I haven’t read a splatterpunk novel in a good while. I used to read splatterpunk all the time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, stuff from Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite especially. The sub-genre didn’t end in the 1990s, of course, and there’s undoubtedly plenty of great “splatterpunk” fiction that’s still being produced today. I personally just haven’t read any in a long while. Until I read DARKBOUND.
It’s my understanding that David Schow coined the term, possibly as a joke, to describe the kind of ultra-violent, ultra-gory horror fiction that he and others were writing. No haunted houses, delicate explorations of the human psyche, or mere hints of the supernatural here. Splatterpunk is visceral and in your face (as the “-punk”) would imply, and as a literary sub-genre I don’t think it ever got the respect it deserved. It became, I think, one of the primary inspirations for what eventually came to be called “body horror,” about graphic destruction and monstrous transformations of the human body. Sure, it’s scary to think about someone being frightened or psychologically scarred, or witnessing some terrible event, but in a lot of ways that really matter, isn’t it even worse when terrible things are inflicted not on one’s mind but on one’s body? That’s a deeply personal kind of violation I think we can all sympathize with, and let’s be honest: it certainly provides great fodder for horror fiction. Michaelbrent Collings has provided a great example of contemporary splatterpunk in DARKBOUND.
Mild plot spoilers follow.
DARKBOUND opens with six strangers on a New York City subway platform. They each seem to be something other than ordinary passengers as they board the same subway car of a train. Jim, the viewpoint character, seems to be an ordinary husband and father who just wants to get home to his family, but it’s clear that we don’t know everything there is to know about him from the start. His traveling companions are an old Latina grandmother; a creepy guy who looks like a prototypical child molester; an attractive, well-dressed female lawyer or Wall Street executive; a gangbanger; and a giant of a man from Eastern Europe. All strangers to each other, all trapped in a nightmarish subway ride. I don’t want to ruin the story, or its twists and turns, so I’ll refrain from being too specific about the characters or plot. Suffice it to say that this is a subway ride none of them will ever forget.
I should also note that this is a case of a classic unreliable narrator, and, reading between the lines, that should be clear from the outset of the novel. I hesitate to reveal anything substantive about the backgrounds of the main characters, as that is an important set of revelations throughout the novel. I will only say that, while generally effectively presented, I wasn’t shocked by what we saw of the characters; it was all telegraphed pretty clearly. That didn’t diminish the horror of what I was reading, but it meant that some of the plot twists weren’t as shocking, per se, as they might have been.
DARKBOUND is fast-paced, brutal, and gruesome. Collings never shies away from clearly depicting horrible events in detail. This is not a horror novel for shrinking violets. Ultimately it is also not a novel that depicts blood and gore for its own sake, though that only becomes apparent later in the novel. The things that happen to these characters…well, they aren’t exactly unwarranted.
I certainly recommend DARKBOUND as a fun, fast-moving horror/thriller novel. It’s a very quick read that I devoured in just a couple sittings. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you appreciate the value of some gore in your horror fiction, you should check out DARKBOUND.
Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers