The Horror of It All

By Adam Rockoff

Adam Rockoff is a fellow who is very sure of what he does and doesn’t like.

He likes gruesome horror movies, and has made a career out of his fandom: writing a critical history of slasher films that was later made into a documentary (Going to Pieces) and writing the screenplay, under a pseudonym, for the 2010 remake of one of the most notorious exploitation films of all time, I Spit on Your Grave.

Rockoff also has a long list of things he doesn’t like. In particular he doesn’t like certain people. He calls the film critics Siskel and Ebert “pompous blowhards” for their ignorance of the horror genre. He also hates Charlie Sheen (“a bigot and serial abuser of women”), Woody Allen (he married his daughter!), and Al Gore (“there are few politicians as contemptible”). To this non-exhaustive list he also adds that he hates all French people because they smell bad.

In short, Rockoff has opinions, and The Horror of It All is a very personal, very public airing of those opinions. It is an attempt to explain the allure of horror and its recent history of controversy from the perspective not just of a fan but an industry insider, “someone on the front lines.”

His approach is a blend of criticism and memoir intentionally modeled after pop-culture bad-boy Chuck Klosterman. That’s a frightening connection to make, perhaps the scariest thing in the book, but while there is some resemblance, Rockoff never sinks to Klosterman’s level of glib self-absorption.

Much like the movies he loves, Rockoff enjoys being outrageous and provocative. As he goes along he champions less popular horror films while declaring Alien “a snoozefest,” The Exorcist unintentionally funny, Scream a postmodern fraud, and the shower scene in Psycho “totally overrated” and “one big letdown.”

In each of these cases Rockoff has a point that isn’t entirely lost, even in overstatement. Yes, he wants to provoke a response, but there’s no denying he knows his stuff. Some readers may find him too brash, but there are plenty of other, more sober treatments of the field available (Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value being perhaps the best). In any event, this isn’t a book for the reference library so much as for the TV room. It’s loud, but good company.

Review first published online February 8, 2016.

%d bloggers like this: