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What is Paperbacks from Hell?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires comes a nostalgic and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of the 1970s and ’80s.
Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of two iconic decades . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate!

Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. Complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles, this unforgettable volume dishes on familiar authors like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, plus many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Also included are recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.


PAPERBACKS FROM HELL by Grady Hendrix is a fantastically well-done and researched review of trashy books from the Seventies and Eighties. There’s an amazing collection of terrible sounding books of Nazi leprechauns, killer moths, killer cats, killer dogs, Satanic babies, evil hippies, and murderous houses. The books get only a few sentences each to a paragraph but they’re usually hilarious in their descriptions. If the book has one flaw, it’s like a 1/3rd annotations.

The basic premise for Paperbacks from Hell is that Grady lists out all of the fiction from his youth that was mass marketed to people in the wake of whatever ridiculous trend was popular at the time. Much of this book is a coffee table collection of surprisingly great art as well as a brief description of the contents. Paperbacks from Hell has many beautiful covers and it reminds me that AI art will never replace what is an eye for beauty in the absurd.

I managed to get the book for 2.99 and I think 9.99 is a bit much for the work that is mostly snarking on the premises of incredibly bad novels chasing the trends of the time. Things like THE OMEN rip offs, THE AMITYVILLE rip offs, ROSEMARY’S BABY rip offs, JAWS rip offs, and so on. The humor is on point but pretty obvious like the fact that CUJO and “killer dog” books suffer from the fact when a dog kills a child, most readers still side with the puppers.

Grimdark fans will enjoy the fact that these books start at the 11 for over-the-top violence and dark premises before going further. There’s no sense of shame from these authors and that’s a large part of the appeal. A few times, Grady drops stories about the authors in question like the fact they wrote some genuinely good books only for those to sell nothing compared to stories of aborted children coming back to eat people. No, I’m not making that up. Or the Vatican sending their demon hunting exorcist priest to stop a succubus from having sex with too many priests then causing them to explode from you know where. These stories are gross, exploitative, and hilarious. Especially the way the book makes fun of them in a very loving way.

One thing Paperbacks from Hell reminds me of is that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying exploitative drek and there’s a generally fantastic collection of books that exist just to serve up the copious amount of sex and violence that readers want. It seems there’s a huge chunk of middle aged men who are able to solve monster or demon attacks, win women half their age, and prove the government utterly useless. Oh and the irony that many of these books had reactionary heavy metal/Dungeons and Dragons/hippies/drugs causing Satan or monster attacks but were consumed by the fandom of those exact things.

Paperbacks from Hell is a work that exists to be an easy read through without much in the way of literary commentary. What is there to say about these hordes of mass produced for-profit fiction that the authors themselves mostly churned out for fun. Grady briefly touches on the larger Satanic scares and conspiracy theories of the time but this is a tongue and cheek work that is just meant to be enjoyed “ironically.”

It makes me glad places like Crossroad Press and other presses reprinting these and also glad to realize that no matter how crappy and trashy my own writing is, it’s just following in a proud tradition of these books. Paperbacks from Hell is probably a bit overpriced at nine dollars but it is definitely worth reading, especially for horror fans or horror authors.

Available here

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