First published in September of 2017, US author and pulp horror enthusiast Grady Hendrix’s book ‘Paperbacks From Hell’ offers up an insightful and entertaining examination of the twisted history of ‘70s and ‘80s horror fiction.

DLS Synopsis:
Prior to the explosion of pulp horror in the 1970’s, the paperback market - as far as horror was concerned – was dominated by mild and whitewashed tales, seemingly stuck in a trench from a more drab and cautious yesteryear.  The covers declared stories of “eerie adventure” and “tales of the unexpected”.  Gothic romances clung to the pores of such horror.  And then, within the space of just five years, three game-changing titles hit the shelves – in the form of Ira Levin’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1967), Thomas Tryon’s ‘The Other’ (1971) and William Peter Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist’ (1971).

All of a sudden Satan’s calling-card was everywhere.  You couldn’t move for novels spouting Satanic Panic and all things South of Heaven.  Of course it’s not just adults who felt the tingles of darkness in their veins.  Children were far from immune to the taint of evil.  David Seltzer’s bestseller ‘The Omen’ (1976) showed that kids could be creepy as a bucketful of human teeth, if not more so.  From mere embryos to infant spawnings, all the way up to young adolescents terrorizing the good and innocent; the horror market spat out paperback after paperback of youngster corruption and developing devilry on an ungodly scale.

But if kids can cause such monstrous mayhem, then why not animals?  Well, as it turns out, all creatures great and small (in fact particularly the small) can prove to be mankind’s worst nightmare.  The 70’s and 80’s spawned all manner of paperbacks detailing animals running amok.  From rabid dogs, to killer rabbits, to bugs and slugs and of course Guy N Smith’s cow-sized giant killer crabs – the Creatures vs Mankind subgenre spouted out every possible variance of beastie to come pounding at our door.  It was truly a glorious time for pulp horror.

However with high inflation and rising unemployment troubling the 1970’s, it was no surprise that real estate got a fair old battering too.  In the world of horror paperbacks, houses and properties of all kinds suddenly became the prime target for problems-a-plenty.  ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1977) churned out sequel after sequel, whilst quaint Southern American towns went up against a whole heap of escalating misery – including a visit from the great-horned-one himself.

Of course it’s not all possession and hauntings.  Science has its own role to play in unleashing a whole heap of atrocities and messed-up mutations upon our poor unsuspecting world.  From evil death-dealing mad surgeons, to deranged visitors from outer space, to computer viruses gone insane – our need to explore and advance in every region of science and technology hasn’t come without its consequences.

But it’s not all male testosterone and bravado lurking behind these tales of escalating evil and horrific happenings.  One of the most prevalent contributors to the genre was ‘Flowers In The Attic’ (1979) author V.C. Andrews, who over the course of the last two decades of her life (and then beyond!) delivered her own brand of gothic horror that sold in their millions.  Later the likes of Anne Rice and Poppy Z Brite would add their own slice of terror to vamypyric horror.  And through the rising hell in all these paperbacks, whether vampires, killer sharks, or demonically possessed kids – every once in a while one would hit that absolute jackpot of them all – the sudden blockbuster.

Whether the story was adapted for the big silverscreen, selling copies by the veritable truckload, or whether it was relegated to the dusty corners of a charityshop sin bin, each and every one of these stories are timeless in the way that truly matters: none of them will not bore you.  Thrown into the rough-and-tumble market place, the writers learned they had to earn each reader’s attention.  Thus they delivered books that move, hit hard, take risks and 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.  Always be entertaining.  And by Lucifer’s beard have these paperbacks from hell done just that…

DLS Review:
The Dictionary is a pretty handy book.  On the scale of importance, I guess Darwin’s ‘On The Origins Of Species’, Shakespeare’s ‘Complete Works’, or some ground-breaking medical journal that completely redefined the course of modern medicine, are also up there with the Dictionary.  But, if you ask me, these key tomes in our collective history have a new contender for top place.  Grady Hendrix’s expose on the twisted history of ‘70s and 80’s horror fiction is the book that pulpy paperback fanatics have been crying out for.  This my friends, is the new bible of pulp horror.

Hendrix is a self-confessed horror paperback obsessive.  In his introduction, Hendrix tells us of his first encounter with such pulpy horror, via John Christopher’s outrageously over-the-top offering ‘The Little People’ (1966) – with its psychic S&M-loving Nazi leprechauns kindling a passion in Hendrix that would go on to engulf the rest of his life.

Hendrix writes about his chosen topic – that of pulpy horror paperbacks – with such passion for the genre that it’s impossible not to grin throughout the entirety of the book.  Instead of homing in on periods, or specific authors, Hendrix has instead chosen to clump together novels with similar themes or styles.  Chapters bring together the larger collective topics, whilst inside these Hendrix drills down into the more precise groupings – such as tales about dogs on the rampage harboured within the ‘When Animals Attack’ chapter.

Furthermore, written from a very American perspective, you’ll notice that authors such as James Herbert, Shaun Hutson or Guy N Smith get a noticeably meagre mention for the size of their contribution to the genre.  Although Herbert is credited for starting off the whole ‘Animals Attacking’ theme with his infamous splatterpunk offering ‘The Rats’ (1974).  On the other hand, Ramsey Campbell gets a few pages dedicated to his work, evidencing that being non-US doesn’t necessarily dictate a lack of noteworthiness.

In essence what you get from ‘Paperbacks From Hell’ is a scattergun history of (mostly) American paperback horrors from the 70’s and 80’s, with short snappy, wonderfully witty synopsis’s accompanying each book mentioned.  Hendrix is a man who knows his chosen field inside out.  He’s pored through each and every one of these titles, lapping up the horrific delights and regurgitating the juiciest parts for our eager consumption.

Eighty-per-cent of the book’s success is undoubtedly through the way in which Hendrix describes, condenses down, and retells the key parts from these paperbacks.  It’s straight-to-the-point brutal honesty with an adoring love for what he’s writing about.  There’s passion and enthusiasm dripping from every page.  But it’s not just that, there’s also a good understanding of how events in history triggered the different styles of horror, along with a keen eye for knowing how this timeline all fits into the bigger picture, which when put together, make this more than just a catalogue of two decades worth of horror paperback publishing.

Hendrix has clearly done his research and reached out to these often long-forgotten authors or cover artists.  There are small insights into their lives and the struggles they faced, along with quirky side stories and anecdotes, giving us a greater feel for what went on behind the tales and their publication.

Unlike many non-fiction books of this type, there’s really only one way to read Hendrix’s offering - and that’s from start to finish.  The way it’s written, the story it itself tells, makes for a more complete read if read from beginning to end, rather than dipping in and out of the chapters.

I could probably go on showering the book with praise, but I see no need to.  If the above hasn’t got you furiously scrambling for your mouse to order a copy then rambling on any further about the joys of reading the book probably isn’t going to be of any further help.

I love this book, plain and simple.  From the moment I saw the cover, I knew it was a book that I had to have in my life.  Having now read the book from start to finish, I have to say, I’m not disappointed in the slightest.  It’s exactly what we all wanted.

For pulp horror enthusiasts, trust me, this is absolutely essential reading.

The book runs for a total of 234 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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