Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

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by Jason Zinoman, Pete Larkin
     
 

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Much has been written about the storied New Hollywood of the 1970s, but while Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Copola 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

Overview

Much has been written about the storied New Hollywood of the 1970s, but while Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Copola 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. The classic horror films of the 1970s have now spawned a billion-dollar industry, but they have also penetrated deep into the American consciousness. Quite literally, Zinoman reveals, these movies have taught us what to be afraid of. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of the most important artists in horror, Shock Value is an enthralling and personality-driven account of an overlooked but hugely influential golden age in American film.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

New York Times critic Zinoman's illuminating book examines the period from 1968 to 1979 when a new breed of directors (including Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and George Romero) took a once mocked genre into the mainstream. In analyzing the transition from "Old" to "New" Horror, Zinoman suggests that all directors owe a debt to Alfred Hitchcock, who revolutionized the psychology of the serial killer plot, as well as those philosophers of fear, Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Zinoman writes with zeal, weaving copycat killers, celebrity stories, and the Manson family into his contextualization of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, and Halloween. He notes that Night of the Living Dead "did for horror what the Sex Pistols did for punk." Though in-depth director bios and discussion of the changing movie business are fascinating, Zinoman's shot-by-shot descriptions of groundbreaking films and championing of understated gems are even more impressive. This volume reveals just enough to satiate horror aficionados, while offering plenty for curious fright-seekers who want to explore the formative years of what's become a billion-dollar industry. This is the golden age of horror-"Welcome to a cracked world."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
“In Shock Value, New York Times scribe Zinoman attempts to give these directors the same treatment Peter Biskind gave Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola in his magnificent Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. In other words, he explains the filmmakers’ importance while never letting his cultural theorizing get in the way of a good production yarn or intriguing biographical nugget. Zinoman succeeds monstrously well in this mission…there is plenty here to make the most knowledgeable of horror fans’ head explode.” — Entertainment Weekly

 “Not only is Shock Value enormously well-researched — the book is based on the author's interviews with almost all of the movement's principals — it's also an unbelievable amount of fun. Zinoman writes with a strong narrative drive and a contagious charisma.” — NPR.org

“[Shock Value] fuses biography (in this case, of such masters of horror as Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper), production history, movie criticism and social commentary into a unified and irresistible story...You should finish a great movie book with your dander up and your Netflix queue swelled by at least a dozen titles. And on that count, Shock Value more than delivers.” — Laura Miller, Salon.com

"Zinoman...concentrates on a handful of films and filmmakers that brought the corpse back to life during the late 1960s and early ’70s, and he convincingly conveys what made movies like 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' different from anything that had come before: more unsettling, purer in their sense of dread...where Shock Value excels is in its primary research, the stories of how the seminal shockers of this era came to be.” — The New York Times

 “Impassioned, articulate prose…Zinoman is such a literate, intelligent defender of the cause that his arguments are well worth reading. Even better, he has a knack for finding the characters in behind-the-scenes theatrics.” — The Onion

“Though in-depth character bios and discussion of the changing movie business are fascinating, Zinoman’s shot-by-shot descriptions of groundbreaking films and championing of understated gems are even more impressive. This volume reveals just enough to satiate horror aficionados, while offering plenty for curious fright-seekers who want to explore the formative years of what’s become a billion-dollar industry.” — Publishers Weekly starred review

“Insightful, revealing, and thoroughly engrossing…Thoroughly researched, Shock Value is chock full of nuggets of insider details that even the most hardcore horror fan might not know.” — About.com

“Between 1968 and 1976, all the films that redefined the horror movie were made: Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Dark Star, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Carrie. In fluent reporter’s prose lent urgency by personal fascination, Zinoman tells how their creators made those paradigm-shifters…There are many good-bad and downright bad books about horror movies. Zinoman gives us the rare all-good book about them.” — Roy Olson, Booklist

“May well prove to be the most indispensable overview of modern horror.” — Rue Morgue Magazine

“Brisk, accessible and incisive...walks a tonal tightrope of entertaining prose and sobering deliberation.” — Fangoria Magazine

“Five Stars. The most effortlessly enchanting treatise on the American horror film since Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.... die-hard horror fans will worship it.” — BloodyDisgusting.com

Entertainment Weekly

“In Shock Value, New York Times scribe Zinoman attempts to give these directors the same treatment Peter Biskind gave Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola in his magnificent Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. In other words, he explains the filmmakers’ importance while never letting his cultural theorizing get in the way of a good production yarn or intriguing biographical nugget. Zinoman succeeds monstrously well in this mission…there is plenty here to make the most knowledgeable of horror fans’ head explode.”

