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Horror Book Title Generator: 180+ Horror Title Ideas
Zombies, ghosts and haunted mansions – This horror book title generator has over 180 creepy horror title ideas for your next horror story !
Looking for a creepy horror title idea, then give our generator a spin! You can pick any of these horror titles, and then them into a super spooky Halloween tale:
You might also be interested in our random book title generator or these Halloween writing prompts . You can also use these horror writing prompts to help you start your horror story.
Creating Your Own Horror Book Title
Can’t find the right spooky book title idea for your story? Then try creating your own using our spooky technique! First, start by making a list of adjectives that suit your story idea. Try to make a list of scary adjectives such as:
Next, think about some creepy-sounding nouns that will suit your story’s plot. You might think about the following nouns:
Finally, it’s time to combine the two lists to create your own scary horror book title. This is what we came up with:
- Broken House
- Bloody Hound
- Creepy Shadows
- Fearful Ghosts
- Chilling Zombies
Based on this easy technique, we created our own printable horror book title generator – What is your horror book title name?
Now it’s your turn to create your own horror book title. Give our technique a go and let us know the best horror titles you can come up with!
Random Horror Title Ideas
- Whispers of a Ghost
- Dead Man’s Wish
- Skeletons in the House
- The Lost Soul
- A Party For Ghouls
- Monster Strike
- See Zombie and Run
- Don’t Go There
- Signs of the Past
- The Monster In The Dark
- Horror Stories In The Dark
- Soulless Dead
- Lonesome Shadow
- Gruesome Monster
- Gruesome Witch
- Isolated Raven
- Soulless Creature
- Soulless Grave
- Red Skeletons
- Ghostly Werewolves
- Chilling Vampire
- Fearful Cat
- Hairy Raven
- Ghostly Skeletons
- Broken Raven
- Bloody Skeletons
- Isolated House
- Bloody Creature
- Ghostly Town
- Fearful Cellar
- Broken Spiders
- Haunted Hound
- Hairy Ghoul
- Creepy Candle
- Cruel Candle
- Hairy Ghost
- Hairy Grave
- Ghostly Girl
- Cruel Pumpkin
- Cruel Witch
- Lonesome Dead
- Creepy Hound
- Hooded Dead
- Soulless Lady
- Chilling Candle
- Lonesome Clouds
- Bloody Monster
- Torn Vampire
- Broken Hound
- Hooded Girl
- Chilling Lady
- Creepy Spiders
- Haunted Town
- Scary Monster
- Chilling Raven
- Dying House
- Dying Raven
- Black Zombie
- Grim Monster
- Black Hound
- Eerie Ghoul
- Isolated Girl
- Black Raven
- Scary Ghoul
- Cruel Monster
- Creepy Pumpkin
- Ghostly Shadow
- Broken Pumpkin
- Eerie Raven
- Scary Clouds
- Evil Monster
- Scary Grave
- Wicked Pumpkin
- Eerie Monster
- Torn Spiders
- Gruesome House
- Chilling Cellar
- Isolated Shadow
- Lonesome Pumpkin
- Bloody Grave
- Fearful Skeletons
- Haunted Ghoul
- Isolated Man
- Creepy Vampire
- Cruel Spiders
- Torn Creature
- Cruel Skeletons
- Haunted Ghost
- Ghostly Vampire
- Creepy Grave
- Black Skeletons
- Haunted Clouds
- Grim Spiders
- Evil Cellar
- Isolated Witch
- Hollow Hound
- Hooded Shadow
- Lonesome Cellar
- Evil Skeletons
- Bloody Cellar
- Hollow Vampire
- Hooded Pumpkin
- Hollow House
- Fearful Vampire
- Haunted Cat
- Black Pumpkin
- Chilling Werewolves
- Soulless Vampire
- Isolated Ghost
- Hairy House
- Grim Zombie
- Lonesome Witch
- Dark Skeletons
- Hooded Spiders
- Broken Grave
- Fearful Man
- Creepy Lady
- Eerie Hound
- Broken Ghoul
- Dark Cellar
- Hooded Cellar
- Creepy Dead
- Lonesome Skeletons
- Chilling Ghoul
- Wicked Candle
- Broken Dead
- Creepy Town
- Gruesome Spiders
- Black Witch
- Dying Clouds
- Bloody Vampire
- Broken Cellar
- Broken Witch
- Nasty Creature
- Hooded Candle
- Hooded House
- Ghostly Cat
- Grim Skeletons
- Dark Creature
- Hairy Shadow
- Ghostly Grave
- Cruel Werewolves
- Hollow Creature
- Bloody Werewolves
- Nasty House
- Cruel Clouds
- Grim Creature
- Hooded Ghoul
Share your favourite horror book title idea with us in the comments below.
Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.
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Children's book, non-fiction, create terrifying titles: free horror book title generator.
POSTED ON Aug 16, 2023
Written by Hannah Lee Kidder
As horror authors, we can only dream of conjuring up a title so sinister it sends a chill down our soon-to-be-readers' spines. And a horror book title generator just might make that ̶d̶r̶e̶a̶m̶ nightmare come true.
Horror is the goth little sister of the literary family—kinda fun, kinda weird, and brings the necessary spice to keep things interesting. Nothing hits like a good horror story , but there’s something standing between a reader and their next favorite scary book: The title.
Without a killer title, your horrifying tale may never be told! The power of a well-crafted title is everything. Let’s look at some tips for writing strong horror titles, examples of famously done titles, and then talk about the (free!) tool that will create your next title for you.
Book Title Generator
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This Horror Book Title Generator & Guide Covers
5 Tips for writing terrifying titles
A good horror book title generator (whether that generator is YOU or a tool) should come up with something that accomplishes several objectives. It needs to grab attention, accurately represent the content in your book, and appeal to the right target demographic.
But an excellent horror book title is a piece of art in itself! Here are five tips for crafting the perfect book title – whether you decide to use a horror book title generator or nothing but your own creativity.
One of the biggest draws of a scary book is that it’s scary! It makes you feel intense emotions. With themes like isolation, grief, terror, and explorations of our deepest fears, horror aims to draw out strong feelings in the reader. A good horror book title should be a little taste of that on its own.
So, think of what emotion you want to convey to your reader, and try to apply it to the title.
For example, Stephen King's “Misery” immediately conjures a feeling of helplessness, while Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart” implies a chilling secret waiting to be revealed.
A successful horror title should pique curiosity without giving away too much. Leave room for interpretation and uncertainty, letting readers' imaginations run wild.
Titles like Shirley Jackson's “The Haunting of Hill House” and H.P. Lovecraft's “The Call of Cthulhu” invoke a sense of mystery that beckons readers to explore the enigmatic worlds within.
What’s haunting Hill House? What does Cthulhu want, and why won’t he shut up?
A horror book title generator can be especially good a creative, ambiguous titles that you wouldn't have otherwise thought of!
Edit out the fluff
Simplicity can often be more impactful than complexity. You might strive for brevity while maintaining an element of tension. Short, impactful phrases can leave an immediate and lasting impression.
Anne Rice's “Interview with the Vampire” succinctly captures the allure and danger of the supernatural, as well as hinting at the narrative intimacy the reader can expect with said vampire.
Match the tone of the book
There are many different types of tones in writing , and the one you choose depends on your cast of characters, the type of horror you are writing, and your own personal style. For example, the differences between horror and thriller books call for different tones. One is downright scary, while the other is characterized by a tense feeling – or even confusion.
What is certain is that your chosen title should reflect and represent the overall tone and/or atmosphere of your story (whatever you choose it to be). If your story is a slow-burn psychological thriller, words like “whisper,” “shadow,” and “trace” might be more fitting than an aggressive, gory title.
Play into symbolism
Incorporating symbolism – even if unknown – can add depth and layers to your book before someone even read the first page. It intrigues readers while providing a glimpse into the thematic content of your book.
William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” does a great job indicating the literal content—possession, demons, Catholicism, etc—but it also symbolizes the inner demons haunting the characters.
As you can see, an effective horror book title is at once simple and incredibly difficult. You should start thinking on the title during or even before writing your first rough draft . Not only does the title work with the story to create its own little art piece, but the title is a huge marketing and book positioning tool – if it sounds boring or trite, it just won’t sell as well.
Similarly, if the title is misleading, you might stack up more 1-star reviews than is ideal.
So, are you ready to give it a try? Check out the horror book title generator here. Otherwise, keep reading for some more inspiration and tips for getting the most out of this free tool.
Examples of famous and iconic horror book titles
Let’s look at a few strong examples of horror titles from famous works.
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
A timeless classic, Stoker's “Dracula” remains a paragon of horror literature. Its title immediately conjures images of the iconic vampire, evoking a sense of dread and fascination.
And even before Dracula became a famous literary figure, this word had significance. “Dracula” is derived from the Latin word for “dragon,” a creature historically associated with demons.
“Psycho” by Robert Bloch
A title that taps into the psychological horror subgenre, “Psycho” captures the enigmatic and unsettling nature of the human mind. It lets us know the type of person we’re dealing with, as well as being indicative of the genre itself. It’s a snappy, concise, iconic title.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury
Borrowed from a line in Shakespeare's “Macbeth,” (“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes) this title sets a foreboding tone and hints at the arrival of malevolent forces. We know immediately the story involves supernatural elements, and specifically, that those elements have ill intent.
It’s also just super metal.
“Bird Box” by Josh Malerman
Short and evocative, this title draws attention to the unknown and the unseen, mirroring the story's theme. There is a literal bird in a box, but it is a metaphor for how the characters are also like boxed birds—technically safe, but denied real freedom.
“Bird Box” is also an unusual pairing of words, making it immediately iconic. If you can craft a horror book title so unique, your book and author website might easily appear quite high in Google results. Think about it!
“The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris
This title is an exemplar of psychological terror, invoking both the quiet manipulation of Hannibal Lecter and the unsettling nature of the crimes. It also works as a metaphor for murder victims—lambs are slaughtered, and then they are silent.
“World War Z” by Max Brooks
A title that sends shivers down the spine, “World War Z” immediately conveys the global scale of the undead apocalypse. I don’t know if rhyming with World War III was intentional, but it does evoke that same unsettling feeling upon mention.
Related: Best Horror Audiobooks
A step-by-step how-to: using the horror book title generator
If coming up with the perfect horror title is sounding like, well, a nightmare, we got you! Here’s how to use our horror book title generator to create a spooky, thrilling, and, most importantly, sellable title for your next horror story.
Step 1: Mosey on over to the horror title generator
We love the book title generator so much that we gave it its own page, but you can use the embedded one here as well. As a reminder, the book title generator works for any genre, fiction or nonfiction , but let’s look at how to create a horror book title.
Step 2: Insert information
The more you know about your book, the generator has enough to work with.
There are basically two ways to use it. One is to select “fiction,” from the first dropdown menu, then type in your book description. For example, I selected fiction, and the description I provided was: A young girl ventures into a swamp to ask the witch who lives there for a favor. When the girl arrives, she realizes the witch is nothing like how the townspeople had described.
The above description gave me this result:
If you don’t like the title, simply click “try again” to produce another!
If you don’t have a description yet, no worries! The second way to use the generator is with the following information:
- Your book genre
- Your book’s setting
- Your target audience
- A one-sentence description of your hero
Let’s try it!
Here are my first few results:
- Shadows of Deceit: Unveiling the Darkness (A Nervous Girl's Journey into the Enigmatic Abyss of Found Family, Betrayal, and Unlikely Love)
- Whispers in the Shadows: Unveiling the Darkness (An Unlikely Hero's Journey into a Twisted World of Found Family, Betrayal, and Love Born from Desperation)
- Whispers in the Dark: A Haunting Journey of Found Family and Treacherous Love (The Unsettling Tale of a Timid Heroine's Terrifying Quest to Uncover the Truth)
Step 3: Click generate
It’s a good idea to generate several titles, writing down the ones that you think have potential. You could do this 10 times or 100 times, up to you! Having too many options can make decisions impossible, but do you want enough to work with.
Step 4: Shuffle and edit
With your list of titles, start experimenting! You might take the title from one and the subtitle from another or merge several titles. You’ve probably noticed that the generator gives you a LOT of words—that means you can trim out the ones you don’t think work and still have plenty left. If you scroll Amazon titles, you’ll see authors utilizing those huge subtitles to work the algorithm. Don’t be afraid of a subtitle!
Titles are the middleman connecting your perfect reader to your scary story ideas and/or horror book. Use the tips and tools above to create a title worthy of introducing your story to the world.
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66 Horror Writing Prompts That Are Freaky As Hell
Looking for some scary story ideas for your next writing project ?
Sometimes, a good scary prompt idea is all you need to get started on a dark story your readers won’t be able to put down .
And that is the goal . What’s a horror story without white-knuckle suspense ?
You want your readers at the edge of their seats, unable to stop though they know something bad is about to happen.
You also want to reward them for reading to the end and leave them wanting more.
So, how can this collection of horror writing prompts help with that?
What Are the Main Elements of Horror Writing?
List of most common horror themes and tropes to write on , 66 horror writing prompts, halloween writing prompts, mystery writing prompts, psychological horror story ideas, “the monster you know” story ideas, ghost story writing prompts, funny horror story ideas, horror story ideas.
Every good story needs an idea that takes root in your imagination and doesn’t let go. Horror stories in particular need to affect you a certain way. If they don’t sound an alarm in your head, they won’t sound one in the heads of your readers, either.
They need to reach into your psyche, take a scrap of memory, and turn it into something that would keep you up at night.
And as you’ve no doubt read already, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Look through the prompts that follow, and choose one that calls out to you and lingers in your imagination.
Paint a picture in your mind of the characters involved. Give yourself a reason to invest in them by giving each one some interesting backstory.
Then set a timer and write.
Since Earl Horace Walpole’s gothic horror The Castle of Otranto hit shelves in 1764, English readers have clamored for dark plots that excite primitive instincts and tickle our fear bones.
Many horror authors leverage shadowy impulses by sprinkling stories with uncomfortable happenings and gruesome fatalities.
But that’s not all it takes to write within the genre, begging the question: What are the main elements of horror? Traditionally, there are five: suspense, fear, violence, gore, and the supernatural.
- Suspense : Creating anxious tension is a critical component of horror as it keeps the audience glued to the story. They need to find out what happens! Traditionally, suspense is valued as a sophisticated form of horror, and building it well is a skill.
- Fear : Confronting fearful things is a powerful emotion with chemical reactionary consequences, making it a hallmark of horror writing.
- Violence : Savagery is scary because it’s inextricably linked to death and pain — two of the four great human fears.
