Science Fiction Studies

#74 = Volume 25, Part 1 = March, 1998



  • Rob Latham. Phallic Mothers and Monster Queers (Barry Keith Grant, ed. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film; Harry M. Benshoff. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film)
  • Teresa Mangum. Pangs of Mortality (The Slusser-Westfahl-Rabkin Collection Immortal Engines)



Rob Latham

Phallic Mothers and Monster Queers

Barry Keith Grant, ed. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Austin: U of Texas P (800-252-3206), 1996. xviii+442. $55.00 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Harry M. Benshoff. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. New York: Manchester UP (212-982-3900), 1997. viii+328. $69.95 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Barry Keith Grant previously edited Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film (Scarecrow, 1984), which is probably the best critical anthology yet devoted to the genre--its major competition being Robin Wood and Richard Lippe's American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film (Festival of Festivals, 1979) and Gregory A. Waller's American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film (U of Illinois P, 1987). The Dread of Difference at once updates and narrows the focus of that earlier collection, culling five new and sixteen reprinted essays--most first published in film journals since roughly the mid-1980s--on the topic of gender in horror cinema. The result is certainly a more cohesive collection, although its circumscribed focus also makes for a degree of repetition and a sense, at times, of intellectual constriction. This sense derives less from any inherent limitation in the subject, but rather from the restricted theoretical perspectives brought to bear upon it. Judging from this book, it is fairly clear that, at least in academic film studies, psychoanalysis holds the franchise on gender-based criticism. This is perhaps understandable, though it leads to some difficulties, as we shall see.

The Dread of Difference is divided into three parts. Part One contains three essays devoted to cornerstone arguments, their foundational nature indicated by the fact that most of the remaining essays either draw upon or prominently cite them. Part Two contains eight essays examining historical or generic film cycles and the work of specific auteurs (the bulk of the original, as opposed to reprinted, articles are featured in this section). Part Three contains ten essays offering readings of individual films. This movement from the general to the particular is well conceived, though it has the unfortunate effect of making much of the final section seem like a mere deductive application of ideas already adumbrated in the earlier parts. Indeed, the third section, though the longest, is by far the weakest, filled with one-note articles that add little to the volume's conceptual field. On a happier note, the book is enlivened throughout by fifty-nine well-chosen stills that supplement the text beautifully.

Part One opens with Linda Williams' "When the Woman Looks," originally published in 1983, which reworks the basic argument of Laura Mulvey's influential 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" to analyze the horror genre. Briefly, Mulvey argued that narrative film is organized by a scopic regime which instantiates the male gaze; the female spectator is thus forced to adopt this perspective, with the result that her pleasure in looking is always complicit with a masculine--and essentially patriarchal--psychic structure. Within film narratives, male characters provide surrogates for spectatorial identification, while female characters exist solely as objects of a voyeuristic gaze; thus, the entire system is not only gendered but structured by unequal relations of power. Williams adapts this argument to show how, in the horror film, the characteristic moment of "the woman's terrified look at the horrible body of the monster" involves "a surprising (and at times subversive) affinity between monster and woman," since both come to recognize "their similar status within patriarchal structures of seeing" (17-18). Like women characters, monsters are spectacular objects, marked by difference from the normative male spectator, but the strange affinity between them, in what Williams calls the "classic" horror film, suggests a "feared power and potency" latent in female sexuality (24).

In 1960, however, with the simultaneous appearance of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, this situation changed. What changed was the organization of the spectatorial gaze in terms of the films' "monsters": "the audience is now asked to identify with the monster's point of view" (24), with the result that normative (male) psychic structures privileging a sadistic voyeurism and subordinating woman as object now proceed through the monster. While Peeping Tom self-reflexively incorporates a critical distance that marks it as "a progressive horror film" which brilliantly "lays bare the voyeuristic structure of cinema" (27), Psycho is a deeply reactionary movie which deploys this new model to "insidious" effect. Because Hitchcock's "slasher" approach has proven so popular, Williams' critique is conducted largely by means of a systematic demolition of Brian De Palma's 1980 homage to Psycho, Dressed to Kill (I must admit that I find this a rather slippery move). In this film--and, Williams contends, in all of its manifold slasher cousins--"women are increasingly punished for the threatening nature of their sexuality," with the result that "the recognition and affinity between woman and monster of the classic horror film gives way to pure identity: she is the monster, her mutilated body is the only visible horror" (31).

Williams' argument displays, I think, both the strengths and the weaknesses of its critical approach--and thus of much of this volume. In the first place, it is impressive in its analytic rigor, the Mulveyan formula (with its Freudian roots) proving at once solid and subtle. At the same time, it conveys the strong implication that narrative film history involves solely the intrinsic development of this theoretical schema, which generates a hermetic air that makes it difficult to pose important materialist and sociological questions. For example: what if the spectatorial system is a contingent historical artifact rather than an essential psychic structure? what extrinsic (social, cultural, economic) factors might account for the transition from classic horror film to the slasher model? How did actual spectators--men and women--respond to this change? Too many of the entries in this book proceed as if these sorts of questions were fundamentally irrelevant to the project of analyzing the genre.

