The Splatterpunk Files

The Young Turks at Horror's Cutting Edge
PART EIGHT: The Faces of the New Flesh - Richard Christian Matheson, David J. Schow, Robert R. McCammon, and Others

(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.]

Richard Christian Matheson

Another person whose name shows up whenever the word "splatterpunk" is mentioned is Richard Christian Matheson. The son of famous horror writer Richard Matheson, R.C. Matheson's specialty is turning out tight, condensed, extremely short-short stories, most of which have been collected in Scars.

R.C. MathesonDisplaying almost all of his best work, Scars is a good (though not great) collection, and shows up his form quite well. Oddly, it his collaboration with his father, "Where There's a Will," that is his best and most splatterpunk-like story. It tells the tale of a strong willed man who wakes up inside a buried coffin, then determinedly fights his way out to the surface only to find a horrible truth awaiting him up top. A taut, gripping story with a truly grotesque twist ending. Another good tale is "Dust," an excellent story about an insane man fighting what he believes is sentient dust impinging on his isolated existence. An excellent psychological tale that comes off like a cross between Roald Dahl and Ray Bradbury. Other good tales include "Conversation Piece," "Red," "Graduation" and "Goosebumps" -- each a brief, well-told story.

Unfortunately, Matheson's compact, condensed visions of hell work very much on a hit or miss basis with each individual reader. His work strikes me the same way that Steve Rasnic Tem's does: I like some of it, dislike other parts, but I'm not sure exactly why. And like Tem's work, Matheson almost never seems to engage me on anything other than a strictly intellectual level. One is hard pressed to define Matheson's stories as splatterpunk, despite the fact that he shows up for all the photo sessions and is mentioned in all the critical works. Still, above all I would like to see more of Matheson's work before making any critical judgment, as he has only produced the handful of works that are in Scars (and a few since) up till now (Matheson earns oodles of bucks working in television, so prose writing is more a matter of pleasure than necessity). I would especially like to see a novel from him, which would show whether he could work at longer length or not. A very specific talent, so far, but one worth watching.

David J. Schow

David J Schow

Another guy who shows up for all the splatterpunk photo sessions, and the one who seems to be its chief polemicist. Schow has received a lot of accolades for his first novel, The Kill Riff, and his short story "Red Light," won the World Fantasy Award. So why am I not going to give him more than a few paragraphs of mention? Because Mike, our beloved editor, told me two months ago that Schow wasn't a splatterpunk, that I didn't have to read The Kill Rife or mention him in this article. Then, in the space of a month, no less than three articles on the splat pack appear in various places, and guess who's in all of the pictures.

So I told Mike to do a review of it, especially since IT'S ALL HIS FAULT!

(Sigh) Some days, you just can't win.

But vee haff plans for dealing mit Herr Schow. In any case, see the mention of anthology Silver Scream for more on Schow's work.

Robert R. McCammon

OK folks, I'm drawing the line here. Rick McCammon is not a splatterpunk, at least not most of the time. He has, However, turned out some splatterpunk works, taking a turn in that direction with his landmark short story "Nightcrawlers" in J.N. Williamson's Masques anthology, and turning in a pure splatterpunk performance in "Best Friends" from Night Visions 4.

Rick McCammon"Best Friends" is a perfect example of the "Gonzo" splatterpunk story -- that is, a story whose plot is so extreme and bizarre that it is at least two or three steps beyond the edge of believability -- but also one that moves along at such a breakneck pace that you never have time to catch your breath and notice it. "Best Friends" concerns a teenager found at the scene of his family's brutal and violent murder. He pins on his "best friends," the demons that dwell inside him -- literally inside him. The story reaches its splatterpunk escape velocity when they decide to rip their way out and into an unsuspecting hospital ward.

"Best Friends" is a great story, and one that moves faster than a greased polecat, an orgy of demonic destruction that flies along at near light speed. Still, one story does not a splatterpunk make, and although a great deal of McCammon's other work is good, it does not fall within the purview of this article.

Who Else?

Although all of the above pretty much make up the entrenched splatterpunk establishment, there are a number of other writers who have produced works that fit within the parameters of splatterpunk, many of them working in the small press. Among these, Wayne Allen Sallee is probably the most prominent, and perhaps the best. Sallee's specialty is writing violent, disturbing stories, of which at least two ("Rapid Transit" and "Take the A-Train") were chosen for Karl Edward Wagner's Best Horror of the Year anthology series. His best story may be "Threshold," a bleak, disturbing Lovecraftian/splatterpunk combination (published in New Blood #2) that tells of a mutant boy kept locked in the basement by his parents. The parents periodically inflict pain on the child in order to prepare him for arena combat against other mutant children.

One thing that sets Sallee apart from the splatterpunk mainstream is that instead of having a humorous or neutral narrative voice, Sallee writes in an angry style, not unlike Harlan Ellison.

Another small press author mining the splatterpunk vein is David Bruce, who seems to write almost exclusively stories that deal with bizarre sex. Appearing in magazines like New Blood and Twisted, Bruce's stories feature some of society's most degenerate scum "getting theirs" after engaging in some bizarre and/or dangerous sexual practices. Bruce's themes are daring, but his writing skills need considerable development before he reaches a professional level.

And speaking of professionals, people have said that Richard Laymon's novels, which feature violent and disturbing sexual themes, might be classified as splatterpunk. His name never seems to be mentioned by the recognized splatterpunks and -- although I have seen many people describe his work as violent and bloody -- I have not seen anyone say he's any good. (Richard Laymon, please call your agent, the movement is passing you by.)

to Part Eight: Splatterpunk Today: The Faces of the New Flesh - Splat Sources, Bogus Summation, and a Bibliography
to The Splatterpunk Files Index

Photo Credits:
Richard Christian Matheson by Beth Gwinn
David J. Schow embraces Skipp & Spector by Beth Gwinn
Robert R. McCammon (book cover photo)