Behold with dismay the tasteless cover art for most of J.N. Williamson's horror output during the 1980s. Published mostly by Leisure and Zebra, he was pretty prolific and won a lifetime achievement award from the Horror Writers of America. Beginning in 1984, Williamson also edited Masques, a series of anthologies that collected the best writers in the horror biz. As for the novels themselves? Never read a word of 'em. More reductive titles that reveal a real poverty of imagination ensure I most likely never will: Horror House? Ghost Mansion? The Evil One? Ghost?! Yikes. What happened to Blood? Spooky House? Scared? It's maddening - and not in the Lovecraftian way.
Above you can see the ridiculousness that is Dead to the World (1988). What the hell? The title, the image, the tagline make not one whit of sense and aren't related whatsoever. But really: a skeleton jogging. Cheap horror paperbacks would try to cash in on any fad.
The Ritual (1979) Which cover would you prefer? The original or the '87 reprint? I like how the T is drilled down into that stoned hippie's head.
The Houngan (1980) Obviously stealing a march from The Manitou, but missing the point: a houngan is simply a priest in the voodoo religion, not some kind of demonic entity, and it's certainly not a genie.
The Offspring (1980) Ironically this cover reminds me of the Dell/Abyss covers. I think it's a mummy.
The Evil One (1981) Standard Zebra Books cover art, and one of the most cliched images in horror: the scary ventriloquist's dummy.
Premonition (1981) The original paperback looks like it's going for those many fans of, uh, Demon Seed and The Entity; the '86 reprint isn't too bad in its utter cheesiness. Poor kid.
Ghost Mansion (1981) Here's a cash-in on another popular horror novel; in this case, Straub's Ghost Story (which I promise I'll get around to rereading and reviewing some day here) I do however like the sorta photo-negative image.
Queen of Hell (1981) Okay, you can't deny the awesomeness of this one.
Horror House (1981) Easily one of the worst horror-fiction paperback covers I've ever seen. Holy moly.
Playmates (1982) That's a little girl and Troy, far as I know, is a boy's name.
Ghost (1984) I love that obvious tagline.
The Longest Night (1985) This title I see quite often in my bookstore hunting. I've nearly bought it several times because I dig this cover; something about skulls with hair totally cracks me up. The conflation of sex and death is a genre mainstay. Hells yeah.
These final four - Death-Coach, Death-Angel, Death-School, Death-Doctor - are from Williamson's Lamia Zacharias series, published in '81 and '82. I could not find anything about them at all as there are no reviews whatsoever on Amazon or Goodreads. However, these covers are not so bad; there's real detail in them, especially in the skull-face on Death-Coach.
Anybody who's read any of these, please, lemme hear your two cents. Is my snark unwarranted? I suppose it wouldn't be the first time.
And special thanks to the Phantom of Pulp, who sent me this cover for The Dentist (1983).
Screenshots: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
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