- Gore : Brains and guts are a cornerstone of classic horror. For better or worse, our neural pathways light up when confronted with intestines, brain matter, and gushing fluids. Successful horror writers keep readers and watchers engaged by deploying gore effectively.
- Supernatural: The main difference between “true crime” and “horror” is a supernatural element. While horror stories draw people in with realism, they usually feature an emotional detachment valve in the form of an explicit or implicit otherworldly presence.
Vampires, ghosts, zombies, and murderers are big-picture mainstays of the horror genre. But what are some other, more detailed tropes associated with scary storytelling?
- Babysitter Alone in Big House: The naive babysitter trope is oft-repeated because it works. The sitter acts as a stand-in for the reader or audience in that, like you, they’re vulnerable. Horror-sitters are the character conduit through which readers and viewers can experience the impending fear.
- Manipulative Vampires: Maybe it’s their piercing eyes, snappy attire, or mysterious penchant for the “nightlife.” Whatever the case, people stan vampires, and sensual and manipulative ones are an incredibly effective horror character trope.
- Ghost-Haunted House: Ghost-haunted houses are a recurring horror motif. Whether you approach it from a traditional or modern angle is up to you. Both can work.
- Creepy Kid: In real life, it’s kind to see all kids as precious and special, no matter their quirks. But when it comes to Horror World, creepy kids are a dime a dozen! Sometimes they’re the main attractions or “red herrings” (which we’ll get to more below); other times, they’re supernatural catalysts that serve as a story’s MacGuffin. Whichever the case, unnerving kids go a long way when devising a disturbing scene and fomenting suspense.
- The Nonbeliever: Most horror stories have at least one character whose lack of fear or faith (in the story’s “supernatural” element) lands them six feet under.
- The Red Herring: A “red herring” is a false clue. The term dates back to the 1400s to describe a culinary preparation for fish, but the first known use as a euphemism for “distraction” appeared in 1884.
- Isolation: Few things frighten people more than being all alone while danger looms. As such, isolation can be a helpful trope when crafting horror stories.
- Graveyard Chase: A well-conceived chase around a graveyard is another horror mainstay that continues to deliver. Try adding a twist to modernize the trope.
- Distorting Mirrors: Whether a single reflecting glass or a full-on maze, using mirrors as a motif is a tangible and effective way to signal distortion.
- Aliens and Cultists: The human psyche can’t resist rubbernecking when confronted with the possibility of aliens and the sociopathic underbelly of cults. Resultantly, they work well as engaging frameworks for horror stories.
Whether you’re writing for a special occasion or just to experiment with the horror genre, any of the scary story prompts in the following groups should get you started.
Go with your gut on this one, and choose an idea that feels both familiar and provocative. Then give it a go!
1. A mysterious gift from an estranged aunt arrives on Halloween with a crystal ball and a note addressed only to you, her godchild.
2. One of the trick-or-treaters bears an uncanny resemblance to your departed sibling and repeats that sibling’s last words before picking your sibling’s favorite candy bar.
3. On Halloween night, you find a box at your door that contains a strange note and a little something from each of the people who have hurt you in the past year.
4. On this Halloween night, your guinea pig won’t stop running in circles, and your dog keeps staring at the door, emitting a low growl.
5. You run out for candy on Halloween afternoon to find the streets empty and the store abandoned. A single car cruises into the lot and pulls into the spot next to yours.
6. Every time you went to answer the doorbell, no one was there. The next day, you heard about the missing children. The worst part? Your kids spent Halloween with your ex and were supposed to come trick-or-treating last night.
7. You arrive home on Halloween to a large package from your new boss, who’d bought every piece of your favorite candy from local stores. The note reads, “Save some for me.”
8. You’re watching TV on Halloween night when your show is interrupted by a faintly familiar someone declaring their love for you and saying they’ve watched you all your life.
9. You come home to find a stranger walking through your home, sipping your wine and admiring your collected antiquities. They startle at your approach and act as though you’re the intruder.
10. The night before Halloween, you have a dream in which you wake up to see a dark shape standing outside your closet. You wake up screaming with your hands around your spouse’s throat.
11. Election day looms, and Halloween feels more ominous than ever. You’ve kept the lights off, but that doesn’t stop one visitor from leaving a note: “Knew you lived here.”
12. Your best friend has gone missing, and someone keeps leaving small reminders of them in your mailbox. You see someone approach to deliver something else, and your heart nearly stops when you recognize them.
13. You’ve always wanted a dog, so when a rain-soaked mutt shows up on your front step, you let him in. Unfortunately, something else hitched a ride.
14. Someone moves into the apartment next door and starts playing loud music at night. You call the police, who find the guy dead holding a note with your name and address.
15. Someone keeps replacing items in your home with different objects that look vaguely familiar. No one else has a key to your home, and there are no signs of forced entry.
16. You bake some cookies to share with the new neighbor, but the terrified woman backs away from the plate, shaking her head. Someone from inside calls out, “I’ll have those.”
17. Someone at work has offered to do a tarot card spread for you, and you politely decline. You find a single tarot card in your mailbox when you return home.
18. You don’t remember wandering alone on a country road as a small child, but someone does. And he wants to make sure you’re not around to testify against him.
19. Someone has gotten to your laundry before you and left it neatly folded in piles on top of the dryer. A note reads, “For more TLC, knock on #303.”
20. The window of your apartment leads to a fire escape, but twice you’ve come home to find it open. Nothing is missing. But someone keeps leaving a ring on your kitchen table.
21. You order a Christmas wreath for your door and the company sends you a package with money instead. The note reads, “Keep half. I’ll pick up the rest in 72 hours.”
22. A child knocks on your door and tells you you’ll be visited by three people that night. One of them will show you your future. The child’s face reminds you of someone.
23. Your best friend is dating a woman who seems familiar to you — and not in a good way. Turns out, she’s got a bad feeling about you, too, and she warns your friend.
24. You receive a surprise delivery of a holiday flower arrangement with a note from someone who went to jail for assault. The message reads, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
25. An abuser from your past has written you a long letter of apology, and you agree to meet them for coffee. You find your favorite coffee place deserted — on Black Friday.
26. You broke up with your sweetheart when he lied about taking you to the prom and begged you to run away with him so he could escape an abusive home. He’s back.
27. An old friend, who had tried to warn you about an ex-boyfriend years ago, has come back to town to run a diner. Within a week, known bullies start disappearing.
28. For the past three dates, the guy you met ended up dead and posed as if proposing. A note on each one’s empty chest cavity reads, “My heart belongs to [your name].”
29. You’re with a friend at the home of the guy she’s dating. In the bathroom, you find a box with jewelry for almost every birthstone. Yours is the only one missing. You hear a scream.
30. Everyone keeps telling you your memories can’t be trusted. You’re safe with them. They’ll protect you. But you haven’t left the house in years.
31. You thought it was cute when your little sister wanted to wear your aunt’s high heels and pose with a hand on her hip. But your sister had an uncanny way with accidents.
32. You never expected to win the ‘57 Chevy from the church raffle. Neither did the car’s owner, who immediately tried to buy it back. He didn’t respond well to “No, thanks.”
33. Every time you saw anything like “Tornado Warning” or “Flash Flood” in the news, you knew someone would end up dead. And your ex would blame the weather.
34. You come home to a dozen roses from a guy who’s been telling his friends you’re dating, and you get angry. For some reason, though, everyone you know is on his side.
35. Your “Secret Santa” leaves an expensive bottle of wine with a note, “Drink me.” You call a familiar number and hear the phone ring on the other side of your door.
36. Your dad has a secret known only to his twin brother, who mysteriously disappeared but left a note with a box of his belongings in the attic. You take it with you when you leave.
37. You just broke up with the person who’s catering your best friend’s wedding. They also made the cake.
38. Some of your in-laws have decided to deliver their sibling from you. When they cross the line, you make a promise to them and to your spouse. One by one, they disappear.
39. Your health is steadily declining, and you don’t know why. Neither do your doctors, who test for the usual health issues and find nothing. Then someone calls to warn you.
40. Your estranged father sends you a porcelain doll — the one he swears you told him you wanted. It has the face and hair of your missing mother. And her eyes are glued open.
41. You’ve just told your family you’re asexual, and they seem to accept it. Out of the blue, the handsome guy next door shows up to ask you out, and your parents quietly nod.
42. A cop pulls you over for driving a few miles over the speed limit, tells you to get out of your car, slams you against the hood and whispers in your ear, “This is from your ex.”
43. You emailed your fiancé for months before meeting him for the first date. Now, you’re getting strange phone calls from someone claiming to be his wife and telling you to run.
44. You stood numb at the coffin of a close friend and flinched when your father rested a hand on your shoulder. “Had to be done,” he whispered. “Remember the bigger picture.”
45. A small package bears the name of your sister, who died five years ago. It contains a pendant that matches her own and a note asking you to activate it by chanting, “Sisters Forever.”
46. Your elderly neighbors died on the same day of an apparent suicide pact. In their will, they left their pug to you, along with a small box of what they called “magical items.”
47. You receive a note penned by your best friend, who died in a car accident the month before, His parents had found it in his room and hand-delivered it, barely looking at you.
48. You pounce on a new opening in the apartment building close to your favorite coffee place. The first night there, you wake up to ghostly shapes surrounding your bed.
49. At your first slumber party, your friend’s older brother surprised you during a late-night run to the bathroom. He died a decade later in prison. Now you see him in your dreams.
50. Your home is the high-tech brainchild of your best friend, who bequeathed it to you (rather than to his wife). It anticipates your every need and desire.
51. You’ve been having dreams about a door that shows up in your room. In one, you walk through it and see someone you love being murdered . You warn them the next day.
52. You’re the lone survivor of a horrific train crash, and everywhere you go, you see the ghosts of some of the passengers. Some have told you the crash was no accident.
53. You’re looking through your mother’s possessions when a note slips out of the book she’d been reading, warning you about “the ghost who runs this house.”
54. Your new boyfriend is obsessed with ancient artifacts, but when something hitches a ride on his latest find, you witness disturbing changes in his behavior.
55. Your life is already complicated when your boss asks you to stay at his home to care for his dog while he’s away. You soon learn the house is as mischievous as the dog.
56. You’re an editor for the college literary journal, and you’ve been getting poetic hate mail from a student who’s angry you didn’t choose their poems for the latest issue.
57. Your favorite neighbor is a trans woman named Lani who looks out for you. She warns you about a guy down the hall, who keeps trying cheesy pick-up lines to get you to smile.
58. Your co-workers tease you about your weight gain. One is found dead in the bathroom, her mouth stuffed with candy. Everyone but the custodian suspects you.
59. An anonymous admirer sends you a singing telegram with a chilling question. Now you have less than 24 hours to sing your answer in a public square, with a flash mob.
60. You sign up for wine deliveries but are disappointed by the first bottle you open and taste. On the label, you find a crass, insulting note from an old enemy.
61. Your date finds out your BFF is asexual and starts asking intrusive and insensitive questions. When your friend shuts him down, he insults and warns you both.
62. You’re working the dinner rush, and a customer loudly insists on changing her order the moment you deliver it. Someone quietly follows her as she storms out the door.
63. You’re having an open house for your new shop, and you catch a customer shoplifting. She says, “I was told to come in here and take these. You’re being watched.”
64. You arrive at your new house, and the keys from the realtor don’t work. Someone answers the door with a disarming smile. “So, you’re here about the room? Come in!”
65. Your date is going well until you reveal that you have a dog. “I’m not really a dog person,” you hear. When you get a bad feeling and end the date, things get messy.
66. Your journal goes missing, and within a week, a goofy, adorable guy starts showing up at your usual stops. He seems surprised to see you, but something isn’t quite right.
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Go Forth and Terrify
Armed with this generous sampling of horror story prompts, what stories are brewing in your mind as you read this?
No need to stick to exact details, either.
If any part of the writing prompts you just read teased your imagination and became the kernel of a story, run with what you’ve got.
And don’t worry if the first sentence isn’t perfect (you’ll probably change it, anyway). Just write.
May you love this new story every bit as much as your readers will.
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- How to Write An Intriguing & Unique Title for Your Horror Story
by Frank Hamilton · Published March 13, 2023 · Updated February 27, 2023
If you are writing horror or suspense fiction, you need to create an intriguing and unique title that will hook your readers from the get-go. A great title is key to a successful horror story, and if you do not get it right from the start, your readers may not stick around for long. Discover how to create an intriguing and unique title for your horror story using a few simple tips.
As the popularity of horror stories grows, so does the demand for high-quality reading material. According to statistics, approximately 10% of people enjoy the adrenaline rush associated with the horror genre. There are many horror story writers, but not all are successful and have a large audience. The title of your story is what makes people want to read it, so you must learn how to write one properly.
How to Write an Attractive Horror Story Title
Writing an intriguing and unique title for your horror story can be frustrating at first. But with a little effort, creativity, and the right steps, you will do it in no time. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to write an attractive title for your horror story:
#1. Keep it Short and Sweet
Your title should be short and to the point. It should give readers a general idea of what the story is about without giving too much away. A good rule of thumb is to keep your title under 10 words.
#2. Make it Memorable
You should want your title to be memorable so that readers will remember it long after they finish reading your story. One of the best ways to make it memorable is to make it unique. Avoid using common phrases or clichés that readers have seen a million times before.
#3. Use Strong Language
Your title should be evocative and use strong language that will grab readers’ attention. Avoid using weak or passive language in your title. Instead, go for words that pack a punch and will leave readers wanting more.
If you find it difficult to deal with language issues on your, consider seeking professional assistance. “ What is the best paper writing service I can visit to get one?” – You may wonder. There are numerous experts available, and it all depends on your needs and requirements.
#4. Create a Sense of Suspense
A good horror story title will create a sense of suspense and leave readers wondering what’s going to happen next. Avoid titles that give too much information away or are too predictable. The best titles are those that make readers ask questions and want to find out more.
#5. Use Appropriate Fonts and Images
The font and images you use in your title can also help to set the tone for your story. For example, if you are going for a more light-hearted horror story, you might want to use playful fonts and images. But if you are aiming for a more dark and serious tone, then using sinister-looking fonts and images would be more appropriate.
#6. Play with Words
Do not be afraid to get creative with your words. You can create puns, play with alliteration, or even make up new words altogether. Ensure that whatever you do fits with the overall tone of your story.
#7. Brainstorm with Others
If you are having trouble coming up with a title for your horror material, try brainstorming with friends or family members. Sometimes it helps to have someone else’s perspective when you are stuck in a rut.
