Shock Value by Jason Zinoman, Penguin Press, 274 pages, $25.95. In the modern style, the subtitle of this book is nothing if not informative: "How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror." If, as it's now said (with some justice), the Golden Age of American film wasn't the '30s but, in fact, the '70s, this book is about what was happening on the other end of Hollywood's social and economic ladder from Coppola, Altman, Scorsese, etc.
This is the story of the auteurs of The New Horror, the makers of the films that took over the drive-ins or camped out in modern urban grind-houses where the floors were sticky with a mash of dried Pepsi syrup with melted Milk Duds and Jujubes and where you didn't want to look too close at the curtains parting for the main attraction, lest there be small furry animals at the base scurrying out of sight.
It begins with William Castle's astonishing alliance with Roman Polanski and Ira Levin to give the world "Rosemary's Baby." And with the exploitive, blasphemous, low-budget children of Hitchcock's "Psycho" -- Herschel Gordon Lewis' "Blood Feast" and "Two Thousand Maniacs," Mario Bava's "Blood and Black Lace," and one of the most weirdly influential of all, Pittsburgh master George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," whose zombie repasts were provided by the wholesale butcher who financed it ("Wes Craven saw 'Night of the Living Dead' in a theater in Times Square and describes it as the first horror movie that wasn't shackled to a sense of decorum.").
Before it's over, Times theater reporter Zinoman has told us stories of Bogdanovich and "Targets," Wes Craven and "Last House on the Left," John Carpenter and "Halloween," Dan O'Bannon and "Bloodbath," William Friedkin and "The Exorcist," Tobe Hooper and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Brian De Palma and "Carrie," Ridley Scott and "Alien," and concluded with the news that Stanley Kubrick was climbing off Olympus to make "The Shining." The New Horror had arrived. Zinoman's book is often hyperbolic but never less than compulsively readable and hugely informative.
-- Jeff Simon