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Now updated to include contemporary developments in the horror film genre and the critical thinking about it, Barry Keith Grant’s groundbreaking exploration of the cinema of fear has sold over 8,000 copies. "The Dread of Difference is a classic. Few film studies texts have been so widely read and so influential. It's rarely on the shelf at my university library, so continuo Now updated to include contemporary developments in the horror film genre and the critical thinking about it, Barry Keith Grant’s groundbreaking exploration of the cinema of fear has sold over 8,000 copies. "The Dread of Difference is a classic. Few film studies texts have been so widely read and so influential. It's rarely on the shelf at my university library, so continuously does it circulate. Now this new edition expands the already comprehensive coverage of gender in the horror film with new essays on recent developments such as the Hostel series and torture porn. Informative and enlightening, this updated classic is an essential reference for fans and students of horror movies."--Stephen Prince, editor of The Horror Film and author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality "An impressive array of distinguished scholars . . . gazes deeply into the darkness and then forms a Dionysian chorus reaffirming that sexuality and the monstrous are indeed mated in many horror films."--Choice "An extremely useful introduction to recent thinking about gender issues within this genre."--Film Theory


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Now updated to include contemporary developments in the horror film genre and the critical thinking about it, Barry Keith Grant’s groundbreaking exploration of the cinema of fear has sold over 8,000 copies. "The Dread of Difference is a classic. Few film studies texts have been so widely read and so influential. It's rarely on the shelf at my university library, so continuo Now updated to include contemporary developments in the horror film genre and the critical thinking about it, Barry Keith Grant’s groundbreaking exploration of the cinema of fear has sold over 8,000 copies. "The Dread of Difference is a classic. Few film studies texts have been so widely read and so influential. It's rarely on the shelf at my university library, so continuously does it circulate. Now this new edition expands the already comprehensive coverage of gender in the horror film with new essays on recent developments such as the Hostel series and torture porn. Informative and enlightening, this updated classic is an essential reference for fans and students of horror movies."--Stephen Prince, editor of The Horror Film and author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality "An impressive array of distinguished scholars . . . gazes deeply into the darkness and then forms a Dionysian chorus reaffirming that sexuality and the monstrous are indeed mated in many horror films."--Choice "An extremely useful introduction to recent thinking about gender issues within this genre."--Film Theory