Secondly, Williams' feminist animus--her goal of not only describing but critiquing the horror film--gives her argument a critical edge that is admirably sharp and penetrating. Unfortunately, wedded as it is to the Mulveyan schema, it also tends to generate a narrow theoretical/political litmus test for specific films: thus, Peeping Tom is "progressive" while Psycho is "reactionary." However, a film's ideological orientation is seldom so starkly obvious, largely because it is not, as Williams implies, simply written into the structure of the text itself but rather involves an interpretive transaction between the film and its variously situated viewers. Williams' approach erases these viewers, with their complex positionalities; they disappear into the formal operations of the cinematic apparatus, behind which stand, finally, the psychoanalytic monoliths of (white, middle-class, heterosexual) Man and Woman. Moreover, Williams is driven by such a sense of theoretical conviction that she doesn't even feel the need to watch a film before pigeon-holing it; journalistic review coverage is enough to convince her that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1980) are sadistic atrocities. Unfortunately, a substantial number of the essays in The Dread of Difference, despite their pointed feminist consciousness, subscribe to Williams' undialectical, formalist concept of ideology, and the constricted neo-Freudian gender politics that underwrites it which leads at times to similarly high-handed treatments of particular movies.

The second essay in Part One, Barbara Creed's "Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection" (first published in 1986 and the basis for her booklength study, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis [Routledge, 1993]), takes up, as its title implies, Julia Kristeva's difficult notion of abjection. Indeed, most of Creed's essay involves a painstaking reconstruction of Kristeva's argument; scattered references to horror films--usually in the form of illustrative lists--appear as mere footnotes to this theoretical précis. (The only real exception to this stricture involves a series of disconnected observations--they could hardly be said to constitute a "reading"--regarding the 1979 sf-horror movie Alien in terms of its putative enactment of the primal scene and its vision of the phallic mother.) This casualness of allusion to an indiscriminate range of texts--in which no meaningful historical or aesthetic distinctions exist between the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an exploitation movie like Zombie Flesheaters (1979) --bespeaks another problem, in my view, with psychoanalytic approaches (Kristeva relies heavily on Lacan): namely, their broad, decontextualizing sweep, which makes everything equally grist for the theoretical mill. From a totalizing perspective such as Creed's, history, with its messy details, does not exist.

Still, within the limited terms of her method, her argument is subtle and interesting--though obviously strongly derivative of Kristeva. For Kristeva, the process of abjection involves the maintenance of psychic and bodily integrity through the ritualistic expulsion of that which threatens it, from objects of conventional disgust like excrement to more symbolic contaminants--including, for example, visions of the maternal body as a menacing, devouring monster (residue of the pre-Oedipal stage of the child's fusion with the mother). According to Creed, the horror film in general models abjection in that it is invariably concerned with the transgression of a tabooed border, usually involving the irruption of unconscious material; more specifically, she is interested in films which figure the mother-child relationship by deploying abjected images of the monstrous-feminine. These images, while seeming misogynistic, actually express a fretful fascination with the suppressed potencies of female agency. Amounting to a "modern defilement rite," the popular horror film has as its "central ideological project" confrontation with and purification of the abject (46). Interestingly, in the process it undermines the verities of the Mulveyan model by "put[ting] the viewing subject's sense of a unified self into crisis" so that conventional "strategies of identification are temporarily broken" and the "pleasure in looking is transformed into pain" (57). Creed's essay marks a decided shift from a model of horror spectatorship founded on voyeuristic sadism to one structured primarily by masochism--a shift which the third essay in Part One carries brilliantly forward.

Carol Clover's "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film" is, at 47 pages, not only the longest essay in the volume, but also the most important. Originally published in 1987, it was subsequently incorporated into the major booklength study of horror cinema published in the last decade, the elegantly titled Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton UP, 1992). Given her growing influence, one can understand why Grant sought to include something by Clover in his collection, though this essay's ready availability as Chapter One of her book makes its duplication here a bit questionable. Indeed, Grant's liberal policy of excerpting extant texts (fully six of the "essays" are chapters from single-author studies or previous anthologies) makes The Dread of Difference seem at times more like a textbook canvassing major critical viewpoints than an anthology breaking new paths--though it probably does increase the volume's utility as a resource in film studies classes.

