Since getting back into reading 3 years ago (2019 feels like AGES ago), I’ve been to my fair share of book stores in the surrounding 150 miles or so of my home. I’ve unearthed some amazing gems, ran into nostalgic childhood favorites and discovered some bizarre oddities and fascinating obscurities. Rather than wait to read the whole book and then do a review, I’ve been long meaning to share my random finds in a series of shorter articles entitled IT CAME FROM THE BOOK STORE. I always loved that cheesy old line “It came from so and so,” so I can’t think of a better title for this new series than that! I have thousands of titles to select from, but for my first entry into this brand new series I have to highlight the amazing find I made this past October of 2021. Come with me as I take you back to that fateful day…
PAPERBACKS FROM HELL
In October of 2018, I began dating the woman that would eventually become my wife. We lived 2 hours apart. We alternated weekends driving to each other’s place. Her town had way better book stores than where I live, and that’s how I got back into reading. Fast forward 3 years. October 2021. I visited the Half Price Books in that town and could not believe my eyes when I made my way to their horror section. It was jammed to the gills, packed to the rafters with paperbacks from Hell galore! Someone had apparently unloaded their ENTIRE horror book collection, as upon further examination most of the books had the same old book store stamps from a bygone era. Whoever sold these books to Half Price must have had them stored in the attic or something for the past 30+ years!
Here’s The Midnight Hour by Donald Bacon. Didn’t buy this one because the plot didn’t appeal to me, nor did the many negative reviews. BUT… that gawd damn glorious cover, with the die cut and everything… it’s an all-time classic in terms of horror paperback covers!
Richard Laymon is one of my favorite horror writers to have ever lived. Always a blast to run across one of his cooler covers that does not belong to the lame generic Leisure lineup. Here’s Funland, one of his many kooky and crazy horror stories set in a dilapidated rundown amusement park in some podunk beach town.
Fun fact: Funland was my first 500+ page read of my life. The first of many. Thanks for the memories, Uncle Dicky, and rest in power my man!
J.N. Williamson was another prolific horror writer of the 1980s. I have yet to read any of his work, and word is they’re quite trashy and typically of a lower quality, but it’s hard to talk about “Paperbacks From Hell” without at least giving him a blurb. Just look at those covers. You won’t see anything like that in today’s new horror books. The covers of these old nasties always felt like you were looking at something you shouldn’t be looking at. Very akin to gawking at horror VHS boxes back in the ’80s and early ’90s!
And much like cool horror movie boxes, a lot of the times the actual content failed massively to live up to the cover’s awesomeness. Still, there’s no denying that there’s a certain charm behind it all that is now nearly non-existent in today’s world. You might even say… such old relics are Dead to the World…
Speaking of horror writers from the ’80s, another big one was William W. Johnstone. I haven’t read one of his books yet but I hear this guy is batshit crazy! His books are very lewd and offensive. And I found a good bunch of them, including his infamous DEVIL series, that fateful day at Half Price.
One of the cool things about Half Price is that most of their used books are marked half off. Some aren’t, but these books were still a steal at these prices because the old horror paperbacks can command a pretty penny on the open market. Another nice thing is that Half Price shows the date books were processed into the store’s inventory. I was lucky to visit this location not long after they JUST put these vintage babies on the shelf. The more popular items fly off the shelf fast, so a lot of it comes down to being at the right place at the right time! And on that fateful day, I definitely was.
I’m super ecstatic to kick off this brand new IT CAME FROM THE BOOK STORE series with this amazing haul. Some days I go book shopping and come away empty handed. Other days I find a few goodies. But legendary finds like this only come around once in a blue moon! I walked away with so many infamous and beloved horror paperbacks from the ’80s. I’m sure there’s a fair share of stinkers in here, but I got most of them for $3 or so, and it’s hard to beat that! And what a joy to finally write something under 1,000 words and took me less than an hour to produce! You know, I think I’m going to like this series a whole lot. I hope you will, too. Until next time, take good care!
