I had this question three times this week, so thought I’d post it. What is the difference between horror and thrillers?
To be PURE Horror, the purpose of the story must be to invoke fear and dread AND it must not be totally realistic. Since Horror is a subset of FANTASY, called Dark Fantasy, it should have some element of the fantastic. If you took Halloween and deleted the part where Michael Myers defeated death supernaturally, it could very well be called a Thriller. By making it in the world of Fantasy, it is completely Horror.
If you get rid of the fantasy element, things become more blurred and many movies could be considered either a thriller, or horror, or both. Certain things are more clear cut. The Bourne Identity is a pure Thriller because it has a protagonist on the run, is in a realistic world, and the primary purpose is intrigue and thrills over fear and dread.
So, to sum up in an easy way, if you intend to cause fear and dread and there is a fantasy element, then it’s HORROR. If you intend to cause fear and dread but in a realistic world, call it what you want: Horror/Thriller, Horror, what have you. If you intend primarily to have suspense and intrigue vs. fear/dread, and a realistic world, you have a thriller. While both use tension and anticipation, and in fact any good story does so, the ultimate goal is different: THRILLS vs. FEAR.
Another thing that tends to differ in Horror vs. Thriller is the THEME. We won’t get into that here since we have a large section in the Anatomy of Horror Class, but suffice to say, the themes in Thrillers usually tend to be about society, politics, government, etc. while horror deals with things like Man acting as God, or man vs. the animal within, etc.
Don’t get too anal with these labels though. That’s all they are- labels. There is a little blur in many films so don’t get scared if your film crosses over into other genres.