#8. Take Your Time
Do not rush the process of coming up with a title. You should take your time and find something that you are happy with. A great title can make all the difference in whether people decide to read your story, so it is worth taking the extra time to find the perfect one.
#9. Experiment with Different Ideas
Do not be afraid to experiment with different ideas. Try out a few different titles and see which resonates best with readers . You can also research to see what types of titles other horror story writers have used recently.
#10. Take Inspiration from Other Stories
You can also take inspiration from other horror stories. Look at titles that have been successful for other writers and see if there is anything you can learn from them. It may help spark new ideas for your story title.
Writing an attractive title for your horror story is key to grabbing readers’ attention and making them want to read more. Follow these top tips on how to write a great horror story title, and you will be sure to make a great impression on your audience.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Frank Hamilton is a blogger and translator from Manchester. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.
- How To Write More Engaging Horror Stories?
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Home » Blog » 132 Best Horror Writing Prompts and Scary Story Ideas
132 Best Horror Writing Prompts and Scary Story Ideas
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Horror stories send shivers down our spines. They are gruesome, shocking, and chilling. Scary stories are meant to horrify us, and there are many ways to make a powerful impact on the reader. The element of surprise is crucial to make the readers’ blood freeze.
There are different types of horror stories. They often deal with terrible murders, supernatural powers, psychopaths, the frightening human psychology and much more.
Although many horror writing prompts and scary ideas have been written, the following 132 horror writing prompts can spark great creativity in aspiring writers of the horror genre.
- A family is on a camping trip. The parents are walking with their two children, a daughter and a son. The little boy trips and falls into a dark river. His father jumps to rescue him. Somehow the boy manages to swim to the surface. The father is nowhere to be found. When the mother gets a hold of the boy, she can’t recognize him. She tries holding him, but the moment she touches his wet body, her hands start burning.
- A young girl goes missing in a nearby forest. The whole town is searching for her. Her parents find her sitting and smiling in a cave. Her eyes are completely white.
- A woman starts watching a movie late at night. The movie seems all too familiar. Finally, she realizes that it is a movie about her own life and that she might be already dead.
- A house finds a way to kill every visitor on its premises.
- A child makes her own Halloween mask. She glues a lock of her own hair on her mask. The mask comes to life and threatens to take over the girl’s body.
- While digging in her backyard, an old lady discovers an iron chest. She opens it and finds a pile of old photographs of her ancestors. All of them are missing their left eye.
- A priest is trying to punish God for the death of his sister. He is getting ready to burn down the church, when supernatural forces start to torture him.
- Every year a woman goes to the cemetery where her husband is buried, and when she looks at his tombstone, she notices her own name carved in it.
- A woman puts a lipstick on in the bathroom when she hears a demonic voice saying to her: “Can’t you see?”
- A mysterious child psychiatrist promises parents to cure their children if they give him a vile of their blood.
- A group of 10 friends decide to rent an old English castle for the weekend. The ghosts are disturbed and seek their pound of flesh.
- A photographer travels to an Indian reservation for his next project. He starts taking photos, but there are only shadows in the places where people should have been.
- A young married couple decide to renovate an abandoned psychiatric hospital and turn it into a hotel. Everything is going well until their first guest arrives.
- Three sisters are reunited for the reading of their grandmother’s will. She has left them a diamond necklace, but they have to fight psychologically and physically for it.
- An old woman pretends to be lost and asks young women to help her get home. She offers them a cup of tea and drugs them. When the women wake up, they are chained in the basement. The old woman gives them tools and boards, so that they can build their own coffin. If they refuse, she inflicts pain on them.
- A mysterious stranger with a glass eye and a cane commissions a portrait. When the portrait is finished, the painter turns into stone.
- A little girl’s sister lives with a monster in the closet. She exits the closet on her sister’s birthday.
- The demons under the nuclear plant get released after an explosion and start terrorizing the families of people who work at the plant.
- A woman gets trapped in a parallel universe where every day she dies horribly in different ways.
- A cannibal hunts for pure children’s hearts hoping they will bring him eternal youth.
- A politician hides his weird sister in the attic. She’s had her supernatural powers after their family home burned to the ground.
- A 16-year-old girl wakes up on a stone-cold table surrounded with people in black and white masks. They are chant and start leaning forward. All of them carry carved knives.
- A boy hears screaming from his parents’ bedroom. He jumps and hides under his bed. Suddenly, everything becomes quiet. A man wearing army boots enters his room. He drags the boy from under the bed and says: “We’ve been searching for you for 200 years.”
- A husband and his wife regain consciousness only to see each other tied to chairs, facing each other. A voice on the radio tells them to kill the other, otherwise, they would kill their children.
- A mysterious altruist gives a kidney to a young man, who has potential to become a leading neuroscientist. After a year, the altruist kills the young man because he proves to be an unworthy organ recipient. The following year, the mysterious altruist is a bone marrow donor.
- A group of friends play truth or dare. Suddenly, all the lights go out and in those ten seconds of darkness, one of the group is killed.
- A young man becomes obsessed with an old man living opposite his building. The young man is convinced that the old man is the embodiment of the devil, and starts planning the murder.
- Concerned and grieving parents bring their 8-year-old son to a psychiatrist after their daughter’s accident, believing that the boy had something to do with her death.
- A woman is admitted to a hospital after a car crash. She wakes up after three months in a coma, but when she tries to speak, she can’t utter a sound. When the nurse sees that she is awake, she calls a doctor. The last thing the woman remembers is hearing the doctor say: “Today is your lucky day,” right before four men in black robes take her out.
- A small-town cop becomes obsessed with a cold case from 1978. Three girls went missing after school, and nobody has seen them since. Then one day, in 2008, three girls with the same names as those in 1978 go missing. The case is reopened.
- After his parents’ death a cardiologist returns to his small town where everyone seems to lead a perfect life. This causes a disturbance in the idyllic life of the people since none of them has a heart.
- A man is kidnapped from his apartment on midnight and brought on a large private estate. He is told that he will be a human pray and that ten hunters with guns will go after him. He is given a 5-minute head start.
- A strange woman in labor is admitted in the local hospital. Nobody seems to recognize her. She screams in agony. A black smoke fills in the entire hospital. After that, nobody is the same. A dark lord is born.
- A young girl finds her grandmother’s gold in a chest in the attic, although she isn’t allowed to go there by herself. She touches the gold and she starts seeing horrible visions involving her grandmother when she was younger.
- An anthropologist studies rituals involving human sacrifice. She slowly begins to accept them as necessary.
- A family of four moves in an old Victorian home. As they restore it, more and more people die suddenly and violently.
- An old nurse has lived next door to a family that doesn’t get older. Their son has remained to be a seven-year-old boy.
- A girl wakes up in her dorm and sees that everybody sleepwalks in the same direction. She acts as if she has the same condition and follows them to an underground black pool where everybody jumps.
- A bride returns to the same bridge for 50 years waiting for her husband-to-be to get out of the water.
- An old woman locks girls’ personalities in a forever growing collection of porcelain dolls. Parents of the missing girls are in agony and they finally suspect something. When they tell the police, their claims are instantly dismissed.
- A chemistry teacher disfigures teenagers who remind him of his childhood bullies. One day, he learns that the new student in his school is the son of his childhood’s archenemy.
- A girl starts digging tiny holes in her backyard. When her mother asks her what she is doing, the girl answers: “Mr. Phantom told me to bury my dolls tonight. Tomorrow night I am going to bury our dog. And then, you, mother.”
- Twin brothers were kidnapped and returned the next day. They claim that they can’t remember anything. The following night, twin sisters disappear.
- A boy has a very realistic dream about an impending doom, but nobody believes him until during a storm all the birds fall dead on the ground.
- Room 206 is believed to be haunted, so hotel guests never stay in it. One day, an old woman arrives at the hotel and asks for the key to room 206. She says that she was born there.
- A genius scientist tries to extract his wife’s consciousness from her lifeless body and insert it into an imprisoned woman who looks just like his wife.
- Two distinguished scientists develop a new type of virus that attacks their brains and turns them into killing machines.
- A woman steps out of her house only to find four of her neighbors dead at her doorstep. Little does she know that she isn’t supposed to call the police.
- A bachelor’s party ends with two dead people in the pool. Both of them are missing their eyes.
- A young woman wearing a black dress is holding a knife in her hand and threatening to kill a frightened man. She is terrified because she does not want to kill anybody, but her body refuses to obey her mind.
- A strange religious group starts performing a ritual on a playground. The children’s hearts stop beating.
- A woman discovers that her niece has done some horrible crimes, so she decides to poison her. Both of them take the poison, but only the aunt dies.
- A man encounters death on his way to work. He can ask three questions before he dies. He makes a quick decision.
- An older brother kills his baby sister because he wants to be an only child. When he learns that his mother is pregnant again, he decides to punish her.
- A husband and his wife move to a new apartment. After a week, both of them kill themselves. They leave a note saying: “Never again.”
- A man is trying to open a time portal so that he could kill his parents before he is ever conceived.
- A famous conductor imprisons a pianist from the orchestra and makes him play the piano while he tortures other victims, also musicians. Every time the pianist makes a mistake, the conductor cuts of a finger from his victims.
- A popular French chef is invited by a mysterious Japanese sushi master for dinner. A powerful potion makes the French chef fall asleep. He wakes up horrified to learn that he is kept on a human farm, in a cage.
- A nuclear blast turns animals into blood-thirsty monsters.
- A mysterious bug creeps under people’s skins and turns them into the worst version of themselves.
- A kidnapper makes his victims torture each other for his sheer pleasure.
- Four friends are invited to spend the afternoon in an escape room. A man’s voice tells them that they have won a prize. They happily accept and enter the escape room. They soon realize that the room was designed to reflect their worst nightmares.
- Two sisters have been given names from the Book of the Dead. Their fates have been sealed, so when they turn 21, dark forces are sent to bring them to the underground.
- A mother-to-be starts feeling severe pain in her stomach every time she touches a Bible. Despite the fear for her own life, she starts reading the New Testament out loud.
- A literature professor discovers an old manuscript in the college library. He opens it in his study and suddenly a black raven flies through the window.
- You are the Ruler of a dystopian society. You kill every time your control is threatened.
- You are an intelligent robot who shows no mercy to humanity.
- You are a promising researcher who discovers that all the notorious dictators have been cloned.
- A nomad meets a fakir who tells him that he would bring agony to dozens of people unless he kills himself before he transforms into a monster.
- A most prominent member of a sect goes to animal shelters to find food for the dark forces.
- A man hires unethical doctors to help him experience clinical death and then bring him back to life after a minute. Little does he know that one minute of death feels like an eternity full of horrors.
- You travel home to visit your parents for the holidays. Everything seems normal until you realize that demons have taken over their consciousness.
- A mysterious woman moves into your apartment building. One by one, all of the tenants start hallucinating that monsters chase them and jump into their own deaths.
- Divorced parents are kidnapped together with their son. Both of the parents have been given poison, but there is only one antidote. The boy needs to decide which parent gets to be saved. He has 30 seconds to make that decision.
- A patient with a multiple-personality disorder tells you that you are one of six characters.
- You wake up in bed that is a blood-bath.
- The Government abducts children with genius IQ and trains them to fight the horrors in Area 51.
- A woman who has just given birth at her home is told that the baby is predestined to become the leader of the greatest demonic order in the country.
- A man signs a document with his blood to relinquish his body to a sect.
- A woman enters a sacred cave in India and disappears for good.
- A man opens his eyes in the middle of his autopsy while the coroner is holding his heart.
- You look outside the windows in your house only to see that the view has changed and there is black fog surrounding you.
- The gargoyles from the Notre Dame have come to life and they start terrorizing Paris.
- Somebody rings your doorbell. You open the door and a frightened girl with bloody hands is standing at your doorstep. “You’re late,” you reprimand her.
- You wake up in the middle of the night after a frightful nightmare, so you go to the kitchen to get a glass of water. You turn on the light and a person looking like your identical twin is grinning and pointing a knife at you.
- A renowned book editor receives a manuscript elegantly written by hand. The title grabs her attention and she continues reading page after page. When she finishes, the manuscript spontaneously starts burning, and the editor is cursed forever.
- The last thing you remember before losing consciousness is fighting a shady Uber driver.
- You find yourself in a cage in the middle of a forest and black mythological harpies hovering above the cage.
- A woman wants to quit smoking, so she visits a therapist who is supposed to help her with the use of hypnosis. She goes under and when she wakes up, she feels like a born killer.
- Five hikers get stranded during a horrible storm. One of them kills the weakest and starts burning his body.
- A mother goes in the nursery to check up on the baby and discovers that the baby is missing and, in her place, there is a baby doll.
- A killer is willing to pay a large sum of money to the family of a volunteering victim. A cancer patient contacts the killer. The killer ends up dead.
- The sacred river in a remote Asian village fills up with blood. The last time that happened, all the children in the village died.
- A tall, dark, and handsome stranger invites a blind woman for a romantic date in his botanical garden. The garden is full of black roses in which women’s souls have been trapped. He tells her that she will stay forever with him in his garden.
- A frightened man is trying to lead a werewolf into a trap and kill him with the last silver bullet.
- An architect designs houses for the rich and famous. What he doesn’t show them is that he always leaves room for a secret passageway to their bedrooms, where they are the most vulnerable.
- A man’s DNA was found on a horrible crime scene and he has been charged with murder in the first degree. He adamantly negates any involvement in the crime that has been committed. What he doesn’t know is that he had a twin brother who died at birth.
- Every passenger on the Orient Express dies in a different, and equally mysterious way.
- A magician needs a volunteer from the audience in order to demonstrate a trick involving sawing a person in half. A beautiful woman steps on the stage. The magician makes her fall asleep, and then he performs the trick. In the end, he disappears. People in the audience start panicking when they notice the blood dripping from the table. The magician is nowhere to be found. The woman is dead.
- A mother discovers that her bright son is not human.
- Specters keep terrorizing patients in a psychiatric hospital, but nobody believes them.
- A man’s mind is locked into an immovable body. This person is being tortured by a psychopath who kills his family members in front of him, knowing that he is in agony and can’t do anything to save them.
- A bride-to-be receives a DVD via mail from an unknown sender. She plays the video and disgusted watches a pagan ritual. The people are wearing masks, but she recognizes the voice of her husband-to-be.
- A man turns himself to the police although he hasn’t broken the law. He begs them to put him in prison because he had a premonition that he would become a serial killer.
- Jack the Ripper is actually a woman who brutally kills prostitutes because her own mother was a prostitute.