45 years ago, during that very hot summer of 1976, Night of the Crabs was published and Guy N. Smith’s life would never be the same. Although he had a few horror novels published prior, it was Night of the Crabs that truly put Mr. Smith on the map. As one can surmise from the title, classic literature this ain’t. Oh no, it’s pulpier than hand squeezed orange juice and cheesier than grated Parmesan. And therein lies the beauty for those who are not opposed — or, better yet, inclined — to reading some B-Movie level pulp horror fiction.
In a 2017 reprint, Guy N. Smith reflected on that scorching summer of ’76.
Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away on December 24, 2020. He was 81. I’m sure he’s looking down, smoking his pipe and grinning at the fact that his little book is now celebrating 45 years!
Guy’s hilarious dedication. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!
RIDING THE WAVE
Peter Benchley’s Jaws was published on February 1, 1974. The movie was released on June 20, 1975. Both the book and film were huge successes. The Rats was published in November of 1974 and was a massive hit for James Herbert. These books no doubt inspired Guy N. Smith to write about giant mutated murderous crustaceans. Heck, the front cover of Night of the Crabs proudly declares, “In the tradition of THE RATS.”Just in case anyone thought otherwise.
IT ALL BEGAN WITH AN INNOCENT SWIM
As so often was the formula for many horror books, the first page introduces 2 characters whose eventual and unfortunate demise becomes the start of a nasty chain reaction. The 2 unlucky victims here are Ian Wright and Julie Coles, a pair of hormonal teenage lovers. On a side note, I can’t help but love the British lexicon — “holiday-maker” gets me every single time. Good ol’ Guy.
Buddy, you wish it was just a cramp! The crabs are craving some soft tender human flesh…
Compared to some of Guy’s later works, Night of the Crabs is fairly tame by comparison. Although, Ian Wright might say otherwise — if he could, that is.
We soon meet marine biologist Cliff Davenport, Ian’s uncle. Ian and Julie work for Uncle Cliffy, who becomes increasingly concerned when they fail to show up for work. He begins to fear something more than just “sexual procrastinations.” Perhaps they were involved in some sort of road accident. Before his mind can race to another scenario even worse, there’s a rapping at his door. A pair of officers. Oh bloody hell…
This part is such a heartbreaker. The stark contrast between the relief of the officers and Cliff’s real emotions behind closed doors is so jarring. The air of finality that closes this chapter is crushing. And thus begins our protagonist’s journey at uncovering the truth…
It isn’t long before Cliff meets Pat Benson. Not surprisingly, the two become more than acquaintances with a shared mission. They discover the giant crabs and know that no one will believe them without any proof. It’s time to concoct a plan to secure said proof. I love that this was written in 1976 and not 2021. Had it been the latter, acquiring proof would have been as simple as whipping out your phone. Imagine, mutated killer crabs on TikTok! But back then, with far less technology, things were a lot harder! There’s a palpable sense of struggle and danger that exists because it was written in the age of long ago.
Guy’s writing… it’s not Hemingway but I do find there’s a certain charm to it. His sex-related scenes are perhaps a bit clumsy, admittedly. But he redeems himself with paragraphs like the last one above. I’ve read a lot of crappy to below average horror writers — Guy N. Smith is easily better than the dreck that tried to capitalize on the horror boom of the ’80s.
King Crab, being even bigger than the other crabs (who are said to be the size of cows), is the leader of the cast. Smith portrays King Crab in particular as being a crafty, sentient creature. As if a pissed off giant crab in command of an endless army isn’t bad news enough, now you add brains to the equation and things quickly become catastrophic. And as you can see from the picture above, King Crab is absolutely vicious. Yikes!
