In the 1970s, there were two cinematic revolutions that forever changed the face of American culture. They both occurred at the same time. Some of the same people were involved in both. The difference is that the revolution led by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas is regularly celebrated as being a part of the Second Golden Age of Hollywood while the second revolution, the horror revolution, is often either ignore or only given the most condescending of phrase.
While Speilberg and Lucas were recreating the blockbuster, writers and directors like John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven, and Dan O’Bannon were changing the way horror movies were made, marketed, and viewed. Though many of them came from similar backgrounds as the storied “move brats,” they were rarely given the same critical respect. Their accomplishments were often dismissed, even though they often made films that commented just as powerfully on the world of the 70s as Scorsese and Coppola did with films like Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now. Only a few directors, like Brian De Palma and William Friedkin, were allowed to live in both of the worlds of the horror visionaries and the movie brats. And even De Palma struggled to convince the mainstream critics to take him and his films seriously while Friendkin himself only made one horror film in the 70s, albeit one of the most important films of all time.
First published in 2011, Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value pays tribute to those horror visionaries, finally giving them the credit that they and their films deserve. The book tells the story of the generation of directors who made some of the best remembered films of the 70s. John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Brian De Plama, and many others move through the pages of this book, often working in the shadows of Hollywood and often finding themselves embraced by audiences even as they were screwed over by a film industry that wasn’t sure how to handle their unique outlooks and undeniable talents. Perhaps the most talented of them is Dan O’Bannon, who emerges here as a tragic figure who, for all of his obvious ability, could never bring himself to play the Hollywood game. Perhaps more than anyone, O’Bannon was responsible for the film that would eventually become Alien and yet, he received little of the credit that he deserved.
I probably use the term “must read” for too often but Shock Value is a must read for any lover of cinematic horror.