30 review for The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ugh

    As most of this book concerns itself with phalluses or a lack of them, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s by design or coincidence that most of it is a load of old bollocks. I love the concept of a book of essays written by different critics, each on a different aspect of the horror film genre. But in limiting itself to gender concerns, I think it was inevitable that this would be forced to include some rather sub-standard analysis, if only because you would surely struggle to find 21 excellent As most of this book concerns itself with phalluses or a lack of them, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s by design or coincidence that most of it is a load of old bollocks. I love the concept of a book of essays written by different critics, each on a different aspect of the horror film genre. But in limiting itself to gender concerns, I think it was inevitable that this would be forced to include some rather sub-standard analysis, if only because you would surely struggle to find 21 excellent essays on any single aspect of a particular genre. Even so, I was pretty disappointed with many of these offerings. I know very little psychology, but it seems to me that if you’re going to take Freudian psychoanalysis as your starting point, you’re pretty much assured of ending up in some pretty wacky destinations. If you stand on the shoulders of a rather singular giant who ploughed his lonely furrow under the wrong sort of tree, it’s unlikely you’re going to end up filling your basket with many apples of truth. Or something like that. Many of the arguments throughout this book, but particularly those in the early chapters, build on the “castration anxiety” that all males apparently feel when confronted by a women – owing, according to Freud, to the horrifying shock that all boys suffer upon encountering their mother’s genitals and their dreadful absence of that fleshy tube we’re all so attached to. Now, far be it from me to argue with the father of psychology himself, but I can’t actually recall ever having encountered my mother’s genitals, funnily enough. Obviously I will have done at some point – that time when I passed through them for starters, and all those occasions as a young chap when I shared a bath with them, etc. etc., but I’m fairly certain that at that age I must’ve been much too busy goggling in sheer amazement at existence itself to have paid much attention to what my mother did or didn’t have dangling between her legs. Plus, I’m not at all convinced that I’d even noticed my own penis at that time, so why would I have noticed the absence of one? Also, if men really do feel such a terror of castration upon encountering women, isn’t it a little strange that the first reaction of most blokes in such a situation is to ponder what it would be like to stick their penis inside them? Just a thought. Anyway, probably the strangest destination we arrive at by taking castration anxiety as our jumping off point arrives courtesy of Carol J Clover, the critic who was actually responsible for me buying this book in the first place (I read a piece on Meir Zarchi that referenced her book Men, Women and Chainsaws, which sounded pretty good. It turned out to be out of print, but then I discovered this instead, which contains an essay of hers along with many others. Bonza). Her essay on slasher films is probably the most prominent here, but it’s also one of the most problematic, and in fact is even taken to task by one of the later essays in the book. To cut a long essay (the longest of the 21) blessedly short, apparently in slasher films “What is represented as male-on-female violence, in short, is figuratively speaking male-on-male sex”, and the last person standing - usually a female, hence in Clover’s terminology the “Final Girl” - is actually “a homoerotic stand-in”. I think that speaks for itself, to be honest... Where I will take many of the essays here to task, Clover’s included, is in their frequent use of logical leaps that would leave a flying squirrel dazed, their reliance on too few examples (combined with a neglection of films that would invalidate their arguments), their failure to take into account the source material or other possible readings, their wilful neglect or outright contradiction of the thoughts of the directors, and finally the multiple instances of internal contradiction. Take the essay on Carrie. Following a comparison of the opening shower scene with that in Psycho, the writer states that “whereas the violence in Psycho is split between victim and attacker, here no such division exists: Carrie’s adolescent body becomes the site upon which monster and victim converge, and we are encouraged to postulate that a monster resides within her.” But in Carrie’s shower scene the film does repeatedly cut between Sissy Spacek and her multiple tormentors. Carrie bleeds; the other girls shout abuse and hurl missiles. There is a divide between monster and victim, and the sympathy lies with Carrie. So in just half a sentence, the critic has made a dizzying leap that has absolutely no basis and yet serves as a springboard for the rest of her essay. A similar liberty is taken later: “the film’s melodramatic rendering of [Carrie’s] adolescence works to elicit profound sympathy, especially from female viewers.” Especially from female viewers? Why? No reason is given, and yet from this groundless assertion we are told that “By fostering sympathy for Carrie’s plight, the film implicates women in its own misogynistic portrait...” Does it indeed? I suppose once you’ve broken the thread of logic there’s nothing to stop you running as far as you like with it. Other such leaps abound, and they’re made doubly annoying by the frequent claims to have shown something to be true. Nothing has been shown in most cases except a crippling inability to put forth an argument clearly. For reliance on too few examples, see Clover’s heavy leaning on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a film which barely anyone has bothered to watch. Also ignored here and throughout is the impact that criticism itself might have had on the genre, and the possibility that directors and