- A ticking noise wakes her up. It’s a bomb, and she has only four minutes to do something about it.
- After a horrible car crash, a walking skeleton emerges from the explosion.
- A world-famous violinist virtuoso uses music to summon dark forces.
- A philosopher is trying to outwit Death in order to be granted immortality. He doesn’t know that Death already knows the outcome of this conversation.
- A beautiful, but superficial woman promises a demon to give him her virginity in exchange for immortality. Once the demon granted her wish, she refused to fulfill her end of the deal. The demon retaliated by making her immortal, but not eternally youthful.
- A voice starts chanting spells every time somebody wears the gold necklace from Damask.
- Three teenagers beat up a homeless man. The next day all of them go missing.
- Thirteen tourists from Poland visit Trakai Island Castle in Vilnius. Their bodies are found washed up the next morning. They are wearing medieval clothes.
- A group of extremists ambush the vehicle in which a head of a terrorist cell is transported and rescue him. They go after anybody who was involved in his incarceration.
- A hitman is hired to kill a potential heart donor.
- A man is attacked by the neighbor’s dog while trying to bury his wife alive.
- A woman disappears from her home without a trace. He husband reports her missing. The police start to suspect the husband when they retrieve some deleted messages.
- After moving to a new house all the family members have the same nightmares. Slowly they realize that they might be more than nightmares.
- A psychopath is drugging his wife, pushing her to commit a suicide so that he could collect the life insurance.
- A woman loses her eyesight overnight. Instead, she starts having premonitions.
- A vampire prefers albino children.
- A man commits murders at night and relives the agony of his victims during the day.
- A black horse carriage stops in front of your house. A hand wearing a black glove make an inviting gesture. Mesmerized, you decide to enter the carriage.
- Demons rejuvenate by eating kind people’s hearts.
- People are horrified to find all of the graves dug out the morning after Halloween.
- Men start jumping off building and bridges after hearing a mysterious song.
- A voice in your head tells you to stop listening to the other voices. They were not real.
- A severed head is hanging from a bridge with a message written in the victim’s blood.
- A delusional man brings his screaming children to a chasm.
- A 30-year-old woman learns that a baby with the same name as her died at the local hospital 30 years ago.
- A vampire donates his blood so that a child with special brain powers can receive it.
- A teenager is determined to escape his kidnapper by manipulating him into drinking poison. He doesn’t stop there.
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Scary Story Ideas — 18 Prompts For Horror & Thriller Writers
H ere there be dragons, boogeymen, and blood-sucking vampires! Scary stories have frightened and allured audiences for thousands of years. So, whether you’re looking to establish a new form of horror, or riff on an existing genre trope, you’ve come to the right place, because we’re going to break down scary story ideas. Dim the candlelight, turn up the theremin, and sit back as we delve deep into horror writing prompts!
Scary Story Prompts for Writers
Scary story ideas & horror writing prompts.
It can be challenging to respond to writing prompts when they’re proposed without follow-up questions. So, we’re going to attempt to rectify that by giving you some scary story ideas with follow-up questions.
*Note on scary story ideas and writing prompts: all of the prompts outlined here were created by me! However, they’re almost all surely inspired by existing material, whether recognized consciously or unconsciously. In accordance with that point, I’m going to attach “suggested accompanying viewing” to each prompt for further inspiration!
1) A young man finds himself unable to break out of a recurring lucid dream.
Ideas for Horror Stories • Still from ‘Spellbound’
- Who is the young man?
- What is the recurring lucid dream?
- Why is he unable to break out of it?
SCARY STORY IDEAS
- Donnie Darko
2) An island community is besieged by a rapidly-mutating virus.
Horror Story Ideas • Still from ‘The Beach’
- Where is the island?
- What is the virus?
- How did the virus originate?
HORROR WRITING PROMPTS
3) a woman sells control of her father’s estate to a peculiar… bloodthirsty… count from transylvania..
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’
- Who is the woman?
- Who is the count?
- Why is she selling her father’s estate?
Writing Prompts Horror
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- The Cherry Orchard (Play)
4) A group of hitchhikers enter a seemingly empty home to wait out a torrential storm.
Horror Story Ideas • Still from ‘The Twilight Zone’
- Who are the hitchhikers?
- Why does the house seem empty?
- Where is the antagonist?
- “The Howling Man” from The Twilight Zone
- The Cabin in the Woods
5) An asteroid hits a space station orbiting the outer-ring of a lunar outpost. Oxygen supply is cut by 80%, meaning the crew has to kill four members, or else they’ll all die before an emergency shuttle arrives.
Horror Story Prompts • Still from ‘Sunshine’
- Who’s on the space station?
- Why aren’t there any emergency shuttles on the station?
SCARY STORY PROMPTS
6) a veteran cop suspects his daughter is dating a serial killer..
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Taken’
- Who is the cop?
- Who is the daughter?
- Who is the suspected serial killer?
- How did the cop learn about his suspicious nature?
HORROR STORIES IDEAS
- The French Connection
7) A small-town legend says that a monster lurks under the lake. Sounds crazy, but why have so many people gone missing?
Horror Story Ideas • Still from ‘The Wailing’
- What is the monster?
- Why have people gone missing?
- How did this legend spread?
- The Wailing
8) A man finds a slumped-over investigator with puncture-wounds in his neck. His final word, “devil.”
Scary Writing Ideas • Still from ‘Angel Heart’
- Who is the man?
- Who is the investigator?
- What does “devil” imply?
- Interview With the Vampire
- Angel Heart
9) A group of college girls stargazing at the Grand Canyon find themselves stalked by a shadowy figure.
Horror Story Prompts • Still from ‘It Follows’
- Who are the college girls?
- Why are they at the grand canyon?
- Who, or what, is the shadowy figure?
- Spring Breakers
10) A woman is kidnapped in broad daylight, only to re-awaken in a human zoo.
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘The Truman Show’
- Where is the woman kidnapped? And where is she brought?
- Who is responsible?
- Why is there a human zoo?
- "Black Museum” episode from Black Mirror
- The Truman Show
11) A cursed man must find love by year’s end or else his entire family will be killed.
Horror Story Ideas • Still from ‘Beauty and the Beast’
- How was he cursed?
- How do we know his family will be killed?
- Why do we want him to succeed?
HALLOWEEN STORY IDEAS
- Beauty and the Beast
- “The Chaser” episode of The Twilight Zone
12) A woman goes back to a man’s apartment after a date… but discovers what appear to be mementos – hair-pins, engraved jewelry, watches, etc. – in the bathroom drawer. When she decides to leave, the man blocks the doorway.
Scary Writing Ideas • Still from ‘Burning’
- How does the woman discover the mementos?
- Who is the woman? And who is the man?
13) A group of strangers find themselves locked in a classroom – and instructed that whoever scores the highest on the test will be allowed to leave. The rest will be killed.
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Exam’
- How did the strangers find themselves locked in a classroom?
- Who is “the instructor?”
- Why are they being forced to engage in a sadistic game?
14) A teenage-outcast finds solace in a Dungeons & Dragons club, but slowly starts to suspect that their teacher, the club’s organizer, is an actual demon.
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Stranger Things’
- Who is the teenage-outcast?
- Who is the teacher?
- Why does the teenage-outcast suspect the teacher is a demon?
HORROR STORY IDEAS
- Stranger Things
- Dazed and Confused
15) A young vampire on a tiny island must drink blood to survive. But people are running out. And ships stopped coming.
Horror Story Ideas • Still from ‘Vampyr’
- Who is the young vampire?
- Why are they on a tiny island?
- Why did the ships stop coming?
- Shutter Island
- Vampyr (game)
16) A traveler runs out of gas on the outskirts of a mountain-town. In the distance, he sees a hooded-figure, with a fleshy-sinewed face.
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Insomnia’
- Where was the traveler going?
- Why did he allow his car to run out of gas?
- Who, or what, is the hooded-figure?
- "The Hitch-Hiker” from The Twilight Zone
17) An expeditionary voyage is thrown into chaos when a dead body is discovered in the captain’s chambers.
Horror Story Prompts • Still from ‘Clue’
- Who’s body is discovered?
- Where is the expedition going?
- Why was it discovered in the captain’s chambers?
- Return of the Obra Dinn (game)
18) A nuclear holocaust forces people to move underground. Things are safe for a while, but eventually, the monsters make their way down.
Scary Story Ideas • Still from ‘Metro 2033’
- Who detonated the nuke?
- Why was the nuke detonated?
- What are the monsters?
- How did they get underground?
- Metro 2033 (novel/game)
How to Write Horror
We touched on some strategies for writing scary story ideas here – but the focus was mostly on the ideation stage. Want to learn more about the process of writing scary stories? Check out our next article on “horror writing” where we break down examples from Stephen King, Edgar Wright, and more. By the end, you’ll know not only how to start a scary story, but how to see it through to the end!
Up Next: Horror Writing Tips for Fiction →
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101 Terrifying Horror Story Prompts
Welcome to the story den of horror, scares, and the macabre.
Most writers are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas from?" A majority of the time, writers find it difficult to answer that question.
We get our ideas from a plethora of sources — news headlines, novels, television shows, movies, our lives, our fears, our phobias, etc. They can come from a scene or moment in a film that wasn't fully explored. They can come from a single visual that entices the creative mind — a seed that continues to grow and grow until the writer is forced to finally put it to paper or screen.
In the spirit of helping writers find those seeds, here we offer 101 originally conceived and terrifying story prompts that you can use as inspiration for your next horror story.
They may inspire screenplays, novels, short stories, or even smaller moments that you can include in what stories you are already writing or what you will create in your upcoming projects.
But beware! If you scare easily — and have active imaginations like most writers do — turn up the lights and proceed with caution...
1. A girl goes missing in the woods, and her parents find only a decrepit and scary doll left behind. They soon learn that the doll is actually their daughter. And she's alive.
2. New residents of an old neighborhood are invited by their friendly neighbors to a Halloween party. The neighbors are vampires.
3. A family dog runs away from home. He returns a year later to the delight of his family. But there's something different about him. Something demonic.
4. A girl goes missing. Fifteen years later, her parents get a call from her older self. But they listen in fear because they killed their daughter that dark night years ago.
5. A man reads a novel, soon realizing that the story is his very own — and according to the book, a killer is looming.
6. A scientist clones his family that died in an airplane crash — but soon learns the repercussions of playing God.
7. A man wakes up bound to an electric chair.
8. A man wakes up in a coffin next to a freshly dead body.
9. A woman wakes up to find her family gone and her doors and windows boarded up with no way to escape.
10. A man afraid of snakes is shipwrecked on an island covered with them.
11. Serial killers worldwide are connected by a dark web website.
12. The world's population is overtaken by vampires — all except one little child.
13. A woman afraid of clowns is forced to work in a traveling circus.
14. An astronaut and cosmonaut are on the International Space Station when their countries go to Nuclear War with each other. Their last orders are to eliminate the other.
15. A treasure hunter finds a tomb buried beneath the dirt.
16. A young brother and sister find an old door in their basement that wasn't there before.
17. Winged creatures can be seen within the storm clouds above.
18. A man wakes up to find a hobo clown staring down at him.
19. Residents of a town suddenly fall dead while the dead from cemeteries around them rise.
20. A doctor performs the first head transplant — things go wrong.
21. A man is texted pictures of himself in various stages of torture that he has no memory of.
22. A girl wakes up to find a little boy sitting on his bed, claiming to be her younger brother — but she never had one.
23. A scare walk in the woods during Halloween is actually real.
24. A bartender serves last call to the only remaining patron, who is the Devil himself.
25. Earth suffers a planet-wide blackout as all technology is lost.
26. A boy's stepfather is actually a murderous werewolf.
27. Something has turned the neighborhood pets into demonic killers.
28. A priest is a vampire.
29. A woman wakes up with no eyes.
30. A man wakes up with no mouth.
31. A monster is terrified by the scary child who lives above his bed.
32. An astronaut jettisoned into the cold of space in a mission gone wrong suddenly appears at the doorstep of his family.
33. A woman answers a phone call only to learn that the voice on the other end is her future self, warning her that a killer is looming.
34. A boy realizes that aliens have replaced his family.
35. A woman wakes up in an abandoned prison that she cannot escape.
36. A bank robber steals from the small town bank that holds the riches of witches.
37. A door-to-door salesman circa the 1950s visits the wrong house.
38. Deceased soldiers return to their Civil War-era homes.
39. Kidnappers abduct the child of a vampire.
40. An innocent circus clown discovers the dark history of the trade.
41. A homeless man is stalked by faceless beings.
42. A spelunker stumbles upon a series of caverns infested with rattlesnakes.
43. A group of friends is forced to venture through a chamber of horrors where only one is promised to survive.
44. He's not the man she thought he was. In fact, he's not a man at all.
45. Suburbia is actually purgatory.
46. Someone discovers that we are all actually robots — who created us and why?
47. She's not an angel. She's a demon.
48. An old shipwreck washes ashore.
49. A sinkhole swallows a house whole and unleashes something from beneath.
50. A man has sleep paralysis at the worst possible time.
51. A woman out hiking is caught in a bear trap as the sun begins to go down.
52. Naked figures with no faces stalk campers in the woods.
53. An astronaut is the sole survivor of a moon landing gone wrong — only to discover that the moon is infested with strange creatures.
54. A woman is wrongfully condemned to an insane asylum.
55. A mother's baby will not leave its womb and continues to grow and grow and grow while doctors try to cut it out but can't.
56. Friends on a road trip stumble upon a backcountry town whose residents all dress up as different types of clowns.
57. Tourists in Ireland retreat to an old castle when the country is taken over by greedy and vengeful leprechauns.
58. A boy on a farm makes a scarecrow that comes alive.
59. A figure dressed in an old, dirty Easter Bunny suit haunts the children of a town.
60. The abused animals of a zoo are unleashed and wreak havoc on a small town.
61. A deceased grandma's old doll collection comes alive.
62. Little Red Riding Hood was a vampire.
63. Somebody clones Hitler and raises him as a white supremacist.
64. A pumpkin patch comes alive — beings with heads of pumpkins and bodies of vines.
65. An endless swarm of killer bees wreaks havoc on the country.
66. Christ returns to Earth — at least that is who people thought he was.
67. A natural anomaly brings all of the country's spiders to a horrified town.
68. A woman finds old 16mm film from her childhood and sees that she had a sister — what happened to her?
69. Something ancient rises from an old pond.
70. A woman suddenly begins to wake up in somebody else's body every morning — each day ends with her being stocked and killed by the same murderer in black.
