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Will Errickson

Evil Eighties: Spectre by Stephen Laws

For 1980s horror fiction aficionados like me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as when you buy an old paperback based solely on its promising cover art and then, upon actually reading the book, that the contents deliver on said promise. Now, ironically, the photo-realistic cover for Spectre, a 1987 Tor paperback by Stephen Laws —featuring some young denizens of that amazing decade in various stages of disappearance—doesn’t exactly scream “Horror! Terror! Dismemberment!” like so many others did back then.

That’s precisely what struck me about the cover, thanks to the talents of J.K. Potter, a renowned artist who’s illustrated countless volumes of horror fiction: its utter lack of tacky tasteless imagery (aside from an oversize sweater or two). I was drawn to Spectre because it promised, perhaps, quiet chilling scares, rather than the full-on assault of so much ’80s horror, often done with all the finesse of Leatherface working his saw. Did the novel deliver on its promise of quiet horror? Actually, no: Laws’ novel is filled with tentacles and teeth, torn limbs and slashed throats, abhorrent rituals and hungry gods… but it’s all done with the finesse of Hannibal Lecter preparing you dinner.

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Evil Eighties: The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell

In this series, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

Ramsey Campbell wrote one of the most convincing psychological horror novels of the 1980s with The Face That Must Die. A horror writer since the 1960s (his first collection of short stories was published by the venerable Arkham House when he was still a teenager), Campbell is virtually a brand-name writer in the genre. Throughout the 1980s, Tor published at least a dozen of his books and adorned them with  distinctive artwork and title fonts. His allusive and oblique prose lends his stories a hallucinatory tone, a feeling of something not quite right, slightly askew and vaguely malevolent, as Lovecraftian monstrosities flitter just out of eyesight.

But the horror found in The Face That Must Die is an all too real kind. Indeed, the introductory essay included with the 1985 Tor edition, “At the Back of My Mind: A Guided Tour,” is Campbell’s account of his worsening relationship with his mother as she sank into dementia over many years. These days mainstream memoirs and fiction of life with crazy parents are a dime a dozen, but Campbell’s piece has no distancing irony or comic effect. Harrowing and sad and enlightening, it is Campbell’s explanation for “why I write what I write,” and readers can come to their own conclusions about how this influenced The Face That Must Die.

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Evil Eighties: The Hollywood Horrors of David J. Schow

If you were reading paperback horror fiction back in the 1980s, there’s a good chance you recall the red-hot minute of the graphic subgenre known as splatterpunk.

Surely I first read about it in the pages of Fangoria, or perhaps Twilight Zone, and I was instantly a fan even before I’d read any of the authors who supposedly were part of this new movement. As a fan of gory horror flicks and late 1970s punk rock, as well as being a teenager, this new wave of no-holds-barred horror was tailor-made for yours truly! I couldn’t get enough of books like The Scream, Live Girls, Books of Blood, The Nightrunners

As to the origins of the term, most anecdotes point to David J. Schow who jokingly—perhaps cringingly—coining it in the mid-1980s in response to the William Gibson/Bruce Sterling/John Shirley-powered “cyberpunk” movement over there on the science fiction shelves. Never intended to be a hard-and-fast label, splatterpunk stuck for a few years, uniting disparate upcoming writers like Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, John Skipp and Craig Spector, Ray Garton, Richard Christian Matheson, and others, informally known as the, um, “splat pack.” Look, it was the ’80s, all right?

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Evil Eighties: The Nightrunners by Joe R. Lansdale

In this series, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

Everybody remembers their first Joe R. Lansdale story.

Mine was “Night They Missed the Horror Show,” which I read in the anthology Splatterpunks in 1991. To say I was unprepared for this black-hearted tale of racist hillbilly snuff-film purveyors and the high-school hellraisers who inadvertently stumble upon their doings is an understatement. Like a sucker punch to a soft belly or a club to the base of the skull, “Horror Show” leaves you stunned, out of breath, a hurt growing inside you that you know won’t be leaving any time soon. Hasn’t left me this quarter-century later. I know Lansdale would have it no other way.

