By Clark Collis
Updated June 29, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

The late ’60s and ’70s were not always a happy time for those toiling on the cutting edge of big-screen horror. As actor Edwin Neal says about director Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Shock Value, ”I moved troops through the jungles of Vietnam, and it wasn’t as bad as making this film.” The result of such efforts was a string of terrifying and genre-remolding movies that also included Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter’s Halloween, ? Brian De Palma’s Carrie, and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. In Shock Value, New York Times scribe Zinoman attempts to give these directors the same treatment Peter Biskind gave Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola in ? his magnificent Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

In other words, he explains the filmmakers’ ? importance while never letting his cultural theorizing get in the way of a good production yarn or intriguing biographical nugget.

Zinoman succeeds monstrously well in this mission, detailing the fascinatingly interconnected architecture of the era’s horror scene and decorating his story with smears of (metaphorical) bad blood. In particular, he highlights the previously undervalued genre contributions of eccentric, doomed Return of the Living Dead director Dan O’Bannon, who also played a role in crafting Dark Star and Alien (now that, folks, is a midnight-movie double bill). Like Easy Riders, this is not a book ? that aims for comprehensiveness, and the lack of a chapter on David Cronenberg is notable. But even without the Scanners auteur, ?there is plenty here to make the most knowledgeable of horror fans’ head explode. A-