Another author I really couldn't care less about, but whose books are perfect examples of the hilarious depths to which 1980s mass-market paperback horror novels could descend to, is William W. Johnstone. A handful of his titles were published in the early 1980s, and resemble the more "artistic" imagery of 1970s bestsellers, but as the decade of excess rolled on, publishers had to come up with more eye-catching tactics, so we get silvery reflective foil-stamped titles, capering skeletons (in slippers!), and even holograms.
Wolfsbane (1982) The cover art at the top is nicely reminiscent of then-current An American Werewolf in London, of course, and still looks like a '70s paperback. The 1987 reprint - by the one and only William Teason - that at least acknowledges wolfsbane is a plant - but bet you didn't know it's given to you by a tri-headed skeleton!
The Nursery (1983) This one is all classic medical thriller, a genre in which I've read precisely nothing. But damn if they weren't once the rage. There's a missing question mark, however, that's driving me crazy.
Sandman (1988) I freaking told you about the skeleton in slippers! You didn't believe me, did you?! Isn't he supposed to be sprinkling dust on the baby? You know, to make it sleep?
Devil's Cat (1987) I remember this one the best from my used bookstore stint, with its freaky hologram Anton LaVey cackling at me. So the devil has a cat. Is that a surprise? What the hell else would he have? Everybody knows a three-headed dog got nothing on a pissed-off cat.
Rockinghorse (1987) This one isn't so outrageous, but someone should've reminded the artist that it's little girls who have skeletons, not little pretend horses.
Jack-in-the-Box (1986) More effin' skulls with bulging eyeballs! Truly a Zebra Books stock-in-trade.
The Uninvited (1982) Two covers for your delectation: the cliched eyeball widened in fright and revulsion, or the cliched skeletal hand showing off its mani in the '87 reprint. Which one would embarrass you more to be caught reading?
Toy Cemetery (1987) Yeah, yeah, we all know which horror novel this is referring to, but at least that one makes sense. I also like that the "evil comes to life" in a toy cemetery. Where else, right?
Cat's Eye (1989) Good God! As they say on the internets, kill it with fire! Or, don't, and let it grow up to attend furry conventions, it'll be a real hit.
Baby Grand (1987) Couldn't be worse than William Joel. Have you listened to any of his non-Greatest Hits records lately? I have. Ain't pretty.
And let's finish up with two so-so covers from the early '80s that are not egregiously trying to rape your eyeballs from the drugstore racks; a cleansing of the palate, if that's not mixing my metaphors too much.
Zebra Books really went all out, didn't they? And these tactics worked - my old bookstore's horror section was filled with this kind of crap, every copy creased and crinkled, obviously read and reread like readers were searching for the secrets of fucking life. Now I realize people just read this stuff as rotten brain candy and passed it on or traded it in, but damn if it didn't irritate my self-righteous 19-year-old ass. I mean, Clive Barker's stuff was right there. Come on people.
Of course I doubt Johnstone had anything to do with choosing any of these covers, but if anyone's read any of his books, can you let me know if he's as bad a writer as I imagine? I'd like to be proven wrong... and add yet more to my to-be-read list.
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