Frightful Friday: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

The featured book this week is:Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

  • Hardcover:272 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The (July 7, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1594203024
  • Source: Publisher

In the 1960′s, horror films were the red-headed step children of the movie industry. Movies of this genre were relegated to drive-in theaters or, even worse, small, dank theaters that only showed sex and snuff films. 

In the 1960s, going to see a horror movie was barely more respectable than visiting a porn theater.  You watched scary movies in cars or in dirty rooms with sticky floors.

Movie houses refused to admit their existence, critics hated them.

It wasn’t until directors like Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma took a chance, risking their careers and, in many cases, their livelihood, to produce “New Horror,” movies that showcased serial killers and the dark side of society rather than the “monster movies” of “Old horror.”  Out of this horror evolution, such movie greats as Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween.

This new wave of horror wasn’t accepted immediately.  Viewers and critics of Rosemary’s Baby shunned the movie as an attack against Catholicism. Several theaters banned the movie.  When The Exorcist was released in late 1973, “audience members were fainting and vomiting, screaming at the screen.”  Religious leaders, like Reverend Billy Graham, shunned it, calling it a “dangerous and strange situation.” But critics didn’t know how to react; how could they describe what they were watching?  Studio executives, who had once shunned the horror film,  were forced to take a step back and reevaluate their opinion of horror. 

Gradually, the perceptions of horror changed; The Exorcist was ultimately nominated for an Oscar in the best picture category. The movie earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay). It became one of the highest earning movies of all time, grossing $441 million worldwide.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) showed that horror movies can also serve as social commentary. It was one of the few movies of the time with an African American hero.

New Horror provides an outlet to indulge anxieties in the anonymity of a dark theater before laughing at your fear on the way home….they reflected on the grievances of their time: paranoia about government power and mocking nihilism about the power of the American dream.  They invited audiences to distrust authority adn, most of all, to steer clear of the outside world. (p 75)

 

Shock Value gives the reader a rare, inside look at the men behind the most influential horror movies of our time.  We learn about the childhoods of the horror movie greats, how their upbringing influenced their work.  Despite what many may think, they weren’t all social outcasts, dreaming of madness in the basements of their homes.

Bottom line, Shock Value is the book to read for fans of horror (both fiction and film) as well as those interested in the evolution of the film industry. Going in, I thought I was pretty knowledgable about the history of the horror film.  I was sorely mistaken!  Shock Value is a book I will keep on my shelves, referring to it often.  It has me wanting to go back and watch some of the horror greats and celebrate their awesomeness. Highly recommended.

About the Author:

Jason Zinoman is a critic and reporter covering theater for The New York Times. He has also regularly written about movies, television, books and sports for publications such as Vanity Fair, The Guardian and Slate. He was the chief theater critic for Time Out New York before leaving to write the On Stage and Off column in the Weekend section of the Times. He grew up in Washington D.C. and now lives in Brooklyn.

 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the other stops:

Tuesday, July 5th: Fascination With Fear
Wednesday, July 6th: Freddy in Space
Thursday, July 7th: Cinema Suicide
Friday, July 8th: Day of the Woman
Monday, July 11th: Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies
Tuesday, July 12th: Monster Land
Wednesday, July 13th: The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense
Monday, July 18th: The Girl Who Loves Horror
Tuesday, July 19th: From Midnight, With Love
Wednesday, July 20th: The Horror Section
Thursday, July 21st: Drunken Severed Head
Monday, July 25th: Chuck Norris Ate My Baby
Tuesday, July 26th: Frankensteinia
Date TBD: I Like Horror Movies

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