Shock Value

Expectations are a motherflocker

I ordered Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value thinking that he would devote a chapter to each of the ‘new horror’ films mentioned in the book’s promotional blurbs.  As it is, he does cover these films, but in less depth than I would’ve liked, and he jumps between films and people so frequently that I frequently lost track.  This narrative seguing is understandable.  Shock Value highlights the interrelated nature of both the films and people, from writer of Alien Dan O’Bannon’s film school cooperation with John Carpenter, or the happy thievery of horror films ripping off the works that influenced them.  I struggled to keep up with who or what was being discussed, but that’s more my fault than the book’s.

I’m not suited to reading Shock Value for another reason: I’m not much of a horror fan.  I like some of the films mentioned (Alien, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) but I’ve never seen Last House On The Left and I barely remember Halloween.  What I do remember about many horror films is how dull they were.

So why did I read it?  Because I’m interested in what goes on behind the scenes at studios.  I have an interest in some of the films.  And good writing is good writing, regardless of subject matter.  Shock Value is well-written and researched, just not suited to me.

The highlight of the book was the details of Dan O’Bannon’s involvement with Alien.  Dan was a lifelong sufferer of Chrohn’s Disease (an ailment that lead to his death).  The agonising pain in his stomach being the inspiration for Alien’s famous chestburster.  Zinoman’s paints O’Bannon as a man who got far less credit than he deserved, both with Alien and his work with John Carpenter.

A point clearly near to Zinoman’s heart is his belief that the scariest part of horror is a fear of the unknown.  To him, Freddy Kreuger was ruined when his origin was revealed, Michael Myers was weakened by explanation of his motivations.  Zinoman can’t help but make this point a few times throughout the book.  It’s one I’ve thought about since I read the author’s articles in the weeks before I bought the book.  Despite having seen The Dark Knight twice, I hadn’t noticed that The Joker has no backstory.  Would he be less disturbing a character if his past and motivations were made clear?  Probably.  Would this principle apply to most monsters and villains?  I’m not so sure, but it’s worth thinking about further.

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