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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,307 ratings  ·  114 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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4.10  · 
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 ·  1,307 ratings  ·  114 reviews

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Aug 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any film buff
If you see only one movie this year, read this book.
Oct 03, 2007 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
Anna (Bananas)
Nov 04, 2012 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
Sep 26, 2010 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
Jun 02, 2012 rated it liked it
i think sometimes, pig blood is just pig blood. some things are just things, and not a sexual reference.
Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This book struggles in part (I think) because the author has trouble truly embracing horror. She seems to feel the need to authenticate the horror films she discusses by aligning them with mainstream Hollywood movies. This wouldn't be as distracting if she did not go into such detail about these non-horror films. Unfortunately, she winds up making them the focus at many points, losing her readers. For example, she spends the better part of the third essay talking about Deliverance in explicit de ...more
Carla Remy
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No, I didn't read this again, I just need to amend it. I recently saw this book on my shelf, and wanted to see what I said about it, so I brought up this review. Anyway, I have no idea what I meant by "I feel privileged, as an outsider." I guess that I'm not a film scholar and most of us don't care about these things? Yeah, that maybe makes sense . But such big (pretentious) words for such a confusing sentiment.

I like the writing of academic books and I love analysis of horror. There is
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though this was written in the 80s and published in 1992, leaving a huge gap between then and the current display of horror films, it is still an important work that for the most part refutes the viewer identification with sadism thesis. The "Final Girl" is in our lexicon because of Clover and she makes a powerful argument that the popularity of horror films, even among its mostly male viewers, is rooted in identification with the victim and from a perspective of masochism. Although horror ...more
Apr 18, 2008 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
Peter Landau
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sometimes a chainsaw is just a chainsaw and then there’s MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAINSAWS: GENDER IN THE MODERN HORROR FILM by Carol J. Clover, which takes a Freudian look at the slasher craze in exploitation, with detours into rape-revenge and satanic possession movies.

The chainsaw, butcher knife, hypodermic needle, etc., are, well, you can figure that out. But Clover blazes an original trial in being the first to define the concept of the “final girl”: the last victim left standing who kills or vanq
Jan Stinchcomb
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is starting to feel a bit dated and undeniably hung up on Freud/Lacan. Still, Carol J. Clover coined the term "Final Girl," and that famous opening chapter will forever remain a must-read for horror fans. I also found Chapter Three, which focuses on the rape-revenge genre (with special emphasis on I Spit on Your Grave), to be intensely interesting. The book as a whole, which examines so many films by male directors for a supposedly male audience, makes me all the more grateful for toda ...more
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Probably one of the most special pieces of modern film analysis it is I think a must-read for anyone interested in (horror) films. It's the kind of academic writing I strife for: precise, entertaining, and understandable even to someone not familiar with the theoretical framework this book builds upon.
There are some really interesting and vital points about the relationship between the audience and horror movies but rather than plumbing that particular depth; the reader is instead treated to an endless stream of psychoanalytic recursion (which weirdly is very much about Carol J Clover's relationship to horror films and less about the relationship between horror films and their actual audiences because most audience members are not Carol J Clover). This isn't to say the book is entirely wretch ...more
Jan 22, 2009 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
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Men, Women, and Chainsaws is a film theory book that I've heard referenced since I've been getting more interested in gender and horror. I couldn't get it for years because it was out of print and/or super expensive, but now it's reprinted and accessible. I was daunted at first because I know from literature that theory books aren't always the most entertaining read, but the majority of the book is easily readable and engaging. Carol Clover lays out the formulas for three different horror subgen ...more
Oct 05, 2007 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.
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: film, non-fiction, 2016
If I'd known it was this good I'd have read it years ago.
Apr 23, 2010 marked it as to-read
written by Joshua Clover's mom.
Robert Seitz
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
Sometimes when I am feeling very light and humorous, I like to watch horror films. Sometimes, when my nerves are tender, I avoid them. So the way I physically relate to images can change quite a bit over time. But some of my biggest childhood heroes, like Rod Serling, Elvira, or Vincent Price, introduced me to the highbrow possibilities for humor and social reflection in dark tales. And it's always been with us, much of folk lore is particularly dark and likely to be along the lines of a horror ...more
Willow Redd
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: film
Listen, I love film criticism and theory.

