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Book Review:: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction

September 28th, 2017 by unkle lancifer · 10 Comments

Help! I’m trapped inside a book and I can’t get out! On second thought, don’t help! I like it in here! I’m stuck inside GRADY HENDRIX’s PAPERBACKS FROM HELL and it has transported me back to my youth in the eighties when perusing the horror section of a book store was almost as fun as visiting the video store. My eyes are in their happy place; this is my zone. I spent years training my peepers to spot a horror spine from yards away. Like the Terminator, I scan for black backgrounds and red fonts! If these paperbacks are from hell why do I feel like I’m in heaven? Floods of memories keep surging back and just when I think a title has been overlooked, it appears a few pages later. I remember waiting for my mom at the pharmacy hypnotized by BRAINCHILD’s window cover that opened up to reveal the image of a family trapped in a cage while a nerdy overlord looks down upon them like a puppeteer. I begged my mother to buy it for me and she did. And yikes! There’s MICHELLE REMEMBERS, that book was the scariest because it really happened (right?) I wouldn’t dare purchase it but that didn’t stop me from reading it in the store. This is a veritable smorgasbord of unadulterated awesomeness!

O.K. I sort of cheated and had my desert first by plowing through the entire tome taking in all of the incredible images. I couldn’t help it. Now I’ve gone back to read the text and it’s equally enjoyable. HENDRIX knows how to keep things flowing and bubbling with humor. This isn’t one of those crusty, dry academic nap inducers and there’s zero condescension. The author is genuinely smitten with the subject matter and swoons over the fact that many of the books presented knew no bounds or restrictions, that some of these titles’ very existence relied on their ability to shock, appall and push the envelope. Now I’m starting to worry that modern horror fans have all gone soft and square. Back in the eighties, we flipped the bird at propriety and horror books were widespread bonkers and routinely crazy in the coconut! What have we lost? I can only imagine what my sixth grade English teacher must of thought if she perhaps read a few paragraphs from that copy of THE INCUBUS she confiscated from me when I was supposed to reading A SEPARATE PEACE. I hate to sound like an oldster but surely there must be some giant generational difference between the teens that gobbled TWILIGHT and those of us who feverishly devoured THE SHOEMAKER in the high school smoking lounge.

Don’t worry this book isn’t all dumpster diving for depravity (that’s just the fun part), it’s also super informative and I know that because my brain had to dump a ton of useless information (the lyrics to every song in THE PIRATE MOVIE) to make way for fresh knowledge. You get a giant slab of the history of horror paperbacks from those Gothic novels with ladies running away from towers on the cover to those loopy splatter punks that were once all the rage. Graciously HENDRIX even goes out of his way to spotlight the incredible artist whose illustrations made such an impact. You get chapters on the rise of Satan (thanks, ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST), creepy kids (slap me five, THE OMEN) ornery animals (nice work, JAWS), real estate nightmares ( gracias THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and BURNT OFFERINGS), weird science (stay woke, COMA) and deliciously, so much more. It’s so super-stuffed I feel like I owe everyone involved more money.

Much of this splendor may not have been possible without the admirable efforts of WILL ERRICKSON purveyor of one of my all time favorite blogs TOO MUCH HORROR FICTION. Inexhaustible WILL has been absorbing dark fiction and dutifully collecting these beautiful covers for years and I am forever in his debt for turning me on to JESSICA HAMILTON’s ELIZABETH. TOO MUCH is an oasis on the Internet that runs on pure joy of its subject matter and if you haven’t been there, fix that. Most importantly, like this book, it’s a treasure trove that will surely introduce you to many offbeat obscurities that you may have missed before and spur further hours of additional reading. Which reminds me, I must get back inside that cozy book where I am safe from this world! I’m not even done reading it yet and I’m a hundred percent certain PAPERBACKS FROM HELL belongs on the bookshelf of every horror fan. The images are priceless, the text is intoxicating and it’s a book I know I’ll revisit again and again. It could be the best thing to happen to horror paperbacks since the ITC Benguiat font. Do yourself a huge favor and order a copy HERE.

Tags: Book Reports

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ChiefferSutherbongNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Was I around seven years old when I espied a blue-covered paperback of King’s Night Shift on a standing wire rack at Kmart? The die-cut front cover with the eyes peering through was more than enough to pique my curiosity, and shit-oh-my-dear when opening said cover revealed the bandaged hand with eyeballs staring out through the diaphanous wraps!

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Chieffer, I came across that window cover of NIGHT SHIFT a couple years ago and I had to buy it even though I already own the other version. If I had my way every paperback would have that opening window cover. It is the coolest thing in the world. I also wish I had the original paintings inside those V.C. ANDREWS books! Or at least the one inside PIN!

  • 3 Drew BluddNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    That bottom bumper! With the red eyed priest and the older people!

    I have that hanging up in my bedroom at my mother’s house. I have no idea what it’s from.

    Any ideas??

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Drew, that’s inside the cover for WILLIAM PETER BLATTY’s LEGION.

  • 5 gonzo72No Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 5:14 pm


    Just picked this tome up and it is pretty fantastic, though I do selfishly wish it was longer and more comprehensive.

    One of my fondest ’80’s memories was going to the Public Library and browsing the horror softcovers in the rotating book racks. Now our library doesn’t even have a horror section (unlike the Mystery and Sci-Fi sections) and instead is shuffled in to the General Fiction area.

    This book will have me haunting the used bookstores now.

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 28, 2017 at 10:11 pm


    I understand. I am selfishly hoping there will be a VOL 2. I would buy it in a second.

    I have a feeling used book stores are going to have a rush of folks coming in to look for horror titles now. I may have to do some hunting this weekend myself.

  • 7 GeoffNo Gravatar // Sep 29, 2017 at 1:53 am

    Can’t wait to pick this up! I spent so much time (and money) in the horror sections of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks back in the 80s. We also had a great local used book store with a huge horror section. I think someone could do an entire volume on the Zebra horror book line alone.

  • 8 Drew BluddNo Gravatar // Sep 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you, Unkle

  • 9 carolNo Gravatar // Sep 29, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Omg this is awesome! Thanks so much for making me aware of it. I can’t wait to check it out.

  • 10 raphaeladidasNo Gravatar // Sep 29, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Just finished it. Great book. But I really didn’t need my reading list expanded that much!

    If you haven’t read Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism you really should.

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