Graduate School Meditations · Professional Development

Cat People, Zombies, and Body Snatchers: Classic Horror from the End of the Studio System: TA Reflections

This class surveyed the body of films produced by Val Lewton at RKO studios from 1942-1946.  The course included the complete Lewton filmography but was centered on the Lewton unit’s horror films. Pictured above is Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) from The Seventh Victim (1943).  The course was supplemented with optional “Binge” films that further contextualized the cinematic discourse of these horror films in their moment.  The course was invested in practices of close reading these texts, including their visuality, sonority, and narrative structure.  The analysis of editing technique and camera work were a central focus of the writing.  It also was concerned with questions of the generic possibilities and boundaries of horror as a discourse and affect historically contextualized and deployed in the midst of a world war and following its end.

Things to Remember

  • Lovely, Long, Lectures. This class was lecture based, and the lectures themselves were like a text that had layers and nuance–beautiful and enlightening, but challenging.  The students, however, struggled with piecing them together.  I have found that this is actually the case with many courses.  So, something I do now, which has a happy side effect of creating a structure for my section, is to spend the first 5-10 minutes summarizing recalling lectures.  Knowing they will do this, students I think prepare better notes on it.  The trouble with this is the weirdness of the schedule, three lectures a week, then section falling always awkwardly between those days.  Some lectures would be a week out, so hard to recall.


  • Preparing Prompts.  Knowing now exactly what the course carves out, I would write prompts that were extension of the lecture in a clearer way.  I would still keep the general task I set up (editing technique, camera work, intertexts, acting choices).


  • Structure.  One thing I learned in my evals is that students want structure.  The grading structure was holistic, without a fixed calculus.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I want students to not worry about grades and to focus on the writing and study, but they do! Grades are the measure, ultimately.  I think given the freedom I should have just created a more formal structure for student grading and been transparent about it.  This includes thinking more carefully about rubrics.