Now, by film criticism, I don't mean film critics, because I don't think they really understand or appreciate film in the proper way. No, by "film criticism," I mean deeply researched critical theory like this book.

Carol Clover has been taking a deep look at horror movies for years, and what she's come up with is a fascinating study of the gender representation within that genre. I don't mean to say the basic gender breakdown between killer/monster and vi
michael audet
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
everyone should have to read this before they can call themselves horror fans. sometimes Carol relies on the same movies over n over again in her essays (eg. most of her slasher essay is focused on Halloween, Friday the 13th, & The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which is mostly fair because those are the genre biggies, but extremely subversive stuff like the fascinating Slumber Party Massacre (half feminist polemic, half very typical slasher movie, as well as one of the only movies where scenario ...more
Lee Ann
May 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This was certainly an interesting book, if a little dated (especially in its use of transphobic terms). It was definitely fascinating to read feminist criticism of horror and all its subgenres, though I wish it wasn't so overly focused on Freud, who I find to be kind of a hack. I was most interested in the chapter on possession films, as it's super relevant to a short story I've been writing, and I found a lot of great quotes in that chapter. I appreciate that this book put into words so many of ...more
Nov 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and explored set of essays on gender and it's relevance in the horror genre. Clover does a wonderful job of interacting with a large number of films (the movies sited is vast), but generally focuses on 2-4 in each of the essays as her primary talking partner.

While all the essays are worth looking at, her take on the slasher subgenre is the most interesting and lasting. Even 20+ years after it's original publication it offers a fair amount of insight into what it is going on with th
Mark Palermo
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. People who spend any time with me tend to learn of my annoyance toward most new politically-angled film crit on the grounds that it has A) a very limited understanding of how movies work, B) a myopic view of political reality, or C) some combination of both.

Clover blows the doors off in her gender-study of horror movies, finding the subversive, and at times only subconsciously progressive elements in derided low-art. This is ultimately a book about cross-gender identification, and of
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: film-video
Here is a critical study of horror movies from the 1970s and 80s that is more interesting than the films themselves. Clover, a professor of literature at Berkeley, digs below the surface of a number of these sleazy flicks to try and get at what emotions and cultural realities exist there. There is a fair amount of feminist discussion re the portrayal and violation of the female body and what gender-related roles are being acted out onscreen and experienced by the audience, but this is no simplis ...more
Kike Ramos
This was a very interesting book, in which the author discusses horror tropes and themes in slashers, possession stories and rape revenge films, using gender theory and psychoanalysis. Clover proposes that horror can be a movie genre in which the gender lines are blurred and characters must be interpreted by their actions and not by their sex.

Although I am not a fan of psychoanalitic theory, the author uses it in a smart way to analize the movies and the people who like to watch them.

In the en
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an incredibly complex book looking into gender in horror films that took me almost a year to read and contemplate. It is as ostentatious and nearly impenetrable as anything Gayatri Spivak wrote. Acknowledging the challenge in reading it, the book supports my own theories about men, women and violence in horror movies as well as putting into words what were heretofore unhypostasized impressions. This book is no joke. It’s not light reading and it’s not for people without a deep experienc ...more
Glynis Neely
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was incredibly fun to read - for me - despite having read some of it in college already. I wish I had read the whole book in school, because there was so much in here about Videodrome - which i wrote my senior thesis on - and I would've loved to have that information.

However, the book itself it quite dated in terms of horror. Clover's analysis stops just short of the release of Scream, which of course revamped the entire slasher genre. I would love a new updated version of this book a
Jan 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
predictable paranoid narcissistic feminist discourse with its obsessive monoview of the world in a victim oppressor dichotomy. sucks the life and richness out of the genre with its flat one-dimensional obsessions. I wonder if we will ever get past this era of women who see everything as revolving around themselves, where no subject or issue exists unless it has been made to be about the alleged plight of women. It was stale, tired and toxic thirty years ago, it is the same now.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: course-lit
I read this for the largest paper I've written so far in Uni (on gender and sexuality in 'Scream 2', 'Teeth', and 'The Babysitter'). While reading this much in four days is exceptional for me and something I very, VERY, rarely do (especially if it's for class), I had not trouble doing it with this magnificent book. Interesting, thought provoking, and enlightening. I for sure have a ground to stand on for my paper.
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