Coined by David J. Schow many many moons ago, Splatterpunk is by definition a genre of Horror fiction with no boundaries. Characterized by graphic violence and gore, the genre throws suggestion out the window, preferring to grab the reader by the neck and shove their face into the bloody mess as the story unfolds, in minute by minute detail. Personally, I like the stuff, grew up on it, cut my writing teeth on it. Schow remains in my list of all time favorites, which also includes Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Jack Ketchum–all writers of the Splatterpunk genre at one time or another. The term is an 80’s and 90’s term, and you don’t hear it thrown around too much today unless you run in the circles I keep.
The circles I keep somehow put author Ed Kurtz’s name in my path. His novel Bleed came out earlier this year, and after reading the snyopsis, I knew it was going up to the top of my reading list. Here’s the info from the back cover:
When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature.
As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.
Who wouldn’t want to read that? This is Splatterpunk, like Frank Cotton from Hellraiser amped up on steroids, turned up to eleven, one more louder than ten. Ah, but of course, there was a little trepidation. The 80’s and 90’s were in the way back when days, and my reading tastes have changed. This often happens to writers. As we hone and develop our craft, what used to inspire us years ago changes as we come into our own writing style. We start to write what we want to read as what we want to read changes into what we write. A weird little vicious cycle. So yeah, I was a little nervous reading a book possibly filled with so much blood and gore that it might distract me from the story.
I’m so glad I trusted my guts on this one, pun intended. Splatterpunk works not because of its gratuitous depiction of all the bloody, nasty bits, but in the way it ties an emotional impact to the characters that experience the violence. It’s that ‘ Oh my God, the killer is peeling off Bonnie’s face, with his bare hands, and gulping it down. No, not Bonnie…please not Bonnie‘ feeling when you’re reading the story–you’re grossed out about the events, but cannot put the book down because of what’s happening to a character you care about. It takes real talent to pull that off, that tense moment when you’re on the edge of your seat needing to know what happens next AND ready to hurl your dinner in the wastebasket.
On all counts, Kurtz delivers the goods.
Without spoiling anything, one of the things I really liked about this novel was no character was safe. Through careful pacing and deliberate POV changes, the story unfolds logically, yet gleefully unpredictable. Readers can’t help but to size up characters when they start a story, attempting to gauge who’s a fighter and who’s going to die. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Kurtz’s ability to make me throw out my character gauge and just enjoy the story.
The story isn’t perfect. One character’s mental deconstruction left me scratching my head a little, but it certainly didn’t force me out of the story, and it’s something I can easily forgive as long as the story keeps me entertained.
If you’re looking for something reminiscent of the good ole days, the heyday of Horror of the 80’s and 90’s, it’s still here, lurking on the shelves of a bookstore near you, ready to drop body parts on your head and drip blood down your neck. Splatterpunk isn’t dead, it was just taking a little nap, and Ed Kurtz woke it up, just for you.