Welcome to the Splatter Club, ed. K. Trap Jones (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

WelcomeSplatterLacking any overriding theme beyond sheer gratuity, Welcome to the Splatter Club is a general extreme horror anthology offering thirteen more stories of the warped and the macabre…

Some of the tales in the book begin with mundane scenarios before swiftly heading into darker territory. In “Splatter Party” by John McNee a bunch of rambunctious partygoers annoy their neighbour – and find the hard way that he is the sort of neighbour who really should not be annoyed. “I Hang My Hat and There’s No Blood” by Robert Essig depicts a world of faded Las Vegas showbusiness, with a washed-up comedian as the protagonist; he resorts to shooting himself in front of a live audience – and this is just the beginning of the story. “Holiday of a Lifetime” by C.M. Saunders is about a middle-aged couple who decide to get adventurous on their holiday in Thailand; they start by having sex on the aeroplane, progress to hiring a sex worker for a threesome, and finally move into still more outrageous territory.

Then we have the stories that start out with one variety of horror, and then make a quick swerve into a different area of the macabre. Patrick Winters’ “The Big Bad Boy” is about a gunman who attempts to rob a shop, not for money, but for a particular brand of snack cake that he is hell bent on destroying in revenge for a bizarre and ghastly form of food poisoning. In “Code Black” by Matthew Weber a bullied teenager leaves a severed deer head and a circle of blood in the school gym. Police interpret it as a threat – but the boy has actually opened a portal to Hell.

Also in the anthology are stories that are bizarre from the get-go. “Dickey Dykstra” by Airika Sneve: is the story of an architect preparing for an inevitably macabre duel with his employer, who enters the narrative riding on a stick with a severed zebra head. “23 to 46” by Paul Stansfield begin with a pot-smoker hearing voices that plead with him to drop his habit; it turns out that the voices are his sperm, which have achieved consciousness and demand that they become children rather than get wanked into oblivion. In “Splatter in Space” by Matthew Vaughn two horny astronauts find their zero-gravity coitus interrupted initially by the third member of the crew, and then by a particularly nasty alien.

In a few of the stories, the opening lines are sufficient to establish the weirdness. Prime examples include “The first time Pete met his roommate Kayla’s service penguin, he knew he had to eat it” (“Sometimes the Penguin Eats You” by Brian Asman) and “All six of the boy’s eyes bulge and vibrate when it points at the human woman in the cage and exclaims, ‘I want that one!’ (“Neutered” by Chandler Morrison).

Needless to say, there is plenty of extreme violence in the collection. Characters have their skeletal structures removed by supernatural means, explode like Mr. Creosote, and get devoured by flesh-eating blobs. At the same time, however, the stories tackle a few weighty themes. John McNee touches upon prejudice towards immigrants, for example, while Matthew Weber looks at police violence and the (mis)treatment of problem children.

While the emphasis is always on being as disgusting as possible, a number of the authors take time to build up a degree of atmosphere and character complexity within a short space. “The Woman in the Ditch” by Joshua Rex, about two adolescent boys running into an undead siren, is fairly understated and eerie for a splatterpunk story. “Cheese” by KJ Moore backs up its gross-out horror with an unsettlingly convincing portrait of medical examination gone wrong, its protagonist seeking an abortion from a doctor who has a disturbing manner and a bizarre method of termination. “Grinder” by Nikki Noir, in which a drug lab begins producing a potent new aphrodisiac, has both plenty of body horror (the dug turns out to be a parasite capable of tearing the host apart from the inside) and an intriguing character-based study of the sexual relations within the gang.

Writing splatterpunk is in large part an experiment to see how much depravity can be justified in narrative terms; this is harder than it might sound, and any anthology in the genre will likely contain a story or two that fail to quite make it. One of the entries in Welcome to the Splatter Club climaxes with the revelation that a minor character is transgender, at which point they are promptly killed by the story’s anti-hero. This is treated as sufficient for a twist ending, but comes across as cheap and obvious compared to the other, more inventive stories in the anthology. Still, this genre has always been a balancing act, and it would be unfair to fault the occasional wobble.

Welcome to the Splatter Club is a worthy anthology overall, its stories generally emphasising the more cartoonishly outrageous end of the genre without sacrificing nuance.

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