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Proseminar: The Conventions of Horror: Genre, Gender, and Representations

ENGL 590.640
T 6:30-9:10

This course will focus primarily on the conventions of horror as they have been theorized in film studies. We will also read secondary critical/theoretical materials and a few novels adapted for the cinema. The main focus of the course is how horror is evoked in cinema, that is, what the techniques of film are that achieve this effect. By looking at the methods, we will then be able to distance ourselves from horror as a conceptual given, and investigate what it is, if anything, beneath, beyond, or behind the technique. For example, one of the recurring motifs in horror films is the return of the dead. In Christian theology, however, this is resurrection, an event that does not, customarily, evoke horror. Also, horror conventions are quite frequently juxtaposed with romance plots, especially adolescent sexual initiation stories. The course will pursue, within this context, questions of gender, genre and narratology. We will "read" some of classic horror-makers, such as Stephen King. We will also look at some films that have not been regarded as horror films per se, "grade b" films that concentrate on the theme of rape/revenge. In all cases, we will attempt to push against the grain of routine readings of these films. Questions of audience will be pertinent: horror generally is regarded as a genre aimed primarily toward young men. Why? In addition to a final written paper and other course requirements, each seminar participant will be required to take responsibility for one film during the term and write a response paper which will then be delivered as an oral presentation.