Will Cliff Davenport and Pat be able to save the day? What fate will befall King Crab and his minions? Read the book to find out! Guy N. Smith went on to write EIGHT sequels, with the last being The Charnel Caves released in 2019. It’s his most popular series and this first entry is arguably his most (in)famous book. I had a good time with it and zipped through it in just a few days. It’s nothing spectacular, just decent mindless fun. If you’ve never read Guy N. Smith before, know that he’s very direct and to the point. He wrote in a day and age when horror books were not yet stuffed with background detail nor did they have to be 300+ pages. Guy gets you in and out. It makes for a super fast read that you don’t have to commit a lot of time to, or clear out your calendar for. Night of the Crabs is far from his best work but being the book that really launched his career and put him on the map, it’s a must read for any Guy N. Smith enthusiast. Night of the Crabs is the equivalent of a popcorn B-Movie. Or, in the literary world, a “beach read.” How fitting. Now, only eight more Crabs books to read…
2 summers ago on eBay I stumbled upon — quite by happenstance — a trashy horror novel by the name of CANNIBALS. The cover art was so wildly compelling, graphic and politically incorrect that resistance proved futile. Luckily, I was the winning bidder and devoured Cannibals (no pun intended) as soon as it arrived. It was my first foray into the twisted and macabre mind of Guy N. Smith, who upon further research I discovered was a rather prolific writer of pulpy horror fiction. Mr. Smith thrived in the ’70s and ’80s when paperbacks from hell were at the peak of their powers, and Cannibals became the first in a long line of Guy N. Smith books that I soon started collecting. Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away at the age of 81 on December 24, 2020. Similar to Richard Laymon, Guy N. Smith was one of the biggest driving forces in my horror fiction fandom. It’s only fitting then to highlight some of his work and commemorate the man who had one hell of a career. Whether he wrote about killer animals or doomsday plague-infested nightmare scenarios, Guy N. Smith was a true master of the macabre.
CRABS R US
Born on November 21, 1939, Guy Newman Smith has published approximately 4,000 articles and wrote over 120 books during his prolific career. His first horror novel, Werewolf By Moonlight, was published in 1974. However, it was Night of the Crabs, released in 1976, that gave Guy N. Smith his first big hit. Based off James Herbert’s The Rats (the cover admits as much), Night of the Crabs would go on to spawn no less than SEVEN sequels. The last of which was published on June 22, 2019 as The Charnel Caves. Talk about milking a series based on killer mutated crabs!
Night of the Crabs was re-released in 2017 with a new introduction penned by the legend himself.
Guy’s hilarious dedication in Night of the Crabs. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!
MORE THAN JUST CRABS
Although perhaps best known for his Crabs series, Guy N. Smith wrote about more than just murderous crustaceans. Take, for example, his brutal take on cannibalism with the aptly (and creatively) named Cannibals. Do not read it before eating! Trust me on that one.
If rain-soaked creepy carnivals and possessed evil wooden dolls float your boat, you might want to check out Guy’s Manitou Doll. Personally, I found it slightly disappointing but your mileage may vary. Undeniably striking and amazing artwork, though!
According to the summary on Goodreads, Bloodshow is about “a ruined castle in the Highlands that serves as a blatant tourist trap. Its dungeons are stuffed with fake horrors. The Werewolf, the Cannibal, the Torturer, the Executioner, the Vampire… all are worked by electricity for cheap thrills. At first. But real evil has lurked for centuries beneath the vaults. Now the Laird of Benahee, Satan’s undead henchman, rises to take his revenge, using tricks to inflict ultimate horror in all its forms. And in this domain of the damned even death is not the end…” Sounds absolutely vicious and bonkers. In other words, sounds like Guy N. Smith.
I just bought this book the other day! Can’t wait to read it. The Festering sounds like a classic B-Movie in the best way possible. One of those trashy VHS horror movie boxes you couldn’t help but gawk at while perusing the horror section at your local rental store back in the late ’80s. “For Mike and Holly Mannion, the tumbledown cottage in a quiet country village seemed the ideal retreat from the rat race. But when a team of contractors is hired to drill a water-well, a deadly plague is unleashed — a macabre, terrifying entity that had lurked in the bowels of the earth for centuries. The Festering Death had risen from its burial place.” Sounds like a fun lazy Sunday afternoon read!
