Much has been written about the storied New Hollywood of the 1970s, but while Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola were making their first classic movies, a parallel universe of directors gave birth to the modern horror film - aggressive, raw, and utterly original. Based on unprecedented access to the genre's major players, New York Times critic Jason Zinoman's Shock Value delivers the first definitive account of horror's golden age.
By the late 1960s, horror was stuck in the past, confined mostly to drive-in theaters and exploitation houses and shunned by critics. Shock Value tells the unlikely story of how the much-disparaged horror film became an ambitious art form while also conquering the multiplex. Directors such as Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma - counterculture types operating largely outside Hollywood - revolutionized the genre, exploding taboos and bringing a gritty aesthetic, confrontational style, and political edge to horror.
Zinoman recounts how these directors produced such classics as Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween, creating a template for horror that has been imitated relentlessly but whose originality has rarely been matched. This new kind of film dispensed with the old vampires and werewolves and instead assaulted audiences with portraits of serial killers, the dark side of suburbia, and a brand of nihilistic violence that had never been seen before.
Shock Value tells the improbable stories behind the making of these movies, which were often directed by obsessive and insecure young men working on shoestring budgets, were funded by sketchy investors, and featured porn stars. But once The Exorcist became the highest grossing film in America, Hollywood took notice, and the classic horror films of the 1970s have now spawned a billion-dollar industry.
©2011 Jason Zinoman (P)2011 Tantor
"Aficionados should love it, and skeptics may find themselves giving this always disreputable genre the fair shake that, as this smart and savvy book makes clear, it deserves." (Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution)
Say something about yourself!
Shock Value's author sets out to show how a handful of horror directors including Wes Craven, George Romero, and John Carpenter, redefined the horror genre in the 1970s. Along the way he also spends quite a bit of time on some figures that many listeners (myself included) might consider peripheral to the genre: Roman Polanski and Brian DePalma. Both directors have obviously made some great movies, but I would have preferred a much more extensive treatment of the Italians who receive little more than a mention. Casting that wider net might have weakened his argument that a "new horror" was born in the US in the period he covers, but I think it would've made for a more interesting listen/read.
That's really a minor criticism, though. There's plenty here to like. From Dan O'Bannon's health struggles inspiring Alien to several directors' dislike of Hitchcock's Psycho, I found the book to be enjoyable for the most part. I really just with there was more of it.
Pete Larkin does a good job with the narration. He's not one who I'd necessarily seek out, but he's a capable narrator and he doesn't do anything that might detract from your enjoyment of the book.
Enjoying audiobooks daily!
I did recommend this to my horror geek friends.
None that I have read thus far.
The history of Wes Craven's upbringing and eventual move into horror was really mind blowing. I was like "WHAT?"
I laughed many times and shook my head a lot at the behind the scenes beefing between horror creators, writers and movie companies.
A really good book about the change in horror in the 70's.
This is a real well researched and written history of Hollywood horror from the mid 70's to the early 80's. If there is a major horror film from this period Zinoman probably writes about its making and reception. Even if you are not a HUGE horror fan (I am not) the writing about the 'creative/collaborative process' and cultural shift is fascinating and well flushed out.
I read this book in print form when it first came out and absolutely loved it, when I saw it on sale recently it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pick up the audiobook and give it a quick listen. The book itself is excellent, however the narrator sounds like he's doing an 8 hour movie trailer. Definitely listen to the sample before you buy this book, it took all of thirty seconds before I realized that this guy was going to read the entire book like that, and I had to stop listening. This is one of only two audiobooks I've ever had to stop listening to because of the narrator, and it's a shame because this really is a great read, and is very informative for any horror fans.
Very worthwhile if you are interested in film from the 70s on. Zinoman makes a great case for the wide influence of 70s horror on the mainstream films that followed and some of its origins in late 60s theater (mostly Harold Pinter) . He interviewed many of the subjects covered in the book, including Wes Craven, Brian DePalma, Tobe Hooper, the late Dan Obannon, William Friedkin and others.
Not only focusing on the overall PPP-cultural effects of these films, but also has some great stories and anecdotes from the making of these films and the personal lives of their makers.
Many spoilers also; make sure you've seen these films prior to listening (if you wish to see), as each is described in detail (ending and plot points):
Last House on the Left
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Night of the Living Dead
"Shock Value" is an interesting and educational read. In discussing the careers of a handful of directors, Zinoman attempts to trace the various themes running through the "New Horror" films of the late 1960s through the 1980s. He does a pretty good job of this, tying the films to one another, and even occasionally to their predecessors from the Golden Age of Horror. As much as this is about the directors, it is also about their movies.
The author's access to his subjects and ability to elicit detailed responses (for the most part) keeps the book filled with entertaining anecdotes about the films, the business and the men (and a few women) themselves. This book kept my interest throughout.
The book is limited somewhat in its focus on a handful of directors, and then, only upon a fraction of their output during the period. I would have liked to have a few more directors added to the mix.
The narrator is well-suited to the book.
This book reminds me of Easy Riders Raging Bulls. Both books cover similar ground essentially the late 60's to early 80's, Zinoman (who I believe is also a theater critic) presents an insightful knowledge of theater and how it affected directors like Craven and Hooper. This seemed at first a bit too highbrow for a genre that sometimes overly indulges in blood, gore, and exploitation but I think most of his points work.
John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon's story was the most shocking. I knew the two worked together early on but had no idea how poorly Carpenter treated his "friend."
This was a great read - the book didn't really call for a performance but he brought his A-game just the same!
The book could totally work as a documentary similar to what they did with "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls."
Horror changed in 1968. Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, and Targets bring to a close horror that was controversial at the time but from a contemporary vantage point seem all too innocent. Each of these movies drug the horror film into a new era but each retained vestiges of the past. Rosemary's Baby produced by William Castle! Targets staring Boris Karloff!! And Night of the Living Dead opening with an impression in Karloff's comforting lilt "There Coming to Get You Barbara!" How could you take this seriously. The man stumbling through the graveyard, he means us no harm. . . Afterall these are just movies that won't haunt us once we hit the lights.
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