Despite its generally frowned-upon reputation, the horror genre has a rich history in the publishing world. Ever since the idea of cheaply published fiction came into being, spooky stories have been one its staples. Its commercial fortunes may wax and wane but the fun of getting creeped out by eerieness on the printed page has proven itself to be timeless – and there are stacks upon stacks of pulp horror magazines and paperbacks to prove the point.
Delving into such a densely-populated world can be daunting for newcomers but the good news is vintage pulp horror has a healthy crop of fans, all eager to share their knowledge and recommendations. For example, consider The Collected Pulp Horror, Vol. 1. This collects material from the first three issues of Pulp Horror, one of several vintage-print enthusiast ‘zines published by the prolific Justin Marriott. In the articles collected in this reprint, you get to explore an interesting cross-section of topics that illustrate the many flavors of experience in the pulp horror world.
In a move that might be controversial with some readers, The Collected Pulp Horror, Vol. 1 does not contain the full contents of all three issues it covers. Marriott has pruned a few interviews from the third issue and done some additional editing on other pieces. If that offends the sensibilities of hardcore collector types, it’s worth mentioning that he also added three bonus interviews from his archives to flesh the package that make a pretty decent tradeoff for the aforementioned edits.
The material from the first issue focuses mainly on feature reviews of different books: subjects include Dagon by Fred Chappell, a famous Cthulhu Mythos homage that mixes in modern levels of sexuality and masochism, and Ritual, a novel by that is considered by David Pinner that is considered to be the uncredited inspiration for the film The Wicker Man. You also get a few magazine-themed pieces: there’s an in-depth look at Strange Tales, a competitor to the more famous Weird Tales and Vampire Horror Roman, a long-running German horror fiction magazine.
The bonus inclusion in this section is a 2003 interview with Michel Parry, an editor famous to European horror fans for his work in creating anthologies of the genre. His story is an epic tale that also includes everything from pioneering work in the ‘zine field to a brief stint working for American International Pictures. It’s the stuff of horror fanboy dreams come true and lifelong fans of the genre are likely to find it charming.
The second issue was built around a theme of science fiction in horror and offers the best material of the collection in Schlockmania’s estimation. There are some fantastic retrospective pieces here: there’s an article that explores science fiction short stories and novels with a strong horrific bent that covers everything from “Who Goes There” to Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive-In and a nifty piece exploring how A.E. Van Vogt’s invention the “bug eyed monster” subgenre had a big ripple effect through sci-fi writing, comics and films. You also get in-depth looks at cult novels like The Puppet Masters and Damnation Alley that blend an appreciation for their importance with a clear-eyed assessment of their flaws and quirks.
The bonus interview for this section is a chat with Guy N. Smith and it’s a delight. Smith is infamous in horror circles for his quickly written and gleefully trashy paperback originals, most notably his popular series of Killer Crabs novels, and he discusses his history in an unpretentious, sometimes raffishly funny manner. His recollections vividly depict an era when a pulp writer capable of banging out prose by the pound could make a solid middle class living at it.
The material from issue three was also built around a theme: in this case, it was devoted to genre reissue publisher Valancourt Books. Books covered here include The Godsend, a “killer kid” novel from Bernard Taylor with a subtly chilling approach, and Cold Moon Over Babylon, a novel from Michael McDowell that mixes Southern Gothic with horror. Elsewhere, you get interesting author overview pieces on John Blackburn, a writer who blended horror and sci-fi themes with experimental adventurousness and Charles Birkin, a specialist in short stories with a cruel edge whose work still divides readers.
The bonus interview in this section is with Robert Lory, an author famous with paperback horror fans for his work on the Dracula and Horrorscope series published by Pinnacle Books. He looks back on his time in the pulp mines with a cheerfully bent sense of humor.
To sum up, The Collected Pulp Horror, Vol. 1 is a solid deal for fans of horror in print form. The writing is consistently sharp and insightful, the interviews are all entertaining and the cost-effective package delivers 130 pages of reading for just seven bucks at Amazon. Like the pulps that inspired its contents, this delivers plentiful bang for your bucks.