Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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

Paperbacks from Hell goes through the twisted history of 70's, 80's, and a little bit of 90's horror fiction and their trends. Grady Hendrix imbues his writing with humor, wit, and a bit of reverence for these novels, many of which are completely forgotten today. He goes through history, focusing on the trends of the time, with full color pictures of the bizarre covers and summaries of almost every book mentioned. In each era, he also takes the time to feature influential illustrators and their work.

Hendrix goes through each decade and describes what was most popular, which came in huge waves. Whatever's popular is glommed onto by all other authors. For instance, the first horror paperbacks to really take off were Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, and The Others by Thomas Tryon. All had to do with the devil, so sordid covers with half naked women, pentagrams, rituals, and the devil were required for success. My favorite of the trends was the serial killer trend following Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs because I remember so many of those covers in used bookstores. There's even a small section on YA books that were a blast from the past.

Many of these books sound completely awful with over the top plots and flat characters. Hendrix describes the stories of many of these books so we don't have to read it. He also breaks down each character archetype from the strong and chiseled but emotional leading man to the very sensitive leading lady. Advice for various horror situations is given based on these books such as if you are dating Satan or parenting a homicidal child.  The horrors contained within them compete with each other for most nonsensical, extreme, and disturbing. For instance, the book that inspired this whole endeavor, The Little People by John Christopher, has psychic, BDSM sex slaves made from the stunted fetuses from concentration camps called gestapochauns. Not only is it incredibly offensive, but it's a smorgasbord of the most bizarre things.

If you have the opportunity to see Grady Hendrix perform Paperbacks from Hell live, it's an amazing experience. I had the privilege of seeing him at Book Soup last year and I had no idea what I was in for. He goes through each era and their trends with different voices, breakneck speed, and even a few songs about various killer animals and the different types of skeletons on book covers. This book (and the performance) had me grinning ear to ear and laughing out loud. Hendrix's love for the genre leaps off the page even with the most scathing, hilarious descriptions of these over the top books. I highly recommend this horror retrospective of many books that have been forgotten.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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