writers might have included certain scenes or allusions in their films purely to acknowledge, build on or poke fun at what had been said about previous offerings. Or take the use of Carrie and The Shining to make the (to be fair, probably valid) argument that blame in horror films with a family setting moved from adolescents in the 70s to fathers in the 80s: did it not occur to the critic that Stephan King wrote both, and that he wrote Carrie while a young man working as a teacher and The Shining once he’d become a 30-odd-year-old alcoholic writer? Any parallels there? For ignoring films that invalidate the argument, see Clover’s failure to bother with the entire output of Dario Argento, although to be fair to the collection as a whole there is an entire essay dedicated to Argento later on, and it just so happens to be probably the best of the bunch and does a thorough job of pointing out the multiple ways in which Argento defies the agendas of lazy critiquing. For failure to take into account the source material, see the complete and utter lack of any comment on why any of what’s being postulated might happen to be there. Did the writers intend it? The directors? Did it slip in there unconsciously? Does it come into play at the level of the audience and whether or not people turn out to see the film? None of the essays deal with this question (well, see the end of this review), strangely enough – perhaps because assertions that can be verified as being true or false are all too easy to discredit? Hmm. Clover’s essay does go so far as to quote a few directors very briefly, but John Carpenter’s bewildered statement that critics “completely missed the boat” is labelled “perverse”, de Palma’s simple assertion that “female frailty is a predicate of the suspense genre” (a fairly obvious thing to point out – horror films are all about terrorising a character for 100 minutes, and no male viewers are going to sympathise with a male lead character who spends that amount of time running away and crying for help (the only appropriate course of action under the circumstances)) becomes, in another example of stomach-lurching logical acrobatics, a proposal that “the lack of a phallus... is itself simply horrifying”, and James Cameron is dismissed as “self-serving and beside the point”. For failure to take into account other possible readings/explanations, see the whole bloody book, but for a few examples: the point about female leads above, the fact that knives have to be the shape they are (which apparently is without exception phallic) in order to be any good at stabbing, the possibility that you might simply need to be mentally hardy and physically capable in order to survive a horrific ordeal, and that this might not necessarily represent masculinisation in any more significant fashion, that fact that in order to dispatch an armed attacker you might have to arm yourself, and that this needn’t necessarily symbolize the strapping on of a penis, the split-screen in Carrie having more to do with her now-irrevocable separation from her peers than anything to do with her “feminine gaze”, etc. etc. For internal contradiction or wilful refusal to recognise anything that might invalidate the argument, see Clover’s enormous error in trying to treat Alien as a slasher film despite it not fulfilling many of the preconditions for slasher films that she has previously detailed. The fact that Ripley shares much in common with Lambert - the film’s other female character, who doesn’t make it to the end - and that she falls roughly in the middle of the crew in almost every respect doesn’t get so much as a mention (what does get a mention is her apparently “boyish” name. How a surname can be boyish I don’t know). Or see the essay on neoconservatism’s assertion that muscular women are manly whereas the “hypermuscular” predator and the “Alien, with its enormous phallic head” are “essentially female”. Go figure. There are highlights though. The Argento essay, as already mentioned, is an enjoyably pro-horror, honest, clearly stated breath of fresh air in a largely negative, unreliable and confused collection. As is the editor’s affectionate piece on zombie maestro George Romero. The essay that takes Clover to task helps to restore a little bit of sanity, and lest I be accused of only bigging up the men, Vivian Sobchack’s writing on horror in the home offered up some themes and crucial moments that I hadn’t seen considered elsewhere. Overall though, this collection disappointed me in its way of often developing arguments in a selective and partially sighted manner that relied too much at times on psychobabble jargon to paper over its considerable cracks. In fact, I have to confess that I haven’t actually read the final 8 essays yet: only two of them appeal to me and right now to be honest I’m all gendered out. Either that or my heretofore unacknowledged terror that my cock might drop off at any moment has finally caught up with me...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    I read this in between other things for months. I think it had interesting essays about horror. And I've actually seen most movies it covers. Even the semi maligned Dracula Francis Coppola did (in the movie theater no less - it came out in 1993, and I was a teenager). I'm a fan of Romero and Cronenburg, Particularly Cronenburg's The Brood, which gets a lot of coverage here. Actually, disclosure...I never saw Fatal Attraction, but I do remember reading the Mad magazine parody when it came out.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Nothing is better than watching horror movies than reading about horror movies. Sounds ridiculous but the theories and sub-theories surrouning horror and why we're attracted to it are fascinating. Gender studies are a pretty sizable sub-genre, as is the concept of voyeurism.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    Linda Williams and Robin Wood headline this exceptional collection of essays from theorists about gender in horror films. Some great work also in "Genre, Gender and The Alien Trilogy" by Thomas Doherty, and Vivian Sobchak excels in "Brining It All Back Home: Family Economy And Generic Exchange."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Felicity