71. An Artificial Intelligence begins to communicate with a family online, only to terrorize them through their technology.
72. A family buys a cheap house only to discover that an old cemetery is their back yard.
73. Years after the zombie apocalypse subsides, survivors discover that the epidemic was caused by aliens that have appeared to lay claim to the planet.
74. A woman has memories of being abducted by aliens — but she soon learns that they weren't aliens. They were...
75. A boy has a tumor that slowly grows into a Siamese twin — the older they get, the more evil the twin becomes.
76. A cult that worships history's deadliest serial killers begins to kill by copying their methods.
77. Stone gargoyles suddenly appear on the tops of buildings and houses of a small town.
78. A family on a boat trip stumbles upon an old pirate ship.
79. A winter snowstorm traps a family in an abandoned insane asylum.
80. A little girl comes down from upstairs and asks her parents, "Can you hear it breathing? I can."
81. A town is enveloped in unexplained darkness for weeks.
82. A jetliner flies high in the sky as Nuclear War breaks out below.
83. Children discover a deep, dark well in the woods — an old ladder leads down into it.
84. A child sleepwalks into their parent's room and whispers, "I'm sorry. The Devil told me to."
85. As a woman showers, a voice comes from the drain whispering, "I see you."
86. A child finds a crayon drawing of a strange family — it's inscribed with the words we live in your walls .
87. All of the cemetery's graves are now open, gaping holes — the dirt pushed out from underground.
88. A woman is watching a scary movie alone on Halloween night — someone, or something, keeps knocking at her door.
89. Someone is taking a bath as a hand from behind the shower curtain pushes their head into the water.
90. A farmer and his sons begin to hear the laughter of children coming from his fields at night — no children are in sight.
91. Someone looks out their window to see a clown standing at a corner holding a balloon — staring at them.
92. Mannequins in a department store seem to be moving on their own.
93. What if the God people worshiped was really Satan — and Satan had somehow kept God prisoner?
94. A man dies and wakes up in the body of a serial killer — and no matter how hard he tries to stop killing, he can't.
95. A prisoner awakens to find the prison empty — but he's locked in his cell.
96. A woman jogging stumbles upon a dead, bloody body — she then hears a strange clicking sound and looks up to see a dark figure running towards her.
97. A girl hears laughter downstairs — she's the only one home.
98. An Uber driver picks up the wrong person — and may not live to tell the tale.
99. There's someone or something living and moving up in the attic — but it's not a ghost.
100. A child's imaginary friend is not imaginary.
101. The reflections that we see of ourselves in the mirror are actually us in a parallel universe — and they are planning to do whatever it takes to take our place in this world.
Share this with your writing peers or anyone that loves a good scary story.
For some more scares, check out ScreenCraft's 20 Terrifying Two-Sentence Horror Stories and 8 Ways Horror Movies Scare the S*** Out of Audiences!
Sleep well and keep writing.
Once you're inspired, take your idea to the next level and Develop Your Horror Movie Idea in 15 Days .
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout , starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies
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Horror Story Ideas, Prompts, and Screenplays to Kickstart Your Creativity
Working on your horror story or screenplay can be a frightening prospect. we're here to help .
One of the most popular genres out there is horror. It comes with its own audience and frequently does well at the box office and on television. It delivers chills, scares, and makes the audience feel like they're on a roller coaster. The only thing I don't love about horror is actually sitting down to write it.
Horror story ideas take a lot of work. They need to feel unique and cut through the noise to stand out to producers.
Some of the best ways to get ready to write are to study other screenplays, look at horror prompts, and refine your ideas with successful writing tools.
Today, I want to guide you through some of these and allow you to try a few of these tactics out for yourself. Hopefully, we can work together to make writing horror less frightening than watching it.
Let's get going, you have scary stories to write!
The Horror Genre Definition
Before we jump in, let's get a definition. Horror is a genre of film and television whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, disgust, and terror in the audience. The primary goal is to develop an atmosphere that puts the audience on edge and scares them.
Where does the word "horror" come from?
The term actually came from the Old French word " orror," which meant “to shudder or to bristle.”
Horror filmmaking has roots in religions across the world, local folktales, and history. It's a universal genre. Every culture has its scary stories and fears. These elements are meant to exploit the viewer and engage them with the possibility of death and pain.
Most importantly, to be a true horror project, your story should deal with the supernatural. Death, evil, powers, creatures, the afterlife, witchcraft, and other diabolical and unexplainable happenings must be at the story's center.
Horror Story Ideas, Prompts, and Screenplays
Got an idea of what kinds of scary stories you want to tell in the dark?
Before you get into the physical act of writing, let's trace some of the origins and reasoning behind what you're embarking on. That's a question you can answer for yourself before you start writing. Why horror? What do you have to say? Why are you using this genre to tell your story?
Themes for horror stories
The theme of your screenplay refers to the issue at the core of the story itself. This isn't mentioned in the script, but it's the emotional or spiritual driving force behind your movie's message. If you don't have a theme, then your film will feel like it lacks purpose. Think of the theme like the thesis statement of a paper. John August describes the theme as "what is true and what is real."
So what's true at the center of your story?
As you go through your ideas and the "why" you're telling them, you'll pick up on the themes. What do you want to say about the human condition, or society, or relationships?
The themes for your screenplay matter. They'll cast a shadow over every scene and should dictate how you craft characters and set up the main story beats.
When it comes time to begin to write your plot for these kinds of movies, consider writing a treatment to get started. It's basically a scary story you'll then adapt into a movie.
Horror plots really depend on the kind of subgenre you plan on using. Let's take a look at some.
Horror movie subgenres
Slasher movies usually have killers who use knives or hooks or machetes to hack up their victims. They can be like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Scream in tone. There can be one or multiple killers. They have a lot in common with the mystery genre and thrillers.
From Godzilla to The Fly , monster movies come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, these monsters terrorize a small community, like in Jaws , but they can also be a global threat, like in Cloverfield .
We don't always need a direct scientific explanation for why or how the monster exists, but that might clue everyone in on how you can defeat them.
Ghosts, demons, and Satan all exist within these worlds. Your demons can be like Freddy Kreuger or they can be like the spirit in The Exorcist . They can be ghosts like in The Others or a riff on that, like in Ghost . Or just straight-up horrific like in Poltergeist .
A few years ago it felt like every movie had a scary doll in it. Now, with the Chucky reboot and Anabelle , these dolls don't seem like they're going away.
But what about something like The Fog or Christine ? They also fall into these types.
I know this is technically a way to make a movie, but I wanted to address it last. While these movies are not as popular as they once were, the staples are still the most famous.
The Blair Witch, The Visit, and Paranormal Activity changed the way we viewed cinema. You have to write for found footage for it to be found footage.
Common tropes of horror screenplays
Here are just a few of the biggest horror screenplay tropes.
- Action : People often creep around with little dialogue.
- Suspense: Pacing in horror is a must. Think Hitchcock !
- Jumpscares : Sudden noises or reveals should POP off the page.
- Gore : Gruesome death or torture scenes are commonplace in these movies.
- A memorable villain: Create someone who will haunt your dreams for years to come.
The Horror Screenplay Outline
If you're writing your own screenplay, maybe this outline will help you get started. The beats below should help jumpstart your ideas and show you where they would traditionally fall into place within the story.
1. Unraveling The Terror—Do you have an opening scare that defines the movie?
Do you like Scream ? The opening scene of the screenplay sets the tone for the entire story.
2. The Entry Point—Who will be involved in these terrifying escapades, and what are they dealing with?
In a movie like Dawn of the Dead , it's a series of scenes where we meet who will inhabit the mall.
3. Before It Goes to Shit—What’s a normal day look like in this world?
Think about the way the family gets by in Poltergeist before the ghosts show up.
4. The Horror Sets In—What horrific thing sets our characters off on their journey?
Nothing is worse than realizing your daughter is possessed as the characters do in The Exorcist .
5. The Uneasy Path—Everyone is together, what keeps them moving this way?
In something like Godzilla , it's the reason why they deal with the monster at hand. What do they have to gain?
6. Walking Over Broken Glass—How do our heroes deal with the problems as they go?
In the Saw franchise, this is how people try to get out of the sick traps and hunt Jigsaw.
7. Through The Dark Cave—Do you have a B story? Set that story off on its own now too.
B-stories, like the marital tension in Rosemary's Baby , are great scenes to juxtapose against the horror at hand.
8. Reassess the Terror—You’re in the middle. Is there another way to get out alive?
In Shaun of the Dead , it's when they decide to go to the Winchester.
9. People are Going to Die—Things begin to fall apart, let the body count rise, and show how they deal with it.
In The Descent , this is when the people in the group begin to be picked off one by one.
10. The Fall—The worst thing happens, something so bad you don’t think you can get up.
In a horror movie like The Mist , it's when they are forced outside and surrounded by the actual mist.
11. The Hidden Clue—What do your characters discover that they never saw before?
Is there a way out? Something they never realized, like in the Sixth Sense when David realizes he's a ghost.
12. Race To the Final (Girl)—They’re up and running no matter what. They can make it!
This is the series of scenes that carries us toward your thrilling finale. In Alien , it's when Ripley is confronted by the Xenomorph and has to think fast.
13. The Moment of Relief—Did they make it out alive? Has life returned to normal?
What does their day feel like with the problem corrected? Think about when the shark in Jaws finally dies.
14. Where We Go From Here?—Show us the world in a new light, hint what’s next. Maybe the killer or monster returns for one final scare!
In every horror movie, it feels like there's one last scare. Like in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer when it turns out the hook-handed man is under the bed!
30 Scary Horror Story Prompts and Ideas
We have lots of story prompts available for writers. If you want to use them, go for it. Check out the list below.
- A childhood doll comes to life.
- A scene from a nightmare becomes reality.
- Days go by, and your significant other never comes home.
- You're bitten by a bat and slowly become a vampire.
- You begin to suspect a family member might be a serial killer.
- You’re lost in the woods and stumble upon a cult.
- You see a ghost and no one believes you.
- You have no reflection in the mirror.
- You begin to suspect the family dog is actually a werewolf.
- You get hypnotized and begin to see past murderous lives.
- A fortune teller tells you that death is coming for you.
- You sell your soul and suffer the consequences.
- You find a diary that tells the future but you're not in it.
- The killer you see in your dreams shows up in reality.
- You begin to suspect your parents are aliens.
- You know someone is watching you day and night from the house across the street.
- You realize you are growing fangs.
- A scary board game sucks you inside it.
- You find a secret compartment inside your house where someone is watching you.
- All the pets in a small town vanish in the middle of the night…
- You're in the middle of an average day when a coworker bites someone and zombies break into your office.
- A mysterious gift from an estranged aunt arrives and it's a crystal ball.
- One of the trick-or-treaters bears an uncanny resemblance to you...
- On Halloween night, you find a box at your door that contains your own head from the future.
- Your significant other asks you to murder their ex.
- Your kids spent Halloween with your ex and were supposed to come trick-or-treating last night but never show.
- You come home to find a stranger walking through your home who says you're actually the intruder.
- Your grandfather's ghost follows you around, claiming your mom killed him.
- You're on a tour of the White House and ghosts from the past come out and threaten the President.
- You make friends with the monster in your closet and sic him on other people.
Horror short film ideas
Want to scare yourself in no time at all? Consider some horror short films that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Know that writing a short film is way different than anything else we have talked about here. So let's dig a little deeper on this one.
How Long Is a Short Film?
A short film is any film that isn't long enough to be considered a feature. The Sundance Film Festival allows its shorts to be 50 minutes or less. The Academy Awards sets the bar at 40 minutes. Technically this is what qualifies as a short film.
Don’t get too caught up in thinking about these varying lengths. Focus on what you want to do with your short, the world, the characters, the situation, and see where you land.
One of my favorite shorts of all time clocks in at 26 minutes. It’s called Six Shooter and was directed by Martin McDonagh. It's kind of a horror thriller.
How to Write a Short Film that Connects
But writing short films that actually connect with an audience and receive acclaim is hard. Short film comedy is a common route, and you can search for top short films on YouTube to see what people are connecting with currently. When you consider it, isn't an Instagram story a short film? Certainly, a skit is. Short films surround you. Which ones do you connect most with?
Start with five pages and then expand. If you expand too much, your idea may not even be right for a short film.
When you’re writing a short film, there are lots of options about length. How will you know if you’ve got the right short film ideas?
How to Brainstorm Writing Horror Short Film Ideas!
Short films are kind of a tricky path to follow. When we sit down to write, the natural inclination is to set up a huge story with a lot of characters and great stakes, but that’s not really what short films are about. A short film needs to take us on an emotional journey, but we should never feel like the story is crammed into the allotted time.
The short film has to be able to stand alone.
In my opinion, the best short films take us on a fulfilling journey that often happens "in the moment" so to speak. That means the story might play out in real-time, or close to real-time. When I’m sitting down to write a short film, I think about situations or moments that can tell a grander lesson but occur in real-time.
What are some scenarios from my own life? What are some events that happened to me that taught me lessons applicable to writing short films? Did I ever spend an afternoon with a grandparent who was already dead? Help someone change a flat tire and have a killer nearby? I know I’ve been on a ton of bad Tinder dates. Those all work for horror situations!
Chase your own life around for a bit. Do some self-reflection. Go back to your horror themes and suss out what you have to say. I like to mine my own life, and then add fantastical elements to the mix. Build your story out, accentuate the characters, find the crucial moments where we learn something. And let the idea take you where you want to go.
When I’m writing a short film I also like to think about limitations. Can I tell a story that takes place entirely in the back seat of a car?
Or even one that’s just about a game of hide and seek that goes wrong...
I think the best way to learn about screenwriting is to actually read the kinds of movies you want to write. So I pulled a few horror scripts I think can teach you a lot about worldbuilding and set pieces and scary ideas.
The Top 10 Horror Scripts to Download
You can download thousands of horror screenplays here. I wanted to list 10 I think which cover the wide variety of horror subgenres. Check them out below.
- An American Werewolf In London by John Landis
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon
- Dawn of the Dead 2004 by James Gunn, Rewrite by Michael Tolkin
- Hellraiser by Clive Barker
- Exorcist by William P. Blat
- Texas Chain Saw Massacre by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper
- Scream by Kevin Williamson
- Pitch Black by David Twohy
- Sleepy Hollow by Andrew Kevin Walker and Tom Stoppard
- The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan
Summing Up Horror Story Ideas, Prompts, and Screenplays
I hope this page got your creative juices flowing and made you even more excited to scare the crap out of your friends and family. As always, if you have any strategies, make sure you put them in the comments so everyone can get ahead.
