The Splatterpunks Anthologies: Extreme Horror and Over the Edge

splatterpunks extreme horror over the edge sammon.jpg
Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Xanadu – 1990

The first Splatterpunks anthology was published in 1990. It’s a collection of extremely violent stories, most of which had previously been published elsewhere. Some of the stories are quite enjoyable and some are fairly shit. The most remarkable feature of this collection is the editor’s attempt to delineate Splatterpunk as a separate entity from regular horror fiction.

Every review I have read of this collection has commented on the fact that most of the authors included herein reject the splatterpunk label. Sammon himself acknowledges this fact several times throughout his introductory notes. Let’s face it. Splatterpunk was never a revolutionary literary movement; it was a label created by David Schow to describe a small group of his writer friends who were writing gory stories. The authors in this anthology repeatedly refuse the splatterpunk label because it’s too limiting, and they feel that it would only apply to a small portion of their output. If we’re calling writers Splatterpunks because they’ve written a couple of gross-out stories, surely Stephen King fits the bill too. His story Survivor Type is easily as extreme as most of the stuff in this anthology. (My point is not that King should be included here; it’s that the editor’s posturing is ridiculous. In the next anthology he goes on to claim that Bret Easton Ellis, a writer who is parodied in this collection, is actually a Splatterpunk too.)

The book includes a lengthy epilogue that I was unable to finish. Paul Sammon’s attempts to make Splatterpunk seem like a really important cultural phenomenon were genuinely embarrassing to read. I was going to include a quote from the introduction here, but after rereading the first few lines of it, I found myself cringing too hard to continue. He literally compares his authors to Burroughs, De Sade and Baudelaire in the second sentence of this book. Some stories in here were decent, but I had forgotten most of them only two weeks after finishing the collection.

 
Splatterpunks: Over the Edge – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Tor – 1995

The second Splatterpunks collection came out 5 years later, and this book is far, far worse than its predecessor. Actually, I really liked some of the stories in here, but there’s way more in this one, and some of them are absolute shit.

The really dislikeable part of this one wasn’t the awful stories or even Paul Sammon’s embarrassing introductions; it was the non-fiction pieces. Aside from Sammon’s bullshit, the only non-fiction piece in the first collection was an essay on ultra violent films. I watched most of the movies it mentions when I was a teenager, so I actually quite enjoyed reading this piece. Although it was about movies, it didn’t feel hugely out of place in a collection of ultra-violent stories. There’s an article in Spatterpunks II by Martin Amis on the movies of Brian De Palma. Martin Amis is not a horror author, and while De Palma has done a few horror films, those aren’t the movies being discussed in the essay. Sure, some of De Palma’s movies are violent, but they don’t compare to the other stuff in these collections. There is absolutely no reason for this essay to be in this collection other than having a famous author’s name on its cover. Fuck off Martin Amis.

There’s also an interview in here with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. My favourite pastime is reading about Satanic occult orders, but I skipped this section after about 2 pages. It was excruciating. Not only does LaVey come across as an embarrassing dildo, but the interview is performed by Jim Goad. Jim Goad, for those of you who don’t know, is just about the edgiest edge-lord in town. He beats women and believes that white people are oppressed. He also published a magazine in the 90s that included pages of rape jokes. When it was first published in this same magazine, the LaVey interview was followed with an interview with David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Together, LaVey and Goad are unbearable. Again, this piece has absolutely nothing to do with horror, and can only have been included because Sammon saw it as edgy and in-your-face. (There’s also a particulary embarrassing “rant” from Goad’s wife. I actually felt sorry her after reading it. Total loser.)

And I think this edginess is the big problem with these collections. Times have changed in the last 30 years, and being edgy isn’t cool any more. Pushing the boundaries of taste isn’t a difficult task, and today’s teenagers throw about the phrase ‘edgelord’ with derision. These kids have grown up with the internet. By the time was I was finished school, I had seen video footage of executions, extreme S&M and tonnes of stuff that’s worse than the stories in this book. (Can you guys remember rotten.com?)  I don’t think it’s possible to make literary gore as shocking as what kids see on their phones every day. Brutal violence is fine and dandy when it’s used for effect, but it’s rarely interesting when it’s presented as the main attraction.

A lot of this crap is boring and predictable. Think about it:

How can you make a murder more offensive? Hmmmm, make the victim more innocent and vulnerable. Who are the most innocent and vulnerable members of society? Well, women are certainly more vulnerable than men, and there’s plenty of women dying in these books, but children are more vulnerable than women! Oh wait, one of these stories is about a child dying in a car accident. Yeah, but babies are more innocent than children. Sammon’s got you covered fam; one of these stories features a baby being sexually abused. Ok, hang on! Fetuses! Fetuses are even more vulnerable than babies! They’re the most innocent and vulnerable of all! But no author would ever have the balls to write about somebody killing fetuses, would they? Actually, yeah. quite a few of these stories involve people killing fetuses. A lot of Splatterpunk seems to involve this kind of punching down, and as I am no longer 13 years old, I have no interest in this kind of crap. I far prefer gore, brutality and violence when it’s directed at somebody who deserves it.

Also, just to amp up the cringe factor, Paul Sammon filled the last few pages of this book with a list of bands that he likes. I did the same thing with my homework journal when I was 15.

All this being said, there were some great stories in the second collection. Gorman Bechard’s Pig was deadly, and I quite liked the weird ones by Petoud and Koja. There are a few duds in here for sure, but just as it was with the first collection, this book would be far more enjoyable if it was just a collection of stories with no bullshit in between. Give me gore and brutality, but don’t try to make it seem clever when it isn’t.

Flesh – Richard Laymon

flesh - richard laymon.jpgFlesh – Richard Laymon
Tor Books – 1988

A few months ago, I found a bunch of Richard Laymon books in my favourite second hand book store. I had heard of him, but I wasn’t sure which of his books were worth checking out. I bought this one because it had a cool cover. After reading Flesh, I deeply regret not buying all of the Laymon books that were there.

A gross slug thing burrows into people’s flesh, attaches itself to the back of their skull and then takes control of their body. The plot of this novel is remarkably similar to Brain Damage (one of my favourite movies, also released in 1988) and a later episode of the X-Files. The slug like beasty of this novel is special though, as this one only takes control of humans so that it can satiate its need for human flesh. It turns its victims into cannibals.

Let me put that another way. The monster in this book eats through people’s flesh so that it can use their bodies to eat through other people’s flesh.

The central premise of this book doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t even realise that until I started writing this review. It’s such a cool idea for a book. There were, however, a few other issues that were more difficult to swallow. Most of the characters in Flesh are either exceptionally stupid or remarkably intelligent. The victims make absolutely terrible, terrible choices, but the police officers on the case are able to deduce the exact nature of their bizarre adversary after examining one of its victims. They immediately figure out that they’re dealing with a with a psycho-parasitic worm with a lust for human flesh. Finally, the women in this book have such sensitive nipples that I can’t imagine how they go about their daily lives. Every time a woman does anything in this book, her nipples’ reaction is mentioned, whether she be taking a shower, greeting a friend, or enjoying a pleasant summer breeze.

Despite these issues, I found this book to be immensely entertaining. It is absolutely full of gore, a real bloodbath. The writing is decent too. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Faulkner, but it’s not bad. Laymon tells a good story. Flesh is 400 pages long, but I read it in only a few days. I advise you all to hunt down a copy too.