C LIT 272: American Nightmares: History of the Horror Film
This course examines the development of the horror genre in American cinema from the early 1920s to the early twenty-first century. We will consider how the development of cinematic horror has been related to economic and structural changes in the film industry since the formation of Hollywood’s studio-era in the late silent period, as well as to changes in American culture and society. Since these cultural shifts often go unacknowledged in more general histories of the U.S., a careful study of this genre (a vast array of popular films often dismissed as “pure escapism”) is particularly illuminating. As critic Robin Wood aptly notes, “One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses, its re-emergence dramatized, as in our nightmares, as an object of horror, a matter for terror.” Put simply, rather than tout variations of the “American Dream,” as in political campaigns and advertising strategies, this cinematic tradition tracks its uncanny double: hence the title of this course, “American Nightmares.”
While the overall structure of the course will be historical (and chronological), our focus will be analytical as well, with special emphasis on genre theory and criticism, theories of gender and sexuality, and textual analysis. Assignments include weekly quizzes at discussion sections, 2 short writing assignments in the first half of the course, several informal “reading responses” in the last half of the course, and an in-class mid-term and final exam.
The weekly schedule includes two required class days per week devoted to lecture (T/TH) and one required quiz section meeting on Friday (F). There are also two days in the auditorium allotted for film screenings on M/W, but these sessions are optional. All films required for the course will be available via a class-restricted streaming service and you may watch them on your own if you prefer.