The Splatterpunk Files

The Young Turks at Horror's Cutting Edge

PART TWO: Splatterpunk: Some Quasi-Arbitrary Definitions

(Text originally published in Nova Express, Volume 4 Issue 1, Summer 1988)

by Lawrence Person

[NOTE: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author. In fact, they are the opinions of the author as of 1988. HE may not even agree with himself these days. It is presented here in the context of its time.]

However, more than any individual technique or story it was the publication of these volumes themselves, and the lengths to which its authors were willing to go to tell their stories, that set off a revolution in the horror genre.

The effect of their publication on the field was profound, as the word of mouth on the books spread from convention to convention, coast to coast.

HellraiserThe effect that these works (especially Barker's) had on America's latest crop of young, rising horror writers, the ones who were just starting to turn out their first professional works when The Books of Blood and Vampire Junction were published, is hard to overstate.

Where King had taken horror to the very edge of the unspeakable, Barker and Somtow had taken it over. Where King had flinched away at the final moment (the ritual infanticide in 'Salem's Lot, for example, or the auto-cannibalism in "Survivor Type") Barker showed it in cold, clinical detail, peeling back the flesh to give you a better look at the bloody interior. This did not necessarily make for a better or more interesting story, but it did often make for a more powerful one. Above all else, Barker and Somtow sought to disturb, and they frequently succeeded

But most of all, the new style gave the nascent splatterpunks an unprecedented freedom to do whatever they wanted to. In short, a new generation of horror writers found (like the tag line for Barker's "Hellraiser", the movie he directed from his story "The Hellbound Heart" ) that "There are no limits." Be it explicit sex, graphic violence, or the combination of the two, writers were now free to use or show any device or action that was necessary to tell the story he (or she, though Splatterpunk seems to be (at least at the professional press level) an all male phenomena) had to tell, and for those whose sensibilities were offended-well, that was just too bad. Thus The Books of Blood and Vampire Junction broke taboos left and right because the authors recognized no taboos in their writing. As such they are like uncut fever nightmares from the depths of a twisted psyche-unedited, raw, and powerful.

Skipp & SpectorBecause of this freedom, a number of tropes came to be known as elements of a "splatterpunk story." Perhaps the most noticeable is the rendering of sex and violence (often together) in explicit and graphic detail. In Barker's "Sex, Death, and Starshine" (Volume I) the corpse of an undead actress performs fellatio on a man before breaking his neck. In Joe Lansdale's The Nightrunners, a rape gang castrates a would-be defector then throws his testicles through the window of a terrified couple. In Skipp & Spector's

The Light at the End, a vampire decapitates his sexual partner in the midst of orgasm.

The second attribute found in a typical splatterpunk story is the use of grotesque and extremely imaginative images, images that are both fascinating and repulsive at the same time. In Skipp & Spector's The Scream a female rock star slits open her belly on stage to give radical cesarean birth to thousands of wriggling worms. In Barker's Weaveworld the villainess is accompanied by the half corporal decaying ghosts of the two twin sisters she strangled in the womb. In Richard Christian Matheson's "Conversation Piece"' a man sells off parts of his body for money, piece by piece, until there's practically nothing left.

Thirdly, splatterpunk stories feature a clean and swift prose, unencumbered by the densely textured stylistic conceits that fill the works of (for example) Ramsey Campbell or Dennis Etchison. Splatterpunk authors are always sure to spell out exactly what's happening in clinical (or better yet, forensic) detail. And, though the plot lines may twist, sprawl, and weave throughout many characters, points of view, and flashbacks, the reader is never at a lost to understand what's going on. Thanks to that commitment to stylistic clarity, splatterpunk works are far more accessible to the reading public at large than are the works of the genres more "literary" minded authors. This is one of the factors that is responsible for its booming popularity.

to Part Three: Splatterpunk Today: The Faces of the New Flesh - Clive Barker
to Splatterpunk Files Index

Photo Credits:
Hellraiser U.S. movie poster
Skipp & Spector by J.K. Potter