Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film

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9780691006208: Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film


Do the pleasures of horror movies really begin and end in sadism? So the public discussion of film assumes, and so film theory claims. Carol Clover argues, however, that these films work mainly to engage the viewer in the plight of the victim-hero, who suffers fright but rises to vanquish the forces of oppression.


Clover, a medievalist, had written extensively on the literature and culture of early northern Europe, especially the Old Norse sagas. From her expertise in formulaic narrative grew her interest in contemporary cinema, which is, after all, yet another form of oral storytelling. Men, Women, and Chain Saws investigated the appeal of horror cinema, in particular the phenomenal popularity of those "low" genres that feature female heroes and play to male audiences: slasher, occult, and rape-revenge films. Such genres seem to offer sadistic pleasure to their viewers, and not much else. Clover, however, argued the reverse: that these films are designed to align spectators not with the male tormentor, but with the female tormented--with the suffering, pain, and anguish that the "final girl," as Clover calls the victim-hero, endures before rising, finally, to vanquish her oppressor.


The book has found an avid readership from students of film theory to major Hollywood filmmakers, and the figure of the final girl has been taken up by a wide range of artists, inspiring not just filmmakers but also musicians and poets.


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Review:

Before Men, Women, and Chain Saws, most film critics assumed that horror (especially slasher) films entail a male viewer sadistically watching the plight of a female victim. Carol Clover argues convincingly that both male and female viewers not only identify with the victim, but experience, through the actions of the "final girl," a climactic moment of female power. As the Boston Globe writes, Men, Women, and Chain Saws "challenges simplistic assumptions about the relationship between gender and culture... [Clover] suggests that the 'low tradition' in horror movies possesses positive subversive potential, a space to explore gender ambiguity and transgress traditional boundaries of masculinity and femininity." Be forewarned, though: Clover addresses an academic audience, so her language can be heavy going.

Related title: The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film by Barry Keith Grant

Review:

"[A] brilliant analysis of gender and its disturbances in modern horror films. . . . Bubbling away beneath Clover's multi-faceted readings of slasher, occult, and rape-revenge films is the question of what the viewer gets out of them. . . . [She] argues that most horror films are obsessed with feminism, playing out plots which climax with an image of (masculinized) female power and offering visual pleasures which are organized not around a mastering gaze, but around a more radical "victim-identified' look."--Linda Ruth Williams, Sight and Sound

"Carol Clover's compelling [book] challenges simplistic assumptions about the relationship between gender and culture. . . . She suggests that the "low tradition' in horror movies possesses positive subversive potential, a space to explore gender ambiguity and transgress traditional boundaries of masculinity and femininity."--Andrea Walsh, The Boston Globe

"Fascinating, Clover has shown how the allegedly naïve makers of crude films have done something more schooled directors have difficulty doing - creating females with whom male veiwers are quite prepared to identify with on the most profound levels"--The Modern Review

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