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…

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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.

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Trolls, Holes, Gremlins, Goonies and seeing movies at the wrong age.

Really enjoyed Troll Hunter the other night, but slightly baffled by its 15 rating for ‘sustained intense threat’. I watched it with the kids (10 and 12) who were thrilled, but never terrified.

But then my poor kids have been subjected to all sorts of horrors over the years. I made the mistake of showing them Gremlins when they were way too young, and they never made it past the first hour, and this has subsequently put them off ever watching it, or its sequel, ever again (the merest suggestion sends them running from the room).

And yet they both loved Joe Dante’s more recent and much more frightening movie The Hole…

So I guess it all comes down to timing. This blog post was inspired by a chat with my friend Jo who revealed a friend of hers didn’t get The Goonies. I didn’t understand. He’s about the same age as me, and everyone in my generation loves The Goonies. Was he mentally deficient somehow? Missing a gene? No, he’d simply made the mistake of seeing it in his 30s and for him it was a bunch of annoying kids running around.

I first saw it when I was 12. I was in California on an exchange trip and feeling very, very homesick. The previous film I’d seen on that holiday was Mask…

Aaargh! Laura Dern!

… so my hopes weren’t high. But The Goonies was a non-stop roller coaster thrill ride, that made me laugh so much I thought I’d puke, and the people sitting around me were giving me some very concerned looks. For me, it’s one of the most pivotal films of my childhood. Beyond reproach.

Similarly, esteemed critic and Jessie Birdsall look-a-like Mark Kermode has frequently said he just doesn’t get Star Wars. And I totally understand this: to really feel the full power of the force you need to have seen it between the ages of 5 and 12 (I was 5: first generation Star Wars fan and it ruined my life).

So be wary of film ratings and remember that age and context is everything. The Omen (first viewing aged 11) is far scarier than The Exorcist (I was 21), but nowhere near as ball-tighteningly horrific as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (I was probably 3) or the ultimate horror… the video for Bohemian Rhapsody (age 2).