Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from HellTo say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover was probably never less relevant than with horror paperbacks from the 70s and 80s. This time period offered the most insane covers, enticing you to untold nightmares inside. In those days of pre-Internet, pre-blogs, and widespread reviews you’d find a book just by browsing the shelf. A cover that stood out would make all the difference. It seemed as though artists had free reign to sell the book in ways you would never see now. Did the text match the quality of the cover? Not always, but as Hendrix tells us, they accomplished the most important thing – they were not boring.

After reading an extremely bizarre, long forgotten paperback, our author became addicted to the hunt, and we follow his journey of discovery through used book stores in search of more lost gems. Paperbacks from Hell offers the history of some of the most interesting paperbacks from the halcyon days of print horror publishing. He takes us into a world of killer clowns, mannequins, and possessed animals and that is just scratching the horror paperback surface.

The book is separated into chapters which cover different themes of books, such as satanic, creepy kids, animals, and haunted houses. The author offers social commentary on the historical time period during which specific books were written. He talks us through the wider cultural happenings that the popular horror books drew from to sell books. For example, the release of The Exorcist spawned all kinds of demonic rip-offs and The Omen spawned devil child stories.

The author discusses a number of the leading book cover artists. There are hundreds of outstanding and often odd covers throughout the pages of this book. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is reading the plot synopses of the most interesting books that Hendrix has chosen. Nothing was really taboo, with lots of sex and violence as the norm. Some of the titles discussed include Satan’s Love Child, The Voice of the Clown, Horrorscope, and Dracula in Love. We also tour the major horror paperback publishers and authors. You’ll see the works of Graham Masterton, James Hebert, Ramsey Campbell, and Anne Rice to name but a few.

Grady Hendrix has two great fiction titles under his belt, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and the striking IKEA based romp Horrorstör. Paperbacks from Hell is an insightful and enjoyable read, full of interesting stories that set the context for the paperbacks. The book offers great nostalgia for those of us who remember the era. It’s also a great way to make a reading list for hitting the used book stores and garage sales to see what you can discover.

9/10

Paperbacks from Hell Book Cover Blurb:

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.

John Keogh
Photo by John Keogh