Welcome to the Splatter Club edited by K Trap Jones
The world of Splatterpunk intrigues me. Established as a sub-genre of horror in the 1980s, its creations verged on the extreme, often including high levels of gore, violence and abuse, along with a liberal sprinkling of counter-culture themes. Often the gore and violence were accompanied by eroticism verging on dark porn, abuse of drugs and drink, unhinged characters and a healthy nod towards the darkest traits found within the human species.
In the mid-1990s, interest in Splatterpunk seemed to be on the decline, and a number of the leading creators in the genre drifted more into the mainstream. It could be argued that they actually stayed where they were and readers became more accepting of extreme themes, so the mainstream actually encompassed Splatterpunk, to the point where it no longer required its own term as a differentiator. Either way, it was a less prominent genre.
Fast-forward to today, and Splatterpunk is enjoying something of a revival, albeit with a small but selective audience. The genre itself has also expanded, and readers of Splatterpunk are accepting of a wide range of themes alongside extreme horror. These include – but are not limited to – bizarro fiction, erotic horror, weird westerns and fucked-up dystopian scifi. Basically, if it’s extreme and has something splattery, it’s of interest.
Personally, I have an interest in the wider world of modern Splatterpunk. It’s a genre I read a lot, and it’s a genre I write in. That might make me a harsher critic, or a more sympathetic one; I’ve yet to decide which way the axe falls. One thing I do know is in my opinion, Splatterpunk isn’t best served as a barrage of shock, a graphic and unrelenting chronology of extreme actions serving no other purpose than to offend or upset the sensibilities.
Good Splatterpunk needs a balance, a counter to the extreme. It needs a well-constructed story, or moments of humour, or some degree of cerebral intensity to work alongside the extreme elements. Without that, it sometimes feels too over the top, almost fake.
So what about Welcome to the Splatter Club? This anthology is probably best considered as a sampler of today’s more evolved Splatterpunk generation. A collection of 13 stories, it features work which comes from the extreme horror roots of the genre, along with some splinters of bizarro fiction, a few erotic horror tales and a smear of strange scifi.
For those who are new to Splatterpunk, there’s nothing too extreme in the collection. I say that, but my tastes might be dubious compared to pure horror fans with a more purist approach. As an example, I still think The Exorcist is one of the finest comedy films I’ve ever seen!
As with any collections, there are ups and there are downs, but I dare say these will change for many readers based upon where their interests lie.
For me, the highlights mainly fell at the end of the collection. The last two stories – The Woman in the Ditch by Joshua Rex and Cheese by KJ Moore – were the stand-out works, for very different reasons. The Woman in the Ditch has a folk-horror vibe, but carries with it a haunting feel which moves it from being a horror story into a comforting but confrontational tale about circumstance. It’s the story which I find myself thinking about most when I look back at the collection. Cheese, on the other hand, is very much a straight-laced story with a significantly well delivered ‘what the fuck’ moment at the end. It’s impact lies very much in its understatement, which is a rare thing in the world of Splatterpunk.
On a sheer grin-factor level, Sometimes the Penguin Eats You by Brian Asman takes a step over the Bizarro line, and delivers a story which will keep a grin on your face as the plot is revealed. It’s dark, but smiley dark if you catch my drift.
Other stories which jumped out from the crowd included The Big Bad Boy by Patrick Winters. It’s Splatterpunk but with a sense of irony, a confectionary-based horror tale and you don’t get to say that often enough! I Hang My Hat and There’s No Blood by Robert Essig is a clever tale, combining its Splatter with a smart story line which I didn’t see coming. 23 to 46 by Paul Stansfield is an unusual tale, driving the narrative from a direction I don’t remember ever reading before. The ending is a little predictable, but the different approach to the plot more than makes up for it.
All in all, most readers will find a good selection of tales they enjoy in Welcome to the Splatter Club. It covers a range of stories with differing styles, and thankfully lacks the sort of work which delivers a one-dimensional catalogue of abuse and violence. Sadly, too many readers who are new to the genre believe Splatterpunk is formed of little else than a body of work designed to be offensive and outrageous. This collection shows that not to be the case.