Welcome to Freaky Fridays, where out-of-print paperback horror from the Seventies and Eighties straps on its M-16, scrawls “Born to Kill” on its helmet, and slogs out into the jungles of ‘Nam to get possessed by demons from hell before coming back home and stirring up trouble in Cleveland.
Every single horror paperback of the Seventies and Eighties is a special snowflake, each one a unique arrangement of Nazi leprechauns, arm-eating whales, jogging cults, and extraterrestrial orgasms. But one thing many of them have in common is their hero: the Vietnam vet. Tim O’Brien’s moving and accomplished memoir about his tour of duty in ‘Nam, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, came out in 1973 the same year the US was withdrawing from Saigon. But horror had been there first. Bob Clark’s Deathdream, about a young soldier coming home from Vietnam to reunite with his family who do their best to overlook the fact that he’s now a flesh-eating zombie, came out the year before in 1972, as did Stanley about a Vietnam Vet killing people with snakes, and Targets had a deranged Vet turned drive-in sniper all the way back in 1968. Since then, Vietnam vets have become motion picture shorthand for damaged goods. Whether it’s Invasion of the Flesh Hunters (1980), Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980), Fleshburn (1984), House (1986), Combat Shock (1986), Fear (1988), or Jacob’s Ladder (1990) the traumatized and often violent or deranged Vietnam Vet has become an eye-rolling cliche.
Horror fiction, on the other hand, turned Vietnam vets into heroes.