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

Jason Zinoman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

July 12 2011
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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Review

“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) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

“SCALPEL-SHARP…It grabs you like a deadly undertow and doesn’t let go.”
Parade magazine (Parade Picks)

He captured the Beauty Killer, one of the most deranged serial killers in the country. Now, Portland police detective Archie Sheridan faces a different kind of killer—a brutal rain season that has flooded the Willamette River, claiming several lives. As water levels rise, so does the fear. Because some of the victims didn’t drown—they were murdered.

“Superb… [Cain is] the new queen of serial-killer fiction.”
Kirkus Reviews

The first body contains a rare poison. Three others prove to be murders as well. And with each gruesome discovery the medical examiner uncovers, Archie begins to realize he has not escaped his nightmares—even with his deadliest enemy behind bars. The flood has washed up old skeletons from the past. And a ruthless new serial killer rules the night…

“HEART-STOPPING.”Publishers Weekly (a Top 10 Mystery of the Year)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for any horror movie fan! Jan. 27 2013
By Kelly
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a well written, descriptive history of how horror movies were brought to the screen. Highly Recommended! Great Read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  35 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential for horror fans, but I do have a complaint ... July 24 2011
By Grouchy Editor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are a horror-movie fan, and I am certainly one of them, Zinoman's biography of the men behind Hollywood's second "golden age" of horror, the 1970s, is an essential read. "Shock Value" is a nice blend of what makes guys like Wes Craven and George Romero tick - and how those ticks show up in their movies. But I'm sure every fright-flick aficionado will have nitpicks with Zinoman's critique, and so here are two of mine: Zinoman points out that most of these directors flamed out after initial success, but he doesn't offer much of an explanation for why that happened. William Friedkin ("The Exorcist"), Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"), Romero ("Night of the Living Dead") ... what the hell happened to these guys?

My other complaint is more subjective. I happen to believe that Bob Clark's "Black Christmas" was the most terrifying movie of the decade, and that John Carpenter (who, incidentally, comes off as a Grade-A jerk in this book) shamelessly stole concepts and techniques from that movie to use in his blockbuster "Halloween." Zinoman touches on this directorial "borrowing," but inexcusably devotes little text to Clark's woefully underappreciated, eerie masterpiece.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, if uneven view of the masters of horror Sept. 4 2011
By Sean May - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Shock Value seeks to take on a lot in a relatively small space. Almost all of the films chronicled in the book could be the subjects of entire books, and Jason Zinoman does a good job at giving the reader a nice sampler of the important films of the genre, while also giving us some interesting insights into the creators behind them, letting us peek into their inner workings, providing good background on why exactly these seemingly normal (in most cases) people could create some of the most stomach-turning, terrifying films ever made.

The book does falter, though, in a lot of ways that glare too much to make it completely enjoyable. While the book does feature portraits of horror luminaries such as Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Brian DePalma and George Romero, the main narrative of the book focuses on John Carpenter, and does so far too much. The book quickly becomes about Carpenter and his frequent clashes with his collaborator, Dan O'Bannon. The book describes Carpenter and O'Bannon's obsession with HP Lovecraft and their shared obsession with Howard Hawkes' The Thing from Another Planet.

Yet, despite Zinoman's adoration of Carpenter's work, and despite a half dozen mentions of his love of The Thing From Another Planet, the book makes only a slight mention of Carpenter's remake of the film, The Thing, which still stands as one of the most terrifying horror films ever made.

There are a few other quibbles I had with the book, including a number of rather glaring typos and factual errors, and a strangely self-absorbed telling of how a Hollywood producer approached Zinoman during the writing of the book to pitch him a horror film. The pitch is kind of banal, and just seems out of place, seeing that the rest of the book focused solely on the directors of the previously mentioned films, and had nothing to do with Zinoman's personal experiences with the films.

I would say that the book is recommended to anyone who wants a nice overview of the horror genre during the 70s and early 80s, but there are some parts of it that definitely warrant skipping.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine writer, excellent subject matter but not enough depth July 25 2011
By John Kelvie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First of all, I will say if you like horror films, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. There is too little written on the subject, and given that, I was delighted to find this book, and overall it did not disappoint.

Mr. Zinoman is a good writer, and within the areas that he chooses to focus, he has done a good deal of research and provides the reader with interesting insights.

My main complaint would be that there was not enough. The book covers the initial films of Craven, Carpenter, De Palma, Friedkin, Polanski, Romero and Hooper to a good deal of depth. But he ignores much, if not all, of the later works of these artists. I would have liked to have heard much more about how these directors evolved. In some cases, like Hooper or Romero, where there careers sort of flamed out (I know Romero fans won't agree, but how many zombie moves can one man make?), but many of them remained vital for many years. I was especially disappointed that there was not more coverage of Body Double and the Thing. These are two of the finest thriller/horror movies ever made IMO, and were fairly solidly within the time period covered by the book, yet were basically left out for some reason (I'm guessing time limitations, as the whole book though well done does feel a bit rushed). Maybe part two.

That aside, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this. Hopefully there will be more like it!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Much Value Aug. 13 2011
By Rabbit_With_Fangs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As much as I hate to rag on anything recommended by Misha Collins (love that man!), I was really disappointed in this book. I'm no expert, but I don't think I really read anything that I didn't already know from being a horror movie geek. The writing is really, well, not good...an astute editor might have helped, but Zinoman frequently repeats himself, goes off on tiny tangents and sometimes just plain doesn't make sense. The 'horror sickness'? What 'Shock Value' reminded me of more than anything was a very competent undergrad essay by a film student who just happened to have access to interviews with some of the keys players in the New Horror industry. I've given an extra star because it was fascinating to hear that Dan O'Bannon's physical stomach pains - he suffered from Crohn's disease - was the inspiration for the scariest dinner scene ever - John Hurt, alien fetus et al.
Overall I was very let down because the era and the films Zinoman discusses are classic, and he's done the seemingly impossible: make it all sound very boring.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars bios on the directors of horror in the 70's June 30 2013
By Fenrix - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you want to read bios on the directors of horror in the 70's along with discussion of their first few movies, this book's for you. Unfortunately, this book didn't reveal much that was enlightening to me. Maybe I already know too much about horror and I'm not the target audience. On the flip side, If this book isn't for me, I'm having a hard time figuring out who this is for.

The writing is compelling enough, but I would have liked a little less biography with a little more thematic exploration. I didn't find anything that really hooked me. Already details are dribbling away and I finished the book yesterday. Probably the only thing I will take away from this is how part of O'Bannon's inspiration for the chest-burster in Alien was his struggle with Crohn's Disease.

I'll admit, part of the reason I picked this up is because the cover art nods at the poster art for Evil Dead. However, Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead earn a throwaway nod in the book. I also disagree with the position of the author which seems to be that no smart horror was produced between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel. Some of this frame is why this book didn't really work for me.
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