Media Studies: Current Trends in Horror Movies

The past decade has witnessed a renaissance of sorts in the genre of horror films. Gone are the days of schlocky gore-fests, slasher franchises, and torture-porn. Not only have “elevated horror” films served to infuse new life into the genre, but they have also signaled a newfound respectability with larger audiences, wider acknowledgement from film critics, and even top awards from the film industry. In the just the past few years, horror films have been nominated for and even won major Oscars for their screenplays, acting, directing, and even Best Picture. While the term “elevated horror” is a sticking point for some people, clearly something has shifted in the genre and its social standing in the last decade.

In this five-week series, we will watch some representative examples of recent horror films to identify current trends in the genre. During the course of this series we will look at major themes and tropes, but we will also consider what exactly makes something a “horror film.” As a bonus, this series will introduce you to the basics of “film studies” as we consider many of the various aspects of cinematic storytelling, looking in depth at such elements as characterization, dialogue, plot (or narrative structure), setting, visual composition (such camera angles and film editing), sound, music, and so on.

Each Thursday for the next five weeks, I’ll post a short introduction giving background on the “movie of the week” and touching on some key components we need to consider when analyzing the film. At that time, I’ll also give you four or five discussion questions as homework. These questions provide a focus for your attention while watching the movie at home. I’ve picked movies that are readily available on streaming channels. The questions also form the basis of a written dialogue between us – you and me directly via email, but also with the larger class by extension.

Note that as an additional feature of this particular series, we will attempt to meet once a week on Zoom for a real-time discussion. Participation in live chats is optional, but I think it will form a nice supplement to the previous format of these online series.

After you watch our movie of the week and consider any additional materials I’ve provided, you’ll email me your answers to the discussion questions I’ve sent you for each movie. I’ll provide personal feedback on your answers, sometimes asking you follow-up questions and offering suggestions for other things you might think about. I’ll also post a wrap-up for each movie before we launch into the next one.


The films in this horror series are rated R, often for violent and disturbing content. Kids under 17 will not be officially enrolled without parental permission.

Weekly Schedule

  • Thursday: Professor Chuck posts introduction to the movie of the week with homework & discussion questions
  • Sunday: You email homework to Professor Chuck by 12 midnight
  • Tuesday: Professor Chuck sends students feedback and posts a wrap up on the movie of the week

Movies of the Week

May 14: “The Witch” (2015)

May 21: “Tigers Are Not Afraid” (2017)

May 29: “A Quiet Place” (2018)

June 5: “Hereditary” (2018)

June 12: “Us” (2019)

Signing Up

If you plan to participate and would like feedback from me on your homework, please contact me before the first day of the series to sign up. I’ll add you to my email distribution list for the course and expect to be in steady contact with you during the five weeks. You will also be included in my Zoom invitations unless you opt out of this feature (just let me know). Official “enrollment” is limited to the first 20 people who sign up to ensure that I have time to respond to everyone who sends me answers to the discussion questions. Though donations are welcome, participation and access to series materials is always free.

Lurkers are welcome. If you’d like to follow along on your own anonymously, I’d be delighted. You might also use these materials to organize movie nights with friends and family with my discussion questions as conversation starters. Please do.

Educators are also welcome to adapt these materials for their own instruction, though please give me credit if you’re just reproducing what I’ve posted. A thank you email letting me know wouldn’t go amiss either.

That’s all. Stay home, stay safe, live and learn.

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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