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A Reintroduction to the American Horror Film

4. 1976 to the Present

2. 1976–1988

  1. Adam Lowenstein

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf074

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Lowenstein, A. 2011. A Reintroduction to the American Horror Film. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 4:2:72.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


One of the most important innovations affecting the American horror film during the years 1976–1988 belongs not to any one particular film, but to a film festival. In 1979, the critic Robin Wood (collaborating with Richard Lippe) organized The American Nightmare, a special retrospective at the Toronto International Film Festival (then the Festival of Festivals) highlighting what he saw as evidence that “the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses” (Wood 1979, 10). By arranging screenings of films by, and discussions with, directors such as Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, George A. Romero, Stephanie Rothman, and David Cronenberg (the lone Canadian), Wood set out to locate the contemporary American horror film at the center of American culture. The American Nightmare bravely sought to move beyond the conventional associations attached to the horror genre: heartless exploitation, slipshod filmmaking, gratuitous violence, unrelieved misogyny, and an inherent silliness that precludes any substantial aesthetic or political ambitions. Against all odds, Wood wanted to take the horror film seriously. In fact, he titled his wide-ranging essay that opens the program notes “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” with its unmistakable connotations of wiping the slate clean, of showing us anew something we thought we understood perfectly well (or never deigned to understand at all).


  • horror film;
  • slasher film;
  • spectacle horror;
  • the texas chain saw massacre (Tobe Hooper; 1974);
  • the omen (Richard Donner; 1976);
  • halloween (John Carpenter; 1978);
  • Robin Wood;
  • Carol Clover;
  • history of horror film