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Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film (Inside Popular Film) [Paperback]

Harry M. Benshoff
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2004 Inside Popular Film
One of the few books to address the horror film from any kind of critical position. Unique - The first history of the horror film to approach it from a queer perspective. Written with detail and thoroughness - covers all eras of the horror film and correlates specific types of movie monsters to the historical social conditions which produced them. Explores how popular culture encodes and demonizes queerness within the generic format of the horror film.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press (1 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719044731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719044731
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 13.6 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Harry M. Benshoff recently received his doctorate from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. He teaches film and television classes in and around Los Angeles

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Monsters in the Closet" opens up a whole new way of looking at horror movies. It's fascinating to see the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which film makers from the 30's on exploited the average film viewer's sexual fears of being different, of being "the other" through linking monsters and homosexuality. The book also compares many of these films with the original prints, before being cut by the censors. And it even quotes censor memos about cutting out some of the "pansy" stuff. For a basically academic book, it's also well written and cogent. My one criticism is that the author seems to go a little overboard in finding homoerotic relationships. While it's true, for example, that various mad scientists had male assistants, it's also true that the film needed some there to create a dialogue and that, pre-women's lib, female assistants were probably frowned upon by film censors as inappropriate gender roles. Still, it's a great read. Extra bonus: One of the films most analyzed -- "The Old Dark House" (1932) -- includes Gloria Stuart, who became the oldest supporting actress ever nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "Titanic." She told USA Today that "The Old Dark House" was her last big break until "Titanic" Quite a long dry spot!
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4.0 out of 5 stars I thought this was really great! 19 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I would have liked some more contemporary movies to be discussed in the text, if I'm honest - but that aside, I really don't have any complaints. As with any text like this, I think it's important not to take it as if every word is fact, but more as if every word is a reasoned piece of discussion and sub-textual analysis that you're not always expected to agree with. Use in combination with other texts to spice up your analysis of the horror film!! A great text to have on your shelf.
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good discussion of a seldomly analyzed topic 15 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The one serious drawback to this book is the lack of any serious discussion of the fictional work of Poppy Z. Brite. Even though the author's primary focus is film, Brite's work takes Anne Rice's one step further. It won't be long until there are efforts to translate her work into a filmic medium. The homoerotic/sexual impulse finds its expression throughout Brite's work.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Thought-Provoking Book 18 April 2000
By Tom From NY - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this to be a very interesting treatment of a fascinating topic. Comparatively jargon-free, and entirely accessible to anyone interested enough to pick it up and read it seriously.
Benshoff does not claim that his is the only view of the films considered. He offers his perspective on these films, and it is a most interesting and fresh look at a group of films all too often ignored. Well worth reading.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It will change how you watch movies 5 Sep 2006
By Jim From The Future - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book and the only full volume on the subject. Horror reveals our collective cultural fears, things we find threatening even if we cannot explain why, things we consciously or unconsciously identify as "Other." Much has been written about how horror films illustrate fears concerning race and gender, but our culture's obvious prejudices toward queer (non-hetero) sexuality and their representation in the genre have never been this directly and thoroughly addressed.

Benshoff moves through the material chronologically dealing not only with the films, but the evolving medical and social approaches to the subject. The chapters on classic horror are especially thorough and entertaining. Moving into the era of the Production Code, censorship forced audiences and filmmakers alike to read/write between the lines. Some changes forced by Code officials unintentionally made the material more lurid and suggestive than before. As Benshoff gets into our current postmodern era, things become much more complicated, and the author is not as elaborate as he might be, but by then we've already been through a substantial volume of material, not to mention the difficulty of writing about movements and trends still playing themselves out.

Reading this book will change how you watch movies. If you look at "The Lost Boys," for example, and substitute "queer" or "homosexual" for "vampire," you get a very different movie loaded high with innuendo. When you consider that director Joel Schumacher is openly gay, "The Lost Boys" becomes a subversive queer film made for straight people. Sure, the vampires die at the end, but Benshoff argues here that their attractive image of raw sexual power lingers with audiences more than their destruction.

