American Nightmares: The History of the Horror Film, 1924-2014
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 the horror film 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, with special emphasis on genre theory and criticism, theories of gender and sexuality, and textual analysis. Assignments include weekly quizzes, several short formal writing assignments, and an in-class mid-term and final exam. Weekly schedule includes two required class days per week devoted to lecture (T/TH); two optional days allotted for film screenings on M/W (you may watch the films on your own if you prefer), and one required discussion section meeting per week (F).