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the Complete Review
the complete review - books / publishing

Paperbacks from Hell

Grady Hendrix

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To purchase Paperbacks from Hell

Title: Paperbacks from Hell
Author: Grady Hendrix
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2017
Length: 236 pages
Availability: Paperbacks from Hell - US
Paperbacks from Hell - UK
Paperbacks from Hell - Canada
Paperbacks from Hell - India
  • The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction
  • With, and with an Afterword by, Will Errickson
  • Extensively and lavishly illustrated

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Our Assessment:

B : quick, fairly entertaining overview, but mainly of interest for the many (cover-)pictures

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Locus . 1/2018 Stefan Dziemianowicz
The Washington Post . 23/10/2017 Ernest Hilbert

  From the Reviews:
  • "The difference between Hendrix’s book and other histories of modern horror is the sheer profusion of cover art images he deploys to back up his assertions (.....) Attractive (if that’s the right word) as all of the cover repro is, it’s largely window dressing for Hendrix’s pithy assessments of the main themes that distinguished mass-market horror paperbacks and drove the design of their covers." - Stefan Dziemianowicz, Locus

  • "Hendrix amuses with deft summaries of these bizarre novels, gleefully detailing their contortions into ever more salacious and outrageous shapes. His wry commentaries never fail (...) Paperbacks From Hell is as funny as it is engaging, assuring us that whatever else may be said of these paperbacks, most long since disappeared into landfills and yard sale boxes, "they will not bore you."" - Ernest Hilbert, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       American pulp paperbacks have always featured wild stories, overheated prose, and loud, eye-catching covers, and in Paperbacks from Hell Grady Hendrix focuses on the heyday of horror fiction -- a period from: "the late '60s, after Rosemary's Baby hit the big time" through "the early '90s, after the success of Silence of the Lambs convinced marketing departments to scrape the word horror off spines and glue on the word thriller instead".
       Hendrix suggests that:

Divorced from current trends in publishing, these out-of-print paperbacks feel like a breath of fresh air.
       They certainly are different from today's fare; as to how fresh their air is, that's up for debate. Hendrix acknowledges the decline of the genre came about, in no small part, because: "The horror-fiction market of the late '80s was glutted", but today's market hardly seems ripe or receptive for a renaissance. That said, even just summaries of some of what got published back in the day is certainly entertaining -- perhaps more so than the books themselves ... --, as are some of the concepts which took off (and were quickly beaten to death).
       The eight chapters of Paperbacks from Hell each focus on a different strain of horror fiction, everything from 'Creepy Kids' to 'Real Estate Nightmares' to 'Inhumanoids'. Hendrix looks at what writers came up with, describing the main trends and offering quick summaries of some of the stand-out (in one way or another) titles, often with some publishing context, author background, or other entertaining odds and ends.
       There's some fun in the summaries of a lot of the things and weird turns stuffed into these novels. Hendrix notes both the (very) standard formulas ("The horror man is made of chisels. His profile is chiseled, his nose is chiseled, his forehead is chiseled") and the ever-wilder variations on the horror-themes (skeleton doctors ?). There's an amusing mixing in of high along with all this low -- one author's approach is described as: "sort of like Rick Moody's The Ice Storm with more shoggoths" --, and certainly one doesn't encounter many books which quote Alain Robbe-Grillet and then Erma Bombeck in successive sentences .....
       The patter is a bit quick and occasionally forced, always playing for the laugh, but there are amusing digs, as well, as in the bit about James Herbert's The Rats:
What is it about ? Rats. What do they do ? Eat everyone. Martin Amis, reviewing for the Observer, wrote that the novel was "enough to make a rodent retch, undeniably, and enough to make any human pitch the book aside." But even back then no one cared what Martin Amis had to say, and the initial 100,000 print run sold out in a couple of weeks.
       The occasional background information about some of the leading authors and illustrators is also quite interesting -- not least V.C.Andrews' posthumous productivity ("to date, [Andrew] Neidermann has written over sixty-eight books as V.C.Andrews" -- after the original Andrews only published seven during her lifetime). Amusingly, several authors who dabbled in horror before turning more 'literary' also pop up (sometimes with the mention that these previous works have been disowned ...).
       Hendrix also discusses, to some extent, the publishers and their ups and downs -- and points to the consequences of the Supreme Court's 1979 Thor Power Tool ruling, which meant that publishers could no longer 'write-down' (for tax purposes) the value of unsold inventory:
After the Thor decision, these books were valued at full cover price, eliminating the tax write-off. Suddenly, the day of the midlist novel was over. Paperbacks were given six weeks on the racks to find an audience, then it was off to the shredder.
       While the book- and series-summaries are fun, the real appeal of Paperbacks from Hell lies in the full-color reproductions of the covers of these books -- hundreds of them. From the cover-art to the titles and tag-lines, there's a lot of great stuff here -- wonderfully over the top and bizarre. And the occasional classic, such as the paperback cover to Jaws, which Hendrix usefully compares to the less toothy (indeed, toothless) hardcover original.
       As an overview of 1970s and 80s horror fiction, Paperbacks from Hell is an entertaining but fairly limited survey-introduction (with some surprising omissions -- no Audrey Rose ?) -- but it's a fun book to leaf through for the illustrations and, with an Afterword of 'Recommended Reading' (by Will Errickson) as well a section of brief 'Selected Creator and Publisher Biographies' a good starting point for anyone looking for some horror reads.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 April 2018

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Paperbacks from Hell: Reviews: Grady Hendrix: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Grady Hendrix is an American author.

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© 2018-2022 the complete review

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