A his­tory of hor­ror

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Vi­o­lent clowns, knife-wield­ing kinder­garten­ers, mis­tresses of Satan, flesh-eat­ing slugs, Nazi lep­rechauns, and por­tals to hell — all of th­ese ter­ri­fy­ing el­e­ments ap­pear in hor­ror nov­els of the 1970s and ‘80s. The block­buster suc­cess of Rose­mary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Other marked the be­gin­ning of a pub­lish­ing boom that re­flected the warped ap­petites of the cul­ture that ea­gerly de­voured th­ese sto­ries. Grady Hen­drix’s new book Paper­backs From Hell de­tails the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of th­ese books, and this Halloween week­end, we take a look at their grue­some cov­ers and twisted plot­lines. On the cover is an illustration by Wil­liam Tea­son from an ear­lier and more lit­er­ary ex­am­ple of the genre, the 1963 Pop­u­lar Li­brary pa­per­back of Shirley Jack­son’s We Have Al­ways Lived in the Cas­tle.

hey’re piled in the dark cor­ners of creepy base­ments all over Amer­ica, sticky with spilled drinks and decades of dust. You hap­pen upon them at the used book­store, shud­der­ing a lit­tle as a mag­got-eaten face or a grin­ning killer clown leer out at you from the shelves. Maybe you once gig­gled un­easily with a friend in the halls of your ju­nior high over the un­speak­able acts their diecut cov­ers con­cealed. Re­gard­less of where you found them, chances are you’ve read one, two, or 10 Paper­backs From Hell, as Grady Hen­drix’s highly en­ter­tain­ing new his­tory of the 1970s and ’80s hor­ror-fic­tion boom calls them. How­ever ridicu­lous and trashy they might seem to­day, th­ese books marked the height of a once-ro­bust pub­lish­ing in­dus­try, re­veal­ing cer­tain truths about late 20th-cen­tury Amer­ica’s deep­est fears.

Hen­drix, who has him­self au­thored two amus­ing spins on the genre (Hor­rorstör, 2014, and My Best Friend’s Ex­or­cism, 2016), takes a deep dive into the world of scary sto­ries with a breezy, pulp-comic style that nonethe­less takes th­ese books very se­ri­ously. Gothic fic­tion has strong roots in the Amer­i­can book busi­ness, he points out, be­gin­ning his hor­ror his­tory by call­ing the best­selling gothic ro­mances of the 1960s and early ’70s (like those of Bar­bara Michaels, Vic­to­ria Holt, and Mary Ste­wart) “the miss­ing link be­tween the gothic lit­er­a­ture of the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies and the pa­per­back hor­ror of the ’70s and ’80s.” The genre was elec­tri­fied be­tween 1967 and 1973 thanks to three block­buster books: Ira Levin’s Rose­mary’s Baby, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, and Wil­liam Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, the first hor­ror nov­els to show up on Pub­lish­ers Weekly’s an­nual best­seller list since Daphne du Mau­rier’s Re­becca in 1938. All three spawned movies and dozens of im­i­ta­tors that turned the tide of mass-mar­ket pub­lish­ing blood-red.

Among a pro­lif­er­a­tion of bizarre books about men­ac­ing kids, sin­is­ter an­i­mals, and ro­bot mur­der­ers, the haunted-house novel is the most

con­tin­ued on Page 30

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