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Evil Eighties: The Paperback Horrors of John Farris

It’s Friday the 13th, so Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks.

Although his name doesn’t have the brand-familiarity of a King or a Koontz, horror/suspense author John Farris (b. 1936, Missouri) had one of the great runs of horror novels throughout the 1980s. He’d first been getting published way back in the late 1950s, writing pulpy thrillers and having success with the “high school confidential” novels Harrison High and its several sequels, but it was his 1976 book The Fury that was his largest mainstream success, as it was also turned into a film by Brian DePalma most notable for its stunningly tasteless, literally explosive bit of gory FX for its climax.

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The Bloody Books of Halloween: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are digging deep inside the Jack o’Lantern of Literature to discover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks. Are you strong enough to read THE BLOODY BOOKS OF HALLOWEEN???

So now it’s Halloween and you want one read, one that’s scary and smart, entertainingly macabre, a book you simply have to recommend to friends, one in the great tradition of classic horror. And I have just the book for you: Anno Dracula.

Kim Newman’s 1992 novel is one of the most accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable books I’ve read in recent years. It’s big, bold, brazen, showcasing Newman’s prodigious knowledge not only of Draculean lore and legend, but also of 19th century London, Jack the Ripper, Holmesian detection, and British literature both classic and vampiric. With the kind of breathtaking effortlessness that instills burning jealousy in horror-writer hearts everywhere, Newman weaves together the twin nightmare mythologies of real-life monsters Vlad Tepes and Jack the Ripper into a sumptuous whole. “What if Dracula had won?” Newman has posited, and what a cracking yarn that question inspires, a dense yet deftly written 400-page novel in which readers can lose themselves completely.

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The Bloody Books of Halloween: The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are digging deep inside the Jack o’Lantern of Literature to discover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks. Are you strong enough to read THE BLOODY BOOKS OF HALLOWEEN???

Isn’t autumn the most nostalgic, the most contemplative of seasons? Something about the cooling weather and changing leaves, as well as the nearing of year’s end, causes one’s mind to look back. When I lived in the South I was often disappointed by the brief fall season, and found myself aching to recapture the excitement of awaiting Halloween.

To what could I turn to give myself a feeling of autumn? What could provide the scent of burning leaves, apple cider, pumpkin spice, the early darks and the bone-white moons, the chilled air that nuzzles your neck, the growing thrill of the arrival of All Hallow’s Eve and the macabre treats upon which to feast…? You guessed it: Ray Bradury’s collection of poisoned confections entitled The October Country.

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The Bloody Books of Halloween: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are digging deep inside the Jack o’Lantern of Literature to discover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks. Are you strong enough to read THE BLOODY BOOKS OF HALLOWEEN???

The preeminent 1970s bestselling horror novel. Millions of copies adorning nightstands and coffee tables everywhere. The unfocused cover photograph of a young girl in torment. The exotic, sibilant title—exorcist—why, the word itself sounded evil. If you were of an impressionable age at the time, surely the iconic imagery of the book alone made a nightmarish impact, even if you didn’t read it. Perhaps even more so, because I’m not even sure The Exorcist (first published in May 1971), the fifth novel from William Peter Blatty (b. 1928, NYC), really is a horror novel.

I know, I know, that old argument: what makes horror fiction, well, horror? The Exorcist has some of the most infamous and eternal moments of shock and terror in popular culture, but is horrifying readers its sole raison d’être? I’d argue non.

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Summer of Sleaze: Ray Russell’s Incubus

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

Here we’ve reached the Summer of Sleaze’s final chapter, mere days before the beginning of autumn. For this last part I present one of my sleazier favorites of the 1970s, a bit of salaciousness called Incubus, first published in hardcover in 1976—yes, hardcover! Fancy.

Author Ray Russell (b. Chicago, 1929; d. LA, 1999) may not be a familiar name to you, but Gideon Smith amazon buy linkyou’ll appreciate his credentials: as an editor and contributor to Playboy magazine from the 1950s to the late 1970s, he brought to that esteemed publication authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, as well as the writings of one Charles Beaumont, the all-too-soon-late scribe who contributed so much to the horror genre, most notably through episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and screenplays for some of those Roger Corman Poe flicks from the ’60s.

