The Splatterpunk Files

The Young Turks at Horror's Cutting Edge
PART EIGHT: Splat Sources, Bogus Summation,
and a Bibliography

(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.]

Anthologies and a Few Periodic Terrors

Although a great deal of splatterpunk non-fiction originally appeared in the now (sadly) defunct magazine Night Cry, their work can still be found in a number of other places, most notably in a few original anthologies.

coverThe first (and perhaps the most important) anthology in which the splatterpunk imprinted their mark on was Dennis Etchison's Cutting Edge (Doubleday, 1986). Although Etchison's own style is too stylized and over-written to be considered splatterpunk (there are exceptions -- "Talking in the Dark," for example). His editing of this collection was instrumental in bring in the splatterpunk style before a wider horror audience for the first time. The anthology features a number of stories that could be considered splatterpunk, some good, some otherwise. In the former category we find Marc Laidlaw's "Muzak for Torso Murders" and Les Daniels' "They're Coming for You." Both are amusing but bloody vignettes that leave the reader with a wry smile. Among the less successful splatterpunk works we find Karl Wagner's "Lacunae" and Roberta Lannes' "Good-bye Dark Love." Both are lacking essential elements necessary to a good horror story, namely action and plot. Although none of the above were among the best stories in the anthology, they did provide a valuable snapshot of the evolving sub-genre.

coverThe next anthology to show the new found influence of splatterpunk authors on the genre was David Schow's Silver Scream (Dark Harvest, 1988). Fully half the stories in Silver Scream are by splatterpunk authors or show distinct splatterpunk influences. In addition to the Barker reprint ("Son of Celluloid," Vol. III), both Skipp and Spector have lesser solo works while Ray Garton turns a rather clever tale in "Sinema" a story that has a twist middle rather than a twist ending. Joe Lansdale also checks in with a dark, unflinching look at Southern racism and violence called "The Night They Missed the Horror Show." Richard C. Matheson turns in another condensed short-short in the form of "Sirens," the story of a former pornographic actress who bleeds every time her celluloid image attracts another viewer's lustful attention. The most obviously splatterpunk piece in the anthology is Mark Arnold's "Pilgrims to the Cathedral;" a work that manages to out-gonzo Rick McCammon's "Best Friends" in telling the story of a drive-in movie emporium that become the shrine to a semi-malevolent force of sentient sleaze.

Although you'll see a few splatterpunk stories from time to time in Twilight Zone (editor Tappan King), a lot of the most violent and shocking splatterpunk stories are to be found in small press magazines. Most notable for its emphasis in publishing graphic and disturbing stories is Grue, edited by Peggy Nadramia. Focusing exclusively on works that are violent and/or disturbing, Grue has published such important works as Joe Lansdale's "God of the Razor," which features elements brought out at longer length in The Nightrunners, as well as works by Steve Rasnic Tem, and J.N. Williamson. Although much of what appears is of indifferent quality, the production values in the magazine are high. Another small press magazine that has featured similar stories is New Blood edited by Chris Latcher. The two issues produced thus far have included works by Garton, Sallee, William Relling, Jr. and David B. Silva. Silva is also the editor of The Horror Show, which has featured excerpts from important works by Lansdale and Schow. The most promising publication on the splatterpunk horizon is the newly premiered Midnight Graffiti, which features a sharp, hard-hitting story by Schow, as well as a critical piece on the splatterpunks. It features extremely high production values, a humorous and scathing critical eye and comes across as a cross of Twilight Zone and Grue, featuring the former's multi-media format and the latter's editorial emphasis.

Critical Sources

Until recently, there was more or less a dearth of criticism on the growing splatterpunk movement. That drought became a veritable flood this month with publication of not one, not two, but three critical articles (not including this one) on the subject. The main observation shared by all three was that splatterpunk was the "rock-n-roll" of the horror genre. The shortest and least of these efforts was a mere page blurb in that quintessential magazine of literary criticism, Penthouse, featuring the works and words of Skipp, Spector, Schow, and Matheson. A somewhat more literate article, though still brief, authored by Philip Nutman, appeared in the October issue of The Twilight Zone.

Although Nutman's splatterpunk etymology is somewhat bizarre (he excludes Clive Barker from the list, citing him as being "independent" of the splatterpunk movement), he does a fairly good job of describing its essence. That article, like the lengthier one in the premier issue of Midnight Graffiti, features extensive quotes from the splatterpunks themselves concerning what they believe their work is about. The largest bone I have to pick with Nutman's article is his emphasis on cultural rather than literary influences. Sure the splatterpunks grew up in the 60s; a lot of people grew up in the 60s, but not all of them grew up to write about bizarre sex and degenerate psychopaths. Certainly upbringing had an influence, but without the literary direction taken by Barker and others, the expression of that influence would undoubtedly have been very different. The Midnight Graffiti article is perhaps the best of the three as it deals with the issue almost entirely in the splatterpunks' own words. Both the The Twilight Zone and the Midnight Graffiti articles offer many amusing pictures of splatterpunks (the best is the one in Midnight Graffiti of Skipp & Spector wearing oversized Mickey Mouse gloves), which leads me to believe that fingerless gloves are the splatterpunk equivalent of cyberpunk mirrorshades in terms of movement fashion (both Spector and Schow sport them). However, all the articles are (as a general rule) long on theory and short on specifics.

