Inbreeding, Horror, and The Other

So I got my latest issue of Fortean Times (If you don’t know what it is, just trust me and get it), and among their media section was a blurb review of a film called “Inbred,” which sounds like your standard people get butchered by inbred clan of psychos.  It’s really been a standard trope in Western horror for awhile – the terror of some separate, inbred group of maniacs out to kill you.  The most prominent example of it is likely “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and it’s legions of illegitimate children, but you can easily find the roots in Lovecraft and the various swamp denizens, tribal cultists, and wizardly families who were both possessed of terrible knowledge and a lack of genetic diversity.

It’s not hard to determine why this is terrifying to people, and tells us a lot about humans:

  • The inbreeding separates people genetically. They’re less than human (or more but in the wrong way).  There’s a sense of a “genetic other.”
  • The inbreeding is also cultural.  The people are separate not just genetically but culturally.  There’s a sense of true distance, of Otherness.
  • The separate inbred groups are often seen as hostile or potentially hostile.  Their separation is one where they lack concern or connection to any other part of humanity – be it an inbred family dispatching teenagers with farming implements or swamp cultists summoning dark gods, they don’t care and are seen as sadistic in many cases.

It’s a fear of an Other, and the major element is one of deep difference and disconnection.  The various inbred groups are not just different or limited, but so separate they are a threat.

But interestingly, the diseased, debilitated, and uncultured “Bumpkin Inbred” monsters have a counterpart in their exact opposites – the Sophisticated Inbred.

The Sophisticated Inbred are the shapeshifters of “Society,” the assorted hateful backstabbers of “Game of Thrones” (I rather imagine Mr. Martin would appreciate the nexus with horror), and of course one of the overused elements of horror – Vampires.  Vampires in most cases are sophisticates, handsome, sexy, and of course have their own little “families.”

The Sophisticated Inbred:

  • Are handsome and charming in many cases, though it’s a predator’s tool.
  • Are separate as well and move in their own spheres, but often spheres of power as opposed to behind the scenes.
  • Have their own agendas and care little for others, seeing them as tools.

The key between the Bumpkin Inbred and the Sophisticated Inbred is really one of place.  One moves in the shadows, one moves “above” us.  One is uncultured, one is cultured.  Both are separate from the rest of us, both are different, both would prey on us.  In horror and fiction of horrible things, the mass of humanity is prey to both kinds of Inbred.

In both cases, the Inbred are basically those separate from humanity.  The ultimate Other in fiction until you get to truly non-human threats, and in some ways worse; the Inbred have rejected or turn away from humanity as a whole.  It’s not a lack of empathy but an almost anti-empathy.

The Inbred have turned their face from us, turned inwards, and that makes them exceptionally horrible – and suited for horror fiction.

Of course this also tells us something about real life.  We trust people we connect to.  We trust people connected to us.  When people turn away from each other, we stop trusting each other.  It doesn’t matter what level of society you’re on, mistrust builds from inbreeding of one kind or another.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at