During the late ’70’s and deep into the 1980’s, as a kid, I started noticing something very particular about the paperbacks found in the racks at the checkout counter of my local grocery and drug stores. They were full of horror novels whose covers were screaming with most bat-shit crazy illustrations, highlighted with foil and embossed titles–no gimmick was out of bounds. The titles screamed at you too: Death Tour, The Influence, The Accursed, Slime, Satan’s Love Child, Blood Worm, Garden of Evil, Childmare, Slugs, Blood Snarl, The Rats–it goes on and on. And it was so cool.
Those books stayed with me–tattooed into my memories–and I always wanted to know the history of how these books came to be. Thank the pulp gods we now have proper documentation brought to us, ironically, in the form of an oversize paperback, Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell. It’s a thick book of pure paperback horror originals–their titles, their eccentric book covers, the authors, plots and, of course, their publishers who were sometimes just as seedy as the books themselves. All are poured into the pot, brought up to temp and stirred for your pleasure.
Want to see how an up and coming author named Richard Bachman got his start? Get this book. Want to see how Stephen King caused a massive stampede by small publishing houses with names like Zebra Press, Pinnacle, and TOR to seek out the next bestselling horror writer? Get this book. Want to learn about some of the weirdest authors who came up with these freakazoid novels that would be the forerunners to what would become know in literary underground circuits as Bizarro Fiction? Get this book.
Not only do you get history but hundreds of gorgeous book covers–including backgrounds on the illustrators who created them–making you wish publishing companies still made them. I’m sure a lot of my friends who are illustrators would love the work. Before foil was used on the covers of the comic books in the ’90’s, it graced the paperbacks in the racks of the past in all their shiny, metallic glory. Die-cut covers–holes teasing the book-buyer with stepback art–revealing the wickedly macabre beauty of artwork meant to tantalize the curious into purchasing are also on full display. The tome is literally a funhouse of ghoulish books from a trend that burned it’s brightest in the 1980’s only to fizzle out in the early ’90’s with Abyss Press. As the Man-Baby in the White House would tweet: SAD!
And the books plots? Insanely glorious in their outrageous conceptions to the point they’re almost comic books without the illustrations: Aborted fetuses crawl from their mass graves to explode pregnant women’s bellies with their telekinesis. Children locked in attics commit incest and birth monstrosities. Dark cults descend upon unsuspecting rural towns to resurrect their demonic gods by sacrificing the populations. Doctors commit questionable acts of medicine upon unsuspecting patients with gory, horrific results. Nature decides to put the human race on the menu. Mother Earth rebels in the most creative ways, reducing the human race to corpses strewn across her barren surface. And this isn’t even scratching the surface, getting even more insane from there. We haven’t even reached the bottom of this pulp laced rabbit hole but when we do, it’s a blood spattering good time indeed.
To give yourself a primer, check out the site Too Much Horror Fiction where you will find some of the wonderful novels mentioned with this beautiful book. If that isn’t enough to convince you Paperbacks From Hell is a must for your shelves of twisted fiction, then I don’t know what will.
All I know is that Paperbacks From Hell is a book needs to be in your world right this minute.