San Francisco Chronicle
Shock Value has a good brain behind it. Zinoman balances his insightful examination of a cultural phenomenon with an appreciation for an often-misunderstood genre.
The New York Times

"Zinoman...concentrates on a handful of films and filmmakers that brought the corpse back to life during the late 1960s and early ’70s, and he convincingly conveys what made movies like 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' different from anything that had come before: more unsettling, purer in their sense of dread...where Shock Value excels is in its primary research, the stories of how the seminal shockers of this era came to be.”

The Onion

 “Impassioned, articulate prose…Zinoman is such a literate, intelligent defender of the cause that his arguments are well worth reading. Even better, he has a knack for finding the characters in behind-the-scenes theatrics.”

NPR.org

 “Not only is Shock Value enormously well-researched — the book is based on the author's interviews with almost all of the movement's principals — it's also an unbelievable amount of fun. Zinoman writes with a strong narrative drive and a contagious charisma.”

About.com

“Insightful, revealing, and thoroughly engrossing…Thoroughly researched, Shock Value is chock full of nuggets of insider details that even the most hardcore horror fan might not know.”

Rue Morgue Magazine

“May well prove to be the most indispensable overview of modern horror.”

Fangoria Magazine

“Brisk, accessible and incisive...walks a tonal tightrope of entertaining prose and sobering deliberation.”

BloodyDisgusting.com

“Five Stars. The most effortlessly enchanting treatise on the American horror film since Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.... die-hard horror fans will worship it.”

Library Journal
The golden era of the "Old Horror" film featured such enduring classics as Dracula and Frankenstein, but they now seem as tame as buttermilk compared with the key films that have been produced during the so-called New Horror era beginning in the 1970s. These include such seminal American films as Rosemary's Baby, The Last House on the Left, Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist, many of which could be termed "gore fests." In a sometimes chatty, sometimes scattershot, but quite readable style, Zinoman, a theater critic and reporter for the New York Times, discusses in detail a few films and such pioneering genre directors as John Carpenter, George Romero, William Friedkin, and Wes Craven. They often defied aghast critics (and sometimes studio moguls and audiences as well) to present their view of a world gone mad. VERDICT Given the plethora of available books about horror films, including recent scholarly ones such as Kendall Phillips's Projected Fears and Thomas M. Sipos's Horror Film Aesthetics, this will appeal mostly to readers seeking a general overview.—Roy Liebman, Los Angeles P.L.
Library Journal - Audio
Hard-core horror film aficionados may quibble with this emphasis or that omission, but for a solid introduction to the genre and its creative regeneration during the late 1960s and 1970s, it would be hard to beat Zinoman's title. He convincingly describes how innovators such as George Romero, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, William Friedkin, and Brian De Palma dispensed with the horror tropes of the early film era (vampires, werewolves, etc.) to produce such landmark films as Rosemary's Baby, The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, Carrie, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Narrator Pete Larkin offers an adequate, neutral reading that works well for this nonfiction content. Fascinating stuff recommended for all film collections. [The review of the Penguin hc was a bit more conservative: "Given the plethora of available books about horror films...scholarly ones such as Kendall Phillips's Projected Fears and Thomas M. Sipos's Horror Film Aesthetics, this will appeal mostly to readers seeking a general overview," LJ 5/1/11.—Ed.]—Kristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA
Kirkus Reviews

An entertaining history of the metamorphosis of the horror film during the 1970s from a cult genre to a major part of mainstream Hollywood.