What I find most admirable about Clover's approach is that, unlike Williams and Creed, who seem to descend from a theoretical empyrean, she grounds her argument inductively in a comprehensive review of the slasher subgenre, a structural anatomy of which makes up the first two-thirds of her essay. Thus, when she finally proceeds to broader claims, one has the sense that they are much more thoroughly earned. Her anatomy isolates and analyzes five key elements of the slasher film: the killer (usually "propelled by psychosexual fury" and showing "signs of gender confusion" [75]); characteristic locale (the "Terrible Place, most often a house or tunnel" [78]); weapons (the general eschewal of guns proving that "closeness and tactility issue" [79]); victims (including especially the ultimate trial and survival of a "Final Girl" who confronts and defeats the killer); and shock effects (involving the "cultivation of intentionally outrageous excess" [87]). This brief summary hardly does justice to the enormous critical intelligence and erudition that inform Clover's survey, which is based upon the viewing of several dozen slasher movies. (Prospective readers of her book should know that she devotes the same care to her consideration of rape-revenge and demonic possession films.)

Clover's proposed modification of the conventional model of film spectatorship derives from her analysis of the significance of the Final Girl. Expressing her discomfort with the essentializing assumption "that screen males represent the Male and screen females the Female; [and] that this identification along gender lines authorizes impulses toward sexual violence in males and encourages impulses toward victimization in females," Clover proposes instead a notion of "cross-gender identification" in which male viewers accept "a female victim-hero" as their narrative surrogate (89). Through a skillful analysis of point-of-view and camera movement, Clover shows how this identification is effected. She then proceeds to draw out the larger implications of this spectatorial process: rather than a sadistic voyeurism, the male viewer indulges a masochistic fantasy of victimization that implicitly "feminizes" him while the female viewer, rather than accepting her status as fetishized object, becomes "masculinized" through the Final Girl's arrogation of narrative agency. What the slasher film accomplishes is nothing short of a "theatricalization of gender" (102) rife with "hermaphroditic constructions" (100) that unsettle the normative assumptions of traditional spectatorship theories. Clover declines to make baldly "progressive" or "reactionary" claims regarding this situation, though she concludes with the relatively hopeful judgment that "the slasher does, in its own perverse way and for better or worse, constitute a visible adjustment in the terms of gender representation" (106).

It is a magisterial argument, but it does not entirely escape the problems that dog Williams' and Creed's essays. For, in the final analysis, Clover's claims about spectatorship models remain, in terms of historical context and the implications for actual audiences, more or less purely speculative. While her essay is spiced with occasional anecdotes about real-world viewers, and while her final pages attempt to sketch a relevant sociological background, these efforts are largely gestural. Still, they mark a significant attempt to move beyond the decontextualizing formalism and psychological essentialism of most neo-Freudian film theory, and they deserve to be applauded for this alone.

The specific sequencing of essays in Part One might lead one to conclude that the next logical step for horror film criticism--and for film scholarship in general--is to pursue more detailed historical and sociological research in order to buttress and refine its theoretical insights. This conclusion gains support from Grant's placement, as the first essay in Part Two, of an abridgment of the third chapter of Rhona Berenstein's excellent recent book, Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender, Sexuality, and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema (Columbia UP, 1996). While Berenstein admits that it is impossible to access the reactions of the original audiences to classic horror films, her work nonetheless builds on important primary research into "a range of studio marketing devices, local exhibitor ploys, and film reviews that played with, appealed to, and made fascinating assumptions about the genre's gender address during the thirties" (118). Attending to this extratextual matrix is crucial, she argues, since it historically established a "reception climate" within which practices of spectatorship developed (122). Berenstein's approach not only avoids the pitfall of making categorical claims based on the projections of a normative theory, it also skirts the opposing danger of a facile relativism, of positing the film audience as entirely free from determining structures of interpretation. Indeed, her specific conclusions about the composition and response of classic horror's female audience are less important, finally, than her move to a more historically grounded method and, linked with this, to a more dialectically nuanced understanding of the operation of ideology in popular film.

The following essay, Vivian Sobchack's "Bringing It All Back Home: Family Economy and Generic Exchange," carries this trend forward, calling as it does for "a historicizing and dialectical criticism" that can effectively read the "political unconscious" of "a capitalist and patriarchal cinema" (159). Reprinted from its first appearance in the Waller anthology American Horrors, it analyzes, with Sobchack's characteristic panache, the peculiar imbrication of three popular film genres during the 1970s and early 1980s: horror, science fiction, and the family melodrama. "Engaging in an urgent and dynamic exchange, whose goal is ultimately conservative, the three genres attempt to narratively contain, work out, and in some fashion resolve the contemporary weakening of patriarchal authority and the glaring contradictions that exist between the mythology of family relations and their actual social practice" (147). Focusing especially on the figure of the child and on child-adult relations, Sobchack prosecutes a brilliant comparative argument whose density and allusiveness make it impossible to neatly summarize (though I should point out that I think her final verdict on these genres is too starkly negative). Suffice it to say that the essay is a high point of the book, showing what an informed, reciprocal attention to filmic text and context can accomplish in the hands of a first-rate critic.

