30 Downright Terrifying Horror Story Ideas

Doug Landsborough
April 20, 2023

What is it about horror stories that we love so much? Why do we like being scared to the point we have trouble sleeping?

Truthfully, I have no idea.

What I know for certain, though, is that writing horror is just as awesome as reading it. But it can be tough to get started.

So, if you’re itching to write a horror story but maybe need a little kickstart to the imagination or something to practice with, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, you’re going to get a heck of a lot of horror story ideas. I’ve broken them up into some of the biggest horror subgenres for you, in case you are more partial to one or another. These include:

  • Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic horror
  • Body horror
  • Cosmic/Lovecraftian horror
  • Folk horror
  • Psychological horror
  • Supernatural and paranormal horror

Within each subgenre, I’ll include the topic of the story idea in bold, followed by a few sentences to get your mind going.

If you’re brand new to writing scary stories—even if you’ve read a metric ton of them—click here to check out our article on writing horror.

Then, when you’re ready, find a terrifying idea that vibes with you.

Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Horror Story Ideas

These two subgenres take place either during or after some world-ending event. In horror, we tend to lean towards magical, demonic, or religious apocalypses rather than climate-fueled or alien-based ends, but that doesn’t mean these are off-limits.

End of Days Cult. A documentary team goes to interview members of a seemingly unassuming cult. Instead, they record the rituals and events performed by the cult that bring about the end. This combines the horror of an apocalypse brought on by people who could be your neighbor.

Ancient Horror Unleashed. While unearthing the temple of a long-forgotten civilization, a team of archaeologists unleash an evil, ancient deity that is a harbinger of doom. Think about why and how this being was locked away in the first place.

Unaware of the Apocalypse. What would someone’s story be like if they weren’t around or aware of the end of the world? We see this in 28 Days Later, where the main character wakes up from a coma. What about a wrongfully convicted prisoner stuck in a high-security prison who only manages to get out once the power finally gets cut?

Evil Civilization. Imagine a world a decade or two in the future where humans are no longer in charge. Vampires, werewolves, demons, the undead—choose something more powerful than we are and write about a human’s experience in this new world order.

Post-Apocalyptic Road Trip. I’m not going to pretend like this is a new idea, but who doesn’t love a post-apocalyptic road trip? It’s the ultimate chance for you to build a new, ruined world and force your characters to endure all the terrible things you’ve filled it with. You sicko.

Body Horror Story Ideas

This subgenre certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. This subgenre involves the twisting, changing, mutilating, experimentation, and violation of the human body. It can range from creepy and weird to grotesque and depraved.

Curse. A bunch of obnoxious college kids (I say this respectfully; we were all obnoxious at some point) decide to break into the home of the reclusive woman on the outskirts of town. An accident ends up killing the woman. Shortly thereafter, the kids start to rot away, one patch of skin or limb at a time.

Hunger. A woman gains an inexplicable appetite for human flesh, which is bad enough on its own. But every time she eats, the face of her victim grows somewhere on her body. Even worse, those new faces get hungrier and hungrier every day.

Dollmaker. A teenage boy goes to visit his weird grandmother for the summer. And grandma loves her porcelain dolls Over the weeks, he starts to learn about kids his age going missing over the years with a striking resemblance to the dolls in the house. He has nightmares about his grandmother turning him into a doll… nightmares that turn out to be all too real.

The Doctor’s Menagerie. A brilliant yet sociopathic doctor has constructed his own personal zoo of animals made of stitched together body parts—beast and human alike. We get to experience this horror as the sibling of one of his latest victims comes looking for their family.

Demonic Parasite. After playing with a ouija board, our protagonist accidentally invites a demon into their body. Over the next few weeks, their body is slowly turned into the demon’s form as the monster claims more control.

Cosmic/Lovecraftian Horror Story Ideas

Made popular by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, cosmic horror involves cosmic beings, ancient gods, and powers well beyond our understanding. This subgenre makes us feel small in comparison to the horrors we are facing, all while adding in some extra weirdness.

Expedition. This is classic Lovecraft style. A team of explorers or scientists journey somewhere that has been largely untouched by humans. These days, there’s less and less of that available, so think about the eldritch horrors they might uncover in the Antarctic, the depths of the ocean, or on another planet.

Extradimensional Gateway. Our main character finds some sort of gateway—a door, a cave in the woods, a pond, etc.—that leads to a realm much worse than our own. It’s the realm that belongs to some ancient entity, and the landscape, inhabitants, even the laws of physics all drive the characters closer and closer to insanity.

The Artist. A painter recreates the visions they’re having on canvas, depicting horrifying scenes of unimaginable creatures. Over time, the visions get worse unless she starts using blood as her paint. But, the more she does that, the more the paintings start to come to life.

Space Cult. Thousands of years in the future, a cult leader has found the wreckage of an ancient alien spaceship. On board, they find scripture and instructions to bring back an eldritch space god.

