[Book Review] ‘Shock Value’ Scores Perfect!

I believe this is the first book reviewed by Ryan Daley to receive a perfect score.

Everyone’s raving about Jason Zinoman’s “Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror,” a new novel now in stores from Penguin Press. The book is said to be an enormously entertaining account of the gifted and eccentric directors who gave us the golden age of modern horror in the 1970s, bringing a new brand of politics and gritty realism to the genre.

Read on to see why you NEED to own this book, like now. Drop everything, read this , and then go buy it on Amazon.
“Horror has become so pervasive that we don’t even notice how thoroughly it has entered the public consciousness. It’s on television, in the movies, and in the show that goes on in our minds when we go to bed at night. The modern horror movie has not only established a vocabulary for us to articulate our fears. It has taught us what to be scared of.”

Shock ValueNew York Times reporter Jason Zinoman has penned the most effortlessly enchanting treatise on the American horror film since Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. Beginning with its first few paragraphs–which depict a 1972 argument between Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham over whether or not Last House on the Left is “too sick” for release–I read the entirety of Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror with a shit-eating grin on my face. Serving as both a behind-the-scenes look at American horror films of the 1970s and a discussion of what makes horror both relevant and timeless, Zinoman has crafted an enormously entertaining non-fiction narrative that`s easy for even a horror novice to love. Die-hard horror fans, meanwhile, will worship it.

Zinoman’s story progresses smoothly from the post-Corman artistry of Rosemary’s Baby (“a horror film for adults”) to Night of the Living Dead (“Romero says he didn’t even think the flesh-eating undead were zombies”) and beyond, with chapters devoted to The Exorcist, The Texas Chansaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, the films of Brian DePalma, and more. Moving chronologically from the late 60s to the early 80s, Zinoman has a tendency to stray toward engaging tangents (how Psycho influenced Blood Feast and Blood and Black Lace, for example), before veering back to his central narrative. Rather than distract, these random meanderings manage to flesh out his central point, and always fascinatingly. These are movies the readers of this website have seen hundreds of times, but Zinoman manages to put these pieces of art into a whole new context. His observations are frequently so insightful and illuminating, it would be far too easy for this review to regress into a series of smart quotes from the book.

But if Zinoman has one point to make, it’s this: “Being in the dark about evil; that is the real horror.” As he explains, the horror films of the 1970s managed to strip away motive, and as Randy in Scream put it, “It’s a lot scarier when there’s no motive.” The monsters of The Exorcist, Halloween Night of the Living Dead, and Alien had no real motive, and this served as a calling card of the New Horror of the 70s. Modern horror wants to fill in the backstory, writes Zinoman, using Rob Zombie`s Halloween remake as an example: “[He] explained away the horror with a litany of tedious excuses.”

Zinoman seems to be right about pretty much everything, but he’s especially right about one thing in particular: The time period that saw the release of Rosemary’s Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, Halloween, Alien, Jaws, The Shining, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist, and Night of the Living Dead was certainly “the greatest golden age of horror”. And Zinoman, a consummate storyteller, guides you through that golden age with a potent mixture of wit and insight.

Perfect 5/5 Skulls

[An interesting side note: Although The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead depicted writer/director Dan'O Bannon as a passive-aggressive nutcase loathed by almost everybody on the planet, Zinoman takes great pains to paint him in a far more flattering light. "Despite being one of the most influential minds in genre movies, [O'Bannon] had only two directing credits, and is overlooked in discussions of the major figures of horror,” he writes.]