Just like in film and literary fictions, horror is a broad genre with one goal in in mind: to scare. Horror tattoos have gained popularity in recent years, which seems like a bizarre occurrence to many people. Some people don’t understand why a person would want something scary or ugly tattooed on themselves forever. The truth is that horror is scary, but it is also culturally rich and filled with symbolism and meaning. Four of the more common horror tattoos are vampires, zombies, and werewolves tattoos.

Tattoo by Paul Booth.

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Vampire tattoos can be separated into two categories. First there are tattoos depicting vampires, like a tattoo that portrays Dracula killing a young woman. Second, there are tattoos that portray the person as having been attacked by a vampire or as being a vampire, like fang marks. While both of these tattoos are popular with fans of vampires and vampire folklore, the two styles accomplish very different things. The first makes vampires seem like a work of fiction, as you are observing a scene from a much larger story. People with these tattoos are often interested in the history of vampires and might enjoy classic vampire films or books.

Common vampire bite tattoo, the bruising adds a sense realism to the design.

The second style makes vampires seem real. This type of tattoo attempts to take vampires out of the theoretical or fictional and make them walk among us. People with these tattoos could be interested in vampire culture as well as vampire history and entertainment. Since the first modern stories, vampires have been associated with sexuality and seduction. The allure of eternal life is enticing, not to mention the lure of being a powerful predator. Vampires drink blood from the neck of their victims, although there are plenty other places on the body which are less intimate sources of blood. There is something equally seductive about knowing that a vampire could not survive without something that the weaker, more fragile human body makes.

A female vampire tattoo that uses color to emphasize the blood.

Zombies are originally from Haitian folklore. A zombie is a human that has died and reanimated. In most instances, the zombie is a thoughtless creature that seeks to kill, or infect, other humans. Since the 1980s and beginning of AIDS culture, zombies have traditionally infected people through contamination of bodily fluids, like blood and saliva. In most of these instances, the undead phenomenon is described as a disease or virus. With terrifying rapidity, the virus spreads the population, converting normal people into undead, mindless, inhuman creatures. In the last two or three years, zombies have become a favorite pop culture symbol. Because of this, more and more zombie tattoos are being seen.

Gory zombie tattoo An elaborate zombie bite tattoo. The spreading veins and greenish bruising represents the zombie

Zombie tattoos, like vampire tattoos, can be of a zombie or of zombie bite marks, as this is how zombies are purportedly created. Zombies can represent a fear of becoming mindless or acting like drones. Zombies look like the person they used to be, but act in a way that is beyond their control. For many people, is would be their greatest fear; to have no control over your actions or to be something less than what you are is terrifying. Some people believe that zombies are so popular because they represent an expression of fear to something that is fictional, unlike things that cause the same fears but are real. Rabies, head injuries, mental disorders, etc., can all take a person and force them to behave in ways contrary to who they are and how they want to act. These fears, however, are sometimes too real for people to handle so they choose fictional means of expression in order to tackle their anxiety and discomfort.

Hello Kitty zombie tattoo design that blends a childrens beloved character with the undead zombie.

Werewolves are similar to zombies, and they are also becoming more popular motifs for tattoos. A werewolf is a person who, in response to circumstances outside their control (usually a full moon), is painfully transformed into a large and viscous wolf. The wolf acts outside of the control of the person, although in some stories the wolf acts in response to his basic human instincts, like jealousy, fear, and anger. Werewolves represent a loss of personal control. Unlike zombie and vampire tattoos, werewolf tattoos are almost exclusively images of werewolves and werewolf scenes, rather than werewolf bites.

Crouching werewolf tattoo design. The bloody fangs and claws implies a recent attack or kill.

This is primarily because werewolf “bite mark” tattoos would look like normal animal bites and the intended impression would be lost. Just like vampire and zombie folklore, werewolves are traditionally created when a werewolf bites a human who manages to escape and survive. However, there are stories of werewolves who are born with the ability, or curse, to transition into a wolf. Sometimes, the werewolves in these stories have the ability to control the transformation and exhibit more control over their actions while they are wolves. These versions are more modern versions and are closer linked to shape shifter stories and mythology, and are not specifically stories of werewolves in the traditional sense.

Portrait of Mike Myers, of the movie

Tattoo of Vincent Price, by Bob Tyrrell.

(Browse more Bob Tyrrell Tattoos here)

These three horror tattoos can be comical and cartoonish or gory and frightening. Another design or style that has a significant following are horror movie tattoos. Amongst these you will often find a popular choice to be Mike Myers from the classic “Halloween” horror movie (above left). Also popular are portraits of famous horror movie stars, such as the legendary Vincent Price (above right), which was showcased in an episode of the popular TV show, “LA Ink”, by world-reknowned artist Bob Tyrrell.

Horror backpiece tattoo

The choice in style is dependent upon the person’s desired outcome, like if the person wants to inspire fear and disgust in others or if the person is a fan of kitschy films and popular cults. These three fictional monsters have a long history that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. There are stories of vampire-like creatures found throughout the world, sometimes indistinguishable from either zombies or werewolves in their attributed talents and skills. Perhaps there is something about these creatures that inspires an innate human fear and repulsion in humans. Perhaps, no matter what culture or time a person is from, these things are our worst imaginings.