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

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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.

Much has been written about the storied New Hollywood of the 1970s, but at the same time as 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 ...

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

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Overview

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.

Much has been written about the storied New Hollywood of the 1970s, but at the same time as 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, The New York Times's 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 the confines of 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 starred 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
WHAT'S INSIDE
SHOCK VALUE
How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

Hitchcock is not the Godfather of the horror film. Moreover, the greatest horror directors of this era were actually reacting against him, as much as paying homage to him. This is particularly true of the end of Psycho, which horror makers hated as much as they loved the shower scene. This is a new argument that is at odds with most everything written about the genre.

The origins of horror tropes: Zinoman does a masterful job of tracing the origins of those now familiar horror standbys: the masked serial killer, the point of view shot in slasher films, the use of the chainsaw, the introduction of Giger’s aesthetic (H.R. Giger was a painter and sculptor; the now-seminal design for the alien in Alien was inspired by his painting Necronom IV and earned him an Oscar in 1980); and the roots of the unmotivated serial killer.

Solving the "Monster Problem": This is a term Zinoman coins, which essentially means how do you retain the sense of the unknown (the "unknown" being the scariest thing in the world according to the intellectual Godfather of the genre, H.P. Lovecraft) while showing the monster? Every great horror movie of this period provides a good answer to this problem, and Zinoman shows exactly how the directors did it.

The slow embrace of the mainstream press to horror: In the 70s, the media's coverage of horror radically evolved. Roger Ebert's pan of Night of the Living Dead in Reader’s Digest helped launch a new kind of alternative horror press which took horror very seriously at least a decade before the major critics. Now of course almost everyone, from A.O. Scott to Anthony Lane, does.

Tracing the origins of the two greatest monster movies of the era – Alien and Halloween: Zinoman explores in detail the influential friendship at USC in the late sixties between John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. Zinoman is the first journalist to really reconstruct the USC scene (and almost the entire class), back before film school was really that popular.

Wes Craven: Zinoman explores how a fundamentalist upbringing and an early career in porn inspired Craven to be a master of horror.

Brian De Palma. The common wisdom about this director has been completely wrong. Despite his reputation as a coolly stylish director who emphasizes form over content, Zinoman shows how De Palma’s movies are actually very personal, even autobiographical. To take one example, his greatest theme – voyeurism, which shows up in everything from Carrie to Scarface to Blow Out– did not originate as an homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as everyone including him says, but rather in the story of De Palma, as a child, spying and catching his father cheating (De Palma videotaped his father meeting-up with his mistress so that his mother could win in a divorce).

The making of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Much has been written about the insanity of making this film, but Zinoman colorfully reports on the unlikely role of the New York mob and the Governor of Texas had in producing perhaps the most original exploitation movie of all time. Zinoman captures a Wild West period at the birth of the Texas film industry, when a classic horror movie could be made because a rich businessman wanted to sleep with the leading lady.

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.

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.
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. A-
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.
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.

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.”

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.”

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203022
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/7/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.44 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Jason Zinoman

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, The Economist, 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 New York Times.

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 1, 2012

    Great Start

    But seems to gloss over Halloween and especially Friday 13th.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    Very informative

    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

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    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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