Paperbacks from Hell are Devilishly Entertaining

Glimpse into the creative process with these novels.
Illustration: April Kinney • The Sentry

As a culture, America loves to look back at the ‘80s through rose-colored glasses. Even divisive elements like Ronald Reagan and Cold War paranoia are often thought back on fondly by pop culture, as elements of a patriotic, simpler time. Films and television shows like Stranger Things seek to bring the ‘80s to the modern era for people to enjoy, capitalizing on nostalgia. And now, courtesy of Grady Hendrix and Valancourt Books, another piece of ‘80s pop culture is getting dusted off for a new generation: the horror paperback. 

Paperbacks from Hell began as a non-fiction passion project by horror author Grady Hendrix. The book chronicles the progression of horror paperbacks throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, a time when publishers cranked them out like their livelihood depended on it.  

It’s no secret that the books are wild, but there’s more to them than that. Yes, the books talked about are full of demons, werewolves, and Nazi leprechauns who enjoy S&M (yes, that last one is real), but they’re more than that. Paperbacks from Hell is a written chronology of horror, illustrating for example how the Satanic Panic led to certain trends in the genre. It shows how a fear of hippies and transients led to other trends the public consciousness summed up in a series of books of arguable quality. Through a history of horror, Paperbacks from Hell shows a history of American fear. 

And if it weren’t for publisher Valancourt Books, perhaps an interesting history was all Paperbacks from Hell would be. However, as a publisher exclusively dedicated to re-introducing old, out-of-print books, they found a perfect match in Hendrix’s material. 

To date, there are 13 reprinted horror novels in the Paperbacks from Hell series, each one discussed within the original book. This reprinting is an effort to bring back genuinely good and entertaining material for audiences who probably missed it. 

The collection’s variety is wild. The Nest tells the story of an island taken over by mutant, killer cockroaches. When Darkness Loves Us is a novella about a woman’s life trapped in the  darkness of underground tunnels with her son, travelling outside to find his father. Let’s Go Play at the Adam’s is about everyone’s favorite topic: kids torturing their babysitter nearly to death. 

Paperbacks from Hell novels offer reading experiences unlike any available to readers of modern fiction.  Most of these books were written with extremely little editorial oversight, giving readers a peek into a true authorial vision. They’re scary, they’re weird, and each one delivers an unforgettable experience. 

That’s not to say that these books are perfect. Aside from general book issues, the ‘70s and ‘80s were also a different time for social values and political correctness, which is something these books show and could turn off some readers. One book, The Spirit, is all about the showoff between a white bigfoot hunter and a “Flathead Indian” on a spirit quest, and those elements are handled about as delicately as one would expect. 

These books are not for everyone, but for the horror fan looking for something different, the fan willing to read books within the context they were written, Paperbacks from Hell is a match made in heaven. Just maybe read them while the sun is still up. 

This is a selection from the March 24 issue. To view the full issue, visit:

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