Summer 2019 - ENGL 376 E100

Special Studies (4)

Chiller, Thriller, and Horror: Hitchcock

Class Number: 5938

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 5:30 PM – 7:20 PM
    RCB 8100, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 100 division English courses, and two 200 division English courses.



The course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught.



The very name evokes “chillers” and thrillers: films containing airplane chases, attacking birds, mistaken identities, threatening loved ones, and the like. The name also evokes horror, especially phobias and terrors, and creepy scenarios where nothing is what it seems to be. And where showers are not safe. But how exactly did Hitchcock achieve his goals (of chilling and thrilling and horrifying us)? We will approach this question by reading some of the novels he adapted to make his films, noting how he “translated” the words on the page into the exciting images, compelling stories and visual style we now call “Hitchcockian”. Specifically, we will read four novels -- The 39 Steps, Rebecca, To Catch a Thief, and Psycho -- adapted for the screen by Hitchcock and his teams. These four films are from the beginning, middle and end of Hitchcock's career, and move from the suspense of chiller/thrillers to a kind of horror. We will attend to details of scene construction, characterization, themes and ideas. But we will also explore how Hitchcock seemed attuned to so many 20th century anxieties: voyeurism, paranoia, violence, the multi-layered self, etc. Finally, we will see if he had any kind of "philosophy" or matrix of philosophical concerns. (I think he did.)

In addition to studying the four novels listed, students must be prepared to view a number of Hitchcock's films, usually in class but occasionally at home. (Most of these films are quite short by contemporary standards; the same is true of the novels.) Students are not required to have a background in film theory or criticism, or even be familiar with Hitchcock's films. 

NB: Several photocopies and handouts will be sold at cost (totalling around two dollars). In addition to the four novels listed above, student will also be required to read David Sterritt’s little (180 page) "overview" book on Hitchcock, entitled Simply Hitchcock (2017).

In a course like this, attendance is very important and therefore a small but significant percentage of the grade comes from attendance.


By the end of this course, student will understand a select portion of Hitchcock's cinematic output; grasp how he adapted works of fiction; understand how chillers, thrillers and horror films work, with reference to the Master of Suspense (Hitchcock); and display knowledge of Hitchcockian themes and ideas.



Attendance: 10%

Participation: 10%

Short response papers to each of the four novels: 20%

First essay (6-7 pages): 30%

Second Essay (6-7 pages): 30%



David Sterritt, Simply Hitchcock (2017). 
ISBN: 978-1943657179

John Buchan, The 39 Steps (any edition). There is a Penguin paperback (ISBN: 978-0241341254) for about $14 and an even cheaper Dover paperback (ISBN: 978-0486282015). 
ISBN: 978-0241341254

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (any edition). The 2003 Virago paperback is good.

ISBN: 978-1844080380

David Dodge, To Catch a Thief. (Any edition.) I'm suggesting the Bruin edition from 2010.
ISBN: 978-0982633939

Robert Block, Psycho. (Any edition.) The Overlook paperback from 2010 is good.
ISBN: 978-1590203354

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.