Thursday, May 26, 2011

John Halkin: The '80s Paperback Covers

Who, you say, is John Halkin? Honestly, I have no idea. Really. None of the internets could help me find anything about him but that he was born in 1927. Fortunately before slipping into an utter and a completely deserved obscurity he bestowed upon us several British pulp-horror novels that were graced with some of the cheesiest and most ludicrous cover art of the day. They're almost not even funny. Would you wanna be caught reading one of these monstrosities?! Ha. Were the titles Guts, Gore, and Gross already taken?

The art is on par with an eighth-grader creating his imaginary tattoos in art class. The titles were inspired by, I'm sure, the infamous '76 flick Squirm, while the plots seem to be sub-James Herbert style monster mayhem, with populations of innocents bedeviled by creepy-crawlies like mutant jellyfish, legless lizards, and ravenous caterpillars. All three in this "series" - Slither, Slime, and Squelch - were published first in the UK by Hamlyn, and then reprinted in the mid-1980s in the States by some publisher called Critic's Choice. Of course they were!

Okay, one last one before I go: Bloodworm! Actually, this cover's more like it, that's some serious bad-assery going on there. Cover design looks like something Tor would've published, and those eyes of obsidian are appropriately unholy. Years ago I had some copies of Halkin's stuff at the old bookstore I worked at but I'll tell you, there was so much sleaziness emanating from them I kinda didn't want to even touch them. Just ick. But certainly that can't be as bad as all that. So I must ask: Anybody read any of these?


Anonymous said...

Wow. Not a single blurb on any of them. No vague Stephen King rave, not even a humble snatch of praise from some equally obscure source. I would've expected to see at least, for instance,

".... GREAT..."--Arnold V. Whistler, author of HELLSCREAM

or something similar. But... nada. This means something. This is important.

Will Errickson said...

That is an excellent point, and one I should have made.

Unknown said...

Pass the mashed potatoes.

On a side-note: Love that Slime cover.

Luis said...

I've never heard of John Halkin but I've got to hand it to him for creating his own horror niche - "slimy horror".

Zwolf said...

Ah, I always had a soft spot for John Halkin!

Of course, some might say that soft spot was my head... but, there's something really lovable about his trashy gore-laden critter-fiction. I remember taking Squelch with me in college to read in the library between classes. I'd never read anything like it. And it was kind of fun toting the book to my literature classes along with my T.S. Eliot and what-not. Good to see somebody else remembers him. You have to admire the panache of anybody who'd try to pass off a novel about walking jellyfish on the reading public.

Harry Adam Knight used to turn out some similar sleaze-trash, also fun.

Mac Campbell said...

I may have read one of them and forgotten; those covers look familiar.
From the same era is 'Spawn of Hell', by William Schoell. Similar ick factor as those Halkin books. I hated it when I was kid, and read it again whenever I wanted a good mad-on.
Incidentally, why does my damn iPhone autocorrect 'hell' into 'he'll'? Is there something wrong with the word 'hell'?

Midnyte Reader said...

The first comment is funny as is the one about eighth grade tattoo art. (Ha!). I think the creatures on Squelch are cute.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I suffered no embarrassment reading Halkin's books -- or Schoell's SPAWN OF HELL.

Someone will need to explain book shame to me because I don't comprehend.

I've never given a shit what anybody thinks. Such shame surely prevents access to many wonderful things.

I enjoyed SLIME a great deal. His work is consciously B-movie, but he writes/wrote with a quick pace and macabre sense of humor.

