Book Review: Shock Value (2011)

Craven. Carpenter. Polanski. Romero. De Palma. These are the men that would change the face of Horror forever, and only a few of the names that line the pages of Jason Zinoman's newest novel, Shock Value, a look back into the histories that reshaped the genre in the 1960's and 70's. Zinoman assumes the role of the biographer in detailing the early upbringings and defining moments for each of the men as he examines how their lives and the events unfolding around them influenced films like ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE EXORCIST, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, and many, many more. What is perhaps the most shocking is how a group of such grounded, friendly, and intelligent artists would go on to make some of the most notorious, provocative, and utterly terrifying films of all-time.

What could make a fundamentalist Christian create a film about the rape and torture of two young girls? What could cause a whole generation of filmmakers to rebel against the so-called Godfather of Horror? Is HALLOWEEN as ground-breaking and original as it has been made out to be? Zinoman answers these questions and more. He draws heavily from the personal experiences of friends, lovers, and the film makers themselves to give further insight into their deepest motivations. Previously untold rivalries and sensational media scandals are brought to the surface as he breaks down and examines the internal and external factors unfolding around them.

Where Shock Value begins to lose credibility is in Zinoman's fluid language, which often romanticizes the characters and their stories with a sense of subjectivity. It is often as if he is speaking in place of the characters to give the more mundane details more pizzazz. In doing so, however, Zinoman is writing the legends of the modern Horror film, and doing it well. Directors that were at one time crucified for their shocking images are praised for making daringly realistic portrayals of the human condition. A film once criticized for depicting a pack of flesh-hungry ghouls is dissected to reveal telling social and political significance.

This is not only a fascinating guide for film fans, but an important expose that clearly delineates exploitation from experimentations in fear. Zinoman has given New Horror the shock treatment it needed to validate the genre while giving the directors their rightful recognition.

Rating: 9/10.

Books like Shock Value:
Going to Pieces, Nightmare Movies, Book of the Dead.


  1. I'm glad that you enjoyed this one overall! Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. It really was a fascinating read, and even this life-long Horror fan found out new details he hadn't known about his favorite directors!