The Splatterpunk Files

SPLATQUOTES: Famous, Infamous
and Utterly Unknown Words on the Subject

Paul-Michael Agapow in a review of Joe R. Lansdale's The Drive-In:

Perhaps because of the sub-standard gore-filled work of the genre hacks (who have yet to learn "less is more"), this field has had little appeal. You might read noir detective fiction for the moral dilemmas, the puzzles and the emotion charged stories. You might read cyberpunk for musings on the nature of intelligence and humanity, the examination of technology. And you might read splatterpunk for the ... uh ... violence.
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Greg Bear from "Top Ten Ways to Sabotage Your Writing," a panel at Potlatch 9 (2000):

Some writers hurt their characters gratuitously. Splatterpunk is a pornography of violence and it turns me off.

Joe Bob Briggs (in some immortal review or another):

I am violently opposed to the use of chainsaws, power drills, tire tools, rubberhoses, brass knuckles, barbed wire, hypodermics, embalming needles, or poleaxes against women unless it is necessary to the plot.

Poppy Z. Brite: The Horror Interview by Nancy Kilpatrick
(From Horror #1, January 1994)

HORROR: Do you associate yourself with the splatter pack? For example, Skipp, Spector, Schow, Nancy Collins?

PZB: Not except for hanging out with some of them sometimes. I like a lot of their works, but I'm not a part of any "movement." Neither are those writers, really -- their work is wildly diverse in style and subject matter, and "splatterpunk" is just a term that began as a joke and stuck. It is my experience that writers only form movements when they are drunk, and always regret it later.
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Ellen Datlow: Interviewed by David Truesdale (From Tangent #19, Summer 1997):

...[T]he newbies saw the "splatterpunk" movement, utterly misunderstood it, and took it as an invocation to shock their readers. Most of the core members of the splatterpunk movement/blip/whatever are good writers. They have an understanding of what makes a good story. The same thing happened to the "cyberpunk" movement in sf.
(Full Interview:

Jay McRoy (1999) Doctoral Dissertation, SUNY Stony Brook:
"T'aint No Sin To Take Off Your Skin": Corporeal Integrity As Metaphor and the Politics of Monstrosity in Modern and Postmodern Horror Literature and Film
Excerpt from Chapter 5: "There Are No Limits: Splatterpunk, Clive Barker, and the Body in-extremis"

I. Splatterpunks and Literary Outlaws

Although its stylistic and thematic precursors can be traced back to the "classic" gore films of directors like Herschel Gordon Lewis (1963), George Romero(1968)and Dario Argento (1970), splatterpunk(2), a sub-genre of horror fiction marked by "the explicit depiction of horrific acts, including murder and every sort of mutilation of the body" (Tucker, 33), gained prominence in the mid 1980's. Like the sub-genre of science fiction known as cyberpunk, splatter-punk explores postmodern conceptions of the body(3) in late capitalist culture. However, unlike cyberpunk, which has been steadily assimilated into academic discourse(4), splatterpunk has remained a marginalized genre; readings of splatterpunk texts rarely appear within the pages of scholarly journals, and splatterpunk fictions seldom appear on the syllabi of university courses. In fact, few critical engagements with splatterpunk as a literary genre exist, and those that do exist are either written by splatterpunk authors in an attempt to defend their works against morally outraged critics, or function as primers for the uninitiated.

An example of the latter is Ken Tucker's 1991 essay, "The Splatterpunk Trend, And Welcome to It," which appeared in The New York Times Book Review. Tucker equates the relationship of splatterpunk to mainstream horror fiction (by authors like Dean Koontz and Stephen King) with the relationship of punk rock to rock and roll, and suggests that splatterpunk texts "bespeak a profound uneasiness about this world" (14). In particular, Tucker understands splatterpunk as "an aggressively grubby underground movement," a mode of discourse that is defined by an "intense alienation from the body"(13).

Tucker's comparison of splatterpunk with punk rock is a good one, in that both the literary and musical sub-genres have had an influence on mainstream fiction and rock and roll music, respectively. As Tucker correctly asserts, "splatterpunk does not have mass appeal, but it does inevitably influence other, more mainstream writers, who respond to its sheer gall, its refusal to be commercial even as it inspires to commercial success" (13). Best-selling horror writer Stephen King, for example, has been quoted as saying that if he can't frighten his reader by subtly building tension, he is not adverse to going "for the gross out (5) (Danse Macabre, 37). In addition, as the suffix "punk" suggests, splatterpunk shares many of the musical genre's more distinctive features. Similar to punk rock's often adversarial association with commercial rock music, splatterpunk disrupts generic expectations by failing to conform with the structure and content of financially successful horror texts. In addition, like punk rock, which freely intersects with various forms of musical expression (ska, country and western, jazz, rap and hip hop, etc.), splatterpunk's resistance to easy categorization allows for a multiplicity of approaches and artistic visions.