Horror scripts are a great way to break into Hollywood and one of the only kinds of specs that really sell.
Let me know what you think of all this in the comments.
Till next time.
What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook !
So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.
Is Canon’s New RF 24-105mm f/2.8 the Best Full-Frame Zoom on the Market?
A deeper look into canon’s first full-frame zoom lens to feature this insane combo of focal length and aperture..
It’s been awhile since Canon (or any major camera and lens manufacturer) has been able to really move the needle so much without releasing a new groundbreaking camera.
Yet, despite no official announcement of a new R1 camera (or even a confirmation of a digital retro-style camera remake ), Canon made major industry waves with the simultaneous announcements of some major firmware updates as well as three new RF lenses . While we’ll probably still have more to say about the firmware updates and Canon’s sneaky addition of their new multi-camera iPhone app, there was almost too much news dropped all at once.
Not wanting anything to get lost in the newscycle though, we felt the need to highlight one of the new lenses Canon announced yesterday. Canon’s new RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z zoom lens is a major lens release that we think you should at least hear about.
Let’s check out this new full-frame zoom and explore how it's Canon’s first of its kind at this focal length and aperture.
The Canon RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z
As we mentioned in our initial write-up on this lens, Canon’s latest lineup of RF zoom lenses cover a wide range of focal lengths. With new options ranging from 10mm to 800mm, you could potentially just purchase these three lenses and never have to worry about coverage ever again.
Designed to be a powerful multiuse zoom for both photo and video, the RF 24-105mm features a constant f/2.8 aperture which should allow for some of the best low light performances ever seen on a zoom lens of this caliber. It should also be able to provide some absolutely stunning bokeh for portraits at any focal length with this low aperture.
Like all of these new Canon lenses, it’s also of course going to include plenty of great in-lens optical stabilization and sharpness with its four ultra-low dispersion elements and three aspherical elements.
The Best Full-Frame Zoom Option?
Still, the greatest strengths associated with this new zoom lens is really just its simplicity and wide-ranging useability. Similar to the kit zoom lens you might find on pretty much any new interchangeable lens Canon camera, this RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z zoom will most undoubtedly be a major upgrade.
Plus, with its full-frame coverage it will literally be able to zoom past the traditional 70mm road-blocks and unlock true portrait-length 105mm for some rarely seen, yet very beautiful, compositions. It’s also a great working-person’s camera with its wide coverage range and great low-light capabilities.
Speaking from experience having shot my fair share of wedding and event videos over the years, having a versatile full-frame zoom lens that can handle both the bright outdoors and the dark dance floors over a long-working weekend, a zoom with this focal length and aperture combo should be a breath of fresh air.
Price and Availability
While just announced, Canon has confirmed that the RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z (along with its concurrent other lenses) will be available to ship starting in mid-December. This full-frame zoom is available to pre-order now and is launching at a $2,999.00 price point.
Now, to some, this may indeed seem high. But as we’ve seen with other similar lenses with such a low aperture, these capabilities often come at a price. And in reality, while you should obviously check your own budgets and plan accordingly, lenses like these should be better investments than your similarly-priced cameras as they’ll honestly last longer — both from a durability perspective as as well as a less-likely to become outdated by the next year.
Still, any purchases are up to you. But if you are interested, you can check out the specs below, as well as I’m sure keep your eyes online as there will undoubtedly be plenty of review videos and case studies coming out soon.
- Full-Frame | f/2.8 to f/22
- Two Nano USM Motors
- 11-Blade Diaphragm
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- 3 Aspherical Elements, 4 UD Elements
- SSC, ASC & Fluorine Coating
Canon RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z Lens (Canon RF)
A powerful multiuse zoom for photo and video, the RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z Lens from Canon is the first of its kind at this focal length and aperture. By utilizing dual Nano USM motors, this lens achieves fast and nearly silent autofocusing.
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25 Picture Prompts for Writing Scary Stories
Photos and illustrations from The New York Times to inspire your spooky stories, poems and memoirs.
By Natalie Proulx
Happy Halloween! Do you enjoy reading, watching or listening to horror stories? What about writing them?
To celebrate the season, we’ve rounded up 25 haunting photos and illustrations from around The New York Times that you can use as prompts to write your own terrifying tales. Choose an image and then use your imagination to write a short story or a poem inspired by it — or tell us about a memory from your own life that the picture makes you think of.
You can use these images however you like, but if you need more guidance, here are four prompts, as well as articles with advice from horror writers and experts, to get you started:
Use the image as the setting for your story.
“The most important thing is the setting,” Ruth Robbins, professor of Victorian literature at Leeds Beckett University in England, said in “ How to Tell a Ghost Story .” She suggested starting with the “atmosphere” and the elements in the scene “that you may be afraid of.”
What makes the setting of the image especially eerie? What is the mood there? What are some of the creepier elements you could describe to build the atmosphere? What scary story could take place there?
Write from the point of view of a character in the image. Or write from the point of view of a character just outside of the scene who is observing it.
In his MasterClass , R.L. Stine, the author of the “Goosebumps” series, said the secret to making a story scary was a “close point of view with your main character” because then “the reader is experiencing this horror close up.” But, he warned, “you have to be very careful to keep the balance between what she’s feeling, and what she’s seeing, and what she’s thinking.”
Who is the person, or creature, you are writing about? What brought them to this scene? What are they thinking, feeling and, most important, experiencing? How can you show their fear instead of telling readers about it?
And consider the conflict: What does your character want? What is preventing them from getting it? What are they doing to try to get it?
Use the image as the starting point of your story , and then work backward.
In “ A Simple Way to Create Suspense, ” Lee Child, a thriller writer, said “we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer.” He continued: “Like the old cartoon of the big fish eating a smaller fish eating a very small fish, you’ll find out the big answer after a string of smaller drip-drip-drip answers. The big answer is parceled out slowly and parsimoniously.”
What question could be implied by the image? For example, how did this person get trapped behind the wall, and will he be able to escape? What did the woman hear that led her into the darkened hallway? What are these creatures in the haunted corn maze, and what do they want from you?
How can you build suspense in your story by revealing the answer to that question slowly, bit by bit?
Consider the image as a metaphor or symbol.
“Horror is, and always has been, in dialogue with the anxieties and fears of its time,” the author Stephen Graham Jones wrote in a guest essay for The Times Opinion section. For example, “During the Great Depression, the misery and economic strife were embodied by monsters from literature and folklore, as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the mummy made their way across the movie screen.”
What real-world fears and anxieties could this image represent, whether in the world at large or in your own life? For instance, could it be a symbol for our anxiety about climate change? Or a metaphor for a challenge you are facing at school? What horror story could you tell that reflects the uncertainties we are facing in our real lives?
Scroll through the images below to find one that scares you. Then use these writers’ advice to craft your piece. Once you’ve got a draft, post the opening of your piece in the comments for others to read.
(Please keep in mind that if you choose to post in the comments, your writing should be appropriate for a general audience and observe Times commenting guidelines .)
Reaching Through the Wall
Beware of Zombies
House of Terrors
Cursed Corn Maze
Monsters Come Out
Electric Shock Therapy
Witch at Night
Hallway of Horror
In the Dark
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.
Find more Picture Prompts here.
Natalie Proulx joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2017 after working as an English language arts teacher and curriculum writer. More about Natalie Proulx
The Best One-Word Horror Titles, from ‘Scream’ to ‘Teeth’ to ‘Nope’
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“Nope.” That’s the maddening morsel of a clue writer-director Jordan Peele gave audiences before unleashing his third horror flick into theaters on July 22: “Nope.”
Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and Michael Wincott star in this science fiction horror outing set against the legacies of horse ranchers in Hollywood (we think). Although Peele’s latest project has been somewhat vague in its rollout ( though Peele has long promised it’s about UFOs, and he’s not kidding ), he’s not the first horror auteur to make their monosyllabic mark with a title that’s doggedly vexing and slyly sinister. Dating back to the earliest days of the movies, films such as “Noseferatu,” “Dracula,” “Freaks,” “Maniac,” “Bedlam,” “Godzilla,” “Rodan,” and more have kept things scary and succinct with titles that practically demand audiences venture into theaters to uncover the terrors behind these single word hints.
The best one-word horror movie titles act as good faith challenges to genre lovers. Want to see whose “Teeth” do what ? Have to know what “It” is? Need to see what the “Saw” was for? Dare to press play on or buy tickets for the petrifying movies about these nightmarish situations and you can decide for yourself whether the gutsy titles were earned. Although, by then, these cunning filmmakers will have already lured you into their twisted tales with that temptingly tidy packaging.
Whole franchises have been built on one word titles. We’ve already mentioned “Saw,” but also “Scream,” “Halloween,” “Leprechaun,” “Alien,” “Insidious,” “Blade,” “Gremlins,” “Predator,” “Hellraiser,” and more. Standalone movies with one-word titles are just as plentiful, of course. To name a a smattering of examples in no particular order: “Crawl,” “Vampires,” “Titane,” “Malignant,” “Carrie,” “Split,” “Cam,” “Unsane,” “Censor,” “Scanners,” “Legion,” “Mother,” “Cujo,” “Underwater,” “Midsommar,” “Us,” “Orphan,” “Spree,” “Tusk,” “Annabelle,” “Zombieland,” “Firestarter,” “Overlord,” “Candyman,” “Antichrist,” “Raw,” “Cube,” “Eraserhead,” “Ma,” “Spawn,” “Society,” “Wounds,” “REC,” “Pet,” “Creep,” and many more.
Here are the top 15 best one-word horror movie titles, with a few caveats. All directors, including Peele, Ari Aster, and Alfred Hitchcock, have been limited to one competitive entry. (Apologies to “Vertigo.”) Proper nouns have also been disqualified, on the basis that those titles — broadly speaking — produce the same effect and their inclusion could skew the list. That said, consider this an honorable mention for “Mandy.”
15. “Hostel” (2005)
As far as titles go, Eli Roth’s hyper-violent “Hostel” packs one hell of a pun. American college students-turned-European backpackers Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) receive a less-than-warm welcome when they travel to a hostel in Slovakia that feeds into a human trafficking center for torture victims.
The “hostile”/”hostel” duality works on the obvious level and not many others, but its an undeniably strong play on words that helps elevate Roth’s generally clumsy take on Western exceptionalism.
14. “Hellraiser” (1987)
There’s an epic silliness to the main antagonist of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” answering to pretty much any name. Called everything from Pinhead (which is not canon) to Hellraiser (which is also not canon), the main cenobite (Doug Bradley) changed the game for supernatural sadomasochism in Barker’s 1987 classic.
“Hellraiser” works as a title because it has both a folksy cheekiness (“Give ’em hell, Pinhead!”) and a literal interpretation. Short but sweet, “Hellraiser” is a great title because the cenobites literally raise hell to Earth.
13. “Hereditary” (2018)
Writer-director Ari Aster examines family trauma in the menacing “Hereditary.” Aster’s feature film debut stars Toni Collette as Annie, an anxious woman struggling with conflicting feelings in the wake of her abusive mother’s death. The terrifying saga that follows imbues the cryptic title with nightmarish new meaning on literal and metaphoric levels, positioning Annie’s children (Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro) as pawns in an intergenerational game with horrific implications.
Special shout-out to Aster’s similarly well-titled “Midsommar,” which tells an unparalleled breakup story by way of the titular European summer solstice celebration.
12. “Men” (2022)
Teasing a sweeping indictment of gendered prejudice, abuse, and violence, writer-director Alex Garland set the bar for his third feature film high with a title like “Men.” Whether the story of Harper (Jessie Buckley) — a widower confronting a swarm of aggressive men (doubling Rory Kinnears) in a remote English village — lives up to the hype is a matter of taste. But the title is inarguably striking.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich put it best in his review of the film , dubbing it “Twitter bait” with a “tendency to feel more like a conversation-starter than a fully realized vision.”
11. “Suspiria” (1977)
The first in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, “Suspiria” is Latin for “sighs.” The melancholic ease implied by that title can be found in every oversaturated nook and cranny of the 1977 supernatural fright fest, and is matched in its equally ethereal plot about a coven of witches at a ballet academy.
Not to mention, there’s a snake-like slipperiness to the mouth feel of “Suspiria.” Saying it feels like casting an ancient (and, per the course, likely dangerous) spell.
10. “Old” (2021)
Love it or hate it, “the beach that makes you old” has a campy charisma that just doesn’t quit. If only in theory, M. Night Shyamalan’s divisive 2021 sci-fi thriller — about a group of tourists rapidly aging on a remote beach — portends a grim gaze at the thorny process of growing, well, old. “Old” leverages the negative connotation that the adjective has among some people and cultures, setting up an exploration of that unavoidable fate.
9. “Saw” (2004)
Considering its seven sequels of varying quality, “Saw” doesn’t evoke quite the same feeling of ominous intrigue its title once did. That said, the name of James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s 2004 puzzle box horror flick-turned-massive franchise has a clever charm to it that still hits when you consider the original film as a standalone project.
Kidnapped and chained in a dank room, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannell) must escape an insidious trap. Ultimately, the answer to their problem: a saw.
8. “Halloween” (1978)
John Carpenter and Debra Hill initially envisioned the “Halloween” franchise as an anthology of separate but still equally harrowing holiday accounts. (See “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” the only “Halloween” not set in Haddonfield, Illinois.) Michael Myers, hunky hellion that he is, ultimately proved too entertaining to kill.
But Carpenter and Hill still cornered the Halloween movie market by naming their slasher saga after the night on which his annual antics take place. With Jamie Lee Curtis as its scream queen, the 1978 scary movie staple is arguably the only film to watch come October 31.
7. “Jaws” (1975)
There’s a dental aspect to the word “Jaws” that could have kept Steven Spielberg’s nail-biter nautical thriller out of the running for best one word horror title. But the legendary reputation of this 1975 feature debut precedes it, having slowly but surely made “Jaws” synonymous with great shark cinema. That’s a feat arguably more impressive than having an obviously good title.
Plus, there’s a satisfying symmetry to dropping your lower lip to mention a film anchored in the terrifying image of a gaping mouth.
6. “Audition” (1999)
There’s an elegance to the title of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” (or “Odishon”) reflected in nearly every beat of this bone-chilling tale of the ruthless Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) and her new lover Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi). Its a direct reference to the film’s starting premise — a widower literally auditions women to replace his wife — as well as a nod to the ultra-scary 1999 film’s central themes of mistrust and betrayal. Asami metaphorically auditions Shigeharu in every scene.
