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Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film

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Monster in the Closet is a history of the horrors film that explores the genre's relationship to the social and cultural history of homosexuality in America. Drawing on a wide variety of films and primary source materials including censorship files, critical reviews, promotional materials, fanzines, men's magazines, and popular news weeklies, the book examines the historic Monster in the Closet is a history of the horrors film that explores the genre's relationship to the social and cultural history of homosexuality in America. Drawing on a wide variety of films and primary source materials including censorship files, critical reviews, promotional materials, fanzines, men's magazines, and popular news weeklies, the book examines the historical figure of the movie monster in relation to various medical, psychological, religious and social models of homosexuality. While recent work within gay and lesbian studies has explored how the genetic tropes of the horror film intersect with popular culture's understanding of queerness, this is the first book to examine how the concept of the monster queer has evolved from era to era. From the gay and lesbian sensibilities encoded into the form and content of the classical Hollywood horror film, to recent films which play upon AIDS-related fears. Monster in the Closet examines how the horror film started and continues, to demonize (or quite literally "monsterize") queer sexuality, and what the pleasures and "costs" of such representations might be both for individual spectators and culture at large.


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Monster in the Closet is a history of the horrors film that explores the genre's relationship to the social and cultural history of homosexuality in America. Drawing on a wide variety of films and primary source materials including censorship files, critical reviews, promotional materials, fanzines, men's magazines, and popular news weeklies, the book examines the historic Monster in the Closet is a history of the horrors film that explores the genre's relationship to the social and cultural history of homosexuality in America. Drawing on a wide variety of films and primary source materials including censorship files, critical reviews, promotional materials, fanzines, men's magazines, and popular news weeklies, the book examines the historical figure of the movie monster in relation to various medical, psychological, religious and social models of homosexuality. While recent work within gay and lesbian studies has explored how the genetic tropes of the horror film intersect with popular culture's understanding of queerness, this is the first book to examine how the concept of the monster queer has evolved from era to era. From the gay and lesbian sensibilities encoded into the form and content of the classical Hollywood horror film, to recent films which play upon AIDS-related fears. Monster in the Closet examines how the horror film started and continues, to demonize (or quite literally "monsterize") queer sexuality, and what the pleasures and "costs" of such representations might be both for individual spectators and culture at large.

30 review for Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    My professor wrote this book! He's brilliant.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sean Bottai

    This was a pretty good read and had some really great queer readings (like of The Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy) or accounts of "queerness" (like Hammer's lesbian vampire films). Of course iconic queer texts like Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Fright Night, and the films of Vincent Price are discussed in detail. I was unfamiliar with both Dracula's Daughter and How to Make a Monster, and both of those movies get compelling treatment here. It's important to know that part of the author's obj This was a pretty good read and had some really great queer readings (like of The Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy) or accounts of "queerness" (like Hammer's lesbian vampire films). Of course iconic queer texts like Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Fright Night, and the films of Vincent Price are discussed in detail. I was unfamiliar with both Dracula's Daughter and How to Make a Monster, and both of those movies get compelling treatment here. It's important to know that part of the author's object is to filter horror movies through the lens of gay & lesbian history, so there's lots of queer history in the book. I like that the author has a clear project in mind and sticks to it, but I can imagine some readers feeling overwhelmed by how much time is spent talking about the history of gay & lesbian identity/civil rights. There are significant stretches where horror movies aren't discussed at all, but Benshoff does a good job of making connections between the history and the horror films once he's made his historical/cultural points. Again, the project of this book is to look at the shifting nature of queer identity and how that is reflected/refracted by horror cinema. In doing so, he calls a lot of these films out on the carpet for insisting over and over again that queerness is "monstrous." The book ends with a mediation on where representations of queerness in media are headed, and by hoping that popular audiences might become willing to explicitly acknowledge queerness. I wonder if, in the era of True Blood and American Horror Story, Benshoff would posit that we've arrived there...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Aysia

