This review first appeared on Fourth & Sycamore.
Adam Rockoff comes off as something of a cad in his newest book The Horror of It all: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead… (the need for the ellipsis in the title is unexplained by the book and unexplored by this reviewer), one of the only existing examples of a hybrid personal memoir / history of horror films. This is not to say the book isn’t enjoyable–it is–but it is most often enjoyable in spite of its progenitor rather than because of him. Rockoff spouts a clashing patchwork of political convictions bearing little to no relevance to his subject, maintains a compounding sum of sexist and objectifying asides, and periodically congratulates himself with pro-women statements that clash with the body of the book sufficiently to highlight their pomposity. Its author’s more grating qualities aside, the book is pretty fun.
Rockoff aims to walk through the history of horror films by taking us through his own journey as a fan of the genre, from childhood through the present day. His stories of finding ways to procure gory and, at the time, hard-to-find horror titles on VHS as a preteen in New Jersey in the late 1970s and early 1980s are entertaining and will be nostalgic for cinephiles of all stripes who grew up devouring their favorite films in the days before the internet.
The Horror of It All is somewhat disorganized and unbalanced, and could have benefited greatly from a stronger editorial vision. There is an entire chapter devoted to heavy metal music, Tipper Gore’s misguided quest to squelch popular music’s more disturbing lyrics, and the Senate committee hearing that ultimately led to parental advisory labels on profane albums. This is an interesting episode in music history to be sure, but despite Rockoff’s attempts to make it relevant to the book’s stated theme, the connection to horror movies is tenuous at best. Some sections of the book do little more than glad-hand Rockoff’s connections in the horror industry. The slasher genre is disproportionately represented at the expense of other subgenres, and while this fits with the memoir side of the book as Rockoff’s preferred style, it poorly serves the simultaneous effort to chronicle the history of horror.
The best sections of the book are, not surprisingly, the ones in which Rockoff is actually talking about horror movies. When he discusses particular films, in brief and at length, his enthusiasm and considerable anecdotal and factual knowledge make the book come alive and scratch the itch that will lead horror fans to pick up this book in the first place. If more of the book had focused on horror films as the title and cover purport this would be a different review. I would have gladly read many more pages devoted to sleazy gore fests and underrated camp classics at the expense of yet more words on Rockoff’s ancillary interests.
If you love horror movies there will be enough in The Horror of It All to keep you interested, but you’ll spend a good deal of time annoyed at Rockoff’s diversions and, depending on your disposition, his attitude. I enjoyed the book overall, though I had hoped for something better.