Today's filmgoers may think nothing of going to the local multiplex to see the latest incarnation of theSawfranchise, but New York Times theater reporter Zinoman reminds us of a time when such fare was restricted to drive-ins, while "mainstream" horror consisted of cheesy Vincent Price movies or vampire films from Britain's Hammer studios.The change is attributed to a group of maverick writers and directors including Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and George Romero, makers of such films a Night of the Living Dead,The Last House on the Left,The Texas Chainsaw MassacreandHalloween, which created a new type of horror based on reality instead of fantasy.The author investigates the cultural conditions that made the "New Horror" possible, and Zinoman is particularly interested in the personal aspects of the genre, including the influence of the creators' family lives and the idea that the appeal of horror movies is closely tied to childhood experiences.The author deeply explores the transition from the grindhouse to the mainstream theater through such movies asRosemary's Baby,Carrie andThe Exorcist, as well as the commercialization of the genre into the sequel-producing monster of today. Zinoman sometimes stretches a bit with his psychoanalyses, and the narrative structure can be somewhat awkward, but the characters and stories behind the films are engaging enough to keep even casual readers involved.The author also includes interviews and first-person recollections with many of the participants, and there is no shortage of juicy gossip, notably the falling-out between Carpenter and his film-school partner andAliencreator Dan O'Bannon. Like many trailblazers, O'Bannon and others, including Hooper, often failed to profit from their influential work, and Zinoman argues that the promise of the New Horror remains largely unfulfilled.

An engrossing look at an important cultural moment and a valuable addition to the canon of popular film history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452602691
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
07/01/2011
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Mark Harris

If you think you already know everything you need to know about the '70s revolution in American film, think again, and take a trip to the (very) dark side with Jason Zinoman's astute, informed and vivid exploration of how the horror movie came back from the dead and walked among us once again. The decade that stretched from Rosemary's Baby to Alien saw the creation of just about every template for modern horror, and Zinoman brings a fan's appreciation, a critic's tough-mindedness and a reporter's zeal to his group portrait of the movies that reshaped a generation's sleepless nights. 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)

Guillermo del Toro
Vivid and fascinating, Shock Value chronicles a period that feels both close and, sadly, remote. It is the fresco of a brave, uncompromising era in genre filmmaking. Mavericks, madmen, mutants and monsters populate this entirely relevant book.--(Guillermo del Toro, Director of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy )
Adam Lowenstein
If the soul of American cinema in the glory years of the 1970s belonged to names such as Altman, Coppola, and Scorsese, then its flesh and blood came from directors like Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, and Romero. Jason Zinoman shows us how and why by giving these pioneers of modern horror a chance to tell their own story, often in their own fascinating words. The result is a riveting history of fear and film that will thrill anyone who believes that movies can open our minds while they rip out our guts.--(Adam Lowenstein, author of Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film)
Sarah Langan
This is a titillating, insider's guide to the most influential horror movies of our time, and the men who made them. Full of weird personalities, studio-screwage, and pesky mental breakdowns, Shock Value does for horror what Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures did for the studio system. Zinoman gives the genre what it needs most: an intelligent vivisection. I'll never think about Wes Craven or Brian De Palma in the same way again.--(Sarah Langan, author of The Keeper and Audrey's Door)
From the Publisher
"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

Meet the Author

Jason Zinoman is a critic and reporter covering theater for The New York Times. He has also regularly written about movies, television, books and sports for publications such as Vanity Fair, The Guardian and Slate. He was the chief theater critic for Time Out New York before leaving to write the On Stage and Off column in the Weekend section of the Times. He grew up in Washington D.C. and now lives in Brooklyn.

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Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
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Ddavidson1173 More than 1 year ago
But seems to gloss over Halloween and especially Friday 13th.
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Daniel Williams More than 1 year ago
Horror's Raging Bull this book has much of the excitement and "inside" talk of that book My only complaint is an overemphasis of HItchcock (who I love) given the genre and not enough on lesser known figures Although not directors a whole chapter could've been done on Savini and other makeup pioneers A must for fans
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Christopher Ames More than 1 year ago
Overall, i dug it. I thought the first half was fantastic but it does become a tad tidious in the latter half when the author starts to give a very shallow cultural critique of the horror genre in general. The behind the scenes stuff though is incredible esp. The making of Cravens last house on the left
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