It is also, in a sense, the theoretical end-point of the volume, since with very few exceptions the remaining sixteen essays rehash the same set of issues, generally with less penetration and verve. I understand that they are also more modestly purposed than the initial theoretical pieces, offering readings of discrete bodies of work or specific movies rather than pursuing large-scale arguments, but even granting this fact, they seem, in the mass, rather thin in both concept and execution (this is especially true, as noted above, of the entries in Part Three). There are some exceptions to this negative judgment, of course.

Of the remaining six essays in Part Two, four were newly commissioned for this volume. Of these the best, I think, is Lianne McLarty's essay on David Cronenberg, which traces convincingly a transition in that director's work between early films (Rabid [1976], The Brood [1979]) which--deploying images of Creed's "monstrous-feminine"--find horror in female sexuality, to later films (The Fly [1986], Dead Ringers [1988]) that instead "locate the monstrous in a mind representative of patriarchal social practices" (232). McLarty not only effectively demonstrates why this shift in Cronenberg's work marks a "progressive" move, but also makes an admirable attempt to specify what the categories of "progressive" and "reactionary" might legitimately signal in a postmodern milieu that has seemingly transcended the "notion of a homogenous (dominant and dominating) mass culture" (249). (By contrast, editor Grant, in his own otherwise interesting essay on the 1990 remake of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), throws around the term "progressive" in a rather vague and contradictory way.) McLarty's major insight, it seems to me, is that identifying the ideological import of popular films is not a matter of showing how they inflect a pre-given formal structure (e.g. the spectatorial gaze) but rather registering their contribution to an ongoing cultural-political contest, a "hegemonic struggle over meanings" (249).

As their titles imply, Thomas Doherty's "Genre, Gender, and the Aliens Trilogy" and Adam Knee's "Gender, Genre, Argento" are committed, at least nominally, to covering the basic topics of the volume. In fact, however, Doherty's essay, while a capable enough thematic review of the Alien movies as sf-horror crossovers, has rather little to say about gender save for a few vague references to the implicit "feminism" of Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley. Conversely, while he makes wide-ranging claims for the gender-bending effects of Italian director Dario Argento's films, Knee's attention to genre is somewhat iffy, uneasily conflating slasher films and works of supernatural horror. Still, Knee's essay is interesting as an application of Clover's notion of the performativity of gender in the slasher movie, indicating as it does a growing dissatisfaction with "the rigidity of certain psychoanalytic schema and of certain assumptions about gendered binarisms in the horror film" (215). I also applaud any attempt to cast more light on the relatively neglected work of probably the finest horror director of the past thirty years (though I wonder why Grant, who is not shy about culling excerpts from books, chose not to include instead a chapter from Maitland McDonough's fine critical study, Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento [Sun Tavern Fields, 1991]).

The final new essay in this section, Tony Williams' "Trying to Survive on the Darker Side: 1980s Family Horror," also engages the views of Clover, though in a considerably less enthusiastic manner. Indeed, according to Williams, "the Clover thesis"--the notion of the potentially progressive effects of spectatorial masochism in the horror film--is "now falling into the position of becoming a canonical dogma in certain cinema studies circles whose lack of critical acumen resembles religious fundamentalist and 'party line' tendencies" (179). Aside from its sheer surliness, this remark seems, in the context of Williams' narrow-minded polemic, like a classic example of Freudian projection. No one who reads Clover's work carefully is likely to agree that her "analysis elevates the Final Girl into a rigid model" (171); they are likely to conclude, however, that Williams' repetitive indictments of the allegedly reactionary character of 1980s horror movies are the result of a theoretical rigidity bordering on pigheadedness. In Williams' view, Clover's spectatorial masochism is fatally compromised by its purported origins in "situations of patriarchal violence" (168), which renders her argument little better than a rationalization of victimhood; worse, Clover's critical defense of '80s slasher movies "may actually be designed to conceal certain radical meanings associated with seventies horror, meanings now abhorrent to more conservative philosophies held by Hollywood studios and certain academic interpretations" (166). In short, Clover is a witting ideologue for patriarchal capitalism.

The saddest aspect of this frankly embarrassing performance is that Williams seems to support some of the principles I enunciated above in my critique of psychoanalytic methods: specifically, a resistance to "dubious theoretical premises" that come "at the expense of other relevant approaches involving textual, social, and historical areas" (177)--though I hope I expressed this concern more clearly. I did not, however, descend to the ad hominem tactic of accusing the proponents of that tradition of harboring "bourgeois individual tendencies" (177), as Williams does (talk about party lines!). This intellectual Stalinism only goes to show that Freudians do not have a monopoly on dogmatism; historical materialists can be guilty, too. But really, Williams' reductionist views amount at best to a parody of Marxism, as evidenced by simplistic remarks like the following: "Appearing in an era pathologically affirming conservative family values, most 1980s horror films brutally chastised those questioning or disobeying ideological norms" (165); "Eighties horror films serve as allegories to their adolescent audience stressing vulnerability to parents, the adult world, and monstrous punitive avatars whether Jason, Michael, or Freddy" (173). Ironically, this unilateral construction of how ideology operates in popular film is as monolithic and undialectical, as fundamentally inattentive to the interpretive transaction between text and audience, as the psychoanalytic models Williams so deplores.

