When it comes to paperback horror, I am a sucker for silly covers and titles. This leads me to reading some utter garbage. Left to my own devices, I have chosen to read books about evil fish, an evil suit and an evil spring. Fortunately, there are lots of people out there who know the horror genre far better than I do, and 2 years ago, a bunch of them got together to put out a series of then out-of-print horror classics. The first wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell series convinced me that there are gems out there waiting to be discovered, and I was delighted to allow that prestigious publisher curate my reading with their second wave from Hell.
The Pack – David Fisher
Originally published – 1976
Of the 13 Paperbacks from Hell that Valancourt has put out, only two of them fall into the ‘Animals Attack’ subgenre. (Maybe 2 and a half if you count sasquatches as animals.) I’m not hugely interested in this particular brand of horror, and when I started reading The Pack, I was a bit surprised to discover that like The Nest, the series’ other bad animal book, this book is also about a group of animals that don’t usually attack people attacking people on a small island off the coast of the Northeastern United States. This time it’s abandoned dogs rather than mutant cockroaches, but the results are pretty similar. It was a bit harder to dislike the antagonists in this one. What kind of piece of shit would abandon their puppy? I thought The Pack was a pretty good read overall.
Black Ambrosia – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published – 1988
I really liked Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and I was looking forward to reading Black Ambrosia. I absolutely loved the first half of the book, but I was getting kinda bored by the end. It’s about a girl who realises she’s a vampire. Not a bad book, but a little drawn out. From what little I have read, Engstrom’s writing seems better suited to novellas, but I’m probably wrong, and I would gladly read more of her if anyone has recommendations.
Nest of Nightmares – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1986
This is the series’ only short stories collection. My immediate response to finishing the first story was to utter to myself, “That’s fucked up.”… always a good sign. One story, ‘The Memory of Wood’, really creeped me out. It’s about a family who buys a haunted box at a yard sale. The family is pretty similar to my own, and I couldn’t help but imagine it happening it to us. CREEPY.
Nightblood – T. Chris Martindale
Originally published – 1990
When I first read Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of all the books in it that I absolutely needed to read. This was the only one on that list that was also reissued by Valancourt. I’ve seen this described as Rambo meets Salem’s Lot, but I thought it has a certain amount of Home Alone in it too. A heavily armed, mentally unstable Vietnam veteran arrives in a town with a serious vampire problem. This was a bit like reading a William Johnstone horror novel only it was more focused and better written. It felt drawn out towards the end, but it was good fun overall.
Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ – Mendal W. Johnson
Originally published – 1974
I felt so strongly about this book that I did a separate post on it here. More of a Paperback like Hell really. Truly horrid.
The above novels made up the second wave of Valancourt’s series. I was originally going to do the third wave in a separate post, but there’s only 3 more, so I decided to throw them in here.
The Auctioneer – Joan Samson
Originally published – 1975
A lad moves into a small country town and starts holding auctions. He gets the stuff he sells from the local townspeople. They quickly lose their say in what he takes from them. This was quite a strange book, and I still feel like I haven’t made up my mind about it a few weeks after reading it. It’s an extremely tense and suspenseful read. I’ve seen people describing it as the greatest book about “groupthink” ever written, but while I have no illusions about the frailty of human beings’ abilities to think and act for themselves, I felt that there was something else going on here. It’s not just that the townspeople are too weak and afraid to stand up for themselves; there’s also something diabolic about the auctioneer. He’s a real bad dude.
Stage Fright – Garrett Boatman
Originally published – 1988
I have written about this book extensively. Here is my original review, and here is my interview with its author. The fact that my interview is mentioned in the introduction to the new edition brought a tear of pride to my beady little eye.
Familiar Spirit – Lisa Tuttle
Originally published – 1983
This might be my favourite book in the series. It starts off with a girl being attacked by a demon that she has summoned. The first chapter is exactly what I was afraid of happening to me when I started reading and collecting occult books. This is an occult horror novel, but as with the other Lisa Tuttle book in this series, it also features good writing and characterization. It’s as much a story of the end of a relationship as it is a ghost story. This one was really good, and I am already planning to read more of Lisa Tuttle’s books in the future.
I probably could have milked this for 6 separate posts, but these books are hot stuff at the moment, and you’ll find them discussed on lots of other sites. They’re really great. I recommend them to anyone who likes reading. The only downside is that this series might make people think that all “Paperbacks from Hell” are of this quality. Not true. These are forgotten masterpieces that should never have been out of print. This publisher has put out plenty of other great horror too, and I’ve enjoyed all 30+ of the Valancourt books that I’ve read in the past year. Go to their site and buy some books so they can keep republishing books that I want to read.