When it comes to “when animals attack” stories, Guy N. Smith was pretty damn reliable. From the ones I’ve read thus far, most of them hit the mark. Some of that stuff is legit nightmare fuel! I haven’t read Abomination yet, but I’ve heard this is one of his better works.
Alligators is currently my second favorite Guy N. Smith book, trailing only Cannibals by a small margin. That book is relentless, sadistic and demented. That one scene with the family stuck in bed with the little leaping snapping baby alligator haunts me to this day. Snakes, on the other hand, was the first Guy N. Smith killer animal book that didn’t quite work for me. It’s not bad but it felt a little paint-by-numbers, especially when compared to Alligators. Still decent, but definitely more middle-of-the-road fare.
The savagery continues in Throwback, where much of the population is somehow reverted to more primitive means, with a few “lucky” unaffected trying to survive the mayhem. Carnivore flips the script — the hunted now becomes the hunter. Wildlife gets its revenge on a cursed estate.
The Island is about a haunted island plagued with a sordid history. 200 years later, a lonely widower moves there and all manner of madness hits the fan when the past comes barging back.
Thirst follows the exploits of chemist Ron Blythe, the man responsible for creating the world’s deadliest weed killer spray. While being transported in a huge lorry, it accidentally crashes into a local reservoir, poisoning the entire water supply of Birmingham. “Now with thousands of people suffering and dying, his conscience forces him to find an antidote. Unfortunately, he gets stranded inside Birmingham, now sealed off, and full of anarchists, escape criminals and weed killer-poisoned sufferers from the Thirst, all of which turn the city into a hell inside England.”
I love the back covers for these old nasties! Thirst was originally published in 1980. You won’t find novels like this in book stores today.
One of his earliest efforts and arguably his most (in)famous novel outside of the Crabs series, The Slime Beast is what sleazy pulpy horror fiction is all about. The summary is enough to evoke nostalgic memories of staying up late as a kid watching low budget monster horror movies. “Professor Lowson is searching the Wash for King John’s lost treasure. Instead he awakes a reptilian creature buried in the mud, which seems to have arrived on this planet in a meteorite. It starts wandering around, killing and eating anybody it comes across. Lowson wants to capture it alive but his companions want to kill it before it kills anyone else. Soon the locals are involved — there can only be a catastrophic finale.”
The Sucking Pit sports a proud blurb in which Stephen King once deemed it “the all-time pulp horror classic title.” This is, admittedly, a bit of tricky advertising. Title can easily be interpreted as book, as in this is a classic book. But King literally meant title. The Sucking Pit. A great title, indeed. But a great book? Your mileage may vary.
It’s as suitably ridiculous as the title would suggest. Good ol’ Guy. His seedy material would never fly in today’s politically correct world. These sadistic stories serve as mini time machines, transporting the reader back to a relic age when there were no restrictions and no holds barred. A fair warning though, and this goes for Richard Laymon as well: after reading any one of Guy’s works, I find I need a palate cleanser. Don’t read his stuff back to back because you may tumble down a rabbit hole and never resurface. His twisted tales can get pretty damn depraved. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…
In 2019, while rummaging at a local Goodwill, I came across a Guy N. Smith book. But it wasn’t a horror book… oh no… it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
Yes, believe it or not, in addition to his horror novels, he also wrote various Disney adaptations. What a funny guy, that Guy!
On March 27, 2020, Guy N. Smith wrote an interesting post on his website. It related to the Corona Virus and his old 1978 book, Bats Out of Hell. Take a look…
Wow. Please, may none of Guy’s other horror novels ever come to fruition. If I ever see a giant crab clicking its way to shore, I’m booking it. Screw that shit!
This is the comment I left him on that same post. Sadly, a day before Christmas 2020 Guy N. Smith left the world due to a UTI and complications related to COVID-19. Mr. Smith was 81 years old. So sad at the irony that COVID-19 would take him out.
