Gender, Sexuality and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema


Rhona J. Berenstein, Film and Culture series, John Belton, Editor, Columbia University Press, 11 Jan 1996, softcover, 292 pages.


Back cover:


From the earliest days of Hollywood sound productions, horror proved to be a popular and lucrative genre. At the center of the industry's first cycle of horror films was the terrified woman. Eyes straining and mouth open wide as she emitted an ear-piercing scream, the damsel in distress awaited rescue from the monster's horrible intentions. Or so it seemed.


The first book to explore the gender dynamics of classic horror film, Attack of the Leading Ladies addresses the roles of woman both on- and off-screen. Combining close textual analysis with the study of advertising campaigns, reviews, fan magazines, and censorship materials, Rhona J. Berenstein presents an in-depth look at such films as Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. X, Dracula, King Kong, Mad Love, Svengali and White Zombie.


Using performance analysis in new ways. Attack of the Leading Ladies challenges established views of horror cinema that suggest a rigid sexual division of labour, with men as monsters, heroes, and viewers, and women as on-screen victims. Berenstein details a genre marked by shifting gender roles. Monsters, heroes, and heroines, she asserts, do more than fulfill traditional expectations: they also throw into question the stability of gender categories and the supremacy of heterosexuality.


Building on the concept of the "sadistic male gaze" and the more recent notion of a "masochistic male gaze" Berenstein addresses the complex spectatorship patterns posed by a genre so concerned with role-play and disguise, a genre that appealed to men and women viewers in the 1930s: Attack of the Leading Ladies offers a new model of spectatorship-as-drag-where the viewing process itself becomes a mode of performance, and where spectators adopt and discard both traditional and transgressive viewing behaviours.


Berenstein's pradigm of spectatorship, and her combination of textual and historical analysis, is both an important extension of and a fascinating departure from key work in feminist film studies and gay and lesbian studies. The first in-depth analysis of early sound horror film, Attack of the Leading Ladies offers an exciting new way of looking at the movies.


Rhona J. Berenstein is an Assistant Professor in the Program in Film Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Her articles on horror cinema, television history, and lesbianism in Hollywood film have appeared in such forums as Camera Obscura, cineAction!, Film History, and the Journal of Popular Culture.




Condition: New. Note: The creasing and marks on the cover scan image are part of the printing.

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