An affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of the 1970s and ’80s
Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of two iconic decades . . . 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. Complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles, this unforgettable volume dishes on familiar authors like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, plus many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Also included are recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Grady Hendrix is a novelist and screenwriter based in New York City. He is the author of Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Paperbacks from Hell, and We Sold Our Souls, all of which received critical praise from outlets including NPR, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, the A.V. Club, Paste, Buzzfeed, and more. He has contributed to Playboy, The Village Voice, and Variety.
Read an Excerpt
Years ago at a science-fiction convention, I was flipping through the dollar boxes at a dealer’s table when this Hector Garrido cover for The Little People brought my eyeballs to a screeching halt. I wasn’t a book collector— I didn’t even know who Hector Garrido was—but I knew what this was: the Mona Lisa of paperback covers. I bought it so fast my fingers blistered. I never expected to actually read the book . . . but three months later, I fished it out of my “To Be Read” pile and cracked it open.
I knew John Christopher’s name from his Tripods science-fiction series, which had been serialized as a comic strip in the back of Boys’ Life magazine. But this 1966 Avon novel was stronger stuff. In it, a gorgeous secretary inherits an Irish castle from a distant relative and converts it into a B&B to show her patronizing lawyer/fianc. that she can stand on her own. On opening weekend, the house is full of guests: an Irish dreamboat alcoholic, two bickering Americans with a hot-to-trot teenage daughter, and a married couple who met in a concentration camp, where he was a guard and she was a prisoner.
But some uninvited guests are lurking in the basement: the Gestapochauns.
The Gestapochauns live in the dark, battling their ancient rat enemies with teeny bullwhips. Shortly after we meet them, the author lets us know that these are not just any Nazi leprechauns. These are psychic Nazi leprechauns who enjoy S&M, are covered with scars from pleasure/pain sessions with their creator, were trained as sex slaves for full-sized human men, and are actually stunted fetuses taken from Jewish concentration camp victims. And one of them is named Adolph.
While all this information is being hosed into the reader’s eyes like a geyser of crazy, this book rockets from 0 to 60 on the loony meter and overdelivers on practically every level. From the moment the Gestapochauns play a mean practical joke on the old Irish washerwoman who works in the kitchen to the moment that the lawyer/fianc. realizes exactly what the Nazi leprechaun named Greta is up to in his pants, it’s one fifty-page freakout that’s firing on every cylinder.
Sadly, the Gestapochauns are completely absent from the last thirty pages of the book. The author devoted the remaining pages to a discrete psychic battle that takes place in the dreams of the non-psychic, non-Nazi, non-leprechaun members of the cast. In other words, the Boring People. Yet Christopher and his Gestapochauns fly so high and so far in those middle passages that they practically touch the sun.
No matter what book I read next, the Gestaopchauns clung to my gray folds, whispering to me in my sleep: What else has been forgotten? After some latenight googling brought me to Will Errickson’s Too Much Horror Fiction blog, I blacked out. One year later, I woke up squatting in the middle of an aisle at Sullivan’s Trade-a-Book in the heart of South Carolina, surrounded by piles of musty horror paperbacks. Apparently I was buying them. Apparently I was reading them. Apparently I was addicted.
The books I love were published during the horror paperback boom that started in the late ’60s, after Rosemary’s Baby hit the big time. Their reign of terror ended in the early ’90s, after the success of Silence of the Lambs convinced marketing departments to scrape the word horror off spines and glue on the word thriller instead. Like The Little People, these books had their flaws, but they offered such wonders. When’s the last time you read about Jewish monster brides, sex witches from the fourth dimension, flesh-eating moths, homicidal mimes, or golems stalking Long Island? Divorced from current trends in publishing, these out-of-print paperbacks feel like a breath of fresh air. Get ready to meet some of my new favorite writers: Elizabeth Engstrom. Joan Samson. Bari Wood. The Lovecraftian apocalypse of Brian McNaughton. The deeply strange alternate universe of William W. Johnstone. Brenda Brown Canary, whose The Voice of the Clown is one of the few books to actually make my jaw drop. You’ll hear the dark whisperings of Ken Greenhall, the gothic Southern twang of Michael McDowell, the clipped British accent of James Herbert, the visionary chants of Kathe Koja, and the clinical drone of Michael Blumlein.
The book you’re holding is a road map to the horror Narnia I found hidden in the darkest recesses of remote bookstores—a weird, wild, wonderful world that feels totally alien today, and not just because of the trainloads of killer clowns. In these books from the ’70s and ’80s, doctors swap smokes with patients while going over their ultrasounds, housewives are diagnosed as having “too much imagination,” African Americans are sometimes called “negroes,” and parents swoon in terror at the suggestion that they have a “test tube baby.”
These books, written to be sold in drugstores and supermarkets, weren’t worried about causing offense and possess a jocular, straightforward, “let’s get it on” attitude toward sex. Many were published before the AIDS epidemic, at the height of the Swinging ’70s, and they’re unapologetic about the idea that adults don’t need much of an excuse to take off their clothes and hop into bed.
Though they may be consigned to dusty dollar boxes, these stories are timeless in the way that truly matters: they will not bore you. Thrown into the rough-andtumble marketplace, the writers learned they had to earn every reader’s attention. And so they delivered books that move, hit hard, take risks, go for broke. It’s not just the covers that hook your eyeballs. It’s the writing, which respects no rules except one: always be interesting.
So grab a flashlight and come wander down these dark aisles. The shelves are dusty, the lighting is dim, and there’s no guarantee you’ll come back unchanged or come back at all. All you need is a map and you’re ready to take a tour of the paperbacks from hell.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoy a good horror movie binge but I'm not a reader of horror. Still, as a some-day aspiring writer, a fan of well written history, and someone who loves haunting the aisles of used bookstores for hours at a time to bath in the nostalgia of the cover art and back cover teasers of the paperbacks of the 80s and 90s this book seemed interesting (especially since it promised cover art!!) Well it delivered that and so much more. So humorous at times that I laughed out loud and called my sister to read her some of my favorite descriptions and commentary, I even found some book titles and authors that I think I'll look up and read in the near future. Definitely a fun and interesting read. It's browsing the used book store with a friend with witty commentary when you can't go to the used book store. Thank you for this gem!!!
Awesome book for book collectors. I love it so much that I have started a new book collection of 70s & 80s horror books. This in addition to two other collections. LOL. Lots of photos of the covers and back info. into the books. This book is all about paperback editions.
PAPERBACKS FOR HELL:THE TWISTED HISTORY OF THE 70'S AND 80'S HORROR FICTION BY GRADY HENDRIX
A very fun and informative trip through the days of horror paperbacks. Hendrix doesn't look very old, so he must have done a ton of research for this project. Kudos to him for braving the massive pile of mostly horrible books so that we could experience it without regret. I did note all of the books I haven't read that sounded great. Now I have an even crazier To Be Read pile. Thanks, Mr. Hendrix. I give PAPERBACKS FROM HELL 5 stars.