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. According to that view, the power of films like Halloween and Texas Chain Saw Massacre lies in their ability to yoke us in the killer's perspective and to make us party to his atrocities. In this book Carol Clover argues that sadism is actually the lesser part of the horror experience and that the movies work mainly to engage the viewer in the plight of the victim-hero - the figure who suffers pain and fright but eventually rises to vanquish the forces of oppression. A paradox is that, since the late 1970s, the victim-hero is usually female and the audience predominantly male. It is the fraught relation between the "tough girl" of horror and her male fan that Clover explores. Horror movies, she concludes, use female bodies not only for the male spectator to feel at, but for him to feel through. The author concentrates on three genres in which women and gender issues loom especially large: slasher films, satanic possession films, and rape-revenge films, especially those in which the victim is from the city and the rapists from the country. Her investigation covers over two hundred films, ranging from admired mainstream examples, such as The Accused, to such exploitation products as the widely banned I Spit on Your Grave. Clover emphasizes the importance of the "low" tradition in filmmaking, arguing that it has provided some of the most significant artistic and political innovations of the past two decades. Female-hero films like Silence of the Lambs and Thelma and Louise may be breakthroughs from the point of view of mainstream Hollywood cinema, but their themes have a long ancestry in lowlife horror.