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Book Review: Jason Zinoman’s SHOCK VALUE

“He ain’t Orson Welles. He ain’t Howard Hawks. He’s somewhere below Wes Craven.” — Dan O’Bannon on John Carpenter

As the holidays roll around, sometimes it feels like a mystery what to buy for, how shall we say, Halloween types. Sure, there are box sets to go around and action figures to boot, but what is a gift, a real good gift for any cinematic horror nerd? We’ve told you about the custom made pop-up book from the creators of the indie horror hit The Babadook and genre favorites Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s latest The Guest, which is now available to own on VOD with Blu-ray coming in January, but for the horror nerd who can’t wait until 2015 for present delivery, Shock Value by Jason Zinoman is the gift for you.

In the introduction alone, Zinoman mentions that there are now classes taught on exploitation cinema and that Alien has become one of the biggest franchises known to audiences. But who were the players who made this happen? Who were the people behind the scenes of the genre in the 60s and 70s? There are many to consider, from Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle struggling with their relationship to rapidly evolving audiences to the “New Horror” gang who were not bound by the formalities and the polite nature of those who came before them. Shock Value explores the major turning point in the genre by using text that is straight forward and matter of fact but also incredibly researched and fun. It makes you feel like you were there, sitting at USC with Carpenter and O’Bannon or cutting The Last House on the Left in the northeast with Craven and Cunningham.

Shock Value Book Jacket

The book covers the inception and production of obvious horror classics like Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, The Last House on the Left, Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie and The Texas Chainswaw Massacre while not forgetting the work of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Brian DiPalma, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, David Cronenberg and many, many others. What were these guys up to when they were breaking into the movie business through horror? Where did they come from, who did they work with? Why did they not just want but need to make these films and on their terms? Told in a way that is never gossipy and always informative, Shock Value takes a look behind the scenes at a revolutionary time not only in independent cinema but in horror cinema, specifically.

Zinoman is also savvy enough to realize that horror is not a genre that will allow itself to be contained. He draws parallels between horror and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, as well as citing current genre bending examples like the Coen Brothers Academy Award winning feature No Country For Old Men. Shock Value is a book that finally takes horror seriously and is required reading for genre fans and general cinephiles alike.

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror by Jason Zinoman is available now.

Halloween On-Set Photo Credit: Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who also has a kick-ass book out that would be a great gift for a horror fan called On Set with John Carpenter.

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  1. Adam says:

    I’d say Wes Craven is somewhere below John Carpenter, actually.