Book Review: A Hot History of Paperback Horrors

Cover art by Tom Hallman.

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

 

For more information about Grady Hendrix and his books, go to:

http://www.gradyhendrix.com

 

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Book Review: Universal Horrors a Great Text for Horror 101

Cover image: Gloria Stuart and Boris Karloff in “The Old Dark House,” 1932

Just like seeing Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster on screen for the first time, Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas’s “Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 Second Edition” (McFarland, 2007) is a breath-taking moment just looking at the cover before the reader even opens to the first page.

This 616 page text looks like a college textbook that one would read in film class at a college university, but the writing and stories in the book is more than filled with basic facts about the cast and directors, and engages the reader to where they can’t put the book down.

The book covers the great history of the Universal Film’s horror history, where the run times were a little over an hour, no CG on the monsters (just great costumes and elaborate makeup), and all the little problems that occurred during the filming of the shoots. This was the Golden Age of the horror films, where production shooting lasted a few months and were double -billed at the theaters, where stars like Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. , and more were the marketable heroes of the day. The book covers the Carl Laemmle early days to the “New Universal” history of the company.

 

The book starts in chronological order throughout the book (after a brief historical introduction), starting with Lugosi’s “Dracula,” and continues through 1946’s “The Brute Man” with Rondo Hatton. There is a section at the end of the book covering the serials that were made (such as the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon), along with a small section of “Odds and Ends” which covers some of the films that did not constitute (or was wrongly billed as) “Horror Films.”

The book details some of the build ups to how the films were written, produced , and brought to the audiences, with stories of last minute changes in cast or props, management shake-ups at the company, and includes interviews via magazines, and by the authors themselves, with some actors and staff that were there during the filming. There is not just the well known Universal Monster films, such as “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” and “The Creature From The Black Lagoon,” but also rarer films that are not as well known, such as “The Invisible Ray” and ” The Strange Case of Dr. RX.”

The films covered are not just monster films, but covers the company’s journey into the mystery, thriller, and science fiction genres. The authors write detailed information, along with putting their own opinions of the films , to make the book a great movie companion that can be used as a reference for a lover of this topic. At the end of each movie, the authors provide reviews of the films by the Hollywood reviewers that were put out at the time, which shows even more of the astonishing research that the book must have taken to create.

The personal opinions of the authors may not be agreed upon here (Some of the favorites discovered here in the past few years such as Karloff’s “The Climax,” “The Tower of London,” and even Lugosi’s “Dracula” are not shared as positive by the writers), the views still provide background information and proof why they did not like certain films so it does not come off as offensive to the reader.

Each page of the book is double columned to provide an easier read , along with being allowed to combine all the information for each movie. The chapters are based on the years the films were released, and are separated nicely for a quick look up to find information of just a certain film. There are wonderful photographs throughout the page (usually several on each page) filled with cast photos, behind the scene shots, and promotional footage that were released

Being a fan more of the Universal era films when it comes to horror, as opposed to the Hammer Films, this book was a wonderful journey to read every page, from page 1 to 616. Not only was the book informative and entertaining, but this reviewer made a list of films to try and seek out to watch from the book. Every movie lover of this classic era should have this book, as a reference guide, along with studying more about the history of a bygone era of Hollywood. This is one book that will stay in this reviewer’s book collection and will be used over and over again.

 

Thank You to McFarland for the Review Copy of the book!!

 

“Universal Horrors :The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 Second Edition” (McFarland, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-4766-7295-3 eISBN: 978-0-7864-9150-6) is available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or can be ordered at (800) 253-2187.

 

Spread The News: Some of My Favorite Songs by Huey Lewis and The News

One of the most successful (and one of my all time favorite) bands from the 1980 and 1990s was Huey Lewis and The News. This act had 18 U.S. Top 40 hits, 12 Top 10 hits, and 3 Number Ones. They also had two #1 albums. The band fused Pop Rock, Blues, Soul, and R&B into their music and are still putting out some great music and touring every year. I have seen them twice live and they were awesome. Their albums “Fore” and “Sports” were a major part of my childhood; in fact, we wore out several copies of “Sports” on cassette one summer alone during high school band camp and other events. Even though most people know the major hits like “The Power Of Love,” “If This Is It,” and “Stuck With You,” there are so many other songs by the band that many people forget or have yet to dive into. Here are some of my favorite Huey Lewis and The News songs (in no particular order).

