American Nightmares: History of the Horror Film
This course examines the development of the horror genre in American cinema from the late 1920s to the early twenty-first century. We will consider how the development this mode has been related to structural and economic 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 changes often go unacknowledged in more general histories of modern American society, a careful study of this genre provides an illuminating lens for examining social conflict. As critic Robin Wood once noted, "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 so-called "American Dream," as in political campaigns and advertising platforms, this cinematic and (increasingly) multi-media set of representations tracks that dream's uncanny double: hence, the title of this course, "American Nightmares."
While the overall structure of our class 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. Requirements include short quizzes at end-of-week discussion sections, an in-class mid-term exam, and several short formal writing assignments. Weekly schedule includes: two class days devoted to lecture; two class days allotted for film screenings only (which you may watch on your own if you prefer), and one quiz section meeting per week (on Fridays).