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The American Horror Film

An Introduction

Reynold Humphries


The various characters that recur in horror films - Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll, the Mummy, the Werewolf - are discussed, as are repeated themes such as the mad scientist, nuclear anxiety, psychological 'monsters', the living dead, and 'slasher' movies. Key directors including Jacques Tourneur, David Cronenberg, Roger Corman and Joe Dante are covered.

The emphasis is on accessibility: while theory is included through reference to gender and politics, women's studies and psychoanalysis, it is introduced carefully and in direct relation to the films being discussed. No prior knowledge of the subject area is assumed. An extensive Filmography is included and reference is made at the appropriate point to the most pertinent writing on horror. Overall, this is an ideal introduction to the area for all students and general readers interested in the American horror film.

Key Features

  • Includes 10 film stills
  • Covers major films such as King Kong, Little Shop of Horrors, Psycho, The Exorcist, The Omen and I Know What You Did Last Summer
  • Only up-to-date textbook on the subject


Part One: The Horror Film, 1930-1960
1. Figures in a Gothic Landscape
2. Variations on a Theme
3. The Contribution of Val Lewton
4. Nuclear and other Horrors
Part Two: The Horror Film, 1960-2000
5. The Changing Face of Horror
6. Directions and Directors
7. The 'Slasher' Movie and the 'Final Girl'
8. David Cronenberg and Special Effects

About the Author

Reynold Humphries is a former Professor of Film Studies at the University of Lille and author of 'Fritz Lang: Genre and Representation in his American Films' (1989).


Humphries’ chapter in Part II on Slashers, Serial Killers and the ‘Final Girl’ is invaluable as an introduction to horror. It not only presents the author’s major themes in a concise manner, it illustrates point of view as an integral part of a film’s meaning. Other discussions that seem particularly rewarding are those on Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and on Cronenberg’s films. Humphries encourages readers to delve further into issues important to horror by providing a useful filmography and bibliography. The author’s passion and respect for the horror film contributes to the energy and force of this study … Humphries’ extensive knowledge of the horror film and his fleeting allusions to hybrid genres, whets one’s appetite for a slightly longer discussion of the subject, especially in light of the current emphasis on border crossings […] by including a discussion of contemporary genre mixing in the concluding chapter, he might help readers to explore more fully whether there is anything beyond Shayamalan’s Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense to enlighten an otherwise dimming screen.
- European Association of American Studies