Adam Rockoff’s new book, The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead… (out May 19 from Scribner) is part memoir, part editorial, and part collection of lists. However, it all combines into a cohesive read that offers up the author’s views on any number of horror films, types, and tropes.
Rockoff’s book is like a one-sided conversation, wherein you might disagree with some of his views (his love for the Paranormal Activity franchise leaves me baffled), but you still keep reading because it’s all so entertaining and well-composed. Rockoff was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and his views on horror via e-mail in advance of the book’s publication.
You write in the book about revisiting movies and finding that they weren’t as great as you remembered them being as a kid. Were there any that you didn’t get to see as a kid that — when you finally saw them as an adult — lived up to the expectations you had?
Definitely the Italian giallos (or is it gialli? I never know). Prior to this, all I knew of Eurohorror had been through the compilation Terror on Tape, in addition to the films housed in beautifully-designed clamshell cases on the top shelf of my local video store. These were mainly Italian zombie and cannibal films, the worst of Jess Franco and Joe D’Amato, and a couple of Naschy films. But besides Phenomena, which I saw as a kid, I didn’t really get into Argento until much later. However, once I watched Deep Red, Tenebrae, and Bird with the Crystal Plumage, I sought out every giallo not just from Argento, but from Fulci and Sergio Martino as well, all of which exceeded my expectations. I just loved everything about them—the style, the sex, the exotic settings. Until then, I really had no idea that Eurohorror could be so, for lack of a better word, classy.
In a word, carefully! When my kids were born (my son is now 10 and my daughter is 9) I actually had to take down all my horror movie posters and put them in storage. And I gave away a bookshelf filled with thousands of horror DVDs to my friend, horror writer Aaron Christensen, to enjoy until my kids were old enough where I felt comfortable bringing them back into the house (the DVDS, not the kids). But honestly, nowadays, I really prefer to stream horror movies through Netflix and watch on my iPad—which makes it easier to hide what I’m doing. There are so many quality horror films bypassing the theaters and making their debut on streaming services. Films like Honeymoon (as good a debut feature as I’ve ever seen), Come Back to Me, Coherence, Don’t Blink, The Den, Beneath, and a ton of others.
Alternately, have you introduced your kids to any age-appropriate horror — or is there even such a thing?
I’ve tried, believe me. But unfortunately, my son is far more interested in video games and my daughter prefers Disney Channel sitcoms. You know what’s funny? There have been so many times when I tried to think of some age-appropriate horror films that I could convince them to watch with me. But upon viewing these films again, you realize it might not be the best idea. For example, I just caught The Goonies on TNT or some cable channel the other day. Perfect, I thought. They’ll love The Goonies. It’s got hidden treasure, booby-traps, a lovable monster, and even a little romance. Then ten seconds later, I’m watching a scene where Corey Feldman scares the shit out the Hispanic housekeeper by talking about sexual torture devices and hard drugs. So The Goonies was out.
The Horror of It All acknowledges a large debt to Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. Was your chapter on heavy metal movies inspired at all by McBeardo’s recent book, Heavy Metal Movies? For what it’s worth, I think you do a better job in 25 pages than he does in 600.
I appreciate that, but McBeardo’s book is a behemoth. Plus, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Believe me, when I discuss a handful of heavy metal horror films in my book, I was in no way insinuating this was the final (or even the first) word on the subject. In fact, originally, I wasn’t going to mention any horror movies in the chapter. It was only going to be about the PMRC hearings. But then I figured that films like Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, Black Roses, and Trick or Treat are so terribly wonderful that I had to mention them. Plus, I turned in my manuscript long before McBeardo’s book came out, so had no idea of its existence.
In the chapter “Postmodern Blues,” you touch briefly on horror spoofs like Pandemonium and Student Bodies, but what do you think about out-and-out horror comedies such as Return of the Living Dead, The Frighteners, or Shaun of the Dead?
I know I just sound like an annoying contrarian, because the films you mentioned are generally beloved by horror fans, but I can’t stand them. I like my horror dark and dangerous. Even classics like The Howling and American Werewolf in London are too jokey for my taste. However, Creepshow and April Fool’s Day are two of my favorite horror films. So make of that what you will.
Your worst horror movie of all time is Don’t Go in the Woods. What do you think of the fact that this $20,000 stinker just got a lavish Blu-ray reissue?
How can you not love it! As much as I hate this movie (I wasn’t as smart as Spacek’s wife, who gave up after ten minutes), I’m all about preserving, restoring, and celebrating even the very worst the horror genre has to offer. I’d much rather see the first (and hopefully, only) Blu-ray release of Don’t Go in the Woods, than the umpteenth of Halloween or The Exorcist. But in all seriousness, the one thing releases like this do remind us is that even the most irredeemably bad films take a lot of hard work and passion to make.
Since the book covers so much territory, it’s worth wondering what got cut out. Was there a particular topic you wanted to touch on that you couldn’t quite find the proper tone or take on that felt the wrath of the editor’s pen?
I’m fortunate that, for better or for worse, The Horror of It All is exactly the book I wanted to write. I had the best editor in the world in Brant Rumble who had the balls (or poor judgment) to give me carte blanche to write about whatever I wanted. I did, however, have some conversations with the publisher’s legal department. They were unbelievably supportive, but suggested I use pseudonyms when not referring to public figures. For example, my second grade teacher who I talk about in unflattering terms was not really named Mrs. Glassman. And I made up the name of the young woman who gave me a hand job—a pivotal scene from the book’s most talked-about chapter. The only non-public figure whose name is not fictitious is Mark Cichowski, who really was my best friend at the time. But I don’t write anything remotely controversial about him—other than the two of us had some terrible taste in movies!
Going to Pieces focused on one subgenre of horror, while The Horror of It All is a macro view, albeit through a personal lens. Where do you see yourself going next?
Although as Sean Connery taught us, never say never again, I can’t see myself writing another non-fiction horror book for a long time, if ever. Not only was The Horror of It All the only book I wanted to write, it was the only book I could write. What I mean by this is that we already have the definitive works on all the other topics that I love—Friday the 13th, Argento, Fulci, exploitation films, Jaws, the grindhouse, ‘zines, snuff films—written by authors far more qualified and talented than myself. Plus, I’m itching to start writing screenplays again. I already have pilot scripts for two potential series I’m very excited about; one is an ultra-graphic take on Vlad the Impaler, and the second is about an 80’s metal band who sells their souls to the Devil. Plus, I have my day job which is running my television production company FlashRock Films.