Cassie's Reviews > Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

Shock Value by Jason Zinoman
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's review
Feb 02, 2012

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from February 02 to 05, 2012

More of a 3.5 / 5 here. It's readable, but not compulsively so.

This book is really for horror fans, especially those with a fondness for the grindhouse breakouts of the late 60s and the 70s. I enjoyed learning new tidbits about the directors and screenwriters behind the classics of horror's second wave, and while many of these movies (The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) are not necessarily my favorites, they're certainly landmarks that have influenced the genre.

Jason Zinoman does a great job of letting us know the hows and whys behind the vision and influence of a wide variety of landmark films he dubs the New Horror, and it's inherently interesting to see how many of these movies were compromised by collaborations and the Hollywood studio system. While a lot of these films have been ascribed political messages, they were often incidental rather than intentional. The final shot of Night of the Living Dead? Never meant to be a comment on racism, but it certainly benefited from the racial tensions of the time, especially since it debuted after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. And it seemed like John Carpenter had been trying to remake The Thing from Another Planet like 50 different times until he had the clout and the special effects to pull it off wholesale.

However, the prose is kind of clunky and there's not a clear narrative beyond the fact that the movies Zinoman's chosen to profile were responsible for creating the tropes of the modern horror film. He often interrupts his own points in tangential asides about other movies, and in trying to link everything together, he sometimes gets a little repetitive. Zinoman occasionally approaches the question of why people enjoy horror movies and provides little insight when he does. He also blows off the horror of the 80s and beyond, presenting Halloween and Alien as the end of the golden era of New Horror, and while he's certainly entitled to that opinion, he doesn't provide any real analysis into it. He namechecks a few important post-70s titles, but by and large dismisses contemporary horror as unscary self-parody. Some of that's true, especially of the 80s and 90s, but given that the kind of social unrest that was so influential in the 60s and 70s has boomeranged right back in the 00s, a new paradigm is starting to emerge in horror, one that is definitely NOT defined by No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker, films that he feels are the 00s redefinition of the 70s sensibilities. Those aren't even horror movies! Honestly, it wouldn't have bothered me if Zinoman just told us that the rules are beginning to change once again after the 80s/90s gave us the second coming of goofy, campy Hammer-esque horror, but he makes it sound like nothing has ever been scary since Alien. Simply not true, and kind of an insult to those of us who love our classics but enjoy the scares afforded by contemporary horror, too.

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Reading Progress

02/02/2012 page 69
25.0% "Yep, taking a break from all the YA. Yay for 70s horror movies!"

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