The last essay in Part Two, Christopher Sharrett's "The Horror Film in Neoconservative Culture" (originally published in 1993), amplifies some of Tony Williams' concerns in a way that is at once more interesting and (if this is possible) even more reductive. Like Williams, Sharrett believes that contemporary horror film has a basic ideological function linked directly to capitalist social structures--in this case, "the restoration of the Other, itself a component of neoconservative political economy" (255). Sharrett pursues this notion by means of extended readings of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Near Dark (1987), the Hellraiser trilogy (1987, '88, '92), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), all of which, he argues, install a demonized Other over against which bourgeois normalcy is recuperated. It is an intriguing thesis but, as developed here, entirely unpersuasive, largely because Sharrett is so literal-minded as to be tone-deaf to irony. To give a single example, his claim that Near Dark is "a reactionary film allegorizing the threat of lumpenized masses of postindustrial citizenry to Middle America" is founded on the belief that there is "nothing in the narrative to motivate sympathy" for the "rapacious nihilism" of its vampire family (261); however, this reading ignores the possibility that the film is not a simplistic allegory but a clever satire precisely of the attitudes of Middle America towards its marginalized Others, and that seasoned horror audiences are alert enough to know the difference. (I have twice seen the film in theaters, and both times the audience clearly identified with the vampires.)

Yet even if one were to grant this possibility, Sharrett has a further ace up his sleeve, since this ironic reading would be little more than evidence of how "reactionary ideas are framed by apparently adversarial gestures, a safety valve that ultimately gives dominant ideology more legitimacy" (260). Sharrett's paranoiac vision of a perfect cohesion between capitalist society and popular culture--so perfect that every gesture of potential resistance is co- opted in advance--is, again, too massively totalizing, endorsing the worst trends in the neo-Marxist critique of mass culture (specifically, Herbert Marcuse's concept of "repressive desublimation"). Certainly, it marks a regression from Sobchack's more sophisticated approach, which draws on Fredric Jameson's significant recastings of that critical legacy--though, as noted above, I find even her negativism too unyielding. The challenge, it seems to me, is to grant cultural texts a degree of aesthetic autonomy while nonetheless maintaining their immersion in a determining matrix of power relations; admitting that this is a vexed theoretical problem, I feel that an approach which views films as mere social allegories (as do Williams and Sharrett consistently, and Sobchack perhaps in her worst moments) insufficiently perceives their complexly mediated nature, and drastically oversimplifies the interpretive exchange between them and their sometimes fractious audiences. In any event, one would have wished for a more solid representation of truly searching materialist arguments to balance the strong psychoanalytic approaches on display in the volume.

One thing Williams' and Sharrett's essays do importantly establish is that the "dread of difference" in horror cinema is not limited to issues of gender but encompasses class and other forms of social difference as well--a point that is explicitly raised, with much more critical skill, by the best essay in Part Three. As Elizabeth Young argues in "Here Comes the Bride: Wedding Gender and Race in Bride of Frankenstein," interpretations that privilege gender at the expense of other markers of identity run the risk of being "not only incomplete but seriously inaccurate" (327). Her own reading of James Whale's 1935 classic powerfully draws together issues relating to gender, sexuality, and race in a way that shows their complex formal and thematic entanglement. First, she shows how women are effectively erased as mere items of exchange in a series of homosocial bonds linking the film's males; then she demonstrates how this patriarchal homosociality is unsettled by "a subversive mode of male homoeroticism" (310) that the film's campy tone renders all but overt; finally, she traces how the monster further confounds the situation, "as a creature marked not only by an undifferentiated 'otherness' but also specifically by behavioral and visual codes associated with blackness" (322). As she stresses, no one strand of this reading is fully adequate without the others, because "gender, sexuality, and race inextricably implicate one another in this film" (327). (I am a bit disappointed that class drops out of her analysis, but I suppose one can't have everything.)

Young's argument is masterly, its best accomplishment being, in my view, its fruitful complication of the issue of ideology. Simply put, when one analytically attends to multiple indices of social difference, it becomes increasingly difficult to posit the film text as a seamless, univocal bearer of meaning; instead, it becomes clear that "the film's narratives of power relations are indelibly marked by contradiction rather than closure" (327). Moreover, focusing exclusively on gender, as psychoanalytically-inflected feminist film criticism tends to do, is not only theoretically impoverished, it also involves a disturbing erasure of race, class, and sexual difference within its own interpretive procedures. As Young provocatively puts it: "without attention to the many forms of difference that structure films..., feminist film theory risks, itself, becoming monstrous" (331). Grant is to be lauded for including this excellent essay (which was originally published in 1991 in Feminist Studies), as it shows the possibility of a reconstructed critical practice that retains a feminist agenda within a more encompassing horizon of commitments and concerns. Unfortunately, in the context of the book's general run of one-note arguments, Young's telling strictures seem almost like a punitive judgment.