Guy N. Smith’s legacy lives on. He was huge on crafting books about apocalyptic plagues and killer nasties. For better or worse, no one churned them out at the rate quite like he did in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a unique time in horror history, one in which we’ll probably never experience again. Thankfully, we can still experience them by going through the incredible backlog of books that he has afforded us horror hounds. I currently own 17 Guy N. Smith books, and have not read most of them yet. It will be a (guilty) pleasure to go through each of them in the years to come. His books do pop up on eBay frequently, so check some out if you’re into pulpy horror fiction. He isn’t the greatest horror writer who ever lived and probably not even close, but he sure was damn entertaining. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, really.
Today marks 20 years since the unfortunate and untimely passing of one of horror’s most prolific writers, Richard Laymon. On February 14, 2001, Mr. Laymon sadly left this world far too soon, dying at the tender age of 54. To honor his amazing legacy and life, I can’t think of a better time than now to share some memories and highlights. So whether you’re brand new to Laymon’s lunacy or a long time fan, sit back and grab a cold one. This one’s for you, Uncle Dicky!
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Ever since the ripe age of 6 — when I first experienced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween — I have been a huge fan of horror. Naturally, that love carried into the mid ’90s with R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumpsbooks.
Following Goosebumps, the next logical evolution was Fear Street. R.L. Stine wrote this series for a teenage audience. I had a blast reading these books, especially The Babysitter and its sequels. Fond memories of reading Hit and Run in one sitting late one summer night in 1995.
Given my history with horror, one might assume the next step to be venturing out with adult horror books, such as Stephen King’s It. Except I didn’t. By the time I hit high school in the fall of 1997, I stopped reading for leisure and only read to fulfill class assignments and essays. Reading — something I once loved dearly — became strictly perfunctory.
Fast forward over 20 years to April of 2019. Randomly visiting a Goodwill by my girlfriend’s place 2 hours out of town, I hit the mother lode. Displayed enticingly before me on the shelf were over 50 R.L. Stine horror books. And just like that, I was back in.
2 short months later, in the summer of 2019, I did a random search for horror books on eBay. Came across CANNIBALS by Guy N. Smith. Up to this point in my life, I had yet to read an adult horror novel. I knew right away that Cannibals had to be the one to pop my cherry. It was, and it was glorious.
Suddenly, the floodgates opened. The summer of 2019 began my obsession with buying and reading as many vintage horror paperbacks as I could. Books like SPIDERS by Richard Lewis spooked the shit out of me, and I couldn’t get enough.
Sure, there were some disappointments along the way, such as Guy N. Smith’s MANITOU DOLL. But I loved the fantastic art of these (cheesy) vintage horror paperbacks from hell, and I loved hunting for the next great creepy read.
Enter Richard Laymon. In July of 2019, I was browsing the horror aisle at a mom and pop book shop and came across THE CELLAR. I had been reading online and the name “Richard Laymon” had crossed my desk more times than once. I picked it up, recalling that the word on the street was that Richard Laymon isn’t for the faint of heart. And boy, were they not kidding.
A week or so later, I won a lot of Richard Laymon books off eBay. One of the books was The Woods Are Dark. It was the first Laymon book I read. It was graphic, insane and read like a trashy 1980s slasher movie. Admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it certainly left an impression.
In September of 2019, I struck gold when I won a massive lot of 39 Richard Laymon novels. As the auction title suggested, it was an “instant collection.” I remember making an $87 offer, so with shipping it would be just under $100. The seller was nice enough to accept, and I won the whole shebang for $99.63 (this was right before eBay started taxing winning bidders). $2.55 a pop? Sign me up!
I remember the day the package came. My heart raced a bit faster when I got home from work and saw that big brown box sitting gloriously on the porch. Opening it felt like Christmas morning! There were so many books that the seller organized them in two layers. Here’s the top…
And here’s the bottom. The rest of that year I started devouring Richard Laymon novels like crazy. One a month, sometimes two. Although many of his books are over 400 pages, because of the plentiful dialogue and the crazy plot points that move briskly, those pages (often times) fly by rather fast!
