Ginger Nuts of Horror
When I was a kid I recall going to one of my grandparents' friend's house. When I looked on their bookshelf, I saw a few books with striking covers depicting creepy skeletons. One that still sticks with me these days showed a boy's skull peeking out from behind a beanie and scarf as it rides a tricycle towards the reader. I could never remember what that book was. If nothing else, I can thank Grady Hendrix of Horrorstor and My Best Friend's Exorcism for showing me that the book was Tricycle by Russell Rhodes.
That book, among many, many others, came out in the horror publishing boom that started in the late '60s and ended in the early '90s. While some books regarded as contemporary classics came from that boom, such as Rosemary's Baby which Hendrix argues kick started it, many of these books are now out of print and forgotten except by a few aficionados.
In the introduction, Hendrix talks about the book which got him addicted to seeking these out these paperbacks. John Christopher's The Little People had an absolutely ridiculous cover showing Nazi elves menacing a couple with whips in front of a castle. While he found the story lacking, though delightfully insane at times, he sought out more of these paperback oddities.
Each chapter of the book looks at the various trends that sprouted up during the horror publishing boom and some examples of titles that were following the trend. For example, in the wake of the success of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, dozens of imitators focusing on Satan and the Catholic Church sprang up. The success of The Omen resulted in many evil children novels, V.C. Andrews and Anne Rice sparked a new interest in Gothic horror and vampires, and so forth.
A big focus here is on the cover art. After all, marketers relied heavily on them to sell new authors, and cover paintings were the standard before Photoshop. In several “Coroner's Report” asides, Hendrix discusses the histories of particular artists and their histories. One of the more fascinating asides talks about the artist George Ziel, a Polish Catholic who survived a concentration camp and lost his Jewish wife to the Holocaust. After he had moved to the United States, he worked as a cover artist, translating the horrors he'd seen in real life to the ones the paintings that would accompany various paperbacks.
While he points out some books as lost masterpieces, such as the works of Ken Greenhall (which are being brought back into print) and The Voice of the Clown by Brenda Brown Canary. He doesn't hesitate to let us know that many of the books had a “so bad it's good” charm to them while others were just bad. For example, it's clear that Hendrix had little use for the entire Splatterpunk movement, a few exceptions like Clive Barker and Joe R. Lansdale aside. This is one of the strongest points in the book. Hendrix could have easily made this a dry reference book, but there's plenty of humour and personality in the writing to make this enjoyable to read on his own.
Of course, one of the problems is that there was so much happening during the horror publishing boom that it often felt like Hendrix had to gloss over many parts of it. Despite that, this remains an essential read for horror fans. There are a lot of books I'll be tracking down after reading this. I hope that this book will help to renew interest in many of these books and will them back into print, or at least get them re-released as ebooks
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