Horror Movies Vocabulary

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Here is a comprehensive vocabulary guide related to horror movies. As a language learner, understanding genre-specific vocabulary is crucial, especially when discussing popular culture. This article will provide key terms, phrases, and context to help you navigate conversations about horror films more fluently. 
Frighteningly Good: Exploring Horror Movies Vocabulary and Terms

Vocabulary of Horror Subgenres

Just like a painting can have different styles, horror movies are categorized into different subgenres. This list helps to classify and understand the type of horror presented.

  • Slasher: Movies featuring a killer, often masked, who violently murders their victims.
  • Psychological Horror: Focuses on the unstable mental states of characters rather than gore.
  • Gothic Horror: These films often revolve around supernatural occurrences, haunting, and dark romanticism.
  • Body Horror: Horrifying transformations or degenerations of the body are central to this subgenre.
  • Found Footage: Films shot in a documentary or home-video style to create an illusion of reality.
  • Paranormal Horror: Focuses on paranormal activities and hauntings.
  • Sci-Fi Horror: Combines elements of science fiction and horror, often involving aliens or monstrous creatures.
  • Survival Horror: Here, characters are put into a situation where they must survive against horrifying odds.
  • Zombie Horror: Centers on creatures returned from the dead who prey on humans.
  • Comedy Horror: Combines elements of horror with comedy, often parodying typical horror movie tropes. Movies like "Scary Movie" belong here.

Recognizing these subgenres can help you describe the kind of horror movie you're watching or discussing, enhancing your communication about this versatile genre.

Names of Horror Movie Tropes

Now that you understand subgenres let's dive into some common conventions or devices used in storytelling. In horror movies, these are often techniques to induce fear, suspense, or shock.

  • Jump Scare: A sudden, unexpected event designed to frighten the viewer.
  • Creepy Child: Children portrayed as malevolent or unnerving.
  • False Scare: A scene designed to scare that turns out to be harmless, often preceding a real threat.
  • Final Girl: The last character, typically a woman, left alive to confront the killer.
  • Killer's POV: The point of view of the villain, making the audience indirectly involved in the terror.
  • Isolation: Characters are cut off from the outside world, amplifying their vulnerability.
  • Haunted House: A location that is inhabited or influenced by a ghost or other supernatural entity.
  • Unstoppable Killer: A villain that cannot be killed or stopped, regardless of the characters' efforts.
  • Mistaken Identity: Characters believe the wrong person is the perpetrator.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The violent act is implied but not directly shown, leaving it to the viewer's imagination.

Understanding the tropes used in horror movies can deepen your appreciation of the genre. They are a shared language amongst fans, filmmakers, and critics alike, and recognizing them can enhance both your viewing and discussion of horror films.

Vocabulary for Horror Movie Settings

Every horror movie has a setting that adds to the tension and horror.

  • Haunted Houses: A house with supernatural entities or occurrences.
  • Forest: Isolated and filled with unseen dangers.
  • Asylums: Often abandoned and housing past traumas.
  • Basements: Dimly-lit, confined spaces used for suspense.
  • Graveyards: Associated with death and the supernatural.
  • Small Towns: Often isolated, with many secrets.
  • Isolated Cabins: Remote and cut-off, creating a sense of isolation.
  • Schools: Places of familiarity turned uncanny.
  • Spaceships: Isolation in space where escape is nearly impossible.
  • Deserted Cities: Emptiness creating a post-apocalyptic feel.

The setting can be a key element in the fear factor of a horror movie. Identifying and discussing the setting can provide you with more insight and context when talking about a specific film or scene.

Terms of Horror Plot Devices

Different mechanisms can take the form of objects, events, or characters, and their choices.

  • MacGuffin: An object that drives the plot, but its specific nature is unimportant.
  • Red Herring: A misleading clue meant to divert attention from the real threat.
  • Mirror Scare: A character sees something frightening in a mirror's reflection.
  • Phone Line Cut: Communication is cut off, increasing isolation and fear.
  • The Prophecy: A prediction or forewarning of future events.
  • Dream Sequences: Used to show a character's subconscious fears or foreshadow future events.
  • Mad Scientist: A character whose unorthodox experiments lead to horrific outcomes.
  • Curse: A negative force placed on a character, driving the plot.
  • Possession: A character is taken control by a supernatural force.
  • The Unexpected Hero: An unlikely character rises to defeat the evil force.

Familiarizing yourself with these common plot devices can enrich your understanding of how horror narratives are built. It will also provide you with the necessary vocabulary to discuss and critique the structure of horror films.

