Grady Hendrix’s new release, How To Sell A Haunted House, looms over the haunted house trope with puppets, gore, and restless spirits, but the family lies and sheer shock of how it unfolds will make readers eat this story up right down to the bone.
Let’s skip the synopsis. The title and the cover say it all. And it was the cover that sold me.
Is the ’80s retro VHS/tattered book cover thing a dead horse? Not for me. I love nostalgia. I’m all about it. The ’70s, the ’80s. Anything that takes me back to carefree days, void of responsibility. Give me extra helpings please.
I readily admit that I spend much of my horror ruminations on days gone by. Many consider the 1980s to be the Golden Age of Horror. It was an unparalleled time of creativity and fun in the genre. Horror fiction was going crazy, with many old masters still crafting great stories, and brash newcomers were shaking the foundations of traditional horror storytelling.
The idea that rock ‘n roll is the Devil’s music is as old as a Robert Johnson blues riff. It’s an idea that’s been mined by countless musicians and writers over the years, to varying degrees of success. Leave it to Grady Hendrix, acclaimed author/historian of ’70s and ’80s horror fiction, to breathe new life into one of horror’s most well-worn tropes.
If you’ve read Paperbacks from Hell, you know that Grady Hendrix is an expert on horror fiction, most specifically mass-market paperbacks produced during the boom of the ’70s and ’80s, with their often eye-popping—some might say “garish”—cover art. What, you might ask, inspired such a fascination for weird, macabre books? In Hendrix’s case, it was a lot of things, but it certainly had something to do with a strange book he discovered while living abroad in England in the late ’70s. A book not intended for kids.
Grady Hendrix is a writer and public speaker based in Manhattan. Along with the aforementioned Paperbacks From Hell (2017), he is the author of the novels Horrorstör (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016). He is currently working on a new novel.
Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction is a history lesson crossed with the world’s coolest (and unlikeliest) museum exhibit. As the title indicates, author/curator Grady Hendrix is our guide, taking us from the post-Rosemary’s Baby boom of paperback horror all the way through the 1990s bust. In between, there’s a whole lotta crazy to cover, and Hendrix is more than game to take us through every twist, turn and trend.
I’ll be honest, when I first got wind of this book, I expected little more than a portfolio of lurid paperback covers accompanied by a plot synopsis for each book, maybe a spotlight or two on some of the more prolific authors, and perhaps a closer look at some of the publishers who were churning the stuff out. And you know, I would have been fine with that. But Hendrix has given us so much more. An accomplished author in his own right (My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Horrorstör), Hendrix digs deep and writes with passion. You need look no further than his introduction, in which he writes about the book that served as his “gateway drug” into the world of paperback horror. It’s better heard from him, but let me just toss out the term “Gestapochauns” as an appetizer. Yeah, you’re thinking there’s no way that could mean what you think it means, but it does.
Rather than go year-by-year, Hendrix has organized the book by the themes and subgenres that defined the period. So, we move from “Hail, Satan” to “When Animals Attack” to “Real Estate Nightmares” to “Inhumanoids” to….well, you get the idea. Each of these chapters are written with a historian’s observational skill coupled with a fan’s passion and a professional’s touch. Hendrix hits the requisite high points like David Seltzer’s The Omen, James Herbert’s The Rats, and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (and it’s infamous skeleton cheerleader cover!), but he revels equally in obscure gems like Eat Them Alive by Pierce Nace and Slay Bells by Joe Gibson and Blood Snarl by Ivor Watkins.
Hendrix recognizes that the covers were often the best thing about these books, so he’s written several “Coroner’s Report” asides spotlighting particularly prolific artists and their contributions.
I often look at my own, growing library and keep a mental list of my “essentials,” the books I absolutely could not do without. Paperbacks from Hell is now on that list. As a reference book, as a celebration, and as an appreciation, it’s one of the best books about the horror genre that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I’ll honestly be stunned if I ever meet a horror fan that disagrees. This gets my highest possible recommendation.