Courses / Undergraduate

Summer 2015

  • Film Genre: American Horror Film

    108 | Session A | CCN: 48245

    Eliot Bessette

    4 Units

     Contemporary American horror films are pushing the boundaries of intense fear, violence, and grotesquerie ever further. This is in the nature of the genre. Barbara Creed says each horror film “creates in audiences a desire, perhaps insatiable, to be shocked even more deeply and disturbingly than on the previous occasion” (“Freud’s Worst Nightmare,” 196). The genre has surely evolved: think of the differences between Saw and Dracula, or Hostel and Frankenstein! A collaborative striving for more shocking and more frightening content has produced new subgenres such as the found footage film, torture porn, and self-referential postmodern horror. At the same time, and just as obviously, horror cinema does the same things again and again. Against all reason attractive teenagers keep visiting secluded cabins, having sex there, and splitting up when danger presents itself. In the last dozen years American studios have produced remakes of nearly every good American horror film of the ‘70s and ‘80s and nearly every good Japanese horror film of the ‘90s and ‘00s. Add to those a bevy of sequels, prequels, and series crossovers, and it might seem like there’s nothing new under the sun.

    This class will survey the current state of fears and shocks in American horror cinema and investigate what is old and what is new in scary films of the last twenty-five years. Course readings will cover some of the cultural and intellectual-historical contexts from which these works have emerged. Course assignments will invite students to analyze the meticulous formal construction of frightening scenes and to reflect theoretically on the workings of fear. Probable films to screen include The Exorcist III, The Silence of the Lambs, Scream, The Blair Witch Project, the American remake of The Ring, Hostel, Sinister, and The Cabin in the Woods. We may also consider a French or Japanese horror film for comparison. Neither previous experience with horror scholarship nor an encyclopedic knowledge of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is expected, though both would be welcome.