X-Rated horror movies have always had their place as a late night spine chilling blend of fear and excitement.

But now scary films such as The Shining, Psycho and The Sixth Sense are coming out of the shadows and into the classroom.

Pupils enrolled in Higher English are increasingly choosing to study horror films instead of more traditional literary texts.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said classic literature such as Shakespearean plays were still by far the most common choice alongside works by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

But the SQA said: “An increased number of candidates chose to write their essay on a media text.

“In this genre, popular choices were the films The Dressmaker, The Shining, The Sixth Sense, Psycho, The Prestige, Shutter Island and Pleasantville.”

The wider trend towards films is also apparent in National 5 English qualifications, with ten per cent of pupils choosing films including The Dark Knight and Psycho.

Author Raymond Soltysek, a former teacher and co-ordinator of the Scottish Association for the Teaching of English, believes the trend is a positive one in a world where most communication is delivered through some form of visual medium.

And he argues that studying a film rather than a book is just as complex and rewarding.

He said: “We are saying to pupils that what they have before them is a text and the fact they are watching it rather than reading it is really immaterial.

“Pupils still have to use a whole range of literacy skills to understand and interpret it so, just as in a printed text, they would have to look at metaphor and simile, characterisation and setting.

“Given the vast majority of people in western society now get their messages in some kind of visual form it is really important that we recognise that.”

Mr Soltysek said the use of films in Higher English, which was established more than 20 years ago, would grow, but it would never replace literature. And he dismissed suggestions it was an “easy option”.

“The core of an English teachers work will always be literature, but I have alway avoided film because it has been too hard for me to do.

“It requires an awful lot of technical knowledge of filmmaking skills that I find difficult. I would much rather teach Shakespeare than a film to any level of pupil.”

Dr David Sorfa, a senior lecturer in film studies at the University of Edinburgh, said films and the moving image more widely deserved their place alongside classic literature.

He said: “Even great Shakespeare lovers basically know his works from film and television.

“They may have half red Hamlet when they were forced to at school or university, but, like Shakespeare, a lot of our knowledge about history, literature and the world comes from cinema and television.

“The sense that film or even television is in some way a lesser art form or something that isn’t as interesting is wrong because it opens up the world of literature which can be very closed to young people.”

Dr Catriona Miller, senior lecturer in media policy, history and theory of film at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the horror genre had always been associated with teenagers as far back as Gothic literature.

She argues such films serve an important purpose because they help teenagers decode who they are.

She said: “Teenagers are dealing with an emerging sense of self in terms of who they are and who do they want to be and, at the same time, they are having to negotiate who they are inside and what do they want to show the world.

“That is tough and scary to deal with and the horror genre deals with a lot of these questions in a very direct way, but with the added safety net that it is not real.

“You can risk staring the monster in the face and how to deal with it because it is not a real thing.”

Ms Miller does not believe films like The Shining, which is rated 18, are too scary for teenagers, arguing they crave a real fright rather than one which is “designed” for them.

“Some of the films that are made specifically for teenagers are not actually scary enough. They have to feel a real sense of jeopardy.”

Filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins also welcomed the greater use of horror films.

He told the Times Educational Supplement Scotland: “These are works of art which allow pupils to engage with deep questions of fear and identification. It’s snobbery to suggest that great horror cinema shouldn’t be used in teaching.”