Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Halloween Memory: You Should Read "Shock Value"

I had just turned six years old when my brother and cousins took me to see Halloween in the theater. 
At the time, you had G for General Audiences, PG for Parental Guidance suggested (“some material may no be suitable for pre-teenagers”), R for Restricted to folks with a a parent or adult guardian, and X for Midnight Cowboy (IE, no one under 17 admitted).  My adult guardians would have been my brother AJ and my cousin Shawn, who were 13 and 15 at the time.  They watched over my cousin Shane, age 13, sister Cass and cousin Shannon, both 11, and six-year-old me - the same age as young Michael Myers on screen, when he stabs his older sister to death for having sex and gets sent to a mental institution.
1978 = good times.  Try getting a group kids aged 6 to 14 into the next Saw and see how far you get.  
Having personal experience with a six-year-old has taught me that one thing they can’t do is distinguish reality from fantasy.  Sample questions along this line include, “Are vampires real?” and “What would we do if zombies attacked this house?”  I might as well have been watching a documentary.
Listening to John Carpenter’s synthesizer now, which he says is an homage to Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, is a mix of nostalgic terror, judgment over its hokey creepiness, and genuine shivers.  Listening to the music, watching Michael Myer's white mask fill the screen, I was bathed in horror.
At one point, my brother leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“Isn’t this awesome?” he asked.
I felt like a silhouette, a piece of blackness in that dark theater.  He words entered my ear like light, found my spine, and exploded throughout my body.  I couldn’t speak.  I think I managed to nod, but I don’t quite remember.  

Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value has a chapter which deals with the question every horror fan must face at one point or another: “How could you watch those kinds of movies?”  Apart from a glowing review from Powell's, part of me probably picked it up to answer that question myself.
I can always use the excuse that I had no choice; I was indoctrinated early.
As far as the book, it’s fascinating if you’re a fan of any kind of film - Zinoman makes a compelling argument that most critically-lauded, Oscar-winning films of the day are shot by folks who grew up idolizing what many considered schlock when it was first produced.  
If you like horror movies, it’s required reading.  


  1. On the note of kids, horror movies, and reality: after my best friend died, his then 6 year old brother approached me with wide eyes and a serious expression and asked, "Is Brandon going to be a zombie now?"

    It was the first time I laughed after his death, mostly because that's exactly what he would have wanted on his tombstone.

  2. That's a great story. All the best stories carry sadness and joy.

    Thanks for sharing.