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

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  846 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 11th 1993 by Princeton University Press (first published April 15th 1992)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 06, 2007 Dirk rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any film buff
If you see only one movie this year, read this book.
Nov 07, 2007 Lauryl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone, provided they like non-fiction feminist discourse or horror films
Okay, so at the moment, I'm actually halfway through it, but I'm enjoying it immensely, not least because it combines my love of horror movies with my love of analyzing the crap out of everything for its feminist implications. The writing is crisp and succinct and a bit less dry than reading, say, Laura Mulvey, but still dense with ideas and academic enough to satisfy the snob in me. Not too facile, I guess is what I mean to say. I also enjoy Clover's willingness to ask more questions than she h ...more
May 07, 2012 Blake rated it really liked it
Shelves: film-literary
If, as their detractors would have it, horror films offer satisfaction of sadistic desires then they offer as much to the masochistic ones or more. Put pithily as it is, this is a crucial point from Clover that tears apart a prevailing view of horror. You are thereafter in possession of a fine thread and, though this book can at a cursory glance seem a haystack, it’s a worthwhile task to search for the needle: Clover does the sewing and leaves you with a tidy stitch.

Though they will be familiar
Anna  (Bananas!)
Jan 10, 2013 Anna (Bananas!) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: horror movie fans...obviously
Shelves: favorites
This book is responsible for igniting my horror obsession.

Various genres are covered (slasher, possession, haunting, revenge-I Spit On Your Grave gets a lot of attention), as well as films that influenced horror, like the Alien movies, Deliverance, and even The Accused.

The "last girl" trope, male gaze, and other common elements are discussed, their place in the history of horror cinema, their origin and purpose. The book also delves into why we enjoy being frightened. Why are we so attracted to
Jun 02, 2012 Stasi rated it liked it
i think sometimes, pig blood is just pig blood. some things are just things, and not a sexual reference.
Feb 18, 2009 Felix rated it really liked it
Shelves: theory
Carol J. Clover in this book sets out to refute the thesis that horror films cater to sadistic impulses and that their viewers are identifying with the perpetrators of on-screen atrocities. This refusal to join the chorus of horror's condemnators alone makes me partial to her arguments. But its not just a question of personal taste. Clover's arguments in support of her own thesis (that male viewers cross-gender identify with female victims) are sound and convincing, supported by detailed analyse ...more
Apr 18, 2008 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In Men, Women and Chainsaws, written in 1992, Carol J. Clover looks at the horror movies of the preceding two decades, focusing particularly on low-budget films and even more particularly on that most despised of all sub-genres, the slasher film. Clover disputes the traditional interpretation of such movies as being driven purely by male sadism towards women. She asks pertinent questions about why a form that appeals mostly to young men should feature almost exclusively female heroes, and should ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If the slasher film is "on the face of it" a genre with at least a strong female presence, it is in these figurative readings a thoroughly male exercise, one that finally has very little to do with femaleness and very much to do with phallocentrism. Figuratively seen, the Final Girl is a male surrogate in things oedipal, a homoerotic stand-in, the audience incorporate; to the extent she means "girl" at all, it is only for purposes of signifying male lack, and even that meaning is nullified in th ...more
Aug 03, 2015 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To any fan of the genre, there is little doubt that women in horror films have changed throughout the years - from the plot devices that became tiresome of the woman as the swooning, ill prepared victim in the early days of film to the heroic women that were portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver in Halloween and Aliens respectively, the idea of the female scream queen transitioned into that of the battle hardened heroine pretty readily throughout the past seventy five years. In this ...more
Feb 22, 2008 Flora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
One of the most original, readable, and persuasive works of film scholarship out there, and, unlike so much academic writing, it's both complex *and* refreshingly clear. Clover's concept of "The Final Girl" -- like Laurie in "Halloween" or the screaming blonde in the cut-offs in the last half-hour of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" -- upturns all that tired male-gaze theory that cropped up in the wake of Laura Mulvey. (Her close reading of "Peeping Tom" is terrific, too.)
Cory Gaskins
Jan 17, 2014 Cory Gaskins rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by horror films and sociological/gender studies aspect of the genre.

After the intro, where the author describes how horror films mainly targets teen male audiences but have a strong female protagonists, this book discusses:

Part 1: Slasher films and why such films have strong female lead despite the genre being popular among teen males.

Part 2: Possession films. How the ones that are being possessed are females but such films ar
Nov 14, 2007 Tracey rated it really liked it
i liked this book... it got me thinking and reading more into the horror movies i know and love and even introduced me to some i now want to see. the end kinda goes off on a tangent i think but i love most of it... she has put a lot of thought into it.
Apr 23, 2010 Stas marked it as to-read
written by Joshua Clover's mom.
Aug 26, 2014 Melody rated it it was amazing
I’ve increasingly avoided this book for many years, despite its title clearly being increasingly more relevant to my interests, for a couple of reasons (other than the fact that it’s been out of print for so long and hard to find for a decent price - if that’s stopping you, let me tell you now: just buy it!).

