About the Author
Adam Rockoff is the screenwriter of Wicked Lake, a film so depraved it caused Ron Jeremy to storm out of the theater in anger. However, his 2010 adaptation of the classic exploitation film, I Spit on Your Grave, received nearly unanimous praise from horror critics. His first book, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986, a critical examination of the slasher genre, was made into a documentary which premiered on STARZ. When he’s not getting his hands bloody, Rockoff runs the television production company, FlashRock Films.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Horror of It All Prologue
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .
Those immortal words were almost certainly not written to anticipate the horror boom in the early years of the twenty-first century. And yet they most surely apply.
It was the best of times because interest in horror movies, and all the accompanying cultural detritus, is at an all-time high.
I just got back from Barnes & Noble, as good a barometer as any for measuring the zeitgeist. On this day, the magazine rack was stocked with no fewer than eleven titles devoted exclusively to horror and exploitation films. Eleven! And lest anyone think I’m exaggerating for effect, here they are: Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Scary Monsters Magazine, Diabolique, HorrorHound, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Shadowland Magazine, Filmfax, VideoScope, Video Watchdog, and The Walking Dead: The Official Magazine. There were exactly zero magazines dedicated to Westerns. None for comedies either. Zilch for family films, dramas, and musicals. While there were also a handful of general entertainment periodicals, those publications included horror, too, whenever it hit the mainstream.
The 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner, The Artist, grossed a total of $44 million. That same year, in just its opening weekend, the third installment of the Paranormal Activity series grossed $52 million. This is just one example, but it’s indicative of what a commercial juggernaut horror has become.
If the genre is as healthy as it’s ever been, how can it possibly also be the worst of times? Well, because as incredible as this might seem, the golden age of horror journalism—which I would argue we’re in—has a downside: it seems as if everything worth writing has already been written.
I love the Friday the 13th series as much as anyone, but after Peter M. Bracke’s exhaustive fully illustrated oral history, Crystal Lake Memories, as well as both Daniel Farrands’s accompanying documentary adaptation and his earlier film His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, there’s absolutely nothing to add to the legacy of everyone’s favorite hockey-masked maniac. We now have a handful of books I could legitimately describe as the definitive work on Dario Argento, and with Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark and Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, Tim Lucas and Stephen Thrower respectively have provided the final word on these Italian titans. I can’t imagine anyone writing about the grindhouse and trash cinema more lovingly than Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. And if a Peter Biskind–esque look at horror cinema’s most famous feuds and faces is your thing, you probably can’t do better than Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror or David Konow’s Reel Terror: The Scary, Bloody, Gory, Hundred-Year History of Classic Horror Films. I could go on and on, and on and on.
So what’s the problem with this embarrassment of riches? Twenty years ago, when I was digging around the back of a moth-infested used-book store for a battered copy of John McCarty’s Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen, I could never have dreamed that some Monday I would be able to order the biography of Peter Cushing, a history of horror fanzines, and a beautiful full-color coffee table book showcasing Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett’s unparalleled horror memorabilia collection, only to have all of them arrive at my front door on Tuesday morning.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was only a problem for me. It had been over a decade since my first book, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, came out, and I had been itching to write a follow-up. But about what?
Then it hit me. I was in the bathroom reading Fargo Rock City for the umpteenth time—both on the toilet and in general. I know I sound like some hack comedian, but every single good idea I’ve ever had has come to me either in the shower or while emptying my bowels. For those of you who don’t know, Fargo Rock City is Chuck Klosterman’s memoir about growing up as a heavy metal fan in rural North Dakota. On the surface, it’s both a history and critical analysis of hair metal, but filtered through Klosterman’s personal experiences it becomes something much more profound.
What if I could do the same thing with horror movies? To my knowledge, this had never been done. Kier-La Janisse’s masterful House of Psychotic Women comes close. But two things gave me reason to believe there might be room for another voice. One, and most obvious, Janisse is a woman. We may like to pretend that gender has no effect on how we process art and culture, but that’s a lie, and everyone knows it. Plus, her hardscrabble life was markedly different from my own uneventful suburban upbringing. Two, and this is equally apparent just from her book’s subtitle—An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films—Janisse is a far better writer than I’ll ever be.
This isn’t false modesty. Unfortunately, I have plenty of examples to support this claim. The first testimonial (the very first one) on the back cover of Going to Pieces states: “Rockoff is no blood-in-his-eye moron.” Have you ever heard such effusive praise? I might not be the smartest guy in the room. Or the most eloquent. But hey, at least I’m no moron! I might as well be the thinnest guy at fat camp. Then there’s the fact that a signed copy of my book is selling on eBay for less money than a brand-new one. So I have the dubious distinction of being one of the lucky authors whose signature actually devalues the work. This reminds me of a hot dog stand near my hometown where a buttered roll actually cost less than a plain roll. As adventurous as my friends and I were, we never dared sample that “butter.”
So why waste your hard-earned money on this book? As a close friend of mine recently asked, “Who the hell wants to read about your experiences? Why is that interesting to anybody except for you?” I realized two things. One, I need some new friends. But two, my experiences, while unique to me, are really nothing more than a window to your own. A mirror to reflect back those memories that may have been forgotten, misplaced, or shelved away in the furthest recesses of your mind. Part of the subtitle of this book is One Moviegoer’s Love Affair. That’s both true and misleading.
I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw the 1978 film Class Reunion Massacre. On some level, I understood that hundreds of people were responsible for its conception, production, and release; thousands more had eventually seen it in theaters or on home video. But the film itself was so weird, and my experience of watching it so personal, that at the time I couldn’t imagine anyone else even being aware of its existence.
Once I started discussing horror films with like-minded fans, I soon learned that many people were indeed aware of Class Reunion Massacre. One or two had even seen it in some shitty theater under its original title, The Redeemer: Son of Satan!
Then it became crystal clear. Although I can only write about my own experiences, I can draw on the collective consciousness of horror fandom. And this is why you might like this book. Because my memories are yours.
I’m almost forty now, no longer the target demographic for horror movies. And yet I love them more than ever. Lots of my friends do too.
As someone who came of age during the slasher boom in the early eighties, I’ve seen the genre rise, and fall, and rise again. Since then, horror films have undergone more transformations than even Dr. Moreau could fathom. Scream ushered in an era of snarky, self-conscious, postmodern horror. The Blair Witch Project obliterated the studio model and proved that any bozo with a camcorder could make a scary movie, while superior documentary-style films such as The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside, and the Paranormal Activity series proved to be not the exception but the rule. The term “torture porn” was coined to describe the uncompromising films of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, giving media pundits a perfect sobriquet for the objects of their derision. Films released barely twenty years earlier were remade or “reimagined” in droves, including each of the holy trinity of slasherdom: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Vampires were sexy, then gritty, then sexy again. And, eventually, zombies were freakin’ everywhere.
The time is once again ripe to ask the question: why do horror films continue to not only endure but prosper? It’s a question that will be answered not by the cultural arbiters—forever frustrated by their inability to explain the allure of horror—but by someone on the front lines.
Because to really understand the modern horror film, you have to live it. You have to embrace the outré, dive headfirst into the rabbit hole with eyes wide open (or shut), and not be afraid to slay the sacred cows.
And for those of us who do, it’s a helluva ride.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.