Ultimately, however, Tucker's analysis of splatterpunk as both a reaction to the "traditional, meekly suggestive horror story" and as a literature that expresses a "profound uneasiness about this world" is superficial at best. Specifically, it fails to address with any detail the genre's potential for social or cultural critique. Although he claims that splatterpunk is defined by an "intense alienation from the body" (13), he never explains how he arrives at this conclusion or what such a relationship implies. Tucker is correct in positioning corporeality as a central theme in splatterpunk texts -- after all, the spectacular and graphic deconstruction/transformation of the "human" form is the genre's most conspicuous motif. Still, without a more explicit discussion of splatterpunk's oppositional politics, his investigation of the genre is ultimately too cursory and reductive. In fact, through his failure to interrogate more fully the genre's potential for social critique or intervention, Tucker's text ultimately positions splatterpunk as a genre that merely shakes its literary fists at established textual and cultural representations without offering (as I will soon argue) alternatives that challenge traditional notions of identity. In their essay, "On Going Too Far, or Flesh-Eating Fiction: New Hope for The Future," John Skipp and Craig Spector comprehend splatterpunk as a subversive response to operative social and economic structures. Like Paul M. Sammon, whose description of the splatterpunk author as "literary outlaw" introduces this chapter, Skipp and Spector characterize the splatterpunk author as "a pioneer" (10) in an age of reactionary politics and conservative ideologies. In particular, they share Sammon's contention that splatterpunk challenges both a "horror establishment" that is "basically conservative" ("Outlaws", 285) and the "mindless, monstrous conformity of the Nixon/Reagan decades" (280). In contrast to the "ostrich with its head in the sand" (10) approach that they perceive as characterizing the "less is more" school of horror writing and the repressive politics of ideologues like Tipper Gore, splatterpunk advocates a kind of hyper-realism when it comes to depictions of the splattering or splattered body. Indeed, splatterpunk presents unflinching and uncompromising observations of abject physicality as a means of disrupting dominant conceptions of what it means to be a good and complacent citizen in "a period of social repression, specifically, the vicious conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher" ("Outlaws," 291). Splatterpunk texts "go too far," and going too far, as Skipp and Spector claim, "is to come that much closer to having it all; and in dangerous times like these, we need it all if we are to survive" (10-11).

While Sammon, Skipp and Spector are correct in acknowledging splatterpunk's subversive potential, they ultimately advance a narrative of transcendence. In their attempt to explain the importance of this vital sub-genre of horror, they present splatterpunks as "edge walkers" ("Introduction," xv), "trail-blazers" ("Outlaws," 274), and "pioneers" that open up "new vistas" (12). Described as mappers of new terrain, splatterpunk artists are envisioned by Sammon, Skipp and Spector as constantly "probing... boundaries, penetrating the unknown, making sense of the nonsensical and the abhorrent" (13). This discourse of boundaries and the importance of crossing them, however, suggests that there are limits that splatterpunk enables us to exceed rather than illustrating how splatterpunk texts explode the very idea of boundaries and the paradigms that maintain them. Through a close reading of three texts by splatterpunk author/director/illustrator Clive Barker, the remainder of this chapter will explore this very feature of splatterpunk. I will accomplish this by interrogating the sub-genre's potential, or lack thereof, for re-imagining monstrous (splattered/splattering) embodiments as oppositional and/or liberatory figures that, through their hybridity, challenge western capitalist master-narratives of sex, gender, race and class by revealing a multiplicity of alternate subject positions.
Full dissertation:
Complete chapter:
Works cited:

John Shirley on being an "uncle" to splatterpunk (1996):

My own link to it comes from the fact that I always wrote in extremes -- if I wrote horror, I pushed it to extremes. It was the punk thing to do. My actual progenitors in writing were as much painters and songwriters as writers; I was into the dadaists and surrealists and Italian futurists and conceptual artists and early performance artists -- extreme people. And in music into hardcore, bloody-nosed rock like the Stooges. So when I wrote DRACULA IN LOVE (1979), I pushed out the edges of what was "acceptably sick" in horror. Same in CELLARS (1982) and IN DARKNESS WAITING (1988) and my short stories, like "I Live In Elizabeth" in HEATSEEKER (1989). I was willing to use perverse sexual content too, early on...I was there first..."
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