Courses / Undergraduate

Fall 2017

  • The Craft of Writing – The Emotional Life of Horror Films

    R1A - 001 | CCN: 14670

    Eliot Bessette

    4 Units

    Horror, disgust, and fear, oh my! This course provides an introduction to horror films through the emotions. Horror films elicit a variety of emotional reactions that in ordinary life we experience as negative. Yet viewers come back for more—excluding, of course, the large percentage of people who never watch horror films. Ask a horror devotee why they enjoy the genre and they will often say they like how it makes them feel. Ask the same of someone who refuses to watch horror and they will often say they dislike how it makes them feel.

    To write about horror, disgust, fear, and other nasty emotions native to the horror genre is to write about our feelings, but that does not mean we have to sacrifice intersubjective communicability or intellectual rigor. We will explore not only how films make us feel, but how they make us think, and how thinking and feeling relate. We will examine the myriad pleasures and experiences and challenges that the genre offers. We will ask whether horror films are centrally about horror (or another emotion); how we might differentiate similar terms like fear, dread, and suspense; and how these relate to other cognitive capacities like empathy and belief.

    This class will instruct students in how to provide convincing textual and philosophical support for their analyses of frightening and shocking scenes. Our discussions will model these strategies. Course readings will canvass modes of inquiry into the emotions from film studies, philosophy, and psychology. Course assignments will invite students to analyze the meticulous formal construction of frightening scenes, to reflect theoretically on films’ emotional processes, and to evaluate and deftly employ scholarship to strengthen and nuance students’ own original claims. As an R1A, this class will assist students with college-level argumentative prose. If you work hard, you will improve your written and oral communication, your ability to argue persuasively, and your grasp of humanistic evidence and reasoning.