Horror films bring a global perspective

October is the month when most people indulge in their favorite scary movies, but for some students at George Mason University, horror is their homework.

FAVS 300 Global Horror Film is a three-credit course that explores the horror film genre with an international lens, and looks at the social and political contexts behind the creation of the films. The class fulfills the Global Understanding requirement in the Mason Core so it attracts students from all majors. Film and video studies (FAVS) majors have the option to do a creative final project and make a video instead of writing a final paper.

An image projects a suspenseful mood as the camera follows a young girl walking down a spooky hallway.
Photo © Getty Images

The course covers topics from vampires, zombies, slasher movies, and aliens to horror parody and Alfred Hitchcock. Whole weeks are devoted to Japanese, Korean, Iranian, and Latin American horror. Recent screenings for the class have featured Tomas Alfredsson’s “Let the Right One In” and Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” mixed in with clips from George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Brian de Palma’s “Carrie,” depending on the discussion topic that week.

The class is not for the faint of heart—there is a lot of film theory.

This semester there are two sections taught by FAVS adjunct faculty members and filmmakers Samirah Alkassim and Maillim “May” Santiago.

This is Santiago’s second semester teaching the course. She said she enjoys exposing students to films they wouldn’t ordinarily encounter.

“I try and bring in a lot of underappreciated, horror-specific films,” said Santiago, who also does a horror film podcast, Horrorspiria. “It's a really interesting genre to look at through the social lens. I like bringing that globalization angle and having frank discussions about it and how they feel about it.”

Samirah Alkassim
Samirah Alkassim

Many students in the classes are already horror fans. Computational and data sciences major Jared McDonough said he has read a lot of horror, but this is his first film class.

“I wanted to try out some parts of the horror genre that I hadn’t been exposed to,” he said.

Film and video studies major Thomas [student prefers to use first name] is one of the students choosing to do a video for his final project. His video is about vampires and will explore LGBT themes.

“During our vampire class, there was a lot of a discussion about hidden lives,” said Thomas. “I plan to explore that aspect in this video.”

The three- to five-minute video isn’t an easy project. Filmmakers have to turn in a film treatment early in the semester and provide a budget and shooting script when the video is completed. The project must reference some aspect of horror covered in class. They also have a screening of the videos at the end of the semester, and the instructors award extra credit to classmates willing to work on the productions.

Maillim "May" Santiago

Alkassim and Santiago are also working on book on the same topic with Ziad Foty of Catholic University, who has taught Mason’s Global Horror Film class in the past. The book is an edited anthology incorporating many of the readings the instructors already use along with some original essays.

“We all feel like there are some gaps in the scholarship about horror cinema, gaps really specific to areas in the world,” said Alkassim, who writes about Arab cinema. “And that is not because there are no horror films in those areas, but because most of the scholarship is Western based.”