(NIGHTSTREAM 2020) FILM REVIEW: SHOCK VALUE: THE MOVIE — HOW DAN O’BANNON & SOME USC OUTSIDERS HELPED INVENT MODERN HORROR argues the blueprint of the slasher can be found in the masters’ student work, but needs some curatorial intent.


While it is a useful exercise to revisit these early student films from John Carpenter & Dan O’ Bannon amongst others, USC archivist Dino Everett needed to exert some editorial & curatorial voice in making his argument in this collection.

As SHOCK VALUE: THE MOVIE — HOW DAN O’BANNON & SOME USC OUTSIDERS HELPED INVENT MODERN HORROR begins, we’re treated to the sound of burping and hard-red hue as we’re instantly thrown into a gory short by Return of The Living Dead writer/director Dan O’Bannon called BLOOD BATH. A very experimental short, it’s hard to get into right from the get-go, It’s only once the short ends, do we realize that this is a collection of short films made by USC Film School students in the same orbit as O’Bannon and John Carpenter, who all attended the university in the late 1960s. Dino Everett, the Hugh M. Hefner Archivist at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, curated these films to make the case that the DNA for the slasher film; from Halloween to Jason in Friday the 13th, to Black Christmas can all be found here in the films inspired by O’Bannon in his film school circle. While this is an inspired argument, its hard to argue that Bob Clark and others got the ideas for the slasher film from these films. But, I do think these collaborations between O’Bannon, Carpenter, Charles Adair, and others influenced their own films to come and that influence may have seeped into the mainstream after populating in their own individual film work after coming together to work on their friends’ projects.

The next short in the collection, The Demon, by Charles Adair, has a definite Twilight Zone meets slasher vibe. It’s in black and white, but of all the shorts, it is the second-best one in the collection and makes a good argument for USC letting students build up modern tropes used in horror. The following short, Good Morning Dan, is more of a verite with clips of O’Bannon shot by Carpenter and his friends. We then get a short from Carpenter called Captain Voyeur, which showcases some camera techniques and themes that come up in Halloween. However, the biggest letdown in this collection comes afterward with Carpenter’s student thesis at USC, Lady Madonna, which is lost and they only have some audio and script pages left to whet the appetite of what looks like a really great film. It makes me think that if in the years since they put together this shorts collection and they couldn’t get access to Carpenter’s film, that teasing it doesn’t play well as a viewer. You then get an alternate redone version of O’Bannon’s BLOOD BATH, which O’Bannon did after the failure of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at making Dune, which isn’t my favorite short, but you see some of O’Bannon’s presence and personality.

But, definitely, the highlight of the collection is JUDSON’S RELEASE aka FOSTER’S RELEASE, a short directed by Alec Lorimore, where O’Bannon is a loner/drifter stalking a babysitter, calling her, and just breathing on the phone. Eventually, the killer makes his move, and it is not hard to see seeds of FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, or BLACK CHRISTMAS DNA in the film and in O’Bannon’s performance, as well as the idea of stalking a babysitter at work, which is to deep cut of a coincidence to ignore.

Ultimately, this is something more of a curiosity for film scholars and students of genre film. I’m a big fan of short films and how you can see the DNA of feature-length pieces in them, but Everett as the programmer for these shorts could have asked some actors in some of these films for some commentary or made the argument on camera that these shorts presage the modern horror film. We see some attempts to connect the filmmakers in post-credits tags, but I feel like that should’ve been done throughout to lead us into these shorts, rather than start blind with BLOOD BATH. What I do see is that Carpenter and O’Bannon were a very creative force even in college and getting the chance to see these developmental shorts is a cool experience and a chance to experience them in a festival is something unique that a genre fan shouldn’t sleep on.