“Is It Me” (1982). This ballad is one of my favorite songs off of the “Picture This” album. I have mentioned in past blogs how “Picture This” is one album that people need to know because there is not a bad song on the whole album. When people mention this album, they think of the songs “Workin’ For A Livin’,” “Do You Believe In Love,” or “I Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” but “Is It Me” is just as good as any of the ballads the band has made period. The song is similar in lyrics to “If This Is It” where the singer is telling the other person if he is the problem, let him know and he’ll leave. This song may have been on the AC or Pop Charts if it was released later when the band was on a streak, and was overlooked in my opinion on the album.

“He Don’t Know” (1991). Another album that is overlooked in the band’s work is “Hard At Play” (which I mentioned in the Underrated Albums blog). I listened to this album almost every day for a whole summer when it came out. I remember videotaping the band’s performance on “The Tonight Show” promoting the song as well and watching it over and over. The album produced two Top 40 singles, but this song did not chart when it was released. I like the Bluesy guitar work throughout the song, along with the opening where Huey is just talking before he starts singing. I also really love the ending guitar work, which shows the musicianship of Chris Hayes. One of the songwriters on the song, Jon Tiven, has had songs recorded by Rick Derringer, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy among others.

 

“Walking On A Thin Line” (1983). This song was off of the #1 album “Sports” and hit the charts in the U.S. at #18. It was the final single released off of the album, but yet for some reason is not remembered by many critics or causal fans, despite the chart position. The song discusses Vietnam Veterans, but some may not know that just by listening to the song. I like how the song has an edge to it, as opposed to the previous released Pop songs by the band. I remember the song was the start of Side Two on the album, and I used to love the opening even when it was played at band parties during my junior high years. This is one song that needs another listening to if you have forgotten about this song.

“When I Write The Book” (2001). This song was a Nick Lowe cover for the band’s “Plan B” Album. Not that Lowe’s version is bad, I just love the take Huey and The News take on the song made it more soulful with the organ and horns being more in front of the song. The song shows how Huey could have been a great singer in the 1960s right beside acts like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. “Plan B” has a few great spots on the album, and to me, some songs I have to skip over. However, this cover is one of the best parts on the album.

 

“Til The Day After” (1996). There are very few Greatest Hits and Live albums I will actually purchase. I am not sure why I ended up getting Huey’s “Time Flies..The Best Of” album at first, but I love this song off of the compilation. The Greatest Hits CD has four new tracks, and they are good, but this song should have been given a second chance (one song “So Little Kindness” was added to the “Plan B” album because Lewis wanted it to have a second chance). The acappella intro shows the vocal skills of the band, much like “Bad is Bad” from “Sports” but kicks into a mid tempo song with horns blaring. I always could picture this song being an opener (or encore) at their concerts, where the band starts off in the dark and then the house lights turn on when the music kicks in. The chorus of “I‘m gonna stay to the day after/After the sun turns off its light/The stars don’t shine at night/When God comes for my soul/I’ll politely say no/I’m gonna stay til the day after the world stops turning around” is just pure poetry. This song could be played at weddings it’s so great.

“Old Antone’s” (1988). The “Small World” album was a mix of good songs and some odd choices in my opinion. I loved the singles “Perfect World” and owned the 45 of “Give Me The Keys (And I’ll Drive You Crazy).” I was not a fan of the title song from the album, and it is the least listened to album I have of the band. The album did reach the Top 20 Albums Chart, but was not a major seller compared to the band’s other albums previously released. I do love “Old Antones,” which was written by Lewis and member Johnny Colla. The song has a Cajun/Zydeco feel to the song, and the lyrics are so well written that the listener can actually picture themselves sitting in the club watching the characters in the song. This is a great up tempo dance-able song, and shows the band’s growth from just their basic Pop Songs. The band experimented with the sound during this song, and I think it is one of the few bright spots of the album.

“I Know What I Like” (1987). When the “Fore” album came out, I listened to it so much that I got tired of it that I put it away for several years. A few years ago I took it back out and the CD never left my car player for a few months. I was amazed at how great the album held up years later. One of my favorites on this album was “I Know What I Like,” written by Lewis and Hayes. The backing vocals, along with a few others on the album, were done by members of the San Francisco 49ers football team. The song was a Top 10 hit for the band, but is overlooked by the hits “Stuck With You” and “Hip To Be Square” from the album. The song described me when I was younger (and parts are still true), like “I like staying up all night/watching old movies ‘til the morning light.” This song was almost like the band wrote this about me (I know they didn’t though!!) This song was missed by some when the “Fore” Album is looked at.

