Congratulations to the 2020 Splatterpunk Award Winners!

45448518._SY475_Now that the 2020 Splatterpunk Awards have been handed out at Killercon Austin, here’s a complete list of winners and finalists and a round-up of my reviews…

(I considered calling this post “Consplatulations” but soon realised that absolutely nobody would have been better off for it)

Best Novel

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They Kill by Tim Waggoner (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

TheyKillAfter losing her brother Jeffrey in a car accident, art teacher Sierra has a dream in which Jeffrey is raised from the dead by a sinister man in a black suit. It later turns out that this was more than a dream: Jeffrey really has been resurrected, and both Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc catch sight of him around town.

Naturally, however, Jeffrey did not return from the grave without paying a price. He has brought death back with him: his touch causes objects to decay and people to wither and die. Furthermore, Jeffrey is not the only one to be granted deadly abilities. A number of other people in Sierra’s life have undergone weird transformations, and proceed to leave trails of destruction. Sierra and Marc – each blaming each other for Jeffrey’s death – must look beyond their animosity to work out what is going on, and where Sierra’s dream of the mysterious man in the black suit fits into events.

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Lakehouse Infernal by Christine Morgan (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

45448518._SY475_Following a special merge, part of Hell has bled out onto Earth. Only a comparatively small part – enough to fill Lake Misquamicus in Florida, to be precise – but even a fraction of Hell is bad news for us on the mortal realm. With the lake now occupied by six billion gallons of infernal effluent, and a prime location for visits from demons, damned souls and other denizens of the underworld, the US government has little choice but to construct a wall around it and forbid any crossings.

In her author’s note at the end of the book, Christine Morgan refers to Lakehouse Infernal as “total shameless Edward Lee fanfic throughout”. In particular, it follows on from his “Infernal” quartet (City Infernal, Infernal Angel, House Infernal and Lucifer’s Lottery) but also makes reference to a number of his other works – and even includes Lee himself as a character. Anyone who is familiar with Edward Lee’s distinctive brand of fiction will recognise the tone and narrative style of Lakehouse Infernal.

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Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

CarnivorousLunarActivitiesOne day, out of the blue, Ted receives a telephone call from Justin, a childhood friend who has not spoken to him for three years. The two meet up in Justin’s squalid abode, and Ted is soon distracted from the problems in his own life – including the terminal state of his relationship with his wife Shelly – by the utterly bizarre story that his friend has to tell.

Between numerous asides about childhood memories shared by the two young men, Justin reveals all about the dark turn his life has taken. He became involved with dogfighting, and decided to buy a particularly vicious dog that he saw advertised on Craigslist. The animal he ended up with, however, turned out to be something rather different from a typical canine: “try to imagine a wolf, okay? Only the wolf’s on steroids and its father might be a bear” says Justin.

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Reception by Kenzie Jennings (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

ReceptionNovel.jogAnsley Boone is getting ready for a wedding, with her sister Shay marrying fiancé Nathan. But alongside all of the typical stresses and excitement that come with preparing for the special day, Ansley has personal issues. She is coping with the aftermath of mental and physical trauma and is now reliant on medication: “I was cutting my last benzodiazepine prescription down, mobbing my way into low dose Diazepam, as per strict, hellish instructions. Aprazolam, Lorazepam, