"The Death of Horror Publishing"
So, Ira Levin and Dark Shadows and The Exorcist and Tom Tryon and even Night Gallery all happened, and supermarket Gothics were still going strong in the early '70s, and so some groundwork was laid for a number of writers to actually make a career of horror-fiction writing by the mid '70s...and a few started doing better than that. Stephen King is the obvious person to think of, but he wasn't on his own, even if he did seem to be more talented (if not always applying that talent, in fact frequently coasting) than such peers on the bestseller lists as John Saul and V. C. Andrews and James Herbert and Anne Rice. And publishers, as is their wont, noted that there seemed to be gold to mine...so established horror lines, sometimes as tentative extensions of their sf or fantasy lines, as did Ballantine/Del Rey by 1978...while others created huge lines full of black or foil-covered paperbacks, such as particularly Tor, which had a line which featured some of the best work in the field and some rather undistinguished, and Zebra, which had Rick Hautala and a whole horde of terrible writers, including the V.C. Andrewsish Ruby Jean Jensen.
Thus the 1980s horror boom...wherein a few writers, including Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, and a slightly retooled Dean Koontz, were able to find sustained readership, even if they, like King, seemed to move away from writing horror per se rather quickly...and King's occasional collaborator, Peter Straub, was more than anyone else out of the boom able to gain a certain cache with critics not familiar with most of the better writers of horror. By the end of the '80s, the lines were mostly dead or dying (Tor and Zebra not only were the most enthusiastic publishers in the boom, but also among the diehards), and horror as a publishing category was suddenly non grata..."dark fantasy," "extreme suspense," "thriller" and other terms were dusted off or created, even as the current resurgence in supernatural romance began to gather. Dell bucked the trend with the innovatively packaged Abyss line, but that was a shortlived experiement...a few companies, such as the small Carroll and Graf, kept horror lines in place, and the likes of the Del Rey editions of Lovecraft retained their horror tags (and Borders Book Shops kept the small horror sections in their stores, even though they like their competitors mixed a lot of horror into their other category sections).
So...any number of good and even important books were released in this flood, and even these three, one a bestseller and the other two already considered classic as well as highly influential in some quarters, are all, incredibly to me, out of print...all perhaps in part as a result from appearing late in the gush.
Douglas Winter is an often brilliant if not particularly prolific fiction writer, and a rather prolific nonfiction writer; he has published important collections of interviews and a continuing body of music as well as film and literary criticism. His Prime Evil was probably the highest-profile original anthology of horror fiction and related material in the 1980s, with the full support of New American Library and a lineup of writers sprinkled with bestselling and good writers, occasionally both at once. One of the better King stories I've read, "The Night Flier," leads off the collection, which is also notable for high-profile anthologies in that decade in having Dennis Etchison and Ramsey Campbell, two of the best writers in the field and doing relatively well in the boom (particularly Campbell, nearly all of whose works were in print with Tor at the time) as the grand old men of the book, as still relatively young men who had nonetheless been publishing for a quarter-century at the time...everyone else had come to prominence in the years since, as distinct from, say, Kirby McCauley's earlier well-distributed anthologies such as Dark Forces, which were careful to feature such long-established writers as Manly Wade Wellman, Theodore Sturgeon and Robert Bloch (and a few women, such as Joyce Carol Oates) in their mix. David Morrell was probably the most promiment contributor not known to the larger world for his horror fiction, and the worst of the stories (unsurprisingly the Strieber) was at least readable.
Kim Newman is another brilliant fiction writer, and an even more prolific writer about film and literature than Winter; nothing he's written is more delightful than Anno Dracula, a novel which offers a world in which vampires thrive openly among humans, up to and including the court of Queen Victoria, uncomfortably under the thrall of the Count himself. Newman, quite aside from providing a superb fantasy-historical espionage story, also incorporates essentially every literary and folkloric vampire he can into this work, without doing so obtrusively or inelegantly. He has spun a seris of sequels to this novel since, of which I've found only the fist sequel, the WWI-set The Bloody Red Baron, a disappointment. Such shorter works as "Andy Warhol's DRACULA" have been particularly fine.
Kathe Koja's The Cipher, which would've been entitled The Funhole if Dell hadn't blanched at that, was one of the inaugural novels of the Dell Abyss line I mention above, which was hoping to re-energize the horror publishing scene with innovative work and packaging. Fitful success in this, and not enough to keep Dell from decommissioning the line, but Koja's first novel was the (not universally loved) account of two rather marginalized youngish folks discovering a rather remarkable, well, hole...which does Strange things to items put into it, including one unfortunate person's hand. The anomie so fecklessly celebrated and supposedly mocked in the likes of Bret Easton Ellis's fiction was rather more effectively and honestly dealt with here, and I detect a degree of influence on later works, not solely literary, that goes beyond Koja's own work, mostly published these days as YA fiction (where she's gained a sustained audience). There was a film nibble a few years back...it's certainly likely to work in that medium.
For more of this week's "Forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.