Archive for Too Much Horror Fiction

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction

Posted in Artwork, Books, Film with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2017 by roarvis

For the previous entries, go here.


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It was the early 1980s. Horror fiction was everywhere. For a while, it seemed like publishers were competing with film studios to see who could pump out the most disturbing offering.

When I wasn’t hiding behind the sofa to catch a glimpse of Don’t Go to Sleep (1982) on TV, I was thumbing through the paperback racks at the local drugstore and scaring the crap out of my preteen self. I stared at the covers in disgust, read the lurid descriptions on the back jackets, and tried to imagine what unnatural terrors were described within.

While the stories seemed to echo the paranoid tabloid headings of the day, it was the cover art that fascinated me the most. Some of the most outrageous fantasy art of the time was designed specifically to sell paperbacks. You had die-cut, three-dimensional covers that folded out to reveal devil children, skeleton grandmothers, demonic priests, damsels-in-distress, killer crabs – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Paperbacks from Hell takes a closer look at this gaudy craze. Author Grady Hendrix examines the unique social conditions that led to the boom in mass-market horror, and gives equal consideration to both the written content of the books and the artwork. Chapters are organized by subject matter, providing a helpful overview of the themes that occupied readers of the day: Creepy Kids, When Animals Attack, Real Estate Nightmares, etc.


The covers are reproduced in glossy, vibrant color, making this a must-have for fans of horror and fantasy art. Hendrix even profiles some of the prolific artists, many of whom crossed over into science fiction and comics (including Jeffrey Catherine Jones and Rowena Morrill).

Hendrix, who is a fiction writer himself, clearly has respect for these authors and illustrators. That doesn’t stop him from mocking the sensationalism that fueled many of the books. The review of bogus true-crime Satanic abuse novel Michelle Remembers is titled “Michelle Misremembered,” and features the caption: “Could the demonic ordeal described by Michelle Smith possibly be real? (Spoiler alert: No.)

Paperbacks From Hell features contributions from Will Errickson, whose Too Much Horror Fiction blog is an essential online companion to this book.

On to The Final Chapter: Death Count!