Horror fiction boomed in the 1970’s through the early 1990’s. Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2017), released Paperbacks from Hell last fall, and it has become one of the most talked about horror reference books in quite a while. This book delivers exactly what it says in the title, covering the fantastic and often lurid cover art of the horror books from the 70’s through the early 90’s that continue to inspire so many writers today.
If ever a reference guide could be called ‘book porn’, then Paperbacks from Hell is your fancy. Diving through the pages is quite a ride, both for those old-schoolers that remember seeing many of the books on the shelves when they first released, as well as newcomers who probably can’t believe what passed as horror fiction back in the day. Hendrix, an avid book collector, homes in with the lowdown on these books, providing witty yet well-researched commentary on many of the titles featured.
Broken into sections, he references with the horror paperback subject matter rather than a full chronological approach, providing a dual-layer perspective. With chapter sections such as ‘Hail Satan’, ‘Creepy Kids’, ‘Weird Science’, ‘Inhumanoids’, and ‘Splatterpunks, Serial Killers, and Super Creeps’, Hendrix covers the different phases of horror from The Exorcist copy-cats to the serial killer, non-supernatural boom of the very early 1990’s. We see how the industry changed through its book covers over time. Though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it would be difficult to say that cover art doesn’t influence our buying and reading decisions at all. Often, it is the cover of the book that draws our attention in the first place. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and Hendrix does his best to take the guesswork out of which titles are perhaps unread gems, and others you should avoid like the plague.
We’re experiencing another boom in horror right now, with new writers dipping their toes in the genre in ways that are fresh and, occasionally, quite original. That goes for the cover-art as well. But these covers, during horror’s largest boom, represent the best and worst of what horror had to offer during that time. For some, this book will be like skipping through memory lane, while other, younger readers, may see some of the covers and wonder ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ The artwork inside is exceptionally well-done, with many of the covers taking up the whole page so you can see the details of the art. The written commentary is just enough to compliment the art and does so without being intrusive at all. This is one coffee-table book every fan of the genre should have in their collection. Highly recommended.