Firstly, I’ve read, listened to or otherwise consumed the work of so many others influenced by its contents (Mark Kermode has often talked about it, Kim Newman mentions it too in his monumen
Seán Hudson
Oct 03, 2013 Seán Hudson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important book for film studies, horror studies, and gender theory; for each in turn and as an intersection between the three. The idea of cross-gender identification in films is so evident that it's shocking that no one had treated it seriously until this book. Clover writes in a coherent, easy-to-follow style that would benefit more academics – unfortunately, she also repeats herself to the point that it seems a quick editing job would have worked wonders on the final product. Sometimes, th ...more
Aug 17, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mike by: murderers, hill people, troglodytes, ghouls
Written almost two decades ago, back in ’92, Men, Women, and Chain Saws confronts the (then) prevailing consensus that horror movies were about guys watching girls get brutalized. The author argues that there is often a "final girl" who by the end of the movie fights back against the oppressor, and that the audience identifies with both sides of the pain equation. Not myself terribly versed in the genre I found her arguments compelling but also unverifiable. I'm not even sure if criticism like t ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Richard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: so-glad-i-read
Holy frijoles, this book presents an intriguing view of gender challenges in the tradition of horror flicks. Though Clover's primary focus is on the 70s/80s era of slasher films, it's interesting to see her ideas still at play and even extended--that this book itself has helped evolve the horror genre. Maybe it hasn't evolved in the post positive of directions, but we ARE talking horror, people, and Clover's analyses lay a spectacular groundwork of gender challenges and sexual incapabilities tha ...more
Tom Goulter
Nov 03, 2015 Tom Goulter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book when I was 16 and realising that maybe horror wasn't the cultural wasteland of malign influences that I'd been assured it was; rereading it now, I'm struck by just how vital a contribution it's made to my enjoyment of cinema and my wider thinking over the subsequent years. If I were to attempt a summary of Clover's thesis, it's that horror cinema pries open gaps between masculine and feminine, sadism and masochism, identification and objectification; and in doing so, shows ...more
Oct 08, 2010 eq rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I browsed through this book for academic purposes and not for a leisurely read. I wasn't a film major but having lived with one, I became interested in film studies by proxy and this book often comes up in discussions.

My main problem was with the footnotes. Take note: Anything that needs a half page of writing material in the footnotes should probably be incorporated into the actual text. Otherwise, you might as well call your book The House of Leaves.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that ge
Sep 16, 2012 Seth rated it it was amazing
Although later critics have taken exception to a number of Clovers' perceptions, I find them to be quite prescient to this day. In fact, I would wager that those critics didn't really read the book, a number of the points they bring up are directly addressed by the author throughout the book.
As a longstanding fan of the very sub-genres that Clover analyses I can see many of the things she explicates surfacing in similar films 25 years later.
Although Clover relies heavily on Freudian psychoanalis
Pembroke Sinclair
Dec 26, 2014 Pembroke Sinclair rated it really liked it
I read this book while working on my thesis, which then evolved in my nonfiction book, Life Lessons from Slasher Films. I really enjoyed the insight that Ms. Clover brought forth, although I didn't always agree with her argument. However, this book really helped me develop my own ideas and gave me great insight into the slasher genre.
Megan Cobb
A very insightful and intriguing book. It probably would have been less of a slog if I were more familiar with low budget horror from the '70s and '80s.
I also wish that, along with the wonderful new front cover, they had added color (or at least more high resolution) pictures to this edition, because in most of them I can barely make out what they are supposed to depict.
Ethan Parkin
Apr 13, 2016 Ethan Parkin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Phenomenal book and study of horror, gender, class and everything in between. Intelligent enough to be academic but simple enough to be accessible, broad enough to include a good range of films and not pretentious enough to be snobby about it and a great thing the writer does, is she presents a lot of ideas and takes you down a path of analysis but doesn't force feed you a right or wrong answer and allows you to think and be involved with her investigations as much as her; she has found the bala ...more
Marc Andrew
Feb 09, 2016 Marc Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books
Seminal work on gender theory in horror films. Responsible for the initial identification and analysis of the "final girl" trope in slasher films, and chock full of other, comparable insights and study.

Great book
Chris Puzak
Mar 22, 2014 Chris Puzak rated it liked it
A little dry, but it was interesting to read a feminist defense of movies like I Spit on Your Grave
Oct 12, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing
If you like B-grade horror flicks and have a hankerin' for feminist theory, you'll love this book . . . Clover looks at a huge spectrum of horror films, from the lowest of the low ("I Spit On Your Grave," "Ms. 45,") to big budget successes ("Halloween," "Carrie"), examining the role of gender, specifically the curious fact that although horror audiences appear to consist mostly of young white men, the characters these men identify with are overwhelmingly vulnerable females-- the sole survivors o ...more
Jul 01, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film, read-in-2015
A little dry in some sections and naturally a bit dated in its pre-internet understanding of film culture (and not especially expansive in its understanding of gender), but overall an enlightening read. I haven't seen many of the films discussed but still found Clover's analyses readable and often fascinating, even if I didn't always agree with them. She's given me a lot to think about as I watch and re-watch some of these films.

The best part is I got tons of movie recommendations out of this.
If you are at all interested in feminist film analysis, this book is a must-read. Though I wish Clover had spent more time explicitly exploring the queer subtext of her arguments, I learned a lot from reading this book and appreciated her insights. Like Laura Mulvey, Clover's work has been clearly influential on feminist film theory -- whether or not you agree with everything she says, the text is groundbreaking and set the stage for the conversations we're having today. Really interesting read.
Jayne Lamb
Sep 17, 2011 Jayne Lamb rated it really liked it
Super-dense critical theory, unfortunately quite dated now (originally published in 1990.) Thus, some of the films Clover focuses on are a little arbitary (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre II? Witchboard?) Having said that I would love to see her feminist take on the meta-horror of the 90's, and I also noted with great pleasure that towards the end she thought it was possible that vampires were going to get another go-round. Would love to know what she makes of Twilight, True Blood et al.
Jan 24, 2014 Kirsty rated it liked it
Interesting theories, but holy hell it's difficult to read. Academics, try to help readers out a little.
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