There are two kinds of people in the world: people who would never read a book called Satan’s Pets and my kind of people. For the latter, Paperbacks from Hell is a delight, a treasure trove of unseemly old horror novels from the days when skeletons were popular cover models and literally any animal could be cast as a monster.
Grady Hendrix is building quite a name for himself as a genre fiction standout. He wrote Horrorstör, history’s greatest novel about a haunted furniture store. And then he wrote My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which he describes as “Beaches meets The Exorcist, only it’s set in the Eighties.” So we’re all pretty lucky that he found the time to compile this book and document the explosion of paperbacks that followed Ira Levin and William Peter Blatty’s surprise success.
It’s a long trek from Rosemary’s Baby & The Exorcist to Viking mummies & psychotic cows, and Hendrix navigates masterfully. If the only noteworthy thing about a book is a shark/grizzly bear fight, that’s all that’s mentioned. More worthwhile works get lengthier treatments and Hendrix maintains his sense of humor throughout. I suspect that it’s probably more enjoyable to read his witty synopses than most of the novels they describe. For example:
“[T]hough we all feel sympathy for the yeti who hates snow in Snowman, how many ski instructors will we allow him to decapitate before we hire a bunch of hunters and Vietnam vets to go after him with crossbows armed with tiny nuclear arrowheads?”
Yes! The proceedings are organized topically, so we spend time with killer clowns, critters, toys, Santas, and skeletons, the last being my favorites due to their assorted jobs. Even in this tiny niche of publishing history, there’s a lot of diversity and the only thing that really unifies these books is that they are all better than Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
I’d recommend reading this in print, as it’s the best way to experience the garish covers that are reprinted here, and I’d also advise keeping a notebook handy—this book almost doubled my “to-read” list. A wildly fun read that’s perfect for pumpkin season.
Hendrix, G., & Errickson, W. (2017). Paperbacks from Hell: the twisted history of 70s and 80s horror fiction. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.