Vintage Reads #4: Horror Paperbacks

I still remember my first experience reading a horror paperback in the 1970's. I don't recall the title, but it had a burning clown doll on the cover, and it began with a couple teenagers screwing and getting whacked by a killer in the basement of an abandoned house.  The sex and violence were graphic, the prose was poor, the story was unoriginal,.... I LOVED IT!

To this day, I still love a good piece of trashy horror from the 70's and early 80's.  You just have to take them for what they are - you can't compare them against Steinbeck and Dostoevsky.  These pulp authors cranked them out one after another for a pittance, and for the most part, never came anywhere close to achieving long term success or recognition. Nevertheless, many were amazingly effective at scaring the crap out of you.

Horror fiction from this time period often did not play around.  They weren't interested in turning a phrase; they were interested in making you scared shitless, and there weren't many boundaries they weren't willing to cross to make it happen.  The most common genre was probably the "satanic story". As you've probably read before on Retrospace, the occult was huge in the 1970's.  Thus, paperback horror fiction often didn't stray far from the templates created by The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, and The Sentinel.

One of the best I've read in a long, long time is The Adversary.  Like so many of these horror paperbacks, it was put into circulation and then lost to the sands of time and not reprinted.  If you want to read The Adversary, you'll have to discover it in a used bookstore (or ebay).

The story involves the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She has the unique ability, due to her bloodline, to be the only living person who can combat the Antichrist.   What makes this book worth a read is the horrifying portrayal of the Antichrist - the author pulls no punches in creating a truly evil character.

There are so many blogs out there that deal with the horror genre -I'd say 90 percent of them focus on films.  The rest focus on horror comics and other memorabilia.... but I can't find a single one about vintage horror fiction! What gives? There's been a lot of attention given to pre-70's pulp fiction - primarily due to their surprisingly well illustrated covers; so, you'd think the horror paperback would find a similar niche.

Oh, well. Their day will come.  I can remember a day when the idea of SELLING your old Groovie Ghoulies lunchbox would've been laughable. Who would ever pay money for that crap? Nowadays, it goes for big bucks.  The same can be said for a lot of nostalgia - interests gather and wane.  I'm confident the vintage horror paperback will one day make a comeback.

If any of you know of a good horror paperback blog, let me know. I'd like to check it out. I seem to recall one called "Gloomy Sunday" that was really good, but that bit the dust for some reason. And one final note: if any of you are considering starting up a horror themed blog, PLEASE for the love of God, don't make another movie blog - there's already a kazillion.  Consider a horror paperback blog - you'd be one of a kind, and sure to attract interest. Think about it.


  1. No one posted any comments. That's creepier than these book covers! Somewhat related confession: I named one of my twin daughters Mia after Mia Farrow because I was watching Rosemary's Baby when I was pregnant and I was stuck on trying to come up with a second name. At least it wasn't Luci(fer) :)

  2. I've often thought of starting one. In the late '80s/early '90s I worked in a used bookstore where we had tons of those vintage horror paperbacks. I read lots of horror but laughed at the terrible pre-King bestsellers, but you're right, the covers are TERRIFIC. In October I posted some of my collection:

    Also check out The King of Face You Hate blog, as well as The Groovy Age of Horror. I've always figured *someone* had a horror paperback blog; maybe I oughta step up!

  3. I'm familiar with The Groovy Age of Horror; however, they're by no means horror paperback focused.... you would be the first and only. Please start one!

  4. Well, I did it.


  5. I did a search in WorldCat and it looks like The Adversary is at least available for those who want to just read and not own through the LA Public Library.

  6. Will, I've left a comment on your new blog. Keep it going and I will definitely find a way to promote it (beyond just putting it in the sidebar). This is great!

    shushie- After reading your comment, I found it at the LA library as well. Thanks for the research, it's nice to know this awesome book is still out there somewhere.

  7. GREAT memories--THE GUARDIAN has one of the darkest endings I've ever read. Too bad Konvitz didn't make this a trilogy.