It’s no secret that the ‘80s were a time of excess. Whether it was the hair styles, the music, the movies or the money, everybody was indulging in something. I missed growing up in the ‘80s, I was a ‘90s kid. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a few things from back then.
One particular industry was absolutely booming back then. With the arrival of Stephen King and others to the forefront of the collective consciousness, horror became a massive industry in both film and literature. It’s from the ‘80s that we get such classics like The Evil Dead and Arachnophobia.
Horror in the ‘80s was filled with blood and guts, it oozed green slime and carried a strange sexual energy that we haven’t really seen since in the world of horror. As such, I thought it would be fun to revisit the paperback horror novel industry of those years and instead of rating the books by quality of prose or plot, let’s pay homage to the decadent splatter-punk style of the cover art. My rules in selecting this list are as follows:
1. They must have been published between 1979 and 1990.
2. The book cover must be exciting and engaging, as well as being quintessentially ‘80s in style.
3. The book must be still available to purchase today.
4. Novels only. No short story collections.
So Join me as we do exactly what we were always told NOT to do – Judge a book by its cover, these are my top 10 Horror Novels from the crazy 1980s’.
10. Spawn Of Hell By William Schoel
Starting off our list is the 1984 novel by film historian William Schoel, Spawn of Hell. The novel tells the story of what happens when a crazed scientist teams up with a big business corporation to create a species of mutant creatures with an insatiable lust for human flesh. Spawn of Hell makes the list for its very ‘80s B-grade horror title and font, as well as the chilling graphic of the aforementioned mutant species peeking from out of the manhole. The cheesy catchphrase on the cover also made this a yes in my books.
9. The Cats By Nick Sharman
Nick Sharmans' The Cats continues our theme of mad scientists and devilish experiments. This time a scientist’s study on bacteria goes awry when a heat wave activates something horrific inside his test subject – his pet cat. Judging by the catchphrase on the cover, what follows is a “screaming, clawing, horror.” Published slightly before the start of the ‘80s in 1979, the cover image of a demonic skull-cat licking its paw is what earns its position on our list.
8. Pet Semetary By Stephen King
A classic story of horror, Published in 1983, Pet Semetary marks the first edition on our list from the master of horror Stephen King, Pet Semetary follows a young family whom are forced to make use of cursed graveyard to raise a particular character from the dead, with horrifying results. Ignoring how terrifying this story is, it’s made the list today because of the Cat on the cover, and I like cats.
7. Cat’s Eye By William W. Johnstone
More Cats! Let's face it, they're scary creatures. Direct from Cat’s Eye’s Good Reads page: “Soft cat noises drift through the home of a romance author. Her bodyguard--one of the few survivors of the hushed-up events in Ruger County--recognizes them as demon sounds. He begins a battle of nerves and strength against the most terrifying evil of all.” How can you not love a story like this? The cover art is utterly terrifying, especially in a world where furry butt-plugs are now a thing, I mean – where is that tail even coming from?
6. The Wood By Guy N. Smith
First published in 1987, The Wood by Guy N. Smith is a classic tale of a haunted forest teeming with eldritch horrors. Obviously ripping on the artwork design for 1981’s Evil Dead, this pulp-horror novel is a prime example of the ‘80s zombie-styled undead monsters that frequented the novels that came out around the same time.
5. The Fungus By Harry Adam Knight
A precursor to modern day virus horror, Harry Adam Knights’ The Fungus regards strange mushroom-like growths that begin to appear on people, causing them to have inhuman desires. The cover is terrifying with its use of fungal decay on a human face and calls to mind Naughty Dog’s recent The Last of Us game, where fungus is the source of a zombie plague that wipes out the earth.
4. The Morgow Rises! By Peter Tremayne
1982’s The Morgow Rises! By Peter Tremayne incorporates every B-grade horror trick you can think of to tell a story of giant murderous worms. The gore and creature design on the cover is suitably exploitative and gratuitous even if the story itself is reportedly not very good.
3. Beneath Still Waters By Mathew J. Costello
Getting near the end of our list now, Beneath Still Waters is about a town that fifty years prior was flooded under two hundred feet of water along with its dark secrets. Now, on the anniversary of the disaster, a visiting journalist is about to discover those secrets and something evil that exists alongside them. The punk-looking underwater ghosts, swimming towards the reader on the front cover are definitely eye-catching and convey the tone of this novel.
2. They Thirst By Robert R. McCammon
At No. 2 we have They Thirst by Robert R. McCammon, a horror epic the details the takeover of Los Angeles by Vampires. The artwork on this cover is stunningly creepy, the colors creating an exciting experience for the reader before the delve into the greater work. The creepy seductive style of the artwork puts They Thirst at number two on my list.
1. It By Stephen King
The Horror Master returns with his Magnus Opus – It. The one thousand plus paged epic follows a group of friends through childhood and then again as adults, fighting against an insidious otherworldly creature that prefers to appear to its victims as a pale faced, red nosed clown. This cover makes number one on my list simply because of how utterly terrifying the cover art is. For anyone who’s read the book, you’ll know the cover as a freeze frame shot of a pretty scary introductory scene in the novel where the main character’s little brother is taken by the creature, dragged into the sewers. The art also gives us a fantastic example of the ‘80s cartoony horror illustrations that us in the horror fandom know and love.
Let me know what I’ve missed! What would be in your top 10? Have you read any of these books? What do you think of them? Let me know in the comments below.