Whither Splatterpunk? A Bogus Summation Complete with BS Predictions About the Future

At some level or another, every piece of artistic criticism is, ultimately, bullshit. Any novel (or movie, or painting, or sculpture) is too complex to fit easily into the monomaniacal, compartmentalized tunnel vision of a grad student's thesis statement. A work of art is what it is, no more, no less, and no amount of artistic criticism can ever change that. Criticism can only, at best, shine new light on the work, illuminating it from a previously unseen angle.

The failings of such criticism are acutely visible when dealing with a group as diverse as the splatterpunks. Certainly the word "splatterpunk" itself was originally intended as little more than a joke, a wry shot at the clique-ish nature of the cyberpunk circle. Once set loose, the word took on a life of its own. It became both a burden and an opportunity for those willing to be stamped with its imprimatur. Certainly one can see common themes addressed by these authors, a willingness to explore previously forbidden territory and create maps of for the rest of us to follow. Yes, splatterpunk is bloody and graphic and explicit and violent. But in the end the term itself hides more than it illuminates. To cast Matheson into the same pot as Barker, Garton, et al, is to create a critical Procrustean bed that represents everything the splatterpunks are working against: genre categories and classifications that file everything and everyone into nice, neat boxes for the rack jobbers to push into the wire racks at K-Mart.

The most important aspect of splatterpunk is its willingness to change. The essential element of the splatterpunk formula is that there is no formula, no hard and fast rules as to what does and doesn't constitute splatterpunk. There is no Splatterpunk Center for the Ideologically Correct, passing final judgment on who is or isn't in the movement. Don't like our definition of splatterpunk? Then PISS OFF -- or create your own. The bottom line is do what works and don't be afraid of breaking any rules while going about it because there are no rules.

As for splatterpunk's future, its immediate course is fairly easy to predict: they're going to publish a whole lot of books over the next year or so. Barker is going to put out another story collection in England called

The Hellbound Heart, while over here Poseidon Press is putting out Cabal, which (as far as we can figure out) will be the American edition of The Books of Blood, Volume VI, minus the postscript that was included in the Putnum omnibus edition of I-III and plus a few new stories. Cinematically Barker is working on Hellraiser II.

Skipp and Spector will have a new novel, Dead Lines, coming out; there are rumors of a short story collection, and we will finally see their long awaited anthology of stories set in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" universe, Book of the Dead (featuring stories by Schow, Lansdale, McCammon, Campbell, Tem, Daniels, Steven Boyett, Douglas Winter, Ed Bryant and Richard Laymon -- must have finally gotten hold of his agent --among others) in different editions from both Bantam and Mark Ziesing.

Lansdale, in addition to The Drive-In II, has edited a collection of western horror stories entitled Razored Saddles (featuring work by Schow, McCammon, and Howard Waldrop, among others), and an as yet unknown book from Mark Ziesing (possibly the long awaited Lansdale story collection?).

Schow, in addition to a short story collection, Seeing Red, and a novella collection, Lost Angels, is working on two novels, The Shaft and Gore Movie. I

In short, splatterpunk will thrive, grow-and, ultimately, change. As Skipp himself put it in Twilight Zone: "Splatterpunk is an angle of attack, a way of life. And just a phase we're going through."

And that, perhaps, is the best prediction for the splatterpunks' long-term future. They, like the cyberpunks, will undoubtedly find their current stylistic tropes ultimately confining. (Barker has largely abandoned (at least in his most recent works) the cold and visceral style that rocketed him to prominence.) Whether they continuing writing splatterpunk works or not, the members of the splat pack will undoubtedly be among the most important voices in the horror genre in the 90s, with Barker continuing as in his position as second only to King in popularity and importance, and with Skipp/Spector (and possibly others) soon entering that league.

One way or another, this is one horror show you don't want to miss.

Toward A Splatterpunk Bibliography

(All entries are U.S.-published paperbacks unless otherwise listed)

Clive Barker

  • The Books of Blood(First Printing: Sphere Books, UK), 1984 (Volumes I-III) and 1985 (Volumes IV-VI), paperback) (First American printing : Berkley Books, 1987(Volumes I-III), paperback) (Most recent American Edition: Putnum Books, 1988 (Omnibus edition of Books I-III), hardback) [Note: There are a lot of different editions of the Books of Blood, including the Poseidon Press editions of volumes IV and V entitled The Inhuman Condition and In The Flesh.]
  • The Damnation Game (First printing: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985, hardback) (First American Printing: Ace/Putnum, 1987, hardback)(Most Recent Printing: Charter Books, 1988, paperback)
  • Night Visions 3 (First printing: Dark Harvest, 1987, hardback)
  • Weaveworld (First printings: Poseidon Press (USA)/Collins (UK), 1987)

Ray Garton

  • Live Girls (First printing: Pocket Books, 1987)
  • Crucifax Autumn (First printing: Dark Harvest, 1988, hardback)

John Skipp & Craig Spector

  • The Light at the End (Bantam Books, 1986)
  • The Cleanup (Bantam Books, 1987)
  • The Scream (Bantam Books, 1988)

Joe Lansdale

  • The Nightrunners (Dark Harvest, 1987, hardback)
  • Dead in the West (Space and Time, 1986, trade paperback)
  • The Drive-In(Bantam Spectra, 1988)

Robert R. McCammon

  • Night Visions 4 (First printing: Dark Harvest, 1987, hardback)
Richard Christian Matheson
  • Scars (First Printing: Scream Press, 1987, hardback)(Most Recent Printing: Tor, 1988, paperback)
David J. Schow
  • The Kill Riff (Tor, 1988, hardback)
  • Silver Scream (editor) (Dark Harvest, 1988, hardback) (Upcoming Printing: Tor, 1989, paperback)

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