Like anything else in the entertainment world, fiction interpretation is a subjective exercise. One woman’s horror may be another woman’s dark paranormal. However, despite the sometimes murky boundaries, there are basic differences in the two genres.
While dark paranormal may have some elements of horror in it, and horror can feature paranormal elements, the biggest difference between the two is the HEA (happily ever after) ending. Horror doesn’t need to have one. In fact, it usually doesn’t. That alone is a horrifying result to many paranormal readers. This is because paranormal is largely a creature of the romance genre. Even the early Dracula stories featured a man and a woman and a larger than life love, even if it was one-sided. #:0) Werewolf and other “werecreature” stories are perfect vehicles for romance, with all that animal magnetism and sexual chemistry that comes naturally to powerful creatures with earthy inclinations.
But unlike paranormal, horror doesn’t lend itself well to romance. It’s a sad fact that relationships don’t have a chance in horror. Nothing says “come and get me scary guy with the chainsaw” like getting immersed in a sexual moment and not paying attention to the shadow falling over you through the window. It’s a concept many slasher films were built on. In fact, in this type of fiction there’s nothing more delightfully horrible than when the love interest is eaten/beaten/cut into tiny pieces. So no happy ending, no walking into the sunset hand in hand. Unless you’re heavily armed and willing/able to kick some bad guy ass.
Characters in a horror story don’t need to be likable. In fact, it’s sometimes fun to root for the killer to get the “too stupid to live” characters in a slasher/horror story. Things that might kill the mood in a paranormal aren’t off limits in horror. The hero used to rob banks? Nobody really cares. He’s trying to save the sexy young woman, her mother, and the neighbor kid from the ghost with razor sharp teeth. He’s a hero. The heroine was a street walker/pole dancer with a drug habit? Doesn’t matter. She threw herself over the eight year old boy at the end to save him and died a horrible, bloody death. Perfect horror story fodder.
Ultimately, both genres can be fun escapes. Each fills a specific need. But they aren’t interchangeable. They’re unique types of fiction that deserve unique notice and acceptance. Whatever your cup of tea, you should understand the differences so you don’t unfairly critique either one for not being what you expected.