History reading for Halloween

With all the hoolah around Halloween nowadays, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon, but with a historical twist. If you’re looking for something historically-minded to do this All Hallows Eve, I would suggest reading Shock Value by journalist and horror movie afficianado Jason Zinoman. The subtitle of the book is How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror and is a rollicking good read. A historian interested in popular culture, I was very interested to read how the horror films of the 1970s were both a reaction to and rejection of the political and socio-economic landscape of the United States at the time. And the Marxist in me was happy to see discussion of how the material base, in terms of the economics of making films at the time, the technology available and other practical limitations, shaped how the superstructure – the films themselves – was created.

The book really focuses on Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, John Carpenter’s Halloween and Ridley Scott’s Alien, but also discusses Hitchcock’s Psycho, Bogdanovich’s Targets, The Exorcist, Jaws and the ‘video nasties’ of the 1980s. The cover of the book (see above) is a homage to the cover of the Evil Dead video, but Evil Dead is actually only mentioned briefly in the book (in the concluding chapter).

Overall, it is a really good read and something that I read page-to-page in less than a week. So yay for history, horror and Halloween!

And don’t forget to listen to this today. Or this.

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