This implicit verdict gains strength from the fact that the remaining nine essays in Part Three are not only consistently less critically ambitious but also, at times, merely bad. Vera Dika's "From Dracula--with Love," the final newly commissioned essay, is a case in point, amounting to little more than a fannish review of Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (it also makes Robin Wood's 1983 essay on John Badham's Dracula [1979], a film which allegedly proved the obsolescence of the "undead vampire-aristocrat" [378] as a popular icon, seem spectacularly wrong-headed). Other poor essays in this section include James Conlon's on Fatal Attraction (1987), which deals with issues of gender hardly at all in its overly abstract focus on "passion" as a psychological force, and Harvey Roy Greenberg's "King Kong: The Beast in the Boudoir--or, 'You Can't Marry That Girl, You're a Gorilla!'" which does deal with gender, although (as its title implies) in a sniggeringly sophomoric way. Conlon, an academic philosopher, and Greenberg, a practicing psychiatrist, are clearly moonlighting in film studies; certainly their lightweight pieces suffer by comparison with those of the film scholars.

The remaining five essays, while competent, are slight, and generally did not, I think, deserve reprinting. Three of them--Shelley Stamp Lindsey's on Carrie (1978), Patricia Brett Erens on The Stepfather (1987), and Karen Hollinger's on the two versions of Cat People (1942 and '82)--are more or less entirely under the sway of orthodox feminist film theory and so seem, in the context of some of the volume's revisionist critiques of this tradition, to be examples of what Thomas Kuhn would call "normal science": they do their assigned jobs efficiently, raise no waves, and thus shore up the prevailing paradigm. Lucy Fischer's essay on Rosemary's Baby (1968), which surveys cultural discourses relating to childbirth, and Bonnie Zimmerman's on Daughters of Darkness (1971), which deals with the figure of the lesbian vampire, at least have the distinction of being refreshingly free of psychoanalytic frameworks, but are otherwise not very inspiring. Grant might have been better off omitting Part Three--after integrating Young's article into Part Two--and releasing the book with roughly half its essays; as is, The Dread of Difference seems a potentially fine little anthology trapped inside a grossly distended body.

Bonnie Zimmerman's piece on Daughters of Darkness actually points up yet another shortcoming of the collection: that its focus on gender boils down, finally, to a narrow concern with heterosexual politics. While Clover discusses metaphorical hermaphroditism and Young addresses a discursive homoeroticism, Zimmerman is the only one fully to shift attention to alternative gender identities, and thus to make sexual orientation an explicit issue in the construction of dreaded difference. This systematic oversight on editor Grant's part cannot simply be due to a paucity of relevant scholarship, as the notes and bibliography in Harry M. Benshoff's fine study Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film amply demonstrate. Indeed, Benshoff's book is the result not only of his own film-historical research, but also of several decades of pathbreaking criticism by the likes of Richard Dyer, Diana Fuss, Andrea Weiss, and Robin Wood. It could even be argued--as, in fact, Benshoff does--that contemporary queer theory, by polemically rehabilitating a homophobic epithet to describe itself, provocatively figures gay and lesbian cultural criticism as a form of monstrosity. In any event, Benshoff's book is a crucial corrective--and a useful supplement--to Grant's anthology.

In Benshoff's theoretical Introduction, we immediately encounter a less formalist view of the operation of ideology than we do virtually throughout The Dread of Difference. Tutored by the tradition of British cultural studies, Benshoff recognizes the central importance of the text-audience relation, of "tak[ing] into consideration the historical discourses not only of production (where meanings are encoded) but also those of reception (where meanings are decoded according to a multiplicity of different reading positions)" (10). Thus, he is more interested in tracing "how actual practices of spectatorship interact with the narrative patterns of a genre system" (11), difficult as this might be to establish, than he is with hypostatizing an essentialist norm. The word "queer," for Benshoff, precisely permits one to avoid such essentialism since, rather than specifying a pre-given identity, it "encompass[es] a more inclusive, amorphous, and ambiguous contra-heterosexuality" (5). A gay or lesbian reading of a film would thus be only one "subset" (7) of a more generalized queer reading, whose basic animus is the critical unsettling of gender and sexual orthodoxy, "allow[ing] for and foster[ing] the multiplicity of various readings and reading positions" (15).

