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Monday, July 25, 2011

Shock Value (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 1)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool (often vampire) things. Today:
SHOCK VALUE by Jason Zinoman

Shock Value is a deeply researched and thoughtfully told analysis of New Horror, the modern-set, often more unsettling horror movies that came around in the 70s and continue more or less to today.
I had some real doubts about reading this outstanding book from Penguin Press. I'm a fan of horror of the gothic era-- Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, Hammer and Corman. For me the end of the Gothics signaled by the thunderclap of The Exorcist is a sort of sad time, although I appreciate the modern scares of the New Horror era. I mean, The Exorcist is a masterpiece, and I'm a huge fan of a few modern horrors such as The Changeling.

I'd read a series of essays by Jason Zinoman in Slate where he staked out several positions I loved (such as "the less explained about horror, the better") and at least one position I wasn't on board with, that horror has a purpose, and the purpose is to unsettle the audience. That means constantly upping the stakes, because the audience can't remain unsettled long-- so that whereas audiences in the 70s were disturbed by Regan spitting up pea soup, by the 2000s we really need to see someone's eye gouged out with a blowtorch. I'm not really there because I kind of think there's room for both the unsettling and the curiously settling kinds of horror. I'm not convinced that one is superior to the other.

The book makes no such claim-- Zinoman painstakingly traces the rebellious roots of Wes Craven, Dan O'Bannon, William Friedkin, Peter Blatty, and more as they launch modern classics like Last House on the Left, Alien, and The Exorcist. And it all begins with a look at Vincent Price, hamming it up on the Mike Douglas show, musing about what is horror.

Great stuff. I really admire this book and recommend it.

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