Imaginary Friend. A child’s only friend is imaginary. Except they aren’t imaginary. They are actually the consciousness of an eldritch horror that is using the kid to achieve their goal of being brought back to life.

Folk Horror Story Ideas

By far my favorite horror subgenre, folk horror takes old superstitions and folklore, then makes them real and terrifying. Isolation plays a big role in folk horror—whether that be an isolated village in the middle of a forest or a person who is isolated from society because of mental illness or their past.

Going Home. Our very successful main character receives notice that their estranged mother or father has died. They must return to their childhood home, a place they have very little memory of, to sort out all the stuff left there. But their family was into some weird stuff that is looking for another life to claim.

Pumpkin Patch. Every Halloween, the oldest family in town goes all out with their corn maze, pumpkin patch, and haunted house. That’s because of the blood sacrifice they pay with the lives of tourists who can’t find their way out of the maze.

Coastal Cult. I love cults. So how about one that lives on the coast and worships a sea god? But when this year’s sacrifice refuses to be drowned for the sake of the town’s prosperity, what are the repercussions? What crawls out of the tide to take what’s rightfully theirs?

Road Trip to Hell. Another road trip, but a real one this time. Let’s send some college kids through the rural countryside. Their car breaks down, so they hike to the nearest town. Unfortunately for them, they are walking through a literal Hell on Earth. 

Beauty Isn’t Everything. A TV personality obsessed with beauty and vanity is sent on a retreat by her assistant (I’m thinking saunas, juice bar, yoga on the mountain, etc.). There, she realizes that the retreat owner is a witch who doesn’t let people leave. Oh, and steals everyone’s faces.

Psychological Horror Story Ideas

So far, most of these story ideas have included things that the majority of readers wouldn’t consider “real.” Party poopers. But psychological horror takes the fear and internalizes it, messing with our minds through actions that could very well happen. This is the realm of serial killers, kidnappers, and the worst of humankind.

Home (of a Cannibal) Robbery. Some ne'er do wells break into a remote mansion, looking to score it big and take a trip with whatever they can make off this job. Unfortunately for them, the house belongs to a psychopath who enjoys making culinary delights out of long pig (that link just goes to a definition on Grammarist, don’t worry).

Too Good to Be True. Our protagonist falls in love with a ridiculously handsome and rich man. They agree to go with him to his mountain cabin for a weekend getaway, though their best friend jokes that he’s a serial killer. While there, the main character can’t decide if she’s found proof of that or if it’s just in their head.

Nightmares. A man has dealt with sleep paralysis his entire life, but it’s been different lately. So when the new person at work looks exactly like the figure that visits him in his sleep, the lines between nightmares and reality begin to blur.

Forgotten. After coming back from a vacation filled with white beaches and just the right amount of mojitos, a woman finds that every trace of her life has been erased. No one remembers her, photos including her have disappeared, and her children no longer exist.

Random Act of Violence. One of the most psychologically damaging things to read about is an act of violence or depravity that has no apparent motive. Why is the family being terrorized at their summer home by hooded killers? Simply because the killers can. 

Supernatural and Paranormal Horror Story Ideas

I know that the supernatural and paranormal have bled into other ideas on this list, but that was more like flavor to the bigger subgenre theme. In these stories, the ghosts, ghouls, and demons take center stage.

Witchcraft and Politics. A small-town mayor is an immortal witch. But her powers are fading and the town is starting to suffer as a result. Not just crops withering suffer, but assaulted by evil forces suffer.

Priest and a Demon. In order to save some members of his congregation from demonic possession, a priest must forsake his religion and make a deal with another demon. No one wants to leave their host without a fight.

Haunted Boarding School. Everyone knows the boarding school is haunted, even the staff. The horrifying ghosts visit a different room every night, scaring the unprepared to death. A word of warning: haunted house stories need some sort of extra flair because there’s just so many of them. How will yours be different?

Can’t Escape Your Past. A reformed serial killer is cursed by the grandmother of one of his victims. The curse makes the ghosts of those he killed terrorize him and try to exact their revenge.

Next Stop: Hell. Some adventurous teens hop on a cargo train to grab a free ride. Every time the train stops, the town they end up in gets worse than the one before. It takes some time to realize that the train is taking them down through Dante’s nine circles of Hell.

Write Your Horror Story

Hopefully some of those story ideas resonated with you or at least sparked some ideas of your own. But the story idea is just the first step. Next up, you’re going to want to think about:

  • Coming up with awesome characters
  • Structuring an intriguing plot
  • Weaving a great theme

And more! But to get going on those, we’ve written a free book that you can get by clicking here. This isn’t some sad 25-page PDF. No, this book has more than 100 pages of goodness to help you turn your story idea into an awesome first draft. 

And when you’re ready, Dabble is here to give you all the tools you need—with none of the clutter—to make that first draft a reality. Give it a shot for 14 days, absolutely free, no credit card needed, by clicking here

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.