Now I have to admit that I find this extrapolation of the radically deconstructive power of queerness to exist somewhat in tension with Benshoff's concern for socially situated audiences, since for such groups categories of identity like gay and lesbian are presumably significant, however potentially essentializing they may seem to the academic critic. At times, Benshoff's approach threatens to dissolve such compelling markers of identity in favor of an aleatory dance of possibilities that may have theoretical sanction in the discourse of a carnivalesque postmodernism but is of debatable relevance when studying specific situations of audience response. Basically, this is my main complaint against queer theory: it often makes admirable gestures towards materialist modes of reading, but it is continually seduced by the lure of a ludic poststructuralism that, in the last analysis, is as radically decontextualizing as psychoanalytic formalism. Still, while the valorization of polymorphous perversity (along the lines of Clover's "hermaphroditic constructions") may have its limitations, Benshoff's approach, in terms of moving beyond some of the more static methods on display in Grant's anthology, marks a major step forward.

According to Benshoff, "monster movies and science fiction films" are ripe for queer readings because "the narrative elements ... demand the depiction of alien 'Otherness'" (6); thus, "the cinematic monster's subjective position is more readily acceded to by a queer viewer--someone who already situates him/herself outside a patriarchal, heterosexist order" (12). (I should remark that I find this conflation of patriarchy and heterosexism a bit concerning, since it is entirely possible to imagine "queer viewers" who participate in and profit from patriarchal social relations.) This empathetic identification with the monster is further facilitated by "specific shot mechanisms within the film's formal construction" (11), though Benshoff admits that variously situated viewers might activate these spectatorial cues differently. He then offers some speculations, drawing in part on Clover's work, about the demographic composition of the horror audience which are really more propaedeutic than probative (the genre still awaits its ethnographer).

Proceeding with his root assumption about the representation of monstrous otherness in horror film, Benshoff outlines four broad factors that especially make for queer interpretations of a specific film text. First, and most basically, the film can include "identifiably gay and/or lesbian characters" (13) who are "visibly homosexual" (14). This is perhaps a strange premise given Benshoff's fervent anti-essentialism: does he mean "identifiable" in terms of conventional cinematic codes of behavior or in terms of a specifiable psychological/social identity that may be perceived and affirmed as such? At times in his subsequent readings, he seems to imply both possibilities. To be fair, Benshoff does briefly draw upon theorists like Michel Foucault and David Halperin, who argue for homosexuality as an historically contingent identity which is no less real for being thus constructed; however, he still tends to get trapped by a bogus theoretical crisis pitting a dubiously threatening essentialism against a compensatory, overly abstract constructionism, which makes for unnecessary tensions and contradictions in his argument.

Secondly, a horror film may have been "written, produced, and/or directed by a gay man or lesbian" or may contain "a gay or lesbian film star (whether 'actually' homosexual or culturally perceived as such)" (14). Again, I think one can spot some theoretical anxiety here (note the scare quotes surrounding the word "actually"), and in fact Benshoff, while admitting the historical relevance of this factor, declares it "of lesser importance" in his study "since it is not necessary to be a self-identified homosexual or queer in order to produce a text which has something to say about homosexuality, heterosexuality, and the queerness that those two terms proscribe and enforce" (14). This is certainly true, but in context it seems to me a prevarication designed to paper over analytic faults in Benshoff's method. Clearly, it is important to know--and would likely make a crucial difference to how a film is received by audiences, be they gay, straight, or queer--that a specific film centrally involved the creative input of a self-identified (or even closeted) homosexual. Benshoff's devotion to a largely decontextualized constructionism--as well as his resistance to possible arguments from intentionality--makes him reluctant to centrally tackle such "questions of authorship" (14). Happily, when it comes time to analyze relevant films in later chapters, Benshoff shows himself quite willing to suspend his theoretical scruples, to often fruitful effect (no pun intended).

The third factor contributing to a potential queer reading--and the "most important" (14), according to Benshoff--is subtextual connotation, whereby "homosexuality becomes a subtle but undoubtedly present signifier which usually serves to characterize the villain or monster...a shadowy Other which conversely works to bolster the equally constructed idea of a normative heterosexuality" (15). Thus, the central relationship in the horror film is between the monster and the forces of normalcy, which Benshoff sees as being mutually constitutive: the subtext of "queerness" in the monster works to shore up a heterosexual norm, even though it often has the perverse effect of making the latter seem, at least for much of the narrative, considerably less interesting and exciting than the former. While this is, I think, a very suggestive model--and Benshoff's deployment of it in later chapters shows its remarkable flexibility and capacity for insight--it doesn't entirely distinguish a "queer" subtext from other connotations of difference (e.g. those based on class or race). The same monster here being read as "queer" may appear, to a lower-class audience, as a proletarian threat to a middle-class norm or, to an African-American audience, as the threat of blackness to a white norm. And how might it appear to a lower-class black lesbian? The relative inspecificity of Benshoff's model allows it to be adapted to cover diverse or particularly entangled cases; I certainly have no quarrel with this analytic strategy, but then why call the approach a specifically "queer," as opposed to a generically "oppositional," mode of reading?