The caterpillars of SQUELCH are well worth visiting. As a collector of them when I was a lad, the book resonated. Well written B-grade pulp. Still not as wonderfully lurid as EAT THEM ALIVE, the granpappy of all pulp horror, but good nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Never had the pleasure of finding any of Mr. Halkin's work unfortunately. But, I can assure you as an unapologetic fan of those types of "British Nasties" back in their heyday, I'd have surely grabbed them all had I found them.
Which actually brings to mind a very fond memory of mine of one of my frequent trips to Maine back in the late '80s-early '90s. When I made one of my ubiquitous visits to the local Mr. Paperback store in the small town of Millinocket.
Mr. Paperback is a small local chain of stores in Maine that often carries stuff that other corporate stores would likely never bother with. Such as the British import genre paperbacks in discussion.
I was in my glory as they had a bunch of books by Harry Adam Knight & others. Each more over the top & lurid that the next. It was awesome!
I didn't always have to make a trip all the way up to the farthest reaches of New England in order to get my fix of "British Nasties" though, as living in the Buffalo area I'm just minutes away from the Canadian border & some of the bookstores up there carry quite a bit of UK product.
This was how I was able to keep up with all of Richard Laymon's novels back then, when he didn't have a steady publisher for his work here in the States. It's also how I discovered the work of Simon Clark & others as well.


Justin S. Davis said...

I'm late to the party, but a link at the bottom of the most recent Hector Garrido post sent me here.

Would you believe that Slither cover has been haunting me for decades?!! That graphic has been burned in my brain.

I read both Slither and Slime as a teen in the 80s, but could never remember their titles or author. All I had to go on was "lizards in the plumbing" and "jellyfish in the plumbing". You've made my day!

And, yes, the books were pretty damned sleazy. While I could be completely misremembering, I believe the slith-izards invaded a woman's bath and devoured her groin-first. Classy!

Ramsey Campbell said...

Halkin was the pseudonym of someone quite high up in BBC arts production in the early eighties. I'm not sure if I ever got his real name, but I did buy a tale of his for NEW TERRORS. Sadly, Sonny Mehta at Pan knocked it out of the manuscript, along with a couple of others.

Baron von Wasteland said...
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Baron von Wasteland said...

Thanks for the interesting factoid, Ramsey. My teenage self was an ardent fan of Halkin's work. It's good to know that you, a discerning author and editor, bought one of his stories. Having read him, you may know that his prose wasn't nearly as bad as the covers of his books (which were really quite fun) might suggest.

Grey Frequency said...
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Grey Frequency said...

Some UK versions of Halkin's book covers here:

Dowder said...

I recently discovered that all three books in the "Slime" series are now available for download through Kindle and, I'm sure, other devices. I have two of these in paperback and thoroughly enjoyed them back in the 80's. No pretense of high-art, but compulsively readable and technically proficient. Very Guy N. Smithy, if you ask me (though with the sex toned down some). High recommended!

Tanjian said...

Currently enjoying your anthology, "Fine Frights" Mr Campbell. This is flanked by "Dark Companions" and "Waking Nightmares". Thank you.

TheFrazz80 said...

I'm right in the middle of reading a Halkin novel called 'The Unholy'. It's about this creepy arm some guy finds in a cave under a church just outside of Strausbourg in France, think of 'thing' from the Adams family and your not a million miles off.... except this thing is described as being all brown, thick & rough like tree bark. Now, what this arm does is it spots an unlucky host, flys through the air and latches onto his arm with a vice-like grip, then proceeds to rip off said arm only to attach and skin graft itself onto him! Pretty fucked up so far right? It gets worse - once it's attached itself to its host it then uses the person to go on a big killing spree all over the place. The end. So sooooo many questions spinning round my head already and I'm not even half way through yet - the most obvious one being why the hell does it bother attaching itself to anyone? It's completely mobile, it could save itself the hassle and time of using a body and just fly about killing random people.....anyway, who am I to judge? All I'm saying here is there's glaring issues surrounding the content. All that being said, I actually love stuff like this! My favorite horror story is a book written by English author Shaun Hutson called 'Deathday' which is just as cheesy and brilliant - even if you can smash gaping holes in the storyline & its characters! If you like Halkin and haven't tried Hutson then check him out, and if you haven't read the unholy yet then we'll, just haven't lived!! Peace out homies xxx

K. White said...

Dumb question (and I apologize for the necro post), but having seen the cover for "Slither" in "Paperbacks From Hell", was James Gunn's 2006 movie based on it?