If you look at my book collection, you're likely to come away thinking of one word: movies. I estimate that at least 75% of my collection consists of novelizations, screenplays, non-fiction accounts of this or that movie, horror movie guides (including - plug alert - my own!), etc. The rest is primarily horror novels; Stephen King of course takes up a big part of that section (in fact, King gets his own separate bookcase), but there are a number of horror novels I amassed over the years from the likes of Clive Barker and Brian Keene, including a number of titles that - bringing things together - were the basis for a number of major horror films. If they weren't turned into movies I probably wouldn't have the Hannibal Lecter books or The Exorcist on my shelf, as those literary sub-genres (serial killer/demonic possession, respectively) aren't exactly my cup of tea; just as with movies, things about evil children and killer animals are more my speed, so it's very possible I WOULD own Peter Benchley's Jaws even if it wasn't turned into one of the greatest movies of all time.
By nature these books don't take up too much space on their own - King is the only who never got the memo that it was OK to keep your horror novels to a couple hundred pages or so. But over the past couple months, that section of my bookshelf has expanded and is now overflowing thanks to Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks From Hell, which shined a long overdue spotlight on the horror fiction craze that lasted through the '70s and '80s. Highlighting cover artists as well as authors, Hendrix walks us through a number of sub-genres - "Real Estate Nightmares", "Weird Science", and yes, "Creepy Kids" are a few of the chapter titles - and the story of each chapter is often the same: someone writes a book that becomes a bestseller (and often a movie, natch), and its sucess inspires untold numbers of ripoffs, each more insane than the last. So when David Seltzer's The Omen becomes a phenomenon, we get the likes of Bob Randall's The Next ("Love can turn a boy into a man, but evil can do it faster") and Edmund Plante's Seed of Evil - both of which I picked up within days of reading Hendrix's brief descriptions. Alan Ryan's Panther! and George Wells' Taurus (in which older bulls, no longer able to fight, get stoned and go on a killing spree, ripping off men's scrotums with their horns and impaling women with their large penises) might not exist if not for Jaws, and VC Andrews inspired, well, "VC Andrews". See, the author struck a chord with audiences but unfortunately died after only writing a handful of novels, so ghost writer Andrew Neiderman was hired to continue her various series and still puts them out to this day, 32 years after her death.
As I went through the book, I kept an ever-growing list of titles that sounded worth hunting down, usually because they sounded completely bonkers. The one I zeroed in on almost instantly was called Voice of the Clown, which promised a Cathy's Curse-ian tale of a little girl who was taking deadly advice from her doll (a clown one in this case) as she wages psychological warfare with her mother. Hendrix said that of all of the books he read during his research for the book it was the only one to make his jaw actually drop (presumably for a scene where the little girl stabs her infant sibling), so naturally I wasted no time looking for it. I prefer to find these things in the wild instead of "cheating" and buying off the internet, but after checking a few stores around and coming home empty-handed (well, so to speak - I would just buy others), I finally allowed eBay to come to the rescue, and it is currently next on my to-read list. A little further down that pile is Dead White, from Panther! author Ryan, in which a train full of killer clowns is sprung loose on a snowbound community in upstate New York, another one I gave up hope of finding in one of the local shops and bought from an online seller.
My collection thus far.
Part of the reason I prefer to find them on the shelf or in a box at a used book store or library sale is because they tend to be cheaper than buying online. Once I trained my eyes to scan past the plethora of Dean Koontz and John Saul books that infest these things, I've been lucky enough to find a number of Hendrix's highlighted titles for two bucks or less - sometimes they're only a quarter! It's the ultimate "one man's trash is another man's treasure" deal, really - these libraries and stores just want to reduce clutter, and there probably aren't a lot of people looking to find weirdo evil child books from the early '80s when they go to these sales. Also, the nice old ladies that frequently run these sales haven't caught on to the increased interest in some of these titles. One of the more eyebrow raising titles in the book is Let's Go Play At The Adams', which sounds like an even more horrifying (read: trashy) account of the terrible Sylvia Likens case - it routinely goes for around a hundred dollars online, but I've had people tell me they found it for 10-15 bucks prior to Hendrix giving it a spotlight. I found The Devil's Kiss from William Johnstone for 50 cents - much better than the 70 dollars or so I'd pay on Amazon's third party market.
Now, all of the above titles are ones I never heard of and probably never would have, but PFH has also served as a reminder that a lot of the nutty movies I watched for Horror Movie A Day were based on even nuttier books. We tend to think of the big guns when we consider major horror movies that were based on novels (your Stephen King films, Rosemary's Baby, etc.), but there are just as many if not more that were based on obscure books, and a number of the films followed suit and went under the radar. As obscure films were my bread and butter for the site, I was always intrigued when I'd discover one of those strange little movies were adapted from a novel that, for all I know, was even more batshit crazy. And in a good number of those reviews you'll find me saying something like "I will check out the book to see if (incomprehensible thing from the movie) made more sense on the page," but alas I very rarely made good on those promises. But I had a good excuse - in addition to being a bit of a slow reader, I would of course have to move on to another movie and its subsequent review not long after making that promise, and then another movie after that, and so on - the idea that I'd even remember to go buy the likes of Prophecy* and The Sentinel**, let alone find the time to read them, was absurd.