Benshoff's final factor for distinguishing queerness in horror films is perhaps the most fascinating--and fraught--of the lot: "any film viewed by a gay or lesbian spectator might be considered queer. The queer spectator's 'gay-dar,' already attuned to the possible discovery of homosexuality within culture-at-large, here functions in relation to specific cultural artifacts" (15). Now, just as some of the approaches in Grant's anthology posited too much ideological authority in the text itself, I think this notion goes too far in the other direction, elevating reception as an autonomously determining moment. It ignores--or fails to explain--the fact that some texts may be more (or less) amenable to a queer reading than others, not simply because of the critical predispositions of their audiences but due to intrinsic elements of narrative and formal structure; it ignores, in short, what Benshoff earlier identified as the moment of "production (where meanings are encoded)." Ultimately, the act of interpretation involves a dialectical transaction between text and audience, not an unfettered, wholesale appropriation. Moreover, given some of Benshoff's other assumptions, why should gays and lesbians read every text queerly, unless he agrees that they possess a pre-given identity that dictates such readings? After all, mightn't they read straightly as well, or does their "gay- dar" prohibit this? This fourth factor of filmic queerness opens such a theoretical can of worms that it is fortunate Benshoff is not particularly interested in pursuing it systematically, but generally limits his own readings to variations on factors one through three. To this extent, he succeeds, in the main, quite brilliantly.

In five solid and well-organized chapters, Benshoff traces the influence of the "monster queer" in British and American cinema over the last sixty-five years. The sheer volume of films Benshoff has reviewed and drawn together is remarkable, showing convincingly that one can produce a thorough history of horror cinema by focusing on its "queer" moments. By placing his interpretations of specific films and film cycles in the broader historical context of discourses relating to gender and sexuality, Benshoff has produced a full- fledged cultural study rather than a disconnected series of formalist readings; moreover, his provision of a social context for the genre goes beyond reducing its productions to one-dimensional allegories, since he persistently indicates either their suggestive contradictions or their complex ideological address to a heterogenous audience.

Chapter One surveys the classic horror cinema of the 1930s in terms of shifting medical definitions of homosexuality, the censorious influence of the newly established Production Code, the careers of "queer" filmmakers and performers (especially director James Whale), and the codification of canonical narrative structures in relation to "the genre's queer reading protocols" (50). Chapter Two examines the increasing demonization of homosexuality immediately before and during World War II, discussing films featuring diabolical secret societies in terms of the imagined "nightmare world" of gay and lesbian subculture and analyzing the growing prevalence of "mad science" scenarios against the backdrop of military and psychiatric attempts to "cure" sexual "deviants." Chapter Three canvasses the rampant Cold War otherizing of domestic enemies as it concerns homosexuals, reads '50s alien invasion movies and "weirdie" teenpics in terms of anxieties over queer subversion and wayward youth, and offers an overview of the gender-bent career of low-budget auteur Ed Wood. Chapter Four deals with the emergence of a publicly visible gay culture in the late '60s and early '70s alongside newly explicit homoerotically-themed films (e.g. Hammer Studios' treatments of the lesbian vampire), and provocatively argues for the critical recognition of a "homosexploitation" cinema as it intersects blaxploitation and other subcultural film cycles. Chapter Five is a rather more sprawling review of contemporary developments in the horror film, including its reflections of postmodernist cultural themes, AIDS- related issues, and the rise of queer activism. Throughout these chapters, Benshoff balances broad cultural analysis with meticulous and insightful close readings; the book, which also features thirty-one wonderfully apt photos and film stills, is at once an example of discerning scholarship and a labor of love, and is a genuine pleasure to read.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, science-fiction film criticism enjoyed a Golden Age with the appearance of single-author studies such as Vivian Sobchack's Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (Ungar, 1987) and Brooks Landon's The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production (Greenwood, 1992) and major anthologies such as Annette Kuhn's Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema (Verso, 1990) and the Penley-Lyon-Spigel-Bergstrom Close Encounters: Film, Feminism and Science Fiction (U of Minnesota P, 1991). Over the last five years--with the appearance of Clover's, Creed's, Berenstein's, and Benshoff's books and, despite its flaws, of Grant's anthology--it has become fairly clear that the torch has been passed, at least for the moment, to horror cinema. But, in the broader context of academic film studies, there can be little question that, during the last decade, the fantastic genres as a whole have come into their own as a rich historical and cultural field, open to a range of theoretical perspectives and interpretive methods. That gender has to date been the more or less exclusive category of analysis in studies of the horror film is perhaps rather limiting, but the two books under review here show a gradual diversification of focus that surely prefigures more broadly-based examinations in the future.

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