Published by Scribner
Slasher films have always been my favorite. In 2002 my slasher movie bible was Adam Rockoff’s Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. Although a bit on the short side, that book provided me with a wealth of information and introduced me to a number of classic slasher films I may have never known about. Before the internet was as accessible and comprehensive as it is today, a book like Rockoff’s was a great way to learn more about slashers. The book even received a spin-off of the same name in the form of a documentary on the history of the slasher genre.
Since publishing Going to Pieces, Rockoff has gone on to pen the screenplay for the movies Wicked Lake and the remake of I Spit on Your Grave. This year Rockoff returned to the world of cinema literature with his new book The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair With Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead…
In his introduction, Rockoff mentions that he was inspired by Chuck Klosterman’s essay/memoir on rock and roll, Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota. Rockoff promises to approach horror in a similar, very personal way, using his own experiences with the genre as a backdrop for his version of a guide to horror. Unfortunately, the result is a mishmash of horror history, personal anecdotes, editorials, and lists that, while sometimes entertaining, just don’t provide much substance. The casual horror fan will find some value here, but more seasoned fans may finish the book asking, “What was the point?”
The Horror of It All begins with Rockoff detailing how his love affair with horror movies, especially slashers, began. This was my favorite section. I love hearing about how other people fell in love with horror movies, and this part of the book reminded me of my own childhood fascination with horror. His stories are charming and probably familiar to anyone else who preferred staying up to watch My Bloody Valentine to other childhood endeavors.
The following chapters are more mixed. Chapter 2 is an analysis of the infamous edition of “Sneak Previews” hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, in which the two critics endlessly bash the slasher genre. Most horror fans will be at least mildly familiar with this special, and Rockoff’s views on it are unsurprising and say little that hasn’t already been said by other authors. Unfortunately, the rest of the book follows this trend, and it feels as though Rockoff is just rambling on with shallow observations about the horror genre and its history. Some sections are interesting, but many just don’t work at all. I was completely lost in Chapter 5, “Sounds of the Devil.” In this chapter Rockoff talks about the relationship between heavy metal and horror. I didn’t really buy the idea that heavy metal and horror are tied together in anything more than a superficial way, and the chapter goes off the rails when it turns into a blow-by-blow account of the Parents Resource Music Center hearings, which concerned developing a ratings system for explicit music. This chapter felt like a completely different book, and truly it’s just not that interesting of a story.
Rockoff goes on to write about great kills, misunderstood flops, snuff and “found footage” movies, and the current state of horror. In one chapter Rockoff discusses his “controversial” views. He makes several claims, stating Red Dragon is better than Manhunter (I agree), Scream sucks (I don’t), and Friday the 13th is better than Halloween (I really don’t). This could have made for an interesting read, but Rockoff doesn’t go into enough depth as to why he believes these things. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but Rockoff’s statements come off feeling like he thinks only he is right. What’s worse is that in the end, it’s just not interesting enough to cover an entire chapter. There are other moments in the book where he seems to ramble on about nothing at all. There is even a somewhat racist rant against French people that is completely out of place.
While ambitious and fairly clever, The Horror of It All lacks enough substance to keep horror veterans fully engaged. There are some interesting anecdotes and a few fascinating discussions, but the book feels more like the random thoughts and rants of a horror fan than any type of substantial commentary or critique. Horror fans looking for a short, breezy read may enjoy this book, but there are other more informative works I would recommend seeking out before this one.