Book Review: Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction
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Paperbacks From Hell
The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction
Paperback | Kindle
By Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release date: September 19, 2017

By the time I was 12, I had exhausted the entire catalogue of Nancy Drew mysteries, Judy Blume’s tales of adolescence, Tolkien’s Middle-earth, C.S. Lewis’s world of Narnia, and much more at my local library and had moved on to Stephen King horror novels and was on the lookout for more of the same. This was back in the 80s, aka pre-Internet, so I had to do a lot of judging books by their covers to figure out what my next selection would be. Thankfully, there were a lot of seriously eye-catching covers in horror fiction back then, and Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, a new offering from Quirk Books, is shining a spotlight on those long-forgotten gems.

In this 254-page full-color collection, author Grady Hendrix, who penned the well-received original novels Horrorstor and My Best Friend’s Exorcism for Quirk, waxes nostalgic for the bygone era of cheesy, yet irresistible horror paperbacks from the 1970s and 1980s, and provides the history of the genre and how the “thriller” label eventually overtook the horror moniker.

Divided into 8 chapters with titles like “Hail, Satan,” “Creepy Kids,” and “Splatterpunks, Serial Killers, and Super Creeps,” the book also includes several pages of credits, as well as an Index page, which for a work like this, comes in very handy. A quick look finds the likes of horror masters Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice listed, but this tome is really dedicated more to the rarities of the era.

Along with an extensive look at horror fiction, Hendrix provides book summaries, author profiles, and of course, all of those glorious paperback covers — some gorgeous, some ridiculous, but all fantastic to gaze upon — with information on the artists who created them. Just as with horror movies, the literary counterparts have their hits and misses, and Hendrix critiques them here, from the over-the-top to the so-bad-it’s-good to the genuine masterpieces.

Hendrix’s Introduction tells of his descent into the musty world of out-of-print horror fiction paperback that began with a scifi convention find of the 1966 book The Little People, which had a cover by Hector Garrido that the author proclaims is “the Mona Lisa of paperback covers.” (The artwork featured an army of Nazi leprechauns, with a preposterous storyline to match.) From there, he wondered what other lost treasures awaited discovery, and after finding Will Errickson’s “Too Much Horror Fiction” blog, he had his answer — a lot! And that’s how the idea arose for Paperbacks From Hell, what the author calls his “road map to the horror Narnia.” Errickson provides the book’s Afterword of Recommended Reading, and the extensive source material here comes from his personal collection of obscure horror paperbacks.

While the featured visuals will entice you to flip through and admire this collection like you would a well-conceived coffee-table book, Hendrix’s humorous, informative, and insightful commentary will compel you to read Paperbacks From Hell from start to finish.

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.

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