Thinking/Feeling: Emotion, Spectatorship, and the Pedagogy of Horror

Allison Whitney


When teaching horror films, where the primary texts are created to frighten and disturb their audiences, instructors often find it challenging to find pedagogical strategies that are at once effective and responsible. For students not accustomed to horror, the shocking nature of the texts can sometimes be difficult to handle, while even the horror fans in one’s classroom, once provoked by new critical approaches and theories, may find themselves newly unsettled even by well-known texts. Since many students have been trained to regard emotional engagement and rational thought as mutually exclusive, particularly in the context of formal education, they often perceive the emotional impact of horror as an impediment to critical analysis. In this essay I will offer practical strategies for helping students to identify, codify, and contemplate their emotional relationships to horror films, and to use those insights in aid of critical, historical, and thematic analysis, both in their written work and in classroom discussion. I will detail assignments and class activities developed while teaching junior-level film and media studies classes on “Horror and the Fantastic†in the Department of English at Texas Tech University, and explain how these exercises allowed students to contemplate their own experiences of spectatorship, and those of fellow audience members, allowing them to intellectualize a given text without disregarding the importance of feeling.


horror, gender, emotion, formal analysis, film

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