Huey Lewis and The News were such a major influence on my life, from my drum playing, to just admiring their different blends of music as a fan. There are many other great songs by the band, including their covers album of early Rock N Roll “Four Chords and Several Years Ago” from 1994, where I wore out the VHS copies I had (both bought from the store and taped from the PBS Special). When I started playing drums for local bands in Ohio, I always said that even though my favorite bands were The Beach Boys and Kiss, if I could ever model my dream band to play in, I’d model it like Huey Lewis and The News, where I could play Pop, Blues, Soul, and R&B. It surprises me that the band gets some bad press among the so-called critics, because they are without a doubt one of the greatest American Rock Bands of all time (Is anyone from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reading this????)

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Book Review: A Dog’s Tale: “Mad Dog” Looks at a Legend’s Life

Book cover design by Tania Craan and cover image by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Fans of classic professional wrestling will enjoy “Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story (ECW Press, 2017) by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs. The book journeys through the life of one of the toughest, yet unmentioned wrestlers from Canada.

The book was originally released in 2015 in French, but is now translated and available in English. Vachon was an interesting character, which this book covers. Vachon started wrestling at the local YMCA, and made it to the Olympics in 1948 before starting a career in professional wrestling. Vachon started out as a babyface (good guy), but got his big break when he became a heel (bad guy) years later.

The book follows Vachon’s territory days of wrestling, working for several different promoters for little pay, until moving on to other territories in Canada and the United States. His career later took him to Japan as well, making stops in the NWA, AWA, WWWF and the WWF territories throughout the book. He stopped along the way in Oregon, Calgary, and Quebec.

The book takes the reader through some great events in Vachon’s life, from teaming with his brother, Paul, to being in tag teams with Verne Gagne, Hulk Hogan, Baron Von Raschke , and his solo career, where he won the AWA World and Tag Team Titles.

Even though Vachon was called “The Mad Dog” in the ring, the book describes how Vachon was willing to help out many of the wrestlers get a break in the business (such as a young Roddy Piper), along with helping other wrestlers create gimmicks to help the wrestlers get over to the public. While many wrestling fans recall the viciousness in the ring that the “Mad Dog” portrayed in front of the crowds, the book shows a man that helped many along with way, along with guiding many more people.

The book covers his famous years in the AWA in the 1960s and 1970s, along with his stays in the WWF in the 1980s. There is the story about the famous incident on a plane that AWA owner Verne Gagne would take several wrestlers to events. Vachon , while the plane was in the air, decided to open the side door of the plane, which became one of the most told stories about wrestling on the road in history.

There are some fans that remember Vachon from his time in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the early days of the Rock and Wrestling Connection, or his time in the AWA, but the book informs the readers about when Vachon was featured on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” getting mainstream press before Hulk Hogan or Andre The Giant received that kind of attention in the 1980s.

The book also shows the heart-filled downsides that Vachon suffered during his lifetime, from failed marriages to several car accidents, including the shocking story of when he was injured by a car while walking near his home, which resulted in having his leg being amputated. This ordeal is covered with detail, including the aftermath that included lawsuits being brought out.

There are great quotes in the book by wrestlers like Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Nick Bockwinkel, and family members. The book not only is a biography of a wrestler and wrestling stories, but a behind the scenes glimpse of the man not seen by the general public when the camera was off.

ECW Press is known for putting out some great wrestling books, and “Mad Dog” is one of the enjoyable ones. This book is a biography of a wrestler, yet is also filled with some great history of Canadian professional wrestling as well. The authors have not only shown great research in the book, but present it in a way that flows nicely throughout the book without bogging down the reader with a bunch of dates. The 272 page text has the right amount of information without having slow parts in the reading.

Fans of the classic eras of wrestling (1960s-1980s) will enjoy this work, along with those that want to study more about Canadian Wrestling. The book was entertaining, knowledgeable, and heart-filled all combined in one setting. ECW has another winnner on its hands with “Mad Dog.”

 

“Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story” by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs (2017 ISBN: 9781770413320) can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com along with their other titles.

 

A special thanks to ECW Press for the review copy of the book.