Most of the negative reviews here cite problems with the author's lack of "proof." Benshoff clearly states in his introduction that this is a subjective analysis. He reads the films from the perspective of a queer audience. While directors like James Whale intentionally coded queer figures into their films, many did not. It is precisely the unawareness of these filmmakers that makes their representation of situations and figures that can be read as queer so telling about the attitudes and underlying feelings of the culture at large. Also, queer filmgoers, like everyone else, look for themselves in the films they see and are sensitive to such representations, regardless of intent.

Overall this is a highly intelligent, entertaining book that opens a dialogue we need to be having both inside and outside the academic community. If you're interested in horror, film analysis or queer theory, this is definitely a book to pick up. For myself it's up there with Carol J. Clover's "Men, Women, And Chainsaws" as a modern milestone in film theory.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gay horrors. 5 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Benshoff examines "the media representation of queer people," read through "the homosexual implications of popular culture artifacts." The artifact here is the horror film, treated in five chapters: 1) the 1930s era "classical Hollywood film," typified by the Karloff and Lugosi thrillers entangled in Production Code problems; 2) World War II era B-pictures, mainly from Universal and RKO Studios; 3) the cold war era "creature features" and Ed Wood quickies, influenced as much by Kinsey's sexology as by McCarthy's paranoia; 4) the Stonewall era, where "gay lib" clashes with "homosexploitation" in films like "Theatre of Blood" (1973); 5) the postmodern era (set here as after 1975), when horror is more upscale, overtly gay, and tied to AIDS themes and a slasher sensibility. Benshoff's well-researched study identifies both homoerotic and homophobic subtexts in films like "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954); he argues that low-budget pictures better convey the paradoxical nature of forbidden sexualities than mainstream films do. The coverage is broad, with no film given more than a few pages of attention, and many no more than a mention in passing. Benshoff's focus is the political, social and critical implications of an evolving genre of film. This study resembles two excellent ones with comparably broad coverage-Parker Tyler's eccentric "Screening the Sexes" (1972) and Vito Russo's nonacademic study, "The Celluloid Closet" (1981, rev. 1987)-but is more up-to-date, theoretically oriented, and genre specific. The 31 stills, bibliography and index all enhance the book. Recommended to anyone interested who is unintimidated by a little critical theory, Foucauldian or otherwise.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, researched analysis of horror of "the other" 16 Feb 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Monsters in the Closet" opens up a whole new way of looking at horror movies. It's fascinating to see the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which film makers from the 30's on exploited the average film viewer's sexual fears of being different, of being "the other" through linking monsters and homosexuality. The book also compares many of these films with the original prints, before being cut by the censors. And it even quotes censor memos about cutting out some of the "pansy" stuff. For a basically academic book, it's also well written and cogent. My one criticism is that the author seems to go a little overboard in finding homoerotic relationships. While it's true, for example, that various mad scientists had male assistants, it's also true that the film needed some there to create a dialogue and that, pre-women's lib, female assistants were probably frowned upon by film censors as inappropriate gender roles. Still, it's a great read. Extra bonus: One of the films most analyzed -- "The Old Dark House" (1932) -- includes Gloria Stuart, who became the oldest supporting actress ever nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "Titanic." She told USA Today that "The Old Dark House" was her last big break until "Titanic" Quite a long dry spot!
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like a good conversation, 5 July 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
the author keeps you interested, and mixes just the right amount of humor into the work. Unfortunately, pre-60s horror movies, he seldom backs up his arguments, instead claiming something to be obviously homosexual and then describing the plot. While I admit, it is very easy to interpret some of these works as homosexual, and I know it would be difficult to find much evidence outside a James Whale movie, he relys primarily on circumstantial evidence to defend himself. (References and evidence are two different things.) Throughout the work, he makes interesting points which are well thought out, I'm glad I purchased it...but as it is, the book doesn't amount to more than a great conversation with somebody.
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