Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bookshelf: MEN, WOMEN AND CHAINSAWS


What a title, eh? This is a book that's been used in college film studies courses, but the title and the subject matter made me pick it up. Basically, besides being a rumination on how gender is used and twisted in horror movies, it's also a collection of thoughts that dwell on the reason a main audience of younger males is attracted to a genre in which the "winning" protagonist in the end turns out to be a woman.

The author, Carol J. Clover, isn't a true horror fan--she admits that, and tells us that she watched a certain amount of movies as a base for her studies. Also, this book is pretty dated, and it doesn't include the more recent influx of "scary" movies from the past couple of decades, from more cerebral thrillers that filled the vacuum of slasher movies after the genre petered out in the late 80s to the wave of PG-13 wastes of time that are being released now. There's no Cronenberg DEAD RINGERS, for instance (a movie which I find to be deeply disturbing and horrific) and no post-SCREAM meta-scary movie references. But what's here is very interesting, because Clover essentially takes a genre that has garnered very little intellectual credit and gives it a lot of power. She even compares the structure of slasher movies to that of fairy tales, which ends up making perfect sense.

In one section, she even dissects a cult movie that many critics take great happiness in hating: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Clover's thoughts are fascinating. I saw that movie long ago--and, yes, it was very unsettling--but I never even suspected that deeper psychological and sociological workings were afoot. I never realized there was even an entire subgenre of "country versus city" horror movies being released at the time and that, in Clover's point of view, they are a throwback to earlier "cowboy versus Indian" movies.

I guess this book is more intriguing if you've watched hundreds of horror movies, but what she has to say about actions defining gender in these films rather than *gender* defining gender is worth exploring....

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