Vintage Reads #49: Horror Novels

When I think of the history of horror fiction, I mentally categorize them into three very simplistic eras: The Olden Days, The Retrospace Era, and The New Era.  (No doubt there are thousands of literature teachers and professors out there shaking their heads sadly in unison.)

"The Old" consists of everything from Matthew Lewis' Monk to HP Lovecraft.  It includes those Victorian Ghost Stories and Gothic tales by Poe and LeFanu. Some of the my favorite from "The Old" are Melmoth the Wanderer, Uncle Silas, The Turn of the Screw, and, of course, Stoker's Dracula.  Event the Penny Dreadfuls have something to offer. Nothing provides a better escape during the Halloween season than a good old fashioned haunted mansion in Dickens' England.

The Retrospace Era covers (quite obviously) the era that Retrospace deals with - primarily the 70s, but fans in either directionl into the eighties and sixties... with a smattering of 1950s.  This is the era of the cheap paperback, the Nasty NELs, the King novels, and a litany of books that became adapted to film (Wolfen, The Exorcist, Psycho, The Shining, Slugs, Coma,  Rosemary's Baby).

There was an explosion of horror interest during this period.... plus it was during a time when people still read.  Sure, there was TV and movies to satiate a lust for horror, but they weren't saturated with it as now. People gobbled up horror genre paperbacks like candy.  And what better way to spend a buck?  Granted, there were plenty that were terrible; but, just because there was a massive quantity doesn't mean quality was sacrificed - quite the contrary.  The demand created a bigger doorway for truly talented writers, who might otherwise have been ignored, to have their shot at the Great American Horror Novel.

I should also mention that there were magazines aplenty that published short stories.  In fact, most writers got their start writing for Cavalier or The Haunt of Horror magazine.  Again, this back when people read more than a shitty soundbite on The Drudge Report or a smattering of Facebook posts..... or blogs (clears throat).... moving right along...

Here's the problem: There are just so damned many during The Retrospace period it's almost a curse.  I walk into a used book store and hit the horror paperback aisle, and I become overwhelmed.  My skin becomes clammy, my eyeballs itch, my head is swimming.... too much to choose from.  So many look like shit and probably are - how to choose?

You can always consult GoodReads, but that can be a pain in the ass at a bookstore.  You can by a basket-full and take your chances, but I've been burned one too many times. It's an embarrassment of riches.

I currently have a queue of Retrospace Era books which includes (1) Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison, (2) Ghosts and Other Lovers by Lisa Tuttle, (3) John Silence, Physician Extraordinary, (4) Savage Bride by Cornell Woolrich, (5) Swan Song by Robert McCammon, (6) The Caller by Richard Laymon, (7) The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub, (8) The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Lowndes, (9) The Night Church by Whitley Strieber, (10) The Pet by Charles L. Grant, and (11) The Doll Who Ate His Mother by Ramsey Campbell.

Right now, I'm in the middle of The Books of Blood by Clive Barker which is over 800 pages, so it will take me many months to get through this entire list.  Any 'heads up' warnings or reviews on any of  these would be appreciated.

The last era of the horror novel is the creatively named "The New Era".  As with almost everything I talk about on Retrospace, I feel the "the golden age" has come and gone.

That being said, I am not the type to just blankly cast aside anything new just because it wasn't created forty years ago.  Indeed, there's been a few newer horror books I've tried that were pretty damn good.  For instance, I recently finished Horns by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son) and it was really good.  I got halfway through another Hill novel, Heart Shaped Box, but had to call it quits.  It sucked.

I'll end by saying this: no matter what era, there is simply nothing better than a horror novel done right.  Movies are great, video games are fun, television is entertaining..... but for sheer escapism and total immersion nothing beats it.

The reason: when an author can draw you in to their world, you cease to be "you".  You have entered this creative dimension.  And when that dimension is riddled with ghosts and other horror, there's a primal "kick" that can receive that cannot be achieved by other genres.

I saved this little treat for last as a reward for getting through my blathering (presuming you read it)....

It's an advert for the Nasty NELs.  What an incredible collection of trashy, twisted tales.  This was when horror paperbacks were horror paperbacks (I know that makes very little sense. It's the only way I can put it.)

Anyway, I've provided some Amazon links below to some horror recommendations.  Support this blog by buying a few.  Thanks and happy reading!



  1. Anything by Robert McCammon

  2. Great post and I totally get your line about when horror paperbacks were horror paperbacks. Sometimes, you just gotta take chance on a book and dive in. And as a side note, that vampire creature in the middle of the Nasty NELs ad looks like the vampiric version of the monster from The Funhouse. Happy Halloween!


  3. I loved Harlan Ellisons Deathbird Stories as an 18 year old back in '81 and still have my own copy, freaked me out in parts. Well worth reading, it was a lend from my English teacher about a week before my major exams, he was reluctant but as I said at the time it wasnt going to affect my poor English mark anyway. Still love reading though

    William in Oz

  4. Shame on me, I know most of your titles only as movies they were made into. I understand Dennis Wheatley was a bit of a Tory prig and Not Amused by the Nastassja Kinski nude scene. The lurid paperback cover doesn't begin to come close. I only know Manly Wade Wellman as the guy who adapted classic stories for "Night Gallery".

  5. For some reason I was always partial to John Saul.

  6. Oh great! Thanks for putting you-know-who on the side of the Post Picture. My brother and I used to tax our old BetaMax by pausing and un-pausing it until we got right to the section of tape that had the face of you-know-who on it. The Exorcist still has the power to unsettle me, even now.

  7. I had the same copy of Philip Jose Farmer's "Image of the Beast". Kept it in my under the bed collection, as I recall.

  8. Yeah, Robert McCammon is great. It is compared a lot to the Stand but I dig it and think it stands on its own. The Wolfs Hour by him also great. WWII Allied super spy who is a werewolf. Always thought it make a killer flick. A real shame he gave up horror for the most part