten the effect.

Both genres can be highly effective in creating a feeling of dread and unease, but psychological horror films tend to be more graphic and explicit in their approach.

Supernatural Thriller vs. Supernatural Horror

Supernatural thrillers and supernatural horror films are both genres that explore the dark side of the unknown, but they do so in different ways.

Supernatural thrillers tend to be more plot-driven, focusing on the characters’ efforts to uncover the truth behind a mysterious event or entity.

In contrast, supernatural horror films focus more on atmosphere and fear, using shock and suspense to build an uneasy feeling that something evil lurks just out of sight.

Both genres often deal with similar topics, such as ghosts, witches, and demons, but they approach them differently.

For example, supernatural thrillers may explore what happens when the ghost of a murderer returns to haunt the living. In contrast, a supernatural horror may center on a group of friends who unleash a demon from a cursed board game.

In general, supernatural thrillers are more cerebral, while supernatural horror is more visceral. As a result, each genre offers a unique way of exploring our fears of the dark and the unknown.

Examples of Horror & Thriller

Straightforward Horror Movies

Many horror movies have scared, delighted, and disgusted their audiences since the advent of film as a visual medium. From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), early classics presented the mysterious and macabre, emphasizing supernatural evil and the monsters that lurk within our midst.

A great example of pure horror in film is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), a precursor to the gory slasher subgenre that reached its greatest heights in the 1980s. This tale of a group of teens traveling cross country, only to run afoul of a cannibalistic family in the desert plains of Texas, was an instant horror classic – as much for its many scares and frightening premise as for its graphic depictions of blood and gore.

Another excellent example of a more recent straightforward horror movie is 28 Days Later (2002), which turned the zombie subgenre on its ear. Long gone were the plodding, mindless creatures whose only advantage was sheer numbers, only to be replaced by fast and aggressive infected driven by a relentless urge to tear apart anyone not affected by the Rage virus.

thriller vs. horror

Horror Authors and Books

One of the most popular genres of literature is horror, which has been around for centuries.

Some of the earliest examples of horror stories can be found in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, such as the story of Medusa. In the Middle Ages, horror tales often took the form of morality tales or cautionary tales designed to teach lessons about sin and vice.

However, it was not until the 18th century that horror became a distinct genre. The credit for this transformation is often given to the Irish author Horace Walpole, whose 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is considered the first true work of horror fiction.

Since then, horror has continued to evolve, with new authors and books pushing the boundaries of what is possible in this genre. Here are just a few examples of great horror authors and books:

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Considered by many to be the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein is also a classic work of horror. Shelley’s tale of a man who creates life from death is still shocking and relevant today, more than 200 years after it was first published.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Another early work of horror, Dracula helped define many of the genre’s conventions, such as using vampires as antagonists and villains. Stoker’s novel was notable for its exploration of sexual desire and the Gothic setting.

Stephen King’s The Shining: One of the most prolific and successful authors in any genre, Stephen King has written countless classics of horror fiction. One of his most famous novels is The Shining, which tells the story of a family stranded in an isolated hotel where a demonic presence terrorizes them.

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: Jackson is best known for her short story, The Lottery, but she also wrote some excellent works of longer fiction, including The Haunting of Hill House. This novel tells the story of a group of people investigating a supposedly haunted house, only to find themselves terrorized by unseen forces.

These are just a few examples of great horror authors and books. There are many others out there waiting to be discovered by new readers!

Straightforward Thriller Movies

The thriller genre has been around almost as long as the horror genre in film. From Alfred Hitchcock to the many retellings of Agatha Christie, the crime thriller and murder mystery subgenres have entertained us for decades.

More modern fare includes psychological, courtroom, spy, and action thrillers, each focusing on unraveling a mystery or uncovering the truth in a hostile environment.

There are many great straightforward thriller movies to be found, and here are a few of the best.

The Usual Suspects (1995) is not your stereotypical whodunnit in that the crime has already been committed before the story even begins, and the mystery unfolds from the interrogation of a lone witness to a series of murders. But as we go further down the rabbit hole with the detective in charge, we soon realize that nothing is as it seems.

Another excellent example of a straightforward thriller is Shutter Island (2010), a story about a detective sent to a remote island asylum to investigate a missing patient. As the mystery deepens, the detective is forced to question reality itself if he’s to make it off the island alive.

As a genre storyteller and indie filmmaker myself, I have created both horror and thriller stories.

My debut feature film as a director is Spin the Wheel, an apocalyptic supernatural thriller about a group of strangers playing Russian Roulette with the Devil for a chance to save the world.

Check out the teaser trailer below!

Thriller Authors and Books

There are many great thriller authors and books out there. Here are just a few examples:

Dan Brown is a thriller author whose books have sold millions of copies worldwide. His best-known book, The Da Vinci Code, is a suspenseful tale about the search for the Holy Grail.

Another great thriller author is James Patterson. His books include the Alex Cross Series, which follows the adventures of a homicide detective who solves crimes while trying to keep his own family safe.

One of the most classic thriller novels is The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. This book tells the story of a young FBI trainee who must track down a serial killer to stop him from killing again.

If you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This novel tells the story of a woman who disappears on her fifth anniversary and her husband who is accused of her murder. With its shocking twists and turns, Gone Girl keeps you guessing.

For a more psychological thriller, check out The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. This book follows the story of an alcoholic woman who becomes obsessed with the lives of a couple she sees every day from her train window. But when one of them goes missing, she finds herself drawn into a web of lies and betrayal.

Horror-Thriller Movies

Horror-thrillers are a fantastic combination of thrills and chills, loading up on the suspense leading up to the terrifying deeds done by truly evil people or creatures and then showing in gruesome detail the outcomes of those heinous acts.

Misery (1990) is an excellent example of a horror-thriller in a contained environment. When a celebrated author suffers a car crash in a blizzard, he’s rescued by a nurse who turns out to be a devoted fan. As she tends to him in a remote cabin, he soon realizes her obsession turns dark when she discovers he intends to kill off her favorite character from his novels.

Halloween (1978) is a horror-thriller classic about an escaped mental patient named Michael Myers, who returns to his hometown to continue the murder spree he began fifteen years earlier.

It Follows (2014) is a modern horror-thriller that works on multiple levels. After sleeping with her new boyfriend, a teenager discovers she transmitted a curse passed on through sex, manifested as phantom killers creeping toward her. Equal parts frightening and disturbing, it will stick with you long after you’ve finished watching.

Horror-Thriller Authors and Books

Some of the most spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat stories belong to the horror and thriller genres. If you’re looking for a heart-pounding read, check out one of these great authors or books:

Stephen King is a master of horror, and his books like The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Carrie are classics in the genre. King is a master of weaving tales of ordinary people caught up in extraordinarily terrifying situations, with some of the most memorable villains ever put to the page.

If you’re looking for a modern author of horror-thrillers, try Joe Hill. His novels NOS4A2 and Horns are guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine while delivering on the gory visuals and predictable doom for the victims within.

Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas Series has also been very popular, with the first book being made into a feature film.

Thriller vs. Horror

Final Thoughts

The horror and thriller genres are often confused with one another, but critical distinctions exist between them.

In general, horror is focused on eliciting a feeling of fear in the viewer or reader, while thrillers are designed to generate suspense and excitement. The best of both genres tend to overlap in some way.

If this article has inspired you to create your own horror story, check out my list of fantastic scary story prompts to get started.

Common Questions (FAQs)

Or, check these lists of great horror and thriller movies to keep you thrilled and entertained!

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