But I've retired from daily watching/reviewing now, and Hendrix inadvertently inspired me to make good on those promises (and yes, those two were among my early purchases; Sentinel was actually highlighted in the book). Some I even forgot were based on novels, such as The Manitou, which was hands-down one of the craziest movies I ever saw for the site. For those uninitiated with the book or the film, The Manitou tells the story of Karen, a woman who has a tumor on her neck that turns out to be the growing spirit of a 400 year old spirit named Misquamacus. Doctors who try to remove it end up harming themselves, and it takes a mystic named John Singing Rock to drive the spirit out in a battle that appears to take place in outer space. Manitou author Graham Masterton even wrote several sequels (and still does; Plague of the Manitou was released in 2015), expanding the world of Misquamacus that Hollywood denied us the chance to see unfold on the big screen when they opted out of the Manitou business following that one beautiful entry. I was ecstatic when I found a copy in pretty good condition for the princely sum of two dollars, and I can't wait to dive in and see what sort of insanity director William Girdler opted not to - or couldn't - show in his film.
You might have noticed a few "I can't wait to read it next" kind of sentiments and wondered what I'm reading now - it's Pin, from Andrew Neiderman (yep, the guy who took over for VC Andrews). The movie Pin was a solid creepfest about an anatomically correct medical dummy that serves as surrogate family member to a pair of isolated children, given to them by their father, a doctor played by Terry O'Quinn. When their parents die, the now-teenaged siblings start going their separate ways, with the sister trying to have a normal life and the brother becoming more withdrawn, spending his time with Pin, who he has dressed in his clothes and treats as a living thing. Like the original Child's Play, the movie spends some time having you wonder if the doll is really alive or if it's just a psychological break for the young man, and I won't spoil that answer for you but I WILL say that the movie seems to have taken a few detours from the source novel. I haven't finished it yet, so maybe there's a twist coming, but there are a number of things that were only hinted at in the film that are more fleshed out here (including an incestuous relationship between the siblings) so I wouldn't be surprised if the film and book diverged in its final act, either. I only saw the film the one time, back in 2010 (on Netflix Instant, back when their horror selection was interesting) but I remember it fairly well, so the changes stick out more than they usually would if I were to read a book nearly eight years after seeing its adaptation.
But in most cases my memory of the film has faded enough that I can be re-surprised by the plot all over again, and then have a good excuse to rewatch the movie to get a firm idea of what changed in its journey from the page to the screen. Among HMAD entries I've also found The Godsend, Julia (aka Haunting of Julia, recently added to Shudder), and The Keep, a movie that was notoriously troubled and rendered incomprehensible due to hasty re-editing and budget trims, so it'll be fun to read the book if only to know what the hell was going on. As for the others, their productions weren't as infamous, but since they were all notably shocking or "off" in some way, I am assuming (hoping?) that they're all like Pin and were actually toned down a bit for their cinematic translation. Unlike movies, books don't have a ratings system, and could take risks a major studio film never could - so they could be, scientifically speaking, as completely fucking gonzo as the author wished, and the publishers didn't even seem to care much so long as there was something they could work with in order to make an eye-catching cover. And if the book turns out to be rubbish, with the movie actually improving things? It only cost me a buck or two to find out, and I can release it back into the wild for someone else to maybe enjoy (also, I can just give up on it after 50 pages or so if it's not grabbing me, unlike the movies where I had to finish everything in order to make sure I had a movie for the day).
Somehow I doubt that will ever be the case, though. Hendrix (and Will Errickson, who writes the terrific blog Too Much Horror Fiction and was a co-author on Paperbacks From Hell) could spend the rest of their lives writing about the horror novels from this prolific era and still not get to them all, so I have to assume the ones they singled out are indeed memorable enough to at least finish. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure they're not going to leave an impact the way The Shining or Dracula has on countless numbers of horror readers, but since I'm picking them up specifically for their jaw-dropping nonsense and poor taste plot points, I can't imagine I'll care too much if the prose isn't always as exquisite as it is in the books that populate the bestseller lists. No, the sheer nuttiness of these things is all I'm looking for, with their relatively brief length being a big perk (most run 250-300 pages max; I recently read a Mass Effect tie-in novel that was damn near Stephen King sized - it took me longer to read than it did to play the game). And there's no expiration date on adapting a book into a movie - just as Paperbacks inspired me to finally read some of those books that got turned into memorable horror films, perhaps it will inspire a few filmmakers to option the books that no one dared to touch. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to seeing Voice of the Clown turned into a movie someday...
*the killer bear one, not the Christopher Walken angel one.
**the creepy building one, not the Michael Douglas thriller - man they really need to stop re-using so many titles.