    I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to read a text on horror films that isnt overly reliant on freudian psychoanalysis or vaguely homophobic/transphobic even as it tries to to do a queer analysis of films

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shadowdenizen

    4.5 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Greiman

    I read "Lord of The Flies" in high school and became convinced Simon was gay; I related the hypothesis to my English teacher; she replied, "When people are outcasts, they try to find similar traits in others...even though those traits may not exist." "Monsters in the Closet" led me to two films that the author proclaimed to have underlying homosexual undertones. "Creature From The Black Lagoon" and "Ghost Ship". "Creature" because of two men vying for the same woman and wearing swimming trunks. F I read "Lord of The Flies" in high school and became convinced Simon was gay; I related the hypothesis to my English teacher; she replied, "When people are outcasts, they try to find similar traits in others...even though those traits may not exist." "Monsters in the Closet" led me to two films that the author proclaimed to have underlying homosexual undertones. "Creature From The Black Lagoon" and "Ghost Ship". "Creature" because of two men vying for the same woman and wearing swimming trunks. Fighting the creature with "Rotenone, a creamy liquid knock-out drug". Rotenone IS a piscicide...a fish killer...it's not a 'creamy liquid knock-out drug'. "Creature" was not queer cinema in any sense. "Ghost Ship" was cited as gay became of an all male crew aboard a ship. But brining an all-male cast together aboard a ship doesn't make a film gay. Yes, the captain does tell his third mate, "I knew you were the man for me as soon as I saw you" in terms of having hired him. But this is not a gay come-on. Later, the captain has the third mate bound and drugged (while still wearing all this clothes)...and then walks away from him. "Ghost Ship" isn't about a murderous homosexual captain; it's about a captain succumbing to dementia. Compare that last example to "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (also cited in the book) wherein the villain takes the hero, strips him to a loin cloth, and injects him with a mind control serum that makes him writhe. That scene was homoerotic; the rest of "Fu Manchu" was rubbish. I liked the premise of "Monsters in the Closet" but some of the films contained had no elements of homosexuality.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hey Sailor!

    "the queer, unlike the rather polite categories of gay and lesbian, revels in the discourse of the loathsome, the outcast, the idiomatically proscribed position of same-sex desire. Unlike petitions for civil rights, queer revels constitute a kind of activism that attacks the dominant notion of the natural. The queer is the taboo-breaker, the monstrous, the uncanny. Like the Phantom of the Opera, the queer dwells underground, below the operatic overtones of the dominant; frightening to look at, d "the queer, unlike the rather polite categories of gay and lesbian, revels in the discourse of the loathsome, the outcast, the idiomatically proscribed position of same-sex desire. Unlike petitions for civil rights, queer revels constitute a kind of activism that attacks the dominant notion of the natural. The queer is the taboo-breaker, the monstrous, the uncanny. Like the Phantom of the Opera, the queer dwells underground, below the operatic overtones of the dominant; frightening to look at, desiring, as it plays its own organ, producing its own music." "Tracking the Vampire" Sue Ellen Case.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maria Lago

    Ah, expectations. I got an extremely academic and wry book, ideal for quoting in articles and thesis, but not really easily read, as the style is demanding and highbrow, not at all like the fun stuff I was hoping for. What I mean, and I know the subject deserves to be treated seriously, is that a more user-friendly approach would have done wonders for a more general understanding of the topic, and it would have suited the horror motif beautifully too. I have learned a lot, that's true. And thank y Ah, expectations. I got an extremely academic and wry book, ideal for quoting in articles and thesis, but not really easily read, as the style is demanding and highbrow, not at all like the fun stuff I was hoping for. What I mean, and I know the subject deserves to be treated seriously, is that a more user-friendly approach would have done wonders for a more general understanding of the topic, and it would have suited the horror motif beautifully too. I have learned a lot, that's true. And thank you for the gay porn titles, Mr Benshoff, much appreciated.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    A classic work of film scholarship and queer critical reading. It falls into the trap, at times, of reading bodily abnormality metaphorically as representing queerness, without considering the representation of disability and physical anomaly in its own right. However, it's exploration of historical and social contexts is really excellent, and richly rewarding.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Darren Mitton

