Truth is stranger than fiction as the old saying goes and because of this I have a much easier time reading non-fiction than I do fiction. I don’t know why that is. I’m just not much of a reader as much as I’d like that to be the contrary. I enjoy the act of reading and I thrive on science fiction novels but there is just something about sitting down with a book that puts me to sleep. Every time. It doesn’t matter where I am. I’ll turn five pages before I start to feel the nod coming on. It’s brutal and it means that reading any book of any length becomes a major investment of time since a book that’ll take my wife a week to read will take me a month or more. It’s become a bit of a household joke, as a matter of fact, whenever I crack a new one. My follow through with books is notoriously poor. What’s worse is that I have dozens of literary minded friends who feel compelled to foist piles of their favorite novels on me, each insisting that I read them, and when I inform them that I have a stack of books to read that is as high as my movie review pile, they don’t seem to care. That is until six months later when they start to ask me if they’ll ever get their Scalzi books back. So when I found a copy of Jason Zinoman’s non-fiction love letter to the budding horror movie paradigm of the 1970’s, I couldn’t have been happier. Here was a book that I would be able to kick up my feet with and end the day on high note with a book that I could actually finish in reasonable time.
If you’re reading this then there’s a good chance that you meet my target demographic. You’re a horror movie fanatic. You probably came here from some kind of related search engine query and you’re probably of above average intellect with an obsessive streak for the things that you love. It’s just another profile of your average Cinema Suicide reader. Pat yourself on the back. Go on. You probably also know at least a little bit about the late 60’s and the 70’s and that era’s relation to an entirely new, insurgent approach to cinema that revolutionized Hollywood from top to bottom. You know that Martin Scorcese, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola blew industry conventions out of the water. You may also be aware that Wes Craven, George Romero, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter came along at the same time and thrust the much maligned horror film back into box office respectability and with some help from studio blockbusters like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, they managed to turn a genre once imprisoned in drive-ins and matinees into a major Hollywood force that critics hated but cinema patrons loved. Shock Value by New York Times critic, theater reporter and all-around journalistic gun-for-hire, Jason Zinoman, explores this concept in depth to a narrative degree that you and I could only once dream of.
See, there’s a documentary that’s been out for some time called The American Nightmare, which explores the concept of horror in the 70’s and the renegade film school maniacs who brought it out of its schlocky prison and forced it into the post-Vietnam public eye and just about everyone who cares to have seen it has seen it at this point. It’s a killer doc but at regular feature film length, it only begins to scratch the surface of an absolutely remarkable period in the world of film. Shock Value, for veterans and newcomers alike, explores this same ground but in much greater depth, taking care to include examinations of Roman Polanski, William Friedkin and Brian De Palma, three major forces of the genre who seem to blend into the genre tapestry whereas the forces of indie tend to hog the spotlight. Zinoman’s text also takes care to address the pre-history of the genre as we know it in terms of William Castle, Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock and how their various contributions to the genre were its greatest roadblock going through the 60’s as the tensions of our real-life world made their schlocky classics (well, maybe not Hitchcock’s) look like a stroll through your local garage haunted house. Subject matter aside, an absolute home run and a topic I never tire of researching, Zinoman tells the story of the horror movie and the personalities who made the powerhouse that it was soon to become in such a compelling fashion that it’s nearly impossible to put down. Shock Value is absolutely crammed with trivia about the productions of your favorite horror movies and directors that you may not have known. For instance, are you aware that John Carpenter is an Oscar winner? No shit. Seriously!
Shock Value adds a tremendous amount of valuable context to an era and a genre to give any reader insight into why the films that we love are so incredibly powerful. Sure, they’re great movies when viewed out of context but with just a little bit of background about the time they were made and who the people were who made them, these classics become true towering legends of the genre. From cover to cover, Shock Value is massively informative and an absolute blast to read. I’m not usually the type prone to hyperbole but you have to take my word for it. No self respecting fan of horror should go without a copy of Shock Value.