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Review: Shock Value: The Movie (2020) – Nightstream

Shock Value: The Movie — How Dan O’Bannon and Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror, to give it it’s full title, is an interesting collection of early USC film school projects from Dan O’Bannon, (obviously), John Carpenter and some of their USC classmates.

Inspired by the book Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror by Jason Zinoman, archivist Dino Everett has assembled five shorts and used a sixth, Lawrence Stein’s The Creep Machine (1972), as a sort of wraparound segment.

The shorts are:

Blood Bath (1969, revised in 1976) written and directed by Dan O’Bannon. A seven-minute short about a disturbed man who commits suicide in a bathtub.

Originally shot in black and white, O’Bannon later tinted it red and expanded it. That’s the version included here, as the original is apparently lost.

Shock Value - Blood Bath

The Demon (1970, written and directed by Charles Adair)  Adair didn’t go on to a career in film. His one credit is as one of the writers, along with O’Bannon, of the Rutger Hauer film Bleeders. The Demon is a 19-minute black and white piece about a woman at an isolated house who thinks she sees a strange figure watching her.

This is an effective short with a lot of elements that would become staples of the slasher film. A shot of the title character filmed through clotheslines is very reminiscent of a famous scene from Carpenter’s Halloween. Also, somewhat interesting for its time, it features an interracial couple.

Good Morning Dan (1968, written and directed by Dan O’Bannon camera by John Carpenter) set in the far off year of 2006, a former student reminisces about his time at USC.

Amusing, mostly for its dystopian touches, this is interesting more than impressive.

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Captain Voyeur (1969, written and directed by John Carpenter) featuring an excerpt from The Beatles “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” this is a comedy about a bland corporate type who becomes a costumed peeper after dark.

Notable for an early display of Carpenter’s talent for atmospheric night scenes. It might be a comedy, but its style is much closer to horror. It’s followed by a look at what’s been found of Carpenter’s thesis film Lady Madonna, some audio and script pages.

Judson’s Release (aka Foster’s Release 1971, written by Alec Lorimore, directed by Terence Winkless)   is, for me, the real find among these student efforts. Dan O’Bannon stars in a 15-minute retelling of the urban legend that became the opening act of When A Stranger Calls.  And a direct influence on Halloween.

At one point, this was distributed to schools as an educational short for babysitters, much the same as the gory highway safety films we remember from driver’s ed classes. Winkless would go on to direct several low budget films, including The Nest and Not of This Earth. Mostly for Roger Corman. Lorimore would be twice nominated for an Oscar for his work producing documentaries.

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As a look back at the roots of 70s and 80s horror Shock Value: The Movie makes for interesting viewing. These are student films, and shouldn’t be expected to have the same quality as commercial works. They do however show a lot of raw talent and hint at what was to come. And in the case of Adair, talent that, for whatever reason, never got to shine.

Some context and information on the shorts might have made this more enjoyable to general viewers. But film students and hardcore fans of the directors and/or the genre should get the most out of Shock Value: The Movie, anyway. Others may find these works lacking, although even the weakest of them is better than the segments of quite a few anthology films.

Shock Value: The Movie played as part of Nightstream’s Retro lineup. It’s never had a proper release, possibly because of the Beatles’ music in Captain Voyeur. Any funds it makes from festival showing is intended for the proper restoration of the films included in it. You can find out more about the project here.

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