    Oh, this was so wonderdful...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Very academic, text book-like examination of homosexuality in the horror genre. Kind of dry for novices, but essential for horror film geeks that like discussing cinematic influences.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    love this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    C Hellisen

    I *need* this book

  13. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    Great book by a great professor. Dr. Harry M. Benshoff is THE expert.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aislinn Evans

    first theory book that ive completed - loooong to get into, but once i got into maybe the 50s i was having the time of my life. it feels longwinded in making its points, but i feel like this kind of immersion on queer analysis is really helpful in spotting it elsewhere. ive never felt so queer and its a LOT of fun. that said, some of the analysis, when actually watching the films, is a bit of a reach. i was incredibly disappointed with how straight the lost boys actually is.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jay Wright

    It's a crying shame that this was published too early to cover Scream, but the good news is that the book teaches you how to read these movies so well that I don't even need to know Benshoff's thoughts on it

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gabe

    The worst part about this book is that it was published in 1997.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    hell yeah...gimme that gay shit

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thom Ravnholdt

    I largely enjoyed this book, and found a lot of valuable information and interesting viewpoints within it. The chapters read as essays, each chronologizing an era of film history, and the corresponding area’s socio-political and medical views on homosexuality and queerness. Beginning in the 1930’s, from early European cinema, and German Expressionism in particular, to Classic Hollywood, through WWll, the Cold War and the anti-communist ‘Production Code’ of the 50’s and 60’s, through to the AIDS- I largely enjoyed this book, and found a lot of valuable information and interesting viewpoints within it. The chapters read as essays, each chronologizing an era of film history, and the corresponding area’s socio-political and medical views on homosexuality and queerness. Beginning in the 1930’s, from early European cinema, and German Expressionism in particular, to Classic Hollywood, through WWll, the Cold War and the anti-communist ‘Production Code’ of the 50’s and 60’s, through to the AIDS-crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s. We follow the metaphorical ‘Monster Queer’ as the embodiment of the sexual minority/outlaw, as s/he transforms from classic movie monster into various guises through the times. For me the only downside is that the text is so heavily steeped in late 90’s queer theory, that it can at times seem quite dated. Written by a professor of film studies, the book can in places read as a fairly dry and sterile academic text, and certain passages are rather repetitive. Still, it is not hard to get through, and it will give you interesting angles and readings of some of your favourite horror films, as well as more obscure movies you might not have heard about otherwise. I warmly recommend it to all genre fans.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Armando Muñoz

    This book's theories are both outdated and overwhelmingly negative toward the frequently very intelligent makers of horror films. Benshoff's take on the classic horror films is informed, but once he reaches the age of modern horror, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween on, he becomes condescending and dismissive of all modern horror trends, mostly due to his distaste for violent movies, and the queer positive movements in horror that have taken place and reshaped (and re-gendered) the genr This book's theories are both outdated and overwhelmingly negative toward the frequently very intelligent makers of horror films. Benshoff's take on the classic horror films is informed, but once he reaches the age of modern horror, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween on, he becomes condescending and dismissive of all modern horror trends, mostly due to his distaste for violent movies, and the queer positive movements in horror that have taken place and reshaped (and re-gendered) the genre are completely ignored. The few modern films that Benshoff does discuss are the few that he can incorrectly mold to his classic queer/monster premise. I found this offensive, because horror and homophobia are no longer bedfellows, something this author tries to reinforce.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Garrettgraham

  21. 5 out of 5

    James Rendell

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nevena

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thom Sutton

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jackie (Jacademic)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marco Hubbard-Weller ૐ

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angora Fedora

  27. 4 out of 5

    Logan Hill

  28. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  30. 5 out of 5

    Wyrd Witch

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