    A lot of the discussion in this book were things I had already come up against - Barbara Creed's chapter especially has some sentences taken word-for-word from her book Monstrous Feminine - so many of the grievances I had with this book were ingrained prior to reading it and were prejudicial against certain arguments (mostly anything to do with Freud, yeuch). I am also guilty of speed-reading in order to get to the good/necessary bits. I found Grant's introduction particularly worthwhile reading A lot of the discussion in this book were things I had already come up against - Barbara Creed's chapter especially has some sentences taken word-for-word from her book Monstrous Feminine - so many of the grievances I had with this book were ingrained prior to reading it and were prejudicial against certain arguments (mostly anything to do with Freud, yeuch). I am also guilty of speed-reading in order to get to the good/necessary bits. I found Grant's introduction particularly worthwhile reading insofar as it discussed the nature of people who write on horror and their tendency to get stuck on a single particular mode of analysis. It is therefore a good idea to consider the book as a whole (as well as a series of individual essays) as certain approaches need not be mutually exclusive!

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Russell

    Cultural theory... Mildly annoying to read. But that's normal for this type of work.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nick Spacek

    f there's ever a discussion that comes up in the discussion of horror movies, it's the violence -- and, specifically, the way that violence is directed at women. However, in the second edition of The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, the discussion of gender is not limited to violence perpetrated upon women, but also to how women respond to violence, how patriarchal control is limned in boudoir-based horror, and even how violence as perpetrated upon the male body can be seen as a f there's ever a discussion that comes up in the discussion of horror movies, it's the violence -- and, specifically, the way that violence is directed at women. However, in the second edition of The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, the discussion of gender is not limited to violence perpetrated upon women, but also to how women respond to violence, how patriarchal control is limned in boudoir-based horror, and even how violence as perpetrated upon the male body can be seen as a commentary on gender dynamics. In his introduction, Editor Barry Keith Grant makes the point that “along with the historical epic and the war film, horror is one of the most profitable genres for […] addressing the always present but forever shifting dilemmas of difference.” It's a statement that will be proven quite true in the essays which follow. Of all the essays in The Dread of Difference, Carol Clover's 1987 essay, “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” might be the most important. Not only do several essays which follow build upon or take off from Clover's points, but it's also a necessary read. It's necessary not just for horror fans, but arguably more important for those who are opposed to horror films, as it does such a wonderful job of ably demonstrating that while there may be violence readily and repeatedly enacted against the female characters in the slasher genre, it is usually a woman – the now-standard “final girl” – who vanquishes the male villain, and mostly through guile, cunning, and wit. Thomas Doherty's “Genre, Gender, and the Aliens Triology” builds off Clover's essay quite well, even if it does lapse a bit from discussion of genre-gender dynamics and devolves into disappointed film critique of Alien3 and its overall failings as a film. Pointing out that, for the earlier moments of the first film in the franchise, the viewer thinks it's going to be a film about Tom Skerrit's character, but in the end, is about Ripley and her triumph. Granted, Doherty's conclusion, wherein he posits that Ripley's death at the end of the trilogy is “a failure of artistic imagination” on the part of director David Fincher is a bit harsh, but it does demonstrate that the big-budget movies will always shackle the woman in some way – even if it's to death – rather than allow her unqualified success. It's that refutation of Clover's “final girl” theory that Tony Williams takes especially to heart in his “Trying to Survive on the Darker Side: 1980s Family Horror”, which is essentially taking Clover to task for failing to notice certain things: most notably, the fact that the final girls of the Friday the 13th franchise are frequently left “alive but catatonic”, which is “certainly not victorious!” The essays contained within the pages of The Dread of Difference cover slashers, sci-fi, classic Universal monsters, and more, even going so far as to look at Eli Roth's Hostel films and In My Skin. The breadth of topics is quite amazing, and while some works might be more readily readable than others, they all offer up viewpoints well worth entertaining. My only quibble is that I feel that 23 essays and not a single one that mentions Sleepaway Camp and its final reveal – especially in a context regarding how the transgender community is frequently portrayed as being comprised of deviant murderers – seems a wasted opportunity. Given that Linda Williams ever-so-briefly touches on those aspects in the book's first essay, “When the Woman Looks”, by examining Psycho and Dressed to Kill, one wishes that someone else would have taken the baton and really examined the ramification of these films and others in further detail. However, that's why there could always be a third edition. Editor Grant has chosen a wonderful selection of authors and essays for this second edition of The Dread of Difference, and it should be an immediate addition to the shelf of every horror fan who wishes to go beyond the surface aspects of the films examined therein.

  8. 4 out of 5

    christopher

    Some of the essays in this collection are interesting readings of modern horror films, others are mediocre and a few are just uninteresting reiterations of Kristevan abjection applied to film. It does, however, adequately compile writings from many spheres of film studies (psychoanalytic to cultural, aesthetic to historical) in a volume that is both great for reference and interesting to read as responses to the aesthetic-feminine critiques of Mulvey and Kristeva.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jason Coffman

    Excellent collection of essays on, as the title suggests, gender in horror film. I particularly like the fact that some of the essays specifically address issues brought up in other works in the same volume, making it feel a bit like a conversation. Highly recommended if you're into this sort of thing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Fantastic collection of horror essays. This book ranges from the philosophical to the the psychological to the practical. Barbara Creed's essay on abject femininity in horror is worth the price of admission, but almost all the pieces are solid. I'm really happy I found this one for less the cover price.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dlflesher

    This is one of a handful of books I held onto from my undergraduate years in university. Some of the essays have had a profound influence on my decision to pursue gender studies as an academic focus and they form the foundation for my approach to film studies.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    So far I love it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Riley

    really insightful and interesting discussions on zombie, horror, and slasher films. This book makes me hate Bryan de Palma.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I read this book during my Liberal Arts days at the New School. It forever changed the ways I view horror films. Excellent resource for horror film fans.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dee

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben Cela

  18. 5 out of 5

    W.patrick.bingham

  19. 4 out of 5

    raqStar

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brittany (Lady Red)

  22. 4 out of 5

    NightmareMaven

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ana

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lior

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

  28. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Mitchell-Collins

  29. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Brewington

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jayne Lamb

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