With the successes of the remade film “It” by Stephen King and the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” it seems like the horror/suspense genre may be making a comeback. King’s books are being carried around high schools and libraries just as much as they did when they had popularity in the 1980s. Grady Henrdix’s “Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction” ( Quirk Books, 2017) is an interesting journey through the history of the horror books that were found on the paperback racks.
The book starts off with a brief history of how books in the 1960s were called “Eerie Adventures” or “Stories of the Weird,” and then went on to be called Horror, thanks to the demand of the books after titles like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemanry’s Baby” in the 1970s, which made the genre “fit for adults.”
The book is put into sections based on topics such as the books dealing with Satan, murderous and strange children, haunted houses, and what is called “Inhumanoids” (werewolves, mummies and skeletons). The book also dives into the science horror themes, where ESP and aliens were the subjects of the books, to the return of Gothic and Romantic horror books.
The book covers rarer horror books that some may not be aware of, like when the blaxploitation craze created books like “The Black Exorcist,” by the company Holloway House, after films like “Shaft” became popular. One of the more humorous sections is when Hendrix takes the reader through books that had animals as the murderous evils. Many know about King’s “Cujo,” but there were evil cats, panthers, rabbits, bees,stoned Mexican bulls, along with killer crabs, whales, and plants that were being published.
Hendrix also covers the science horror genre that involved ESP, evil computers, skeleton doctors, the horoscope series, and other odd plot lines, like when scientists would take out small parts of people’s brains and see if the patients would notice that parts of the brain were missing.
“Paperbacks” covers the popular authors, such as Anne Rice, V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and R.L. Stine. A horror history of books would not be without Hannibal Lecter either. Hendrix also goes deeper into rarer themes and authors, including several books dealing with heavy metal music from the 1980s (in response to the PMRC Hearings), early teen horror, and role playing games (which the music and RPG books seem appealing that will be sought out).
The best part of this book is the glossy, full color photographs that details the covers of the books, along with pages designated to the history of some of the artists. Since there are so many books to cover, most of the books only get a small summary of the plot lines, which is great because then the readers can go out and try and find some of these so called “gems” to discover themselves. As mentioned before, the book is placed by genres, so there is quite a bit of jumping back and forth through the years throughout the chapters. The author adds humor to the book by stating a few of his opinions of some of the story lines, which is needed because it would be a strange trying to keep a straight, serious tone for historical purposes when discussing story lines such as Nazi Leprechauns, killer Smokey the Bears, or evil marionettes.
Overall the book has great information, although sometimes there are brief text that just name the titles of the books and moves on (once again, with so many books to cover, it’s allowed), the photographs and artwork is what makes this book the most appealing. The reader can spend several minutes on each page admiring the artwork and covers of the books and not even cover the text. Hendrix has a nice reference collection here in the book, which horror readers would love as a tool to help them add to their paperback book collection, all while not taking itself too seriously with the summaries.
Thank you to Quirk Books for the review copy of this title.
“Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction” by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-59474-981-0 e-ISBN: 978-1-59474-982-7) can be found, along with other Quirk Book titles at : http://www.quirkbooks.com
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