From that picture I’ve read One Rainy Night, To Wake the Dead, and The Beast House (sequel to The Cellar — the first Laymon book I bought). Of those 3, I enjoyed To Wake the Dead the most — it’s a creepy story about an ancient mummy that comes back to life and wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting community! Throw in a ludicrous sub-plot about the (really) dark side of human beings and you have a truly horrific and harrowing read!
From this pile I’ve read Out Are the Lights, The Woods Are Dark (the version in the picture above is the unedited edition), Endless Night and The Traveling Vampire Show. My wife and I are currently reading Darkness, Tell Us. That one involves a Ouija board and some college kids. As you can expect, much mayhem ensues. The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age novel that’s often lauded by many horror fans. I was actually somewhat disappointed in TVS. I thought it would be a lot more epic but it ended up being a bit uneven.
I’ve read In the Dark, Night Show, and After Midnight. In the Dark is easily my favorite of this pile. It’s about a quiet librarian who one evening discovers a note offering her some cash in exchange for completing a simple task. As one might guess, the tasks get increasingly more complex and dangerous as the cash offerings go up. Not to mention… is the “Game Master” even human at all… or is it some kind of monstrous demon? It is a very unsettling read at times. Laymon, at his best, paints these horrific and vivid images in your brain that you’ll NEVER forget.
The last pile I’ve read Island, Funland, Bite, Come Out Tonight, The Cellar and Night in the Lonesome October. NitLO is hands down my favorite Richard Laymon horror book of all time. I don’t think anything will ever top that, or even come close. You can read my review for more. One of the most atmospheric and addicting books I’ve ever read. Funland takes place in a beach town and involves a corrupt amusement park. “The Trolls” are running roughshod and people are disappearing after dark. A local gang of teenagers decide to take matters into their own hands and do some investigating. But has this group of vigilantes bitten off more than they can chew? The climax is all sorts of trippy and insane. A lot of people love Funland but it had some pacing issues for me. Still, definitely a fun Laymon entry. Also notable for being the first 500+ page book I ever read!
But my favorite book in that pile, and my second overall favorite Laymon novel thus far, is COME OUT TONIGHT. This book is just a notch below Night in the Lonesome October for me. It captured the seedy streets of Los Angeles perfectly. Check out this bat shit crazy plot: it’s one of LA’s most scorching summer nights. Duane and Sherry are about to get it on, but there’s no condom. So Duane goes down to the local 7-11 and never returns. Sherry, sensing that something terrible has happened, ventures out into the muggy and sweltering LA night… what she finds will change her life forever. Very underrated and reads just like a movie. You can almost see every single scene unfolding in your head and it’s just magic when a writer can do that!
BTW, Island is my wife’s favorite. I enjoyed that one, too. It’s brutal, and if it wasn’t made clear to you yet, just know that Laymon isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of potential trigger warnings. Rape and a heavy focus on women’s breasts are pretty much in all his novels. Every book of his has the word “rump” in it many times over. He had a very distinct writer’s voice, and you can tell a Laymon book almost right away. No one wrote like how he did.
Although the horror world lost Richard Laymon all too awfully soon, his legacy lives on with his 40+ published books. So far I’ve read about 20 of them, with my top 3 favorites being Night in the Lonesome October, Come Out Tonight and In the Dark. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of 2 star duds. Bite was a sack of shit and Out Are the Lights was a bad day at the office for ol’ Uncle Dicky. But for the most part, his books are entertaining and wild. If you have any interest in horror at all, I recommend reading a few of his works before all is said and done. I especially recommend Night in the Lonesome October. That one MUSTbe read exclusively at night. I often wish I could go back and read that one for the first time again.
It’s been 20 years now since Richard Laymon’s passing. And yet the horror community still raves about his work and he is often recommended in horror book recommendation topics. It’s not hard to see why. I’m sad knowing I’ve already gone through half his catalog. I will certainly savor the last 20 or so Laymon books I have yet to read over the next 10-15 years. I hope this article inspires you to pick up a Laymon book in the near future. Happy reading!