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Summer of Sleaze: The Manitou by Graham Masterton

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

Just about every horror paperback that came out in the mid-’70s had to have blurbs on its cover comparing it favorably to bestselling horror novels like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, ’Salem’s Lot, and/or The Omen—that was simply a fact of publishing then.

But every now and again there’s a book like The Manitou, the 1976 debut from Scottish author Graham Masterton (b. 1946, Edinburgh), which is entirely its own kind of horror novel. With little use for good sense or good taste, Masterton uses only a few elements of those contemporaneous famous and popular works but then one-ups—nay, a dozen-ups!—them (for another example of his over-the-top style, check out his 1988 novel Feast) and gives readers a damn-near perfect example of vintage ’70s horror fiction.

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Summer of Sleaze: The Unsung Horrors of Ken Greenhall

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

A confession: although I come here to sing the praises of little-known horror writer Ken Greenhall, I myself know nearly nothing about him! He was born in Detroit in 1928 and in the 1970s and ’80s wrote a handful of paperback horror novels under his own name and the pseudonym Jessica Hamilton (I was able to learn that was his mother’s birth name). No interviews or photos are online, and only the scantest biographical info is available.

Shame, because would I love to know more about the guy who penned two obscure yet virtual masterpieces of vintage horror fiction: Elizabeth, written under the Hamilton pseudonym, published in 1976, and Hell Hound, by his own name, from 1977.

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Summer of Sleaze: The Southern Gothic Horrors of Michael McDowell

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

The idea of a paperback original series in the horror genre was a unique one when the six-volume Blackwater began publication by Avon Books in January 1983. Written by the prolific Michael McDowell (1950-1999), it was a many-generational story set in Alabama, a Southern Gothic-lite, mixing soap opera and horror tropes with equal ease, to be published one a month for six months.

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Summer of Sleaze: The Alternative Horrors of Kathe Koja

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

In January 1991, a new line of horror paperback originals from Dell Books appeared under the imposing imprint of Abyss. Spearheaded by editor Jeanne Cavelos, the Abyss line even included in each book an ambitious mission statement on the very first page.

[Horror unlike anything you’ve ever read before…]

Summer of Sleaze: The Universal Horrors of Charles L. Grant

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

Moonlight over a lonely town. Fog swirls. Whispering shadows. Footsteps in the forest. A voice from the darkness. A movement seen from the corner of the eye. A slowly spreading stain of red.

New Jersey-born writer and editor Charles L. Grant (1942–2006) championed these hallmarks of old-fashioned horror tales, even in spite of their simplicity, their overuse, indeed, their corniness, because he knew in the right hands such subtle details would build up to an overall mood of dis-ease and weirdness. Evoking fear of the unknown, not the graphic revelation of a psychopath with a gore-flecked axe or an unimaginable, insane Lovecraftian nightmare, is what a truly successful horror writer (or, for that matter, filmmaker) should do. And especially during the 1980s, when he published dozens of titles through Tor Books’ horror line, Grant did precisely that.

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Summer of Sleaze: The Erotic Horrors of Thomas Tessier

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

I was fortunate enough to discover the horror novels of Thomas Tessier back in 1989, when I began working in a used bookstore just out of high school. Horror junkie that I was, my favorite authors were still limited to King, Lovecraft, Barker, Campbell, and a few of the splatterpunks. So I was grooving on the fact that I had access to all the beat-up old paperbacks in our horror section; it was time to branch out.

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In a Dark Country, Red Dreams Stay with You: The Horrors of Dennis Etchison

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

Dennis Etchison (born Stockton CA, 1943) didn’t set out to be a horror writer. While Etchison has been referred to as a writer of “dark fantasy” or of “quiet horror,” in an interview with journalist Stanley Wiater in Dark Dreamers (1990), the author states that he found himself in the horror genre “sort of by accident.” Etchison began writing and publishing science fiction stories in the 1960s, but as the short genre fiction market changed he found his work gained more acceptance in the burgeoning horror fiction field of the 1970s.

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