5. “Psycho” (1960)
From “Vertigo” to “Saboteur,” Alfred Hitchock was a master of the minimalist moniker. And yet, as is so often the case, nothing beats the director’s 1960 suspense masterclass about a murderer, his mother, and their motel.
Starring Anthony Perkins as horror icon Norman Bates, “Psycho” is blunt with its antagonist’s introduction in a way that conveys gripping urgency befitting the times. Along with the unforgettable shower slaying of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), this title made the Hitchcock staple an enduring symbol of genre excellence.
4. “Parasite” (2019)
Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is a Best Picture winner for a reason, delivering a searing indictment of class warfare and a title that works on two fronts. “Because the story is about the poor family infiltrating and creeping into the rich house, it seems very obvious that ‘Parasite’ refers to the poor family,” Bong said in a 2020 interview . “But if you look at it the other way, you can say that rich family, they’re also parasites in terms of labor. They can’t even wash dishes, they can’t drive themselves, so they leech off the poor family’s labor. So both are parasites.”
3. “Nope” (2022)
Even without fully knowing what the plot of Jordan Peele’s third horror feature entails, “Nope” signals a knowing modernity with its monosyllabic rejection of life’s myriad terrors. Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and Michael Wincott star in this freaky flick about aliens, horses, the apocalypse, inflatable tube men, and dust (or something).
“Nope” works on as many levels, and seems destined to inspire movie-goers to whisper its name while watching the film itself. Honorable mention for Peele’s second feature “Us,” which is nicely named but no “Nope.”
2. “Teeth” (2007)
There’s an appealing straightforwardness to Mitchell Lichtenstein’s curtly named “Teeth,” so titled for its troubled protagonist’s even more troubled vagina. When good girl Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) discovers her labia is lined with razor-sharp fangs, she’s forced to contend with the nightmarish consequences of that feminist art installation-turned-campy horror premise.
The title tantalizes with a simple question: “The teeth of… what ?” Even when you know the answer, there’s devilish fun in matching the film’s bark to its bite.
1. “Scream” (1996)
Here’s a bit of trivia: Wes Craven’s much-loved slasher franchise was written with the title “Scary Movie” in mind. And though that proved a worthwhile moniker for the Wayans brothers’ spoofier franchise a few years later, “Scream” tops this list as the best one word horror movie title ever.
An exhilarating rollercoaster ride peppered with spot-on scares, this 1996 classic boasts a title that perfectly captures the viewing experience it offers: A multi-faceted horror-comedy sure to make you scream with terror — and delight.
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The 15 Best Horror Movies of All Time, According to Letterboxd
Freakishly good horror movies.
A top 10 for all-time great horror movies will always be better than a list of the top 5 horror movies of all time. But what's better than a run-down of the top 10 horror movies of all time? A top 15, of course. That's what the following provides, and it's extra fitting, considering the end of the year tends to be when horror is at its most popular. According to Letterboxd, these are the best horror movies of all time and are worth digging into for any fan of the genre.
Letterboxd is a valuable app/social media site for discovering new movies and seeing what the users there consider worth seeking out. It functions similarly to the more popular IMDb, though overall feels more personal and a little more social. Through spending time on both, it also becomes apparent that the tastes of Letterboxd users overall differ from the tastes of IMDb users.
The selection of highest-rated horror movies, according to Letterboxd users, proves to be particularly eclectic, with a range of great scary movies, both new and old, and a fair share of non-English language ones, too. For any horror fan, the following films - some well-known, and some a little more obscure - are essential viewing and are ranked below according to their average ratings on Letterboxd.
Updated October 24, 2023, by Jeremy Urquhart
15 'black swan' (2010), letterboxd rating: 4.1/5.
As much of a psychological thriller as it is a horror film, Black Swan explores - with unrelenting tension - the dangers of dedicating oneself obsessively to their craft. It follows a ballerina who strives for perfection, all the while getting unusually committed to her role in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake .
Darren Aronofsky often makes challenging films , specializing in psychological studies that delve deep into troubled or even tortured minds, and Black Swan 's certainly one of his most confronting efforts . Natalie Portman's lead performance is equally instrumental in making the film as effective as it is, with the role deservedly winning her an Academy Award for Best Actress.
14 Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Twin Peaks began as a television series, arguably one of the best of all time . But it was abruptly canceled during its second season and had already been negatively impacted by executive and network meddling. David Lynch got the chance to continue the story in his own strange way with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me , which ended up being part prequel and part sequel to the original show.
It details much of what happened to Laura Palmer before the start of the show, where she's discovered murdered and ends up being a harrowing, tragic, and quite terrifying watch. It's not just a horror movie by any means; Fire Walk with Me hops between genres much like Twin Peaks - perhaps to an even greater extent. Thus, it becomes less predictable and even more nightmarish.
Watch on Max
13 'Aliens' (1986)
Letterboxd rating: 4.2/5.
James Cameron took over an iconic horror series with style, making what is one of the greatest sequels of all time when he directed Aliens . Taking things in a more action-focused direction than its 1979 predecessor, it's perhaps less definable as a horror movie. Still, it never forgets to keep the tension high and still manages to provide plenty of terrifying sequences.
Those who want pure horror may feel a little disappointed, but for anyone who likes the action and horror genres colliding, Aliens is an essential piece of filmmaking. From the increasingly tense and chaotic narrative to its all-time great lead performance from Sigourney Weaver , Aliens has everything fans could ever want out of a large-scale horror/thriller/action movie .
Watch on Starz
12 'Diabolique' (1955)
It's possible to describe Diabolique in many ways. It's a unique and gripping take on gothic horror , one of the best French-language movies of all time, and perhaps one of the best movies from the 1950s . It's mysterious, dark, dripping with atmosphere, and continually exciting, holding up much better than the vast majority of horror films that are around the same age.
With its focus on psychological thrills and frights, perhaps the less said about the plot, the better. Generally, it revolves around a murder and the madness caused in its aftermath when a supposedly dead body mysteriously vanishes. Diabolique is surreal and does a great job of putting the viewer into the increasingly tortured minds of its main characters , cementing it as an uncanny and appropriately eerie viewing experience that's hard to shake once seen.
11 'Get Out' (2017)
An expertly written horror/thriller film with some great social commentary, Get Out stands as one of the best horror movies of the 21st century so far . It's about a young Black man meeting the parents of his white girlfriend; what begins as a slightly uncomfortable experience eventually reveals itself to be genuinely terrifying and potentially deadly.
Get Out was a surprise hit upon release , considering it was written and directed by Jordan Peele , then mostly well-known for his comedy. Get Out immediately established him as one of the most exciting filmmakers working within the horror genre, and he's since made two more ambitious and exciting horror films, 2019's Us and 2022's Nope .
Watch on Netflix
10 'Demons' (1971)
Of all the horror movies on Letterboxd that hold an average rating of 4.0/5 or higher, the Japanese film Demons is easily one of the most obscure and shouldn't be mixed up with the 1985 Italian possession horror movie of the same name . Demons is an engaging and effectively nightmarish movie that combines horror elements with samurai drama in a storyline that centers on a lone samurai, or ronin, seeking revenge after his money's stolen by a geisha.
A particularly dark and brutal horror movie, Demons is an exercise in brutal and all-consuming revenge, with the ensuing violence impacting the entire cast for the worst. Demons can be a slow, challenging, and grisly viewing experience , but it's undeniably visceral and hard to shake once seen, making it hold up as an expertly made horror film.
9 'Kwaidan' (1964)
Few horror movies run for three hours, but Kwaidan just so happens to be a wholly unique example of the genre . It's an anthology film with a large scope and ambition, telling four different stories across its epic runtime, each approximately 40 to 50 minutes long. These stories are derived from Japanese folktales, making Kwaidan an early example of a great folk horror movie .
As such, those who find the idea of a three-hour horror movie scarier than any of the horror contained within can rest assured - Kwaidan can be easily watched in as many as four different sittings. Kwaidan deservedly stands as one of the greatest Japanese horror movies of all time and puts several folk tales on screen with creative visuals and a bold sense of style.
8 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)
There have been plenty of horror movies exploring the terrors of parenthood , but few are as iconic as Rosemary's Baby . This 1960s classic follows the titular Rosemary and her husband, Guy, as they move into a new apartment building and encounter some strange neighbors who appear particularly interested in Rosemary's pregnancy.
It purposefully leaves its protagonist and the audience in the dark for much of the movie. This slow-burn approach ends up working wonders, ensuring the film's final act packs a serious punch. Rosemary's Baby is a timeless horror movie expertly crafted in just about every way, deservedly enduring to this day as a classic of the genre.
Watch on AMC+
7 'The Cremator' (1969)
The kind of horror film that's probably too distinct and strange to remake , The Cremator is another classic piece of horror cinema that's loved on Letterboxd but fairly obscure outside it. It combines horror with some very dark comedy, following a Czechoslovakian man named Mr. Kopfrkingl who provides for his family by working at a crematorium.
Things get progressively more disturbing and more horror-focused as the film goes on, with The Cremator ultimately revealing itself as a bleak work of satire that shows how people can be influenced and then corrupted by certain ideologies. Some of the imagery in The Cremator can be horrifying , but the troubling idea that people who seem ordinary can harbor some truly dark thoughts is even scarier - especially when those thoughts eventually manifest as violent actions.
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6 'Cure' (1997)
Cure is one of those movies whose appreciation increases as the years go on despite being initially well-received. It's a hard-hitting and heavy-going mash-up of horror, drama , crime, and mystery genres, and centers on a string of very strange murders affecting Tokyo and the ways that investigating this case takes a toll on the detectives assigned to it.
Slow and steady but never boring, it builds to a fittingly dramatic and shocking final act. Cure feels straightforward in some ways yet remarkably complex in others , and for those who are fans of Japanese horror wanting to see something a little different from the typical Ring or Grudge film, Cure is undeniably worth checking out.
5 'The Shining' (1980)
Letterboxd rating: 4.3/5.
What happens when one of the most acclaimed directors of all time tries his hand at making a horror movie, despite not being known for making horror movies, and succeeds? The best-case scenario is something like The Shining , a movie that came out in 1980 and still managed to be one of the year's highlights.
It tells what sounds like it might be a clichéd story: a family goes to stay at a deserted hotel after the father gets a caretaking job during the off-season, only for everyone to become affected by the isolation and ghostly forces. By expertly blending psychological and supernatural horror, The Shining successfully becomes one of the all-time greats of the horror genre and tends to be beloved by everyone - well, except Stephen King.
4 'Alien' (1979)
Its simple title befits its simple premise, but in no way can Alien be called "just" another straightforward horror movie. It takes a direct story about isolation and survival against a terrifying force in space and does all it can with it, making for a suspenseful and effectively nerve-wracking mix of sci-fi and horror.
Since 1979, Alien has become a franchise, and though it has an excellent and action-packed sequel , the rest of the films have proven more divisive. Still, few would argue that the first isn't a classic horror film, and there's a good reason why it's considered one of the genre's definitive titles. Elevated by the stellar work of a brilliant cast, Alien is a thrilling survival horror story that cements space as the ultimate horror setting .
Watch on Hulu
3 'Psycho' (1960)
It's not a controversial statement to say that Alfred Hitchcock revolutionized the horror genre in 1960 with the release of Psycho . There were plenty of noteworthy horror movies released before, and some even hold up to this date. However, few come close to Psycho 's impact or its now-infamous ability to shock viewers who don't know what they're in for .
Of course, the plot twists are quite well known nowadays, but it's still easy to appreciate Psycho for its brazenness and the way it tries to keep viewers on their toes as much as possible. It's also entertaining and stylish, and though it has some tough competition, it's easy to understand why it's considered one of Hitchcock's very best .
Watch on Peacock
2 'The Silence of the Lambs' (1992)
Letterboxd sometimes changes genre tags for certain movies. As of recently, it's now marked The Silence of the Lambs as a horror movie. As such, it's instantly found itself ranking near the top of Letterboxd's highest-rated horror movies. Regardless of whether fans call it a horror movie or a crime/thriller film, one thing's for sure: The Silence of the Lambs is an absolute classic .
It features arguably Anthony Hopkins's best performance and one of Jodie Foster's most celebrated roles. The former plays a dangerous imprisoned serial killer and cannibal who may be able to help the latter find another killer at large. The dynamic between the two makes for some fascinating and intense scenes, as does the slow build toward an unforgettable climax. The horror genre rarely gets as exciting or challenging as The Silence of the Lambs .
1 'The Thing' (1982)
The Thing is the highest-rated horror movie on Letterboxd, a surprise, considering its initial chilly reception by critics and audiences. It infamously wasn't well received upon release, building up a steady audience in the years since. The Thing is now seen as an essential work of horror and science-fiction and one of John Carpenter's defining masterpieces .
It's a paranoia-filled movie about a shape-shifting alien targeting a team of isolated researchers in Antarctica and what happens when they begin to realize they can no longer trust anyone else. The Thing is expertly crafted, genuinely suspenseful, and has some practical effects that still look incredible, ensuring it's deserving of being the top horror movie on Letterboxd.
NEXT: The Scariest Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, Ranked
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Little monsters: why indie developers make the best horror games
In gaming as in cinema, all of the most personal, creative and risk-taking horror can be found away from the mainstream. And happily it’s also a genre in which budget constraints can be turned into an advantage
L eaf through the history of independent video games and the pages are drenched in horror. It was there in the 1990s shareware era of Doom and Hugo’s House of Horrors. It was there too in the Flash games of the early 2000s: Exmortis, the House series, the now lost Hotel 626. And it is here now, in the modern indie age. Lone coders and small development studios have always explored dark stories in haunted houses, lonely forests and seemingly abandoned spacecraft populated by demonic entities. Some of the greatest ever horror games are indies: Amnesia: Dark Descent, Devotion, Slender, Iron Lung. And of course there’s Five Nights at Freddy’s, one of the most successful indie games of the past decade, which took hold initially as a playground legend.
They’re not as polished or widely known as Resident Evil or Dead Space, but their very obscurity adds to the terror and uncertainty they instil. So why is horror so popular among independent developers? Why do so many of them set out to terrify?
There are of course sound financial reasons. Fledgling studios often use horror in the same way film-makers such as Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow and David Lynch once did – as a means of making impact on a low budget. “There is an element of horror being cheap, with certain approaches,” says Sam Barlow, developer of Telling Lies and Immortality , who cut his teeth as a writer and designer on the Silent Hill series. “It takes about five minutes to load up Unity or Unreal and create a room, add fog and drop in a player with a flashlight. Instant atmosphere! Horror narratives tend to be lonely and you naturally move slowly through them. Some of these affordances are the same reason that film studios make horror movies – the basics don’t cost much but there’s a huge audience who reliably show up.”
