[From Critical Wave #9, 1989. First published by Dembner in 1985, this book was reissued by Robinson in 1988; copies of the original edition are currently available via Amazon.]
There’s a danger inherent in academic consideration of an artform as broad as cinema; the wider you cast your critical net, the greater the opportunity for misinterpretation, factual error or straight omission. Sincere though Schoell may be, his overview of ‘the shocker film phenomenon’ is guilty of all these.
Indeed, despite the promises inbuilt in that subtitle, it’s hard to evade the suspicion that this work begun its life as a tribute to the influence of Hitchcock’s Psycho (although Saul Bass might have a word or two to say about that description and its adherence to the ‘auteur’ philosophy that the director is the overwhelming creative force, especially as Bass was the real choreographer of that famous bloodbath). So many references are made to Psycho, so many comparisons drawn where the later films fare ill, that the strain begins to take its toll on Schoell’s narrative and expose the other (more objectionable) flaws contained in his text.
Schoell’s off-hand dismissal of Herschell Gordon Lewis, for instance, with no apparent research; it’s one thing to accuse someone of being a “terrible film-maker” when you’ve seen his work yourself (I have, and he is), quite another to preface your accusation with the damning “Reportedly his movies are worthless on every level” and so undermine your own credibility as a critic. Similarly, his seeming failure to perceive Blow Out as Brian de Palma’s homage to Blow Up, his description of Targets as Boris Karloff’s last movie (he made six more, including four for Luis Vergara of which only two were released prior to his death in 1971) — all add to the cumulative conclusion that Schoell’s critique, despite its usefulness as an introduction to this cinematic sub-genre, is founded upon some extremely dodgy homework.