Book Review: Paperbacks From Hell, Grady Hendrix

I don’t often do book reviews here (never crap on your own lawn, folks), but Grady Hendrix‘s Paperbacks From Hell was such a happy surprise that I can’t resist. I met Grady when he launched the book at the MCM Comic in October and we bonded over happy memories of rabies scares and The Omen novelisation…

IMG_1930
Bought from a second-hand bookstore on holiday for 10p… it warped my fragile little mind.

His book is a history of horror fiction in the ’70s and ’80s. It covers pulp paperbacks, the blockbusters, the fads, the won’t-they-think-of-the-children? outrages, the forgotten gems, the best-forgotten misogyny and racism of the times, the cover designers and artists, the die-cut paperback covers, the editors, the imprints and the authors – many of whom are now only remembered by aficionados.

If you’re a writer, or you work in publishing, and you want a primer on how trends wax and wane, how brands come and go, how one-hit wonders can change an industry, then this book is essential reading. Whatever genre you write in or enjoy reading, you can learn a lot from Hendrix’s astute observations on the publishing industry’s ability to squeeze the lemon till it’s dry, and then to toss it away for the next juicy fruit that comes along. In these pages you’ll see writers’ careers soar, then nosedive, taking all the copycat pretenders with them. You’ll see how politics, social change, and a bust and boom economy can affect the public’s reading tastes (think of how the fear of foreign animals coincided with the UK joining the Common Market… time for a resurrection of the rabid dog genre, perhaps?).

It’s relentlessly entertaining, very funny, and Grady’s love for the genre in all its forms is soaked into every page. One word of warning: having read this, you’ll be hightailing it to eBay to buy at least a dozen books just to see if they’re as good/bad/terrible/gruesome as Grady says they are. I shall be seeking out Let’s Go Play At The Adams’s, Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series, and reacquainting myself with a delightful young man called Damien Thorn. Happy reading.

SaveSave

Advertisements

My Robot Occupation Movies #2 – Psycho

Second in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

Psycho_(1960)

Psycho was the first film that I ever studied in any kind of depth. Up till then, films were just films to me. Good, escapist fun, but nothing I ever thought about in any kind of academic sense. I’d seen Psycho on TV. My dad, just leaving the house for a night out, saw that it was on, ‘Psycho. You’ll like that,’ he grinned, leaving me alone in the house and possibly scarring me for life.

It was unlike anything I’d seen before. I’d enjoyed horror movies with my friends, but they were always in glorious technicolor, never black and white. This one felt slow and talky, and there were only a couple of murders. To this teen, it was okay, but I preferred a bit more claret with my horror. But, that aside, there was definitely something odd about it. It made me think, for a start, which no other horror movie had achieved so far.

Then one of our teachers announced that he would be running an after-school film club and Psycho would be our subject. By now, I’d seen a few more of Hitchcock’s movies and was aware of Psycho’s importance, but I hadn’t seen it since that original TV viewing.

Well, we took that baby apart. We analysed everything: shot composition, shot lengths, the importance of light and shadows, the motif of birds – Crane, “Eats like a bird”, Phoenix, the positioning of the stuffed birds in shots – the abundance of reflective surfaces throughout, and even the colour of Janet Leigh’s underwear before and after she steals the money.

And the shower scene? Took it apart shot-by-shot. All 3 minutes and 50 cuts.

From then on, I would never look at movies in the same way. It made me aware of symbolism, motifs, music, casting, lenses, lighting, sound – all the building blocks of a movie. And, most of all, it had me hooked. Movies were now my thing. More than music. More than books.

Not long after that, my friends and I made a short movie for a national schools competition. Fresh off our Psycho experience, we thought we knew it all. Of course, the end result was mostly dreadful, but there was one scene where dozens of kids came charging out of their classrooms into a hallway (our film was about a revolution in a school), and seeing that cut together – the doors crashing open, the feet pounding, the kids running – was the first time that anything we’d done actually looked like a movie. The stuff we’d learned watching Psycho had, for a few seconds, paid off. We can do this, I realised.

Despite ripping its guts out, Psycho is still fun to watch. My sister and I still talk about it (it’s one of her favourites too), and its power hasn’t been diminished by the 1998 remake, or the poor sequels (though Psycho II isn’t that bad!).

The original was on TV just this week, and I subjected my 13-year-old daughter to it. She talked over the shower scene, ‘That’s what you get for using all my hot water!’, but stuck with it till then end. And now she’s asking questions… That’s what the movie does. Provokes dark and disturbing thoughts. Some have been explored in documentaries, films and books, not least Stephen Rebello’s excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho, but the mysteries of the human frailties of jealousy and murder will always remain. So let’s leave the last word to the master himself…