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Old Hollywood Book Reviews: Shock Value

I’ve been off the blogging scene for two days and that’s all due to my damn need for higher education.  I’m in the home stretch, only three weeks left of school and I’ll be free to watch whatever I want, whenever I want, and blog about it freely.  Until then…you’re stuck with a blogger who will be posting sporadically for a bit.  I’ll try to catch up on the weekends for now but who really wants to hear about my problems?  You’ve come to read about film…well I got a book review for all you fans of old-school horror.  Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror is a great book about the early world of the horror film and a must-read for any fans of those early slasher films.  I’ll also be detailing an upcoming giveaway so keep reading (see how I tricked you there).

I love books that detail specific movements in the entertainment field and Shock Value looks at the era from early 1960 to the mid-80s and how horror has changed due to a group of maverick film directors who loved horror.  Zinoman’s prose moves swiftly and details everything.  There’s looks at the specific directors and their lives including a very interesting analysis of Brian De Palma and his childhood trauma over his parents divorce.  The backgrounds on the directors aren’t used to pad the novel (it’s a pretty slim 272 pages) but to show how these events inspired the movies.  Zinoman details how many of De Palma’s movies including Blow Out, involve voyuerism due to his mother forcing him to spy on his father as a child.  There’s also discussions on the directors personal lives and how their need to make horror films affected their families.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...
Night of the Living Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book starts by showing how horror was seen as kind of the bastard genre of the film world by the end of the 1950s; relegated to cheap drive-ins or a way for a fading actor to make a cheap buck.  Zinoman even mentions that Alfred Hitchcock refused to acknowledge Psycho as a horror film because it was seen as a bad omen.  With the advent of a cheap director named George Romero, Night of the Living Dead became the father of modern horror.  Now it wasn’t all smooth sailing as the film took awhile to gain an audience but it opened the door to the 70s exploitation and grit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre to more esoteric movies like Rosemary’s Baby.  The fact that so many different movies are seen as being frontrunners for modern horror is astounding as I’d never have thought of Rosemary’s Baby being so influential to horror.

From there the book analyzes how horror was eventually embraced in the 70s and 80s, a complete 360 as many critics bashed the movies on original release.  The book almost humorously mentions how critics like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael had to admit the effect these movies had on the world even after bashing them upon release.

Cover of "Rosemary's Baby"
Rosemary's Baby....Please don't bring gifts!

The book also stops to analyze these movies making the book an invaluable resource if you write essays on film movements.  It looks at the culture of the times and the types of horror movies that were being made.  There’s of course the racial overtones of Night of the Living Dead, but who knew Texas Chainsaw Massacre discussed the unemployment crisis of the 1970s with Leatherface?  The unmotivated killer of the 1980s is discussed, and the films changing views on women is included.

With this is a section devoted solely to “The Monster Problem.”  A term Zinomen creates to discuss the director’s frustration on whether to show the monsters as the movies increased in violence and production value.  The fact that a bigger budget didn’t necessarily equate to showing a monster is explained in detail.  The book looks at Alien in this regard (in fact there’s a lot about Dan O’Bannon and Alien in this book) and how Giger’s models worked to showing the monster in all its glory.

Definitely do yourself a favor and pick up Shock Value.  It’s a quick read and does a stellar job of exploring the horror genre.  It shows that horror films aren’t about naked girls and bad decisions, but also had something to say about the time period.  The book ends with the old horror directors (Wes Craven, John Carpenter, etc) meeting some of the new directors (Eli Roth, Rob Zombie) and how the horror game has changed today.  If you’re a horror fan, or just want more info on the genre as a whole pick up the book!

Grade: B+

So the giveaway.  I’m working it out right now but I will be giving away an Old Hollywood Book that I will be reviewing in a few weeks.  It won’t be a hard contest, I’ll probably just ask for comments and randomly select a winner.  I’d like to do more contests but unfortunately to give away stuff I have to spend money on stuff and I hate to hit up readers for money.  So…if there’s anyone out there who has something to promote (KEEP IT FILM RELATED PLEASE) or has an extra of something they think would make a good prize, contact me.  I’ll keep everyone updated when I get closer to putting up the giveaway review!

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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

7 thoughts on “Old Hollywood Book Reviews: Shock Value Leave a comment

  1. Sweet! Looks like I’ve got another book to add to the “To Read” pile…

    Pretty cool how movies, even cheap “B and C movie” horror flicks, can paint a picture of the times, like the idea that the old horror movies of the 50s and 60s were basically anti-communist propaganda. That whole “mindless zombie(read: commie) horde wreaking havoc on suburbia” image must have been pretty powerful back then.

    • Oh there’s a slew of books about the horror films of the 50s/60s (if you’re interested the books written by Peter Biskind are the best) that are great. The whole fear of conformity, Communism, and consumerism are big ones during that time.

  2. This sounds pretty cool. I have been meaning to read more books on film, so this is one I’ll have to keep in mind.

    As far as prizes go, you ought to try to contact some publishers of any upcoming/recent releases that you might be interested in. Sometimes they are more than willing to send copies your way, especially for promotional purposes.

    • You know I’ve been really interested in trying to get free movies/DVDs and books. The movies are difficult. I’ve emailed several studios for the entertainment site I write for and most don’t even answer you. I’ll have a few more book reviews up that I’ve received free ebook copies of…have to shoot them an email and ask them if they’d be willing to offer a promo giveaway copy…thanks for the idea!

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