Grady Hendrix is the author of Horrorstör (“the only novel about a haunted Scandinavian furniture store you’ll ever need”) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (“basically Beaches meets The Exorcist). But he’s here on our site because of the amazing Paperbacks from Hell, which you can purchase at Quirk Books or Amazon.
I had the great opportunity to discuss the book, as well as movies and horror itself, with Grady. Check it out!
SAM: I love the prologue to the book where you discuss the cultural reasons that led to the Paperbacks from Hell. I’ve always wondered how readers went from buying books like Peyton Place to purchasing stranger books like The Other and The Exorcist. And the first time I remember noticing paperbacks was going through my dad’s collection of old books, which were mostly mid 60’s books on ESP, In Search of Dracula and UFO.
How much influence do you think mass-market paperback books like these, as well as even stranger stuff like Anton Lavey’s The Satanic Bible and Simon’s Necronomicon, had on horror fiction?
GRADY: A huge amount. The whole boom in horror paperback publishing was spawned by the success of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Other but those books came out of the society-wide fascination with the occult sparked by people like Anton LaVey and UFO believers and those flames were kept burning by shows like In Search Of…
SAM: So many of the books you mention were turned into movies (or were basically movie scripts being tweaked into novels). It seems like there became a feeding frenzy to turn these books into movies. It reminds me of how Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was optioned by Paramount Pictures before it was even a success.
Of all the Paperbacks from Hell, which unfilmed one do you think should have been made and why?
GRADY: Given their success with the Toy Story franchise, I think Pixar should jump on Toy Cemetery with all four feet. The touching tale of a small Southern town overrun by the mutant products of incest, killer toys, and pedophile Satanists who love anal sex sounds like a home run for the people who brought us Up.
SAM: Of the movies that were made from them, from The Sentinel to The Manitou and everything in between, which is your favorite and why?
GRADY: It’s a toss-up between Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Jack Finney had no idea when he wrote The Body Snatchers in 1955 that it would turn into this mind-melting, clammy, uneasy masterpiece. Don’t Look Now is a really strange novella that I thought could never be turned into a movie, but Roeg not only delivers a great adaptation he delivers one of the great movies of the Seventies. And of course, please don’t forget PIN, the best book (and movie) about two children having an incestual three-way relationship with a talking anatomical dummy.
SAM: How would you compare The Exorcist and The Omen films to the books?
GRADY: The Omen books are actually novelizations, the first three at least, and they sold so many millions of copies that they spawned two standalone Omen novels, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: The Abomination. They’re all competent, but nothing too exciting in terms of style. Regarding The Exorcist, I think Blatty is an amazing dialogue writer and the book is terrific, but it’s hard to deny how powerful the movie is.
SAM: The Other was part of an unholy trinity, if you will, with those books. Isn’t it kind of sad that it’s barely mentioned or remembered?
GRADY: Especially considering that it was directed by Robert Mulligan who also directed To Kill a Mockingbird and Same Time, Next Year. I’ve seen it a few times and it really is an all-American gothic, a sort of natural step on the evolutionary path from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to The Reflecting Skin.
SAM: Which of the Paperbacks from Hell do you think are basically unfilmable, whether from budget or subject matter reasons?
GRADY: If James Franco is out there, can he please, please, please shoot a film version of John Coyne’s The Searing? It is a totally over-the-top, mildly insane horror novel about extraterrestrials causing women to have spontaneous orgasms that cause nosebleeds and brain damage. If anyone could put this unfilmable novel onscreen it’s James Franco. I hope he’s reading.
SAM: One of my obsessions is the tie-in novelizations to films that expand on the main story or share details that the viewer didn’t know. For example, Monarch put out adaptations of Brides of Dracula and Reptilicus that have explicit sex scenes missing from their chaste inspiration. The Halloween adaption posits Michael Myers as the reincarnation of a victim of a Samhain ritual.
Did you consider sharing these books in Paperbacks from Hell?
GRADY: Novelizations are really different from horror paperbacks, and I’ve written about them pretty extensively. This time out, I just wanted to focus on the paperbacks originals because they’re far more imaginative and wide-ranging and they aren’t limited by their source material.
SAM: That said, do you have a favorite of these novelizations?
GRADY: Richard Elman’s Taxi Driver novelization has big chunks of beat poetry in it that serves as Travis Bickle’s interior monologue, and Paul Monette’s novelization of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu is a panting, overheated beast, but the one novelization that really does it for me isn’t a novelization at all. Alan Dean Foster wrote the very first Star Wars tie-in novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in 1978 and as a kid I must have read it a dozen times, at least.
SAM: I feel like horror in film is pretty dead, pardon the pun. We have a Halloween coming up with hardly any new films in theaters. It all feels like you describe it in your prologue, as we have a real world brimming with insanity and need fiction and movies that reflect it via the horror genre.
Is there hope? Can you see horror films and fiction gaining a return to prominence after the success of Stephen King’s It in theaters?
GRADY: I think horror film is having a heyday right now, and horror fiction isn’t far behind. Since 2007, we’ve had the resurgence and fall of the found footage genre, the phrase “human centipede” has entered the public lexicon (I use it at least once a week), and movies like Cabin in the Woods, The VVitch, Attack the Block, and Black Swan have pushed horror movies in new directions. 2017 alone has delivered It and Get Out, both of which are huge hits. Fiction is coming to a slow boil. Gillian Flynn is a horror writer, even though she’s marketed as a thriller writer, and the popularity of domestic thrillers, most of which are actually modern gothics, is something that makes me really happy. And you’ve got a ton of really fantastic authors percolating just below the surface who are going to be discovered by the mainstream any minute like Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Laird Barron, and Elizabeth Hand.
SAM: In the same way that 1960s paperbacks cannibalized the past, reprinting Robert E. Howard and Dennis Wheatley, could you see producers looking through your book for inspiration?
GRADY: A few have already gotten in touch with me about just that thing, but the problem is that these books are so rooted in their times that I don’t think there’d be much point in turning them into a modern movie. But that’s just me. I feel like a bunch of people are already flipping through and marking the books they want to adapt into movies.
SAM: How awesome would an HBO series of Blackwater be, for example?
GRADY: Okay, now that would be amazing.
SAM: Finally, and this has just always freaked me out, why is there so much incest in 70’s and 80’s horror?
GRADY: Incest has always been a huge taboo, so I think when a horror novelist wants to be transgressive it’s the first thing they reach for. That said, V.C. Andrews really wanted to give a voice to the voiceless and let people know it’s okay to talk about these things. Incest, or sexual abuse in families, was not a very popular subject in polite company when she started writing, and she put it in her books because, as she said, “There are so many cries out there in the night, so much protective secrecy in families; and so many skeletons in the closets, that no one wants to think about, much less discuss.”
I want to thank Grady again, as he really gave some great answers and even showed me a few new movies to check out! Please grab this book — and look for three Paperbacks from Hell reviews this week!