Horror Movie Plot Structure Terms

Moving from devices that drive the plot to how these plots are organized, plot structure refers to the sequence of events in a story.

  • Linear: The plot unfolds in a sequential, straightforward manner.
  • Nonlinear: The plot jumps around in time or space, often using flashbacks or foreshadowing.
  • Parallel: Multiple storylines are happening simultaneously.
  • Cyclical: The plot ends where it begins, often showing a character's failure to escape their fate.
  • Revelation: The plot slowly reveals the horror, building suspense.
  • Mirror: The second half of the plot mirrors the first, often with a twist.
  • Descent: The plot follows a character's downfall or descent into madness.
  • Journey and Return: Characters venture out, confront horror, and try to return to their normal life.
  • In Media Res: The plot begins in the middle of the action.
  • Rashomon: Different characters provide contradictory accounts of the same event.

Understanding the various plot structures used in horror films can not only improve your comprehension of the movies you watch but also provide you with the tools to discuss and analyze the narrative in a more in-depth way.


Types of Horror Movie Characters Vocabulary

After exploring plot structures, it’s vital to focus on the individuals who inhabit these plots. Horror movies feature an array of character types, each playing a specific role in the story.

  • Hero: The character who confronts the horror and often survives.
  • Villain: The source of the horror, often a killer or a monster.
  • Victim: Characters who fall prey to the horror.
  • Skeptic: Refuses to believe in the horror until it's too late.
  • Expert: Provides knowledge about the horror.
  • Fool: Ignorant of the danger, often providing comic relief.
  • Redshirt: Expendable characters who die to show the danger.
  • Final Girl: The last woman standing who often confronts the killer.
  • Innocent: A naive character who is usually the last to realize the danger.
  • Investigator: Tries to understand the horror, often leading to its resolution.

Knowing these character types can help you understand the dynamics of a horror movie. This understanding can be a useful tool when discussing or writing about horror films, as it gives you the language to accurately describe each character's role.

Notable Horror Movies and Directors

We've talked a lot about horror movie elements; now, let's take a look at some of the notable films and directors in the genre who have left their mark in the history of horror movies.


  • Psycho: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it's considered the first horror movie of its kind.
  • Halloween: A slasher classic by John Carpenter.
  • The Shining: A psychological horror by Stanley Kubrick.
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: A gruesome horror film by Tobe Hooper.
  • Get Out: A social horror film by Jordan Peele.
  • The Haunted Castle: Watch it to understand what was the first horror movie and how the genre evolved today.


  • Alfred Hitchcock: Known as the "Master of Suspense", Hitchcock's work often blends horror and thriller elements.
  • John Carpenter: Famous for his work on Halloween, Carpenter has significantly influenced the slasher subgenre.
  • George A. Romero: Romero's films, like "Night of the Living Dead," have defined the zombie subgenre.
  • Wes Craven: Known for the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" series, Craven often explored metafictional elements in horror.
  • Jordan Peele: The director behind "Get Out" and "Us", Peele's work merges horror with commentary on social issues.

Awareness of notable films and directors can be beneficial for you as a language learner. It provides cultural context and helps you better understand references and conversations about the genre.

Horror Movie-Related Idioms

Idioms are phrases where the meanings can't be inferred simply by understanding the individual words. They're often used to express complex ideas in a concise way. Here are some idioms related to horror movies.

  • A blood-curdling scream: An extremely terrifying scream.
  • Make one's blood run cold: Something so terrifying it causes one to feel fear intensely.
  • Skeleton in the closet: A hidden and potentially embarrassing secret.
  • Scared stiff: So scared that one can't move.
  • Like a bat out of hell: Moving swiftly and directly, often out of fear.
  • Creepy-crawly: A term used to describe insects or spiders, but can also refer to the sensation of fear or disgust.
  • In cold blood: To do something ruthlessly, with no emotion - often associated with murder.

Understanding idioms can be one of the more challenging aspects of learning a new language, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. These phrases provide a sense of the cultural nuances behind the language and can make your conversations about horror movies more colorful and engaging.


Knowledge of horror movie vocabulary can help you understand, discuss, and enjoy horror movies more fully. Just like learning any new language, the key is to practice - so why not start by watching a horror movie? Remember, from the first horror movie, "Psycho," to more recent films, the evolution of this genre offers a rich field for exploration and learning.

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Roberto W/Mar 14th, 2024
I love how this article expands my vocabulary in such an engaging way!
Bailey ButlerNov 2nd, 2023
thanks for putting together this spooky list of horror movie terms, it's so helpful.