A wonderful memorial full of humour, pathos, and incredible cover art.

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

Thanks to NetGalley and to Quirk Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I love horror novels (and movies) although I don’t read the genre often enough (I’m not sure why, but as I review books that are submitted to some review blogs and to my own, perhaps horror authors don’t submit to these kinds of blogs and look for specialised reviewers). I have read several enthusiastic reviews of this book by some book reviewers who regularly read and review horror and I could not resist. It came very highly recommended, and it deserves all the praise.

I have not read any of the other books written by the author (and he writes fiction in the genre) but now I must admit I’m very curious. And, his collaborator, Will Errickson, has a wonderful blog that also talks about the genre (and includes plenty of cover art), that you must check: http://toomuchhorrorfiction.blogspot.co.uk/

This book is a labour of love. Of love for the genre and for a particularly fertile period of the genre (and the book follows the chronological rise and fall of those paperbacks, including brief histories of the most prolific writers, publishing companies, and subgenres) and for the cover art that is an intrinsic part of it. Although I got an ARC e-copy of the book, the many covers included in the book are gorgeous (yes, and many disgusting, disgustingly gorgeous or gorgeously disgusting) although you might recoil at some of them (but yes, many are glorious, daring, and incredibly imaginative). There is plenty of research behind the book, as the detailed credits at the back show, and the end note and acknowledgments explain, at least in part, what the process of creation of the book involved.

The book contains large doses of humour (it is difficult to talk about the plots and characters we find in some of the books without it) but it also cares deeply for the subject and there is a great underlying respect for the books, even for some whose descriptions makes one’s head spin. There is nothing too outrageous or bizarre to be included. From the better-known tomes (whose success gave rise to copycats and innumerable books trying to cash on the popular topics) like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby to books I had never heard about, like George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dreams or Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out.  (I know I must read them, mea culpa).

I have been inspired by the book and I definitely must check some of these novels (I realised Richard Matheson had written I am Legend, The Legend of Hell House, and The Shrinking Man, and this last one’s film version is one of my all-time favourite sci-fi films).

Although the version I had is only an ARC copy and there might be some slight changes, I could not resist but share a few quotes:

Bears hate us, bats hate us, dogs and cats clearly hate us. Let’s face it, humans are delicious. In the eyes of the animals, we are walking pizzas, and the best thing is that we deliver ourselves.

In Brain Watch (1985), superpsychic powers are the result of splitting a doctor’s noggin into a quadruple brain, unlocking his ability to project illusion, become superstrong, and control the pigment of his skin to ensure a really great tan.

Rice gave vampires a voice. And then they wouldn’t shut up.

This is a book that I recommend to any lovers of the genre and to those who are curious about cover art and its recent evolution. Even if you don’t like horror and are not interested in reading the actual novels, this book is full of information about the paperback publishing business and how it evolved during those years (and we know that those who don’t remember the past…). 

The final words go to Will Errickson:

We can’t be certain that anyone is reading these books anymore. But we can hope. Because after all the monsters have flown away, hope is what’s left at the bottom of the box.