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.