When I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, we lived about a block away from a Lanes Drugstore. I would ride my bike over and pick up some comics and candy. One day, I wandered into the regular book area and saw that they had a bunch of paperbacks with pictures of either skeletons or dolls or doll skeletons on them. I don’t remember which book I finally bought (probably something by John Saul. He was pretty prolific), but it got me started on my obsession with horror novels. I would go just about every week to pick up a paperback and they were inevitably cheap paperbacks. It would be a while until Stephen King would legitimize the genre and horror would graduate to hardcover. Here, then, are some of my favorites!
Haunting Horror Fiction
1. The Funhouse by Owen West
As you’ll see when you go to the catalog record, this corker was actually written by Dean Koontz. I’m not sure why he used a pseudonym. Maybe the publisher asked him to, maybe he didn’t want his name associated with horror novels (wasn’t he in for a surprise?). The novel was an adaptation of a script by Larry Block for a film made by the late, great Tobe Hooper. The cover wasn’t particularly lurid but the story sure was! A bunch of kids visit the funhouse of a traveling carnival and a whole lot fewer of them leave it. The film played in Toledo and I went to see it. It was ok, but the book was far more vicious and scary.
In 1981 or 1982, I picked this up in paperback. Wow. I was absolutely blown away by it. The killer and his method of picking his victims was utterly terrifying, the F.B.I. agent and his technique of finding the killer was fascinating, and the writing was gripping and suspenseful. This is mostly known as being the introduction to Hannibal Lecter, but I found Francis Dolarhyde much more interesting. Obviously, Lecter has proven to be one of the greatest characters in fiction, but he was too subtly evil for my young self. Dolarhyde was SCARY!!! I really loved the first film adaptation, “Manhunter,” too.
The only novel I’ve ever read where the main villain resides inside a tumor on a woman’s neck. When he (Misquamacus, a reborn Native American medicine man) bursts out, there’s hell to pay. I loved this book. It was really gory and scary, but funny in parts. In fact, I liked it so much that, a few years later, I picked up the 12 inch of the song “Manitou” by Venom, hoping it would be based on this. It wasn’t. But it introduced me to some proto Black Metal, so there’s that.
A biological horror unleashed by pollution! A terrifying monster hellbent on death and destruction! Manbearpig from South Park! “The Prophecy” is all of these things! David Seltzer wrote “The Omen,” which is one of my very favorite horror movies. His similarly named novel isn’t supernatural at all, but it still scared the heck out of me. The plot, about a river contaminated by mercury spawns a rampaging beast who terrorizes the woods in Maine, put me off camping for quite a while and the film adaption sealed the deal.
The movie, directed by John Frankenheimer, was pretty awful, but there was a memorable (and violent) scene where the (I still wanna say manbearpig) creature bats around some dude in a sleeping bag. For some reason, it scared the heck out of me when I was a kid.
A true story, this reads like fiction, which people have accused it of being. The author’s writing style and the subject’s manipulative nature have cast doubt on how true the tale may be. The fact that Schreiber also wrote “Sybil,” which has been challenged on its authenticity, didn’t help. It is horrifying though. Joseph Kallinger tells the story of how he and his fifteen year-old son went on a murderous crime spree, assaulting and torturing four families. Three people ended up dying. This one is pretty rough.
In 1977, Anson wrote “The Amityville Horror” which was the true story of the Lutz family and the terrifying things that happened to them in their haunted house. Except that it wasn’t. For the most part the tale was debunked in 1979, although the legend does live on. I read the book when it came out and it scared me quite a bit. Anson’s follow up, this time billed as fiction, scared me even more! “666” treads on familiar ground (spook house!!!), but since Anson has had practice in this type of tale, he just tears into it. It’s not a long book and there’s no filler.
“Halloween” is not only my favorite horror movie, it’s in my top five favorite movies period. It’s just a brilliant work of art. The reason I went to see the film is because I’d found the novelization and absolutely tore it up. The novel is way more in depth in telling the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. It begins with a murder on the night of Samhain back in the days of the ancient Celts. A curse is placed and the crime would be recreated at a future date. We then flash forward to 1963 and the murder of a woman by her brother, Michael. He’s institutionalized and escapes to go after another young woman. The book goes into depth about Michael’s time in the mental institution and what is going through his head as he bides his time before escaping. We also learn quite a bit about Laurie, the second woman, and her friends. It’s drastically different than the movie in that aspect. In the film, Michael is just a blank killing machine. The business about Laurie being his sister wasn’t introduced until the sequel. I personally think that the fact that Michael has no rhyme or reason for his deeds is so much more horrifying than a back story. But it’s still cool to know.
This one’s a ringer. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure, so I won’t elucidate. It was the first King book I’d ever read. My favorite stories in it are “Strawberry Spring” and “The Last Rung On The Ladder” which isn’t scary, it’s just heartbreaking.
This isn’t a book I found when I was young, I picked it up recently at a book store in Detroit called John King Books. The shop is four stories of used books and they have a whole wall of chintzy horror paperbacks. It’s amazing. I didn’t have a lot of time to shop (just killing time between a wedding and a reception), so I just grabbed this at random. I loved it. I started reading and was just washed away in nostalgia for younger days. The cover, the story, heck, even the typeset just pushed me right back to all those books that I loved and hadn’t thought about in such a long time.
And then this came out. Hendrix may have had some of the same experiences as I did growing up because he obviously loves those cheap, garish books as much as I do. The book is arranged according to the subject matter of the paperbacks and shows a bunch of examples (so many evil dolls!) of each type of novel. It’s fantastic and now I just want to read each of the books it shows.