De-Coding Horror: A Media Literacy Week Teacher Resource

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As a large group, watch the following excerpt from Wes Craven’s Scream 2.

With an elbow partner, in small groups or as a whole group, reflect on the scene. 

Reflection Question: What narrative convention of the horror cinema does this scene from Scream 2 address and challenge? How are the issues addressed relevant to issues within culture and media today?

Teacher’s Note:

In reading this particular scene, it is important to make reference to the politics of race within horror cinema. Unlike early American horror films such as George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead that showcased an African-American in a heroic role and the dangers of racism driven by white patriarchal society, the genre, as appropriated by mainstream studios, constructed their films on a simple cultural narrative template.

Sexually active teens typically die.
Minority characters typically die.
The male hero typically is injured (non-life threatening).
The honest and trustworthy girl survives only after passively being the victim.

What’s significant about the Scream 2 scene is very much the meta-awareness (self awareness) of race and gender within traditional American horror cinema. The female character (played by Jada Pinkett-Smith) is strong minded, educated and political. With a critical awareness of teenage targeted horror texts, she asserts her distaste of such narratives and consequentially finds herself trapped within a chaotic theatre where mainstream society (a predominately white audience) excessively celebrates the violence of such cinema without a shared critical response to the violence; particularly violence towards women in the film. The audience sees only violence as spectacle and cannot find deeper meaning. As  Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character becomes emotionally invested in the scene, her stabbing consequentially becomes part of the “film within the film.” At this point, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, bring forward a rich critique of movie going-itself. The audience members never fully question the violence happening in “real life,” and cannot distinguish between the “real world” and the “cinematic world.” Only when Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character takes her last breath does the audience remove their masks to reveal some sense of confusion. Regardless, the audience stands passively in their consumption of spectacle – never recognizing the real horror that is taking place in front on them.

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In celebrating Halloween and on-going popularity of the horror film, it is important to understand the relevance of genre as reflection of shared and lived experience. In reviewing the academic article entitled Screams on Screen: Paradigms of Horror, the questions below are addressed in video format (conducted at Brock University with academic Dr. Barry Keith Grant).

In teaching the political and social relevance of horror, why is understanding the meaning of myth important?

In making reference to the golden age of American horror in the 1930s with such classics as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, why is it important to have a critical understanding of German Expression?

Does the influx of horror cinema’s popularity rise out of cultural turmoil? What does this say about genre?

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To provide students with an active opportunity to show their critical understanding of horror cinema, the videos and the article shared, the following assignment can be completed individually or in small groups. Click here: de-coding-horror-info-graphic-assignment

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Print and post info-graphics around the classroom and have students complete a short gallery walk. In reviewing peer work, have students reflect on the following:

What are the common ideas shared by students?

What does the horror genre say about who we are?

Facilitate a whole group discussion based on the reflection questions.

Note: The following lesson was developed by Anthony Perrotta for shared and not-for-profit use. October, 2016.

Special thanks to Dr. Barry Keith Grant for his time, support and expertise.

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