Paperback from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix, with Will Errickson (2017)
I hope that this book has not been forgotten because it sings out to me and to anyone else who love the old horror paperbacks of forty to fifty years ago, and it does it in the most loving and snarkiest ways possible.
For those who think 2020 was bad, let me remind you of the '70s and '80s. The Vietnam War. Remember that? A wave of political assassinations that had started a few years before continued. Race riots left citie burning and police departments acting more thuggish. Churches were bombed. Civil rights workers were murdered. Birth control pills liberalized our sexual attitudes just as a strange disease called AIDS put a crimp on them. Homosexuality was a disease -- and an illegal one at that. The country was awash with conspiracty theories, beliefs in aliens and satanism, and a whole pile of pseudoscientific nonsense. We began to realize that we were destroying our planet but didn't want to do anything about it. Nixon. reagon. Son of Sam. Mass shootings. Serial killers. High inflation. High unenployment. White flight. Therapy. Even more therapy. Disfunctional families. Fear. Fear. Fear. Dissatisfaction.
What to do about it? Well, if you are a publisher you capitalize on it. You realize there's a market somewhere in all this chaos. And the market is horror novels. Mr. and Mrs. America and all ships at sea can disassociate themselves from the real world by embracing one of fantasy. Not just any fantsy world, mind you, but one that is completely over the top. And sometimes it's comforting to know that the current state of affairs is just not your fault -- it's the fault of pesky demons, aliens, monsters, the Old Ones, hapless and oft-times evil scientists and experimenting doctors, genetically tainted madmen and mad women, and the fault of Nature who just got pushed to the tipping point. You are innocent. It's not your fault. It's the other guys'.
Paperbacks from Hell covers all these fear and more, providing hundreds of glorious examples of some of the most striking horror paperbacks. Here are evil and satanic children, haunted building, not-so-hidden gateways to hell, animals intent on destroyng (and eating) mankind, uncaring entities from other dimenions, religious fanatics both possessed or just plain bad, horrifying holidays, medical monter and sadistic scientists, high-tech murders, motorcycle monsters, unkindly grandparents, vampire, werewolves, living mummies, zombies, evil clowns (is there really any other kind?), inhuman pregancies, inhuman sex (graphically portrayed, thank you very much), disease, plague, madness, disfunctional families. backwoods yahoos, evil mixed with astological signs, and much, much more. Hendrix pulls few punches as he takes us down this particular damnable Memory Lane. Here's a few examples:
On Thomas Tryon's The Other: "For his part Tryon underplays the horror so that it sneaks up on the reader, emerging from a thicket of epic-poetic descriptions of nature. By the time you're ambushed by Tryon's severed fingers, pitchforks hidden in haylofts, and dead babies floating in jars, it's too late."
On Robert Marasco, author of Burnt Offerings: "Marasco was a high school english tacher, so his illusions about human nature had long ago been stomped to death."
On Robert Lory's Horrorscope Series, which lasted only five books out of a planned twelve (with the fifth book being published only in England: "If a series did well, they'd [referring to book packager Lyle Kenyon engel's Book Creations] milk it dry (John Jakes' Kent Family chronicle sold 35 million books!). If not, they took it out behind the bard and shot it. Whichis exactly what happened to Robert Lory's Horrorscope series...[A]ccording to Horrorscope, a Turus is more likely to be abducted to a Greek island by a demented movie producer, locked in a labyrinth fullof acid baths,and dismembered by a robot Minotaur. Aries, you're trpped inside a hollow volcano full of missing luxury yachts, where fiddling with gold gets you burned to death by unquenchable green fire. Leo? You're a were-lion."
On the trend toward inhumanoids: "There are two inds of creatures in this worlkd: Americans and inhumanoids. Whether it's alien super-predatorss possessing little girlss, hyperaccelarating them through puberty, and sending them out to kill (Soulmate [by Charles W. Runyon]), or Yetis riding icebergs to ca;;ifornia so they can decapitate our Miss snow Queen 1977 (Snowman [by Norman Bogner]), it's simply a fact: foreign monsters want to get into our country and mess up our stuff."
On Michael Avallone's Satan Sleuth in Fallen Angel: taking on cultists who are " '[h]ippies, drop outs, draft dodgers, left-wing radicals, right-wing militants, Jesus freaks, Devil worshippers, generation gappers, motorcycle weirdoes --the whole shebang.' He balances the scales with these cultists (one of whom is 'as gay as a green goose when the asses were down') using LSD and hand grenades."
On the "splatterpunk" movement, influenced by heavy metal music: "In the 1983 [nonfiction] book Backward Masking Unmasked. author Jacob Aranza warned that Queen's song 'We Are the Champions' was 'the unofficial anthem for gays in America.' Larson listed all the satanic bands out to seduce our children, balancing the usual suspects -- Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath -- with Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, and the Eagles, as well as the Beach Boys (transcendental meditation), Bee Gees (believers in reincarnation), and John Denver (once tried akido)." This eventually led to the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which "issued their 'Filthy 15' Blacklist of objectionable bands, and eventually to "Senate hearings on explicit lyrics and 'porn rock,' whihc accomplished little except to show America that dee Snide was more levelheaded and informed than Tipper Gore." All this great publicitythat guided amwerica's youth to the music their parents did ot want them to listen to also helped birth the short-lived "splatterpunk" trend, a nebulous genre that had no real basis except to urge publishers to bring out so-called examples.
By the 90s the market was glutted and retrenching. Thanks to a gentleman named Hannibal Lechter, supernatural horror was dying and serial killer horror was being born. Suddenly, "Lechter was a household name. This was a moment horror editors and agents had been eagerly awaiting for more than twenty years. This was the next Exorcist. This was Rosemary's second baby. And the first thing it did was strangle its older sibling."
Yet the books remain, hidden in attics and in used book stores. Many atrociously written and over the top; others, genuine works of horror literature. Books by Stephen King, Clive Barker, William peter Blatty, Ramsey Campbell, Fred Chappell, Susy McKee Charnas, Les Daniels, Dennis Etchison, John Farris, Ray Garton, Charles L. Grant, William H. Hallihan, Rick Hautala, James Herbert, Jack Ketchum, T. E. D. Klein, Kathy Koja, Dean Koontz, Richard Larmon, Bentley Little, Graham Masterton, Rihard Matheson, Rober McCammon, Michael McDowell,Thomas Monteleone, Kathryn Ptacek, Anne Rice, Ray Russell. Alan Ryan, John Saul, David J. Schow, Dan Simmons, Michael Slade, Peter Straub, Whitley Strieber, Thomas Tessier, Lisa Tuttle, and Karl Edward Wagner will live on; somewhere a teenager is reading one of these with a flashlight under the bedcovers. Even V. C. Andrews, who only published six novels, lives on under a registered trademark with over 70 additional novels ghost-written by Andrew Neiderman, all bestsellers. Many other authors whose names may not desrve to be mentioned, will also live on, also under those selfsame bedcovers because -- good or bad --- because thos paperbacks from Hll will never truly die.
Grady Hendrix is the best-selling author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend's Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires, The Final Girl Support Group, and the forthcoming How to Sell a Haunted House. He writes good books, Will Errickon writes the popular blog Too Much Horror Fiction. He knows many things.
The publisher Valancourt Books has initiated a special series of reprints of ome of the book covered in Paperbacks from Hell, each with the cover art from theoriginal paperback and each with an introduction by either Hendrix or Errickson. You can find out more at their website.