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Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of…

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s… (2017)

by Grady Hendrix

Other authors: Will Errickson (Afterword)

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Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix is a 2017 Quirk Books publication.

While most teenage girls my age were reading Harlequin romances or sneaking peeks inside their mother’s bodice rippers, I was glued to Gothic Romance/Horror/Mystery novels, which morphed into a full -fledged obsession with horror novels, which continued until my late teens, slowly fizzling out, as the horror genre went into a different direction, I didn't feel compelled to follow.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to keep those books, put them a plastic protector and store them in a dark, cool place. But, I didn’t. However, I do love searching out these old paperbacks and do have a nice collection of Gothic novels as well as a handful of vintage horror novels, too. This book really has sparked a renewed interest in these vintage horror paperbacks, so I just might start digging around and try to add a few of these to my collection.

But, I digress-

Like myself, the author’s interest in these vintage paperbacks also stems from the ‘collectable’ angle they inspire, and just as I do, he still reads them.

In my mind, horror novels, and horror movies for that matter, of the 1970’s were best. They may seem cheesy now, and of course they followed trends, just like we do now, but…

These books scared me. It wasn’t the same slasher story, told over and over and over. These books had imagination, took risks, were shocking, and terrifying, or… okay- laughable- Nazi Leprachans?

Looking back on these novels now, many of which were adapted for the big screen, I’m reminded once again of the game changing books than shaped the genre and had me sleeping with the lights on.

The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Other, all spent incredible amounts of time on the NYT bestseller list. They spawned countless spin-offs, all with a strong satanic element, which was a huge theme in the first few years of the 1970’s.

From that point on, the horror genre created the most menacing babies and kids you could possibly image, with books like- ‘The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane’ by Laird Koenig, which I happen to be reading right now. But, the sheer volume of books written with this theme, in one form or another, was mind boggling.

Some titles I found intriguing were: ‘Kate’s House’ by Harriet Waugh and ‘Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ by Mendal W. Johnson- (Tonight the kids are taking care of the babysitter!)

Let’s not forget killer animals though- remember Jaws? Of course, you do. How about ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert? There were also a slew of killer dogs, cats, whales, all manner of other creepy crawlies.

Not your thing? How about a good haunted house story, instead? Lots of those! But, not just Amityville!

Every possible angle was covered in the 70’s and 80’s that you could possible imagine. Medical nightmares, horoscopes, psychic teens, UFO’s, Vampires, dolls, Southern Gothic, humanoids, you name it, and this book covers them all.

But, the author doesn’t stop there.

The fantastic cover art is included in the book. The book covers alone make this book worth looking into. Amazing!! It is also interesting to note that some of the cover artists are unknown.

The primary publishers of horror novels are listed too, and frankly, I was surprised by a few- namely ‘Zebra’ which I’ve always associated with those fab historical romance novels of the same period. Who knew?

The 80’s had its ups and downs with some really wonderful contributions to the genre, but also strange additions,such as, heavy metal horror! I’d pretty much moved away from the horror genre by this time, and have no recollections of this, but apparently ‘Splatterpunk’ was a pretty big movement in the mid-eighties.

But, that movement seemed to fade as quickly as hair metal with the onset of the nineties, as did the horror genre as we knew it.

These old horror novels look cheesy, and many are obviously dated, but if you read some of the blurbs, you will see many of them are classics now, and spawned all manner of trends, and influenced many others along the way. They are lurid, gross, often politically incorrect, and misogynist on more than one occasion, but were also groundbreaking. They, also, were a reflection of the era in which they were written, tapping in on real fears, worries, or in some cases, setting off periods of real panic.

But, in the end, the slasher genre won out over killer sharks, haunted houses, creepy kids, and Satan. The name of the game is buckets of blood and revolting gore, without much originality to the plot, which is when I stepped off the horror novel train.

These days, horror is a hard sell for me. On a rare occasion, I’ll try a ghost story or a haunted house novel, or a good vampire novel, as long as the vampire doesn't sparkle, although those seem far and few between these days, or I might settle in for a Stephen King thriller, once in a while.

But, I do have old favorites I read at Halloween, always returning to the tried and true. But, after picking up this book, maybe I can find a few hidden gems from the past to satisfy any lingering craving for a good old -fashioned chiller.

Overall, the author did a terrific job with the organization of this book, deftly adding in well- timed, laugh out loud humor, and his enthusiasm was obvious, and a little catchy.

This is a fun, informative, entertaining, and well researched book, that will appeal to fans of the horror genre, paperback book collectors, or maybe even to those who enjoy nostalgia or pop culture.

5 stars ( )
2 vote gpangel | Oct 20, 2017 |
I had so much fun reading this book - and enjoying all the cover art. Hendrix also summarizes a ton of the stories, in a fun snarky manner. I really enjoyed it. Will definitely be ordering a few of the author's novels after reading this! ( )
  catfantastic | Sep 28, 2017 |
Written with snarky humor, but a genuine affection for the subject, Hendrix looks at the trends in horror fiction during its heyday. It was interesting to see how social issues were reflected in the genre: test-tube babies kicking off a wave of evil children books, environmental concerns unleashing plagues of nature themed horror, televangelists beating the pulpit leading to splatterpunk. The book is illustrated with plenty of reproductions of lurid book covers, and there are several spotlights on the cover artists. Heartily recommended. ( )
1 vote amanda4242 | Sep 25, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hendrix, GradyAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Errickson, WillAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Of course, every mother thinks her baby is perfect, but at some point, as her home fills with dead bodies, she has to face facts and admit that the fruit of her womb is a face-eating beast spawned from the deepest recesses of hell. If Whitney Houston is right, and the children are indeed our future, then we need to approach our future with maximum caution.
Today, we think of ourselves as responsible stewards of this big blue ball called Earth, but literary evidence suggests we’re just suckers. Given the chance, nature will turn on us in a heartbeat. This is one issue on which carnivores and vegetarians must stand united: we must eat nature, or nature will eat us.
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