Introduction: The New Smart Horror Film

Horror film aficionados tend to be quick to point out that there have long been smart, artful, sophisticated horror films, so that terms applied by many critics to many horror films of the twenty-first century—such as “smart horror,” “sophisticated horror,” and “elevated horror”—are perhaps inappropriately dismissive of the horror films that came before. Examples such as James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), or any of the horror films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s all make it clear that many horror films prior to the twenty-first century are anything but “dumb,” “simplistic,” or “degraded.” At the same time, it is fairly obvious to almost all observers that something new is happening in twenty-first century horror and that horror film—partly driven by the rise of inexpensive digital special effects and the success in horror film of upstart film studios, such as A24 and Blumhouse—has entered a sort of Golden Age in which horror film, far from the marginal genre that it has sometimes seen to be, is now one of the central driving forces for innovation and creative in world cinema.

In this course, we will look at a selection of some of the most important of these new horror films, examining each in terms of its own qualities as a work of art but also as an example of broader trends. We will begin with a viewing of all three of the recent films directed by Jordan Peele, which together epitomize the increased social relevance that has often marked the new horror films—while also demonstrating that socially relevant horror films can attract a large popular audience. In Part II of the course, we will look at three horror films that place particular emphasis on film as art, both visually and in terms of the complexity of their messaging. Part III of the course covers three of the new folk horror films that have recently revolutionized that subgenre of horror by bringing new attention to aesthetic quality and complexity, as well as intelligent messaging. We will also look at the two horror films made recently by indie-film auteur Jim Jarmusch, who brings his own special sensibilities to horror, injecting it with new energies. We will then complete the course with a look at some of the new horror films from around the world, as horror has recently become much more of a global phenomenon. (Note that you can click on the film titles below to gain direct access to the on-line reading assignment for that film, though the recommended method to access these assignments is within the ***CONTENT*** folder.)

Course Schedule

PART I: Jordan Peele and the New Social Horror

Week 1 (January 17): Get Out (2017)

Week 2 (January 24): Us (2019)

Week 3 (January 31): Nope (2022)

PART II: The New Art Horror

Week 4 (February 7): Annihilation (2018)

Week 5: (February 14): The Lighthouse (2019)

Week 6: (February 21): Pearl (2022)

PART III: The New Folk Horror

Week 7: (February 28): Midsommar (2019)

Week 8: (March 7): In the Earth (2021)

Week 9: (March 14): Men (2022)

PART IV: Jim Jarmusch and the New Indie Horror

Week 10: (March 21): SPRING BREAK. No Class.

Week 11: (March 28): Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Week 12: (April 4-April 6): The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

PART V: The New International Horror

Week 13: (April 11): The Babadook (2014)

Week 14: (April 18): The Wailing (2016)

Week 15: (April 25): Revenge (2017)

Week 16: (May 2): Titane (2021)