Voodoo Horror

What is the Voodoo Horror Subgenre?

Like religious or occult horror, voodoo horror takes aspects from a particular religion to create its scares. In this case, that religion is voodoo, typically the voodoo described is Louisiana voodoo, also known as New Orleans voodoo, but elements of Hatian vodou and South American hoodoo may also be present in voodoo horror as the three religions are often confused.

Voodoo is a folk religion based on African traditions. It was adopted by slaves in the United States, particularly in Louisiana, and was influenced by French, Spanish, and Creole culture. In voodoo, a lot of emphasis is placed on gris-gris, a type of herbal protective amulet. Herbal amulets can be made for health, safety, and protection, or conversely, these can also be used to cause harm to one's enemies. Another important aspect of the voodoo faith is ancestor worship, which has been influenced by Catholicism, and voodoo dolls were also an American voodoo practice, although, contrary to popular belief, the voodoo doll was often used for rituals of blessing.

Even in the 1800's, little was known about voodoo, and journalists exoticized and sensationalized the religion by reporting on rumors of animal sacrifices, zombies, and dark spirits. In the 1930's, voodoo went underground, but many elements and misconceptions about the faith were adopted in fiction and film. A common misconception is voodoo is used for hexes and cursing, and that voodoo dolls had pins stuck in them to cause an individual harm. Many of these misconceptions continue to thrive in the voodoo horror subgenre.

Typical settings in voodoo horror are generally regions where the religion, or those that it is confused with, are practiced. Expect to find tales of voodoo horror set in New Orleans or on Caribbean islands. Themes generally involve family, in some way, and generally, this is because of some deep, dark family curse that spans generations. Typically, voodoo horror will have some element of mystery or dark secret involved. The level of violence varies in this subgenre, though, often, voodoo horror tends to be more mysterious and atmospheric than extremely gory or graphic.


Voodoo Horror Characteristics

Level of Characterization: Like many supernatural tales, the level of characterization in voodoo horror varies widely.


Level of Plot:  Expect the level of plot in voodoo horror to be moderate to high. Again, this is because of the similarities with the supernatural horror subgenre. The more simple plots will only feature some sort of voodoo spirit or element that plagues the protagonist and is dealt with over the course of the story, and the more complex plots will involve a deeper mystery.


Level of Supernatural:  The level of supernatural in voodoo horror is very high because the subgenre uses supernatural elements of the religion to produce the necessary chills.


Level of Scary: The level of scary varies in voodoo horror widely depending on the elements of the religion used.


Level of Violence: Another variable level in voodoo horror, but this subgenre tends to have a low to moderate level of violence. Instead, the chills come from the atmosphere invoked.


Typical Setting: The typical setting of the voodoo horror subgenre is predominantly New Orleans, though a darker and more wild city than imagined in the Southern gothic subgenre. Additionally, Caribbean islands are another common setting, and any other region where voodoo is a widely practiced religion.

Related Horror Subgenres

Due to the setting and atmospheric nature of the subgenre, Southern gothic is a closely related subgenre to voodoo horror. Similarly, supernatural and occult horror are related. One might think that zombie horror would be easily related to voodoo horror, but modern zombies bear little resemblance to the zombies in found in voodoo tradition. So, the two are only tangentially related.

Don't Read Voodoo Horror If You Dislike…

New Orleans as a setting, the gothic style , or the exoticizing of a religion. Because voodoo horror does contain some fictionalized and sensationalized elements of the voodoo tradition, those who are offended by this may be turned off by the genre. Additionally, those who are tired of seeing New Orleans as a setting for horror or those who prefer more graphic horror may be turned off by voodoo horror.

Buster Voodoo by Mason James Cole- During his childhood in 1940's New Orleans, Dixon Green's sister and several other children went missing. Whispers circulated that an ancient evil was responsible for the tragedy. Sixty years later, Dixon is working at a failing theme park where children begin to go missing again. As history repeats itself, Dixon must confront the dark secrets of his past.


Voodoo Tales and Ghost Stories by Henry S. Whitehead- A collection of short stories that were originally published in pulp magazines, such as Weird Tales. Voodoo features heavily in many of these stories, as well as the consequences for offending these traditions.


Zombies, Zombies, Zombies by Otto Penzler- A collection of short stories about zombies, some of which are more the voodoo variety than the modern horror equivalent. This collection also features "It Helps if You Sing", a short story by Ramsey Campbell about religious fanaticism and voodoo.


The Lower Deep by Hugh Cave- Strange things begin to happen when a hospital is opened on the island of St. Joseph, and only a local village physician may be capable of solving the mystery.


All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris- Considered to be a horror classic, this Southern gothic story explores the intertwined lives of two families and the horrible curse that plagues them both.


Rook by Graham Masterton- This series opener throws the title character, Jim Rook, into a world of voodoo when he investigates the allegations that one of his students has committed murder.


Voodoo Child by Michael Reaves- Six years ago, a Vodou priest, Shane LaFitte, was jailed for the brutal ritual murder of his wife. Out on parole, he finds his old enemy, and the man responsible for his wife's death, on the verge of an even darker sacrifice. To stop him, LaFitte is going to need all the help he can get.


Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg- When private investigator Harry Angel is hired to find a big band singer named Johnny Favorite, his investigation leads him into a sinister world of voodoo and dark magic.


Dark Melody of Madness by Cornell Woolrich- This collection of weird, spine-tingling tales by a well-loved hardboiled noir author features a mysterious voodoo ritual that ensnares an orchestra conductor.


The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis- The inspiration for the Wes Craven movie of the same name, this is the chilling nonfiction account of Clairvius Narcisse, a man who was turned into a zombie, and a look at the true process and purpose of zombification in Vodou culture.

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