"There's More Than One Way to Lose Your Heart": the American film industry, early teen slasher films, and female youth

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Author: Richard Nowell
Date: Fall 2011
From: Cinema Journal(Vol. 51, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 13,490 words

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Abstract: Whereas scholars have suggested that early teen slasher films like Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) and Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980) were made primarily for male youth, this article reveals the extent to which producers and distributors tailored the films and their marketing campaigns to appeal to teenage girls and young women.


Posters advertising the teen slasher film My Bloody Valentine (George Mihalka, 1981) pictured youngsters slow dancing beneath decorative hearts and featured the catch phrase "There's more than one way to lose your heart." Releasing the film around Valentine's Day weekend of 1981 with a double-edged tagline and romance iconography, distributor Paramount Pictures sold its tale of young paramours menaced by a maniacal miner as female-friendly horror. Although gender issues have dominated scholarly discussion of early teen slasher films, the ways that marketers attempted to secure a young female audience for the films have not been explored. Instead, it has been claimed that films like My Bloody Valentine, Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), and Friday the 13th (Scan S. Cunningham, 1980) were made to feed the fantasies--misogynistic, masochistic, or sadistic--of young men. This position first emerged in late 1980, when movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert used teen slashers as easily identifiable reference points during a crusade against low-budget horror films, a crusade on which they embarked to piggyback debates among cineastes about cinematic femicide that emerged in the wake of the adult thriller Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980). (1) Later, the assumption that teen slashers were fashioned solely for males became entrenched in academic circles after it provided a cornerstone to the 1987 article "Her Body, Himself," in which Carol J. Clover, having applied psychoanalysis to gender representation (and having included numerous examples from adult-centered thrillers like Dressed to Kill), concluded that male viewers identified with the films' supposedly ubiquitous boyish heroines. (2) "Cross-gender identification" was received as a major contribution to Film Studies, and Clover was cited routinely as the eminent authority on early teen slashers, even though both Vera Dika and Robin Wood had published more meticulous and, I feel, more measured analyses of slasher film content. (3)

The focus on Clover ensured that Siskel and Ebert's position vis-a-vis the films' target audience proliferated among scholars; (4) as a result, scholars would later overstate the innovative content of late-1990s teen slashers, innovations which had in fact been exaggerated wildly in promotion and publicity materials so as to differentiate the new films from their "disreputable" predecessors. (5) Clover's influence extends to the latest teen slasher film scholarship, underwriting Valerie Wee's thesis that the Scream movies (Wes Craven, 1996, 1997, 2000) were supremely innovative teen slashers because of their female-youth orientation, a claim which hinges on the supposedly male-youth orientation of earlier entries. (6) Such scholarship, while correctly highlighting the important role that conceptions of young female audiences played in the assembly and promotion of the Scream films and their contemporaries, serves further to obscure the important role that conceptions of female youth played in early...

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Source Citation
Nowell, Richard. "'There's More Than One Way to Lose Your Heart': the American film industry, early teen slasher films, and female youth." Cinema Journal, vol. 51, no. 1, fall 2011, pp. 115+. Accessed 5 Oct. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A277106285