Jordan Mochi of Catchweight Studio is developing Conscript , an intriguing first world war horror game based on historical documents, letters, art and poems. He agrees that there are production benefits to the genre, in the way games can be compact and focus on details rather than huge open worlds. “I’ve always loved how purposeful the design of classic survival horror games is,” he says. “Every second of games like Resident Evil 2 or Silent Hill 2 is handcrafted with minimal filler content. Every camera angle, enemy design, puzzle, etc serves a larger purpose within the story and narrative. Instead of traversing a 100km squared open world, you’re usually exploring a much denser and more atmosphere-rich environment. There’s a tangible focus that I find is lacking in many larger titles of different genres.”
Horror is a space in which bizarre ideas are embraced, and that’s an attractive proposition for experimental studios. “I think many indie devs are here because they want to make something personal and outside the mainstream,’ says Barlow. “When you make mainstream games you are told ‘It has to be fun’ and ‘you can’t alienate any of the audience’. Horror is a genre that deliberately tries to make its audience uncomfortable and explicitly says ‘This doesn’t need to be fun’. I want to tell stories that are about what happens inside our heads; our subjective experience of reality. The beauty of horror is that you can take these abstract, intellectual ideas and make them flesh.”
According to the theories of the uncanny explored by Freud, Lacan and Julia Kristeva, we experience fear and abjection when the familiar is rendered unfamiliar; when we are subjected to repetitive sounds and visual phenomena; when objects (dolls, robots, mannequins) appear to be alive or when living things appear to be objects. Consequently the slightly awkward character animations, glitches and low visibility we often experience in indie horror games enhance rather than detract from the experience, because weird movements, glassy faces and suffocating darkness are instinctively unsettling.
The purveyors of the original survival horrors cleverly exploited the limitations of the 3D graphics hardware of the 90s. A technique known as “fogging”, in which games deliberately limited the view distance of the player to cut down on processing costs, became a staple element of the Silent Hill titles, with mists covering every location and obscuring the monsters lurking there. In the modern era, titles such as Slender, Phasmophobia and SOMA use darkness and fog to obscure the game world and limit the player’s understanding of the horrors around them.
“Good horror is often achieved by not showing stuff, which is a good fit for low-budget productions,” says Jaroslav Švelch, an assistant of media studies at Charles University, Prague, and author of Player vs Monster : The Making and Breaking of Video Game Monstrosity. “As Lovecraft famously suggested, the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. More visual detail and realism might actually lead to what I call the ‘containment’ of the unknown – it becomes more defined and less dreadful. A monster in a photorealistic video game can be seen from all angles and thoroughly examined. A vaguely defined monster such as Grue in Zork can be much more mysterious.”
The uncanny is also there when we re-encounter childhood beliefs, possessions or experiences as adults and find them eerie and degraded. An old family home that’s now derelict and rotten; a favourite china doll now tattered and oddly staring – these are familiar staples of horror novels, movies and games which turn nostalgia into something fearful. “The rise of PlayStation-esque visuals in a lot of indie horror titles is a testament to how undefined visuals can increase the fear factor,” says Joe Henson, co-creator of forthcoming Unreal Engine 5 found-footage horror game Don’t Scream . “The loss of detail plays into our imagination. It also adds to the feeling of nostalgia to a degree: the found footage and VHS visuals invoke similar feelings.”
The warping of our nostalgia for old games and platforms has become a staple of horror titles. Games use pixel visuals and old-school themes to lure in the unsuspecting, and a whole community of indie devs named Haunted PS1 specialise in games designed to resemble titles from the PlayStation era. “Retro genres and aesthetics often feel cozy, but indie horrors tend to twist and subvert them in a way that is uncanny and disorienting,” says Švelch. “One of the best examples is Doki Doki Literature Club, which starts out as a run-of-the-mill visual novel until it dissolves into glitch-ridden existential horror.”
Game developer Nina Freeman sees retro horror as a pervasive influence on modern game-makers. “Many developers in my age group of 90s kids grew up playing the classics of video game horror when they were coming out during very formative periods of their lives. Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Resident Evil … these games shaped many people who are now working as developers in both indie and AAA.”
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Freeman is also a streamer, and her entertaining and informative playthroughs of classic horror titles exhibit another valuable facet of horror games: they are fun to watch. Sharing the experience, seeing someone else jump or scream, is enjoyable and cathartic, so horror titles have become a popular choice for streamers and “let’s play” video makers. As a consequence, independent titles such as Five Nights at Freddy’s and Phasmophobia have gained huge viral success. Horror game makers now have streamers in mind at the outset of projects. Forthcoming title Don’t Scream requires the player to wear a microphone as they explore a haunted forest – if they scream or gasp in shock, it’s game over. It’s a concept effectively designed for streamers.
But there are deeper relationships between horror and small-scale development. Horror is essentially about vulnerability and helplessness, and indie is the obvious space to explore this dynamic. “Larger games tend to default towards power fantasies,” says developer and writer Jim Rossignol . “ Dead Space has you stomping on the horrors, for example, while indies tend to be much more comfortable with disempowerment and vulnerability. The best horror experiences are often about feeling extremely vulnerable, and building systems that get that across is an interesting and exploratory sort of challenge that indies are best positioned to take on.”
In the indie space, highly personal, subjective game-making is common. It’s where people tell stories about themselves, and those stories can be dark. “I personally have been drawn to horror because it’s a useful genre for exploring difficult topics and social issues,” says Freeman, who is currently working on a game entitled Size Zero about her own formative experiences of clothes shopping and body shaming in the early 2000s. “I think that, as the industry becomes more accessible and diverse, we will see more and more people like myself wanting to explore these difficult stories.
“It can be scary or exhausting to make art about your trauma that is explicitly personal and real, so horror offers some tropes and devices that allow us to add a layer between our real selves and the horrors of the real story being told. I think it can be a really healthy and interesting way to explore a topic that one might otherwise shy away from.”
Horror isn’t just about ghosts, gore or jump scares and has always provided a means of investigating societal anxieties. The giant-monster movies of the 1950s were about nuclear fear; the slasher movies of the 70s and 80s explored gender politics; now our fears of spiralling technological advance and artificial intelligence are being voiced through games such as Signalis, Soma and Observer. These are themes that development teams with 500 people and multi-million-pound budgets might shy away from – or just turn into rollicking shoot-’em-ups. In the independent sector they can truly terrify. As Conscript developer Mochi puts it: “Indie developers are the ones taking the risks. I can’t imagine many AAA companies greenlighting an experimental first world war-themed survival horror game. You only really see this sort of stuff in the indie space.”
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Scary movies had another big year. a horror scholar shares her favorites.
NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with horror scholar and filmmaker Rebekah McKendry about her favorite horror movies of the year and the ideas that tie them together.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It is Halloween. So after all the trick-or-treaters have come and gone, why not to curl up on the couch tonight, maybe light a few candles and binge on this year's scariest movies? On the menu is a thriller in which teenagers talk to the dead...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TALK TO ME")
ZOE TERAKES: (As Hayley) Light the candle to open the door.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOG WHIMPERING)
TERAKES: (As Hayley) Blow it out to close it.
CHANG: ...And a film where humans face their fear of new technology...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "M3GAN")
ALLISON WILLIAMS: (As Gemma) M3GAN, turn off.
JENNA DAVIS: (As M3GAN) Recalibrating response model (laughter).
CHANG: ...And another movie in which families face long-held secrets.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR")
TY SIMPKINS: (As Dalton Lambert) When I was 10, I was in a coma. But I don't even remember being sick.
CHANG: Well, here to take us on a journey through the year's biggest scares is horror scholar and filmmaker Rebekah McKendry. Welcome back.
REBEKAH MCKENDRY: Hello.
MCKENDRY: I'm excited to be back.
CHANG: Oh, we're so excited to have you back. So when you and I talked last year, I told you that scary movies are not my thing. Like, I love the idea of them. But then later, when I'm lying in bed alone at night, I can't get the scenes out of my head, and I can't fall asleep. So I'm going to count on you to catch me up on what's out there this year. How would you rate this year in the horror genre?
MCKENDRY: So we have seen another amazing year for horror with really high box office returns. Some of our biggest films of the year have been "Scream 6." "M3GAN" did incredibly well. "The Nun 2," "Insidious: The Red Door," "Evil Dead Rise" and the new "Exorcist" just did really well.
CHANG: Yeah, I keep seeing billboards for that one in LA. What about, like, smaller indie horror films - any stand out to you this past year?
MCKENDRY: On the indie spectrum this year, there's a couple of trends that we've seen. We've seen a lot of what I'll call trauma horror, which is about characters who are dealing with trauma. They've got deaths. They're recovering from some type of traumatic event that happened before the movie. The biggest one by far on the indie scene was "Talk To Me," which came out of Australia, was picked up by A24 and ended up being one of the top 10 highest grossing horror films of the year. Like, it really did well, and it is hyper-scary. This is not horror lite by any capacity.
CHANG: What is it about?
MCKENDRY: It is about a group of kids who find this hand, this kind of statue plaster hand that, when you hold it and say, talk to me, you can suddenly talk to a dead person.
CHANG: Oh, my God.
MCKENDRY: And in some cases they almost possess you, and you can have conversations with them. But you can only do it for a short amount of time, or else you can kind of lose yourself. And they can take control of your body.
SOPHIE WILDE: (As Mia) Put your hand on it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILDE: (As Mia) Now say, talk to me.
ALEXANDRA JENSEN: (As Jade) Talk to me.
CHANG: Oh, my God. I can't do dead people. OK. Now, I also understand that there's a subgenre that you've been seeing more and more of. It's called liminal horror. What even is that?
MCKENDRY: It basically means to be trapped in an enduring nightmare, a liminal space, which technically means, like, an in-between space. It's like being trapped in a purgatory where there is - you don't get death, nor is it your normal, everyday life. You're just kind of trapped there. And where we've seen liminal horror really explode on the independent scene has been with two films. "Skinamarink," which is on Shudder but then also did this massive theatrical thing where it was just getting all of this press as kind of one of the scariest films of the year - and that's what it is. It is existing in this kind of in-between space of kids trapped in a house.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SKINAMARINK")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: In this house, in this house.
MCKENDRY: And then also on the indie scene, we saw an amazing film come out on Screambox called "The Outwaters," which is about a group of young adults who go vacationing in the desert and find themselves kind of trapped in a waking nightmare in the desert that they can't get away from. These films - they really feel like a direct response to all of the stuff that we went through during the pandemic because it is about being trapped...
MCKENDRY: ...In this existential dread...
CHANG: You feel trapped.
MCKENDRY: ...Of a nightmare that you can't get away from. It's just enduring.
CHANG: Totally. Is there a genre of horror that you don't see much of anymore that you think is ripe for a comeback?
MCKENDRY: So horror comedies. We had a lot in the 1980s - things like "American Werewolf In London."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON")
GRIFFIN DUNNE: (As Jack Goodman) David, you're hurting my feelings.
DAVID NAUGHTON: (As David Kessler) Hurting your feelings. Has it occurred to you it might be unsettling to see you rise from the grave to visit me?
DUNNE: (As Jack Goodman) Sorry to be upsetting you, David.
MCKENDRY: "Return Of The Living Dead," "Re-Animator" - like, these were big kind of tentpole movies of the 1980s. But studios in general are still really nervous about horror comedies because horror is something that - it goes across age brackets. It goes across cultures. It literally spans the globe. If something jumps out at you, it is scary. But humor is something that is more divisive depending on the culture that you're in...
MCKENDRY: ...The age bracket that you fall into.
MCKENDRY: This year, the one big one that we had came out through Amazon, and it's called "Totally Killer." And it is a movie about a girl who has time traveled back in time to when her town had a slasher problem a number of years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOTALLY KILLER")
KIERNAN SHIPKA: (As Jamie Hughes) I'd like to report a crime that hasn't happened yet. Have you seen the movie "Back To The Future"? Basically, I'm living that movie right now, which is how I know there's going to be a murder tonight.
RANDALL PARK: (As Dennis Lim, laughter).
MCKENDRY: And she time travels back and is trying to save her mom and the town from the slasher.
CHANG: OK, well, maybe horror comedy is where I need to go because I'm a total scaredy pants. But do you have any other recommendations for someone like me, like, something that isn't too scary but is still spooky? It still gives that ooh feeling - because I do crave that.
MCKENDRY: Yeah, we've definitely had a couple of standouts in the kind of lighter horror categories this year. "No One Will Save You" is currently streaming on Hulu. This is a Brian Duffield movie. It is about a girl by herself in a house fighting aliens.
CHANG: Aliens doesn't scare me (laughter).
MCKENDRY: Yeah. I'll also give a shout-out to Disney's "Haunted Mansion" this year...
CHANG: Oh, yeah.
MCKENDRY: ...Which was surprisingly scary. Like, I took...
CHANG: Really? Oh.
MCKENDRY: ...My kids to this one thinking...
MCKENDRY: ...Oh, it's Disney's "Haunted Mansion." It's going to be completely fun. And it was, but it had enough scares in it that I felt tense at moments.
CHANG: OK, I love that you brought up Disney's "Haunted Mansion" because as a kid, I loved that ride. But it did totally scare me. And maybe what I'm asking you, Rebecca, is some bigger life advice here because what should someone like me do when I love being scared in the moment; I just can't live with the consequences afterwards? What should I consume?
MCKENDRY: That's a great question. So I always view it as, if a movie is still making me think about it later that night, what I need to embrace, if anything, is that that's a good movie, that they did something that's really psychologically effective.
MCKENDRY: And then it's always the idea of kind of telling yourself that it's just a movie. That was a big marketing phrase that we used in the 1970s. Tell yourself that it's only a movie over and over again. But at the end of the day, you know, that's what you're paying for. That's what you want in a good horror movie - is you want that scare when you're in the moment. And you want it to kind of stick to your bones for a little bit afterwards. Even if it's something that you know, you know, a robot child is not going to get you and you're not going to go in a haunted mansion anytime soon, the fact that it leaves kind of an echo in your system - that's a good horror movie.
CHANG: That is Rebecca McKendry, horror scholar and filmmaker. Thank you so much for being here again.
MCKENDRY: Oh, thank you so much for bringing me back and keeping it scary.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAUNTED MANSION")
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake, spooks come out for a swinging wake. Happy haunts materialize and begin to vocalize. Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize.
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