Horror film course returns this spring, proves more to horror than gore

Courtesy photo of IMDb.

By Madalyn Watson | Arts & Life Editor

For students who are still in the mood for horror once Halloween has come and gone, an opportunity to study this movie genre will reemerge via “The Horror Film” class next year.

This spring, the course will be available to students in the film and digital media department as an upper-level course or as an upper-level elective for students in other departments.

Dr. James Kendrick, professor and undergraduate program director in the film and digital media department, has taught this genre study class for a decade now.

Kendrick said he typically structures the course like a history class, moving chronologically from pre-cinematic horror through different decades in horror history. In the last week of class, he focuses on more modern films or what he classifies as “post-9/11 horror.”

“Horror films work because they strike nerves; they strike fears; they strike anxieties; they bring those to the surface,” Kendrick said. “In a lot of ways, the history of horror is the history of what we are anxious about as a culture.”

Kendrick said that successful films in the horror genre are actually about a real, tangible fear under the plot’s surface.

Athens, Ga., senior Lindsey Reynolds took the horror class for her media management minor in the spring of 2018.

“That class kind of helped me flesh out, understand the cultural and the social phenomenon surrounding a lot of the themes that were in those horror films and how that translated into popular culture,” Reynolds said.

Several decades of film covered in the class stuck with her, including the atomic fear of the ’50s.

“It was interesting how that cultural paranoia kind of translated into art and into the horror genre, specifically in the time period,” Reynolds said.

However, the trends in horror films following the atomic age actually inspired a project that she is currently working on about the relationship between gender, feminism and horror.

“The most interesting time period, for me, was looking at a horror film in the ’60s and ’70s and how that affected the second wave of feminism,” Reynolds said.

While she was in Kendrick’s class, Reynolds said they compared the differences and similarities between their “final girls.”

The “final girl” refers to the last girl alive in a horror film who confronts the killer. Reynolds said that in the class, they compared two quintessential final girls: Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, from “Halloween” and Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, from “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“There’s a lot of representation in both those characters of how women are trying to overcome this barrier, this victimization of their gender,” Reynolds said.

Kendrick said that a common misconception about slasher films is that there are more female victims than male. He said it seems that way because male characters have quicker deaths and the female characters are stalked for longer periods of time and tortured by the antagonist.

“In some ways, while the horror genre unfortunately replicates a lot of gender bias, it also subverts it at the same time,” Kendrick said. “For example in a horror film, you don’t want to be a male hero because the horror film doesn’t have male heroes. The person who would be the male hero: the police officer, the father figure, [and] the boyfriend… they’re utter failures. They come riding in thinking they’re gonna save the day, and they die.”

Kendrick has written articles on the genre such as “Razors in the Dreamscape: Revisiting ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and the Slasher Film” in the journal Film Criticism.

Several of his other works include “Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema” and “Film Violence: History, Ideology, Genre.”

“There was kind of a lot of writing coming out in the late ’90s about [violence] — kind of rethinking it and its place within film,” Kendrick said. “Because the bottom line is that — whether you want to admit it or not, everybody likes film violence.”

When Kendrick attended graduate school at Baylor, he read an editorial in the Oct. 28, 1997, edition of The Baylor Lariat about movie violence.

“They were going on about what a horribly violent movie [‘Seven’] is and that it’s a real sign of how bad things have gotten and that we need to go back to movies like ‘Psycho’ that weren’t so violent,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick disagreed and wrote a Letter to the Editor to the Baylor Lariat, which was featured in the paper two days later.

“What’s interesting about [‘Seven’] is that the vast majority of the violence is either implied or you see the end result of the violence, not the violence,” Kendrick said. “Whereas ‘Psycho’ is explicitly violent.”

Kendrick said he felt the editorial board was referring to something completely different from what he would refer to as violence.

“I think one of the reasons that talking about film violence and media violence is so difficult is because we literally lack more sophisticated terminology that we’re all sort of sometimes talking past each other about it,” Kendrick said. “What some people call violence, other people don’t.”

While at Baylor, Kendrick also wrote several movie reviews for the Baylor Lariat, including one for the 1996 Halloween edition with the headline “Horror movies remain staple of film industry.”

Kendrick will continue sharing his research and analysis of the horror genre today in the classes that he teaches, including his upper level film and digital media class in the spring.

“I get one of two kinds of students,” Kendrick said. “I either get students who like the genre already and have more than likely already seen most of what’s on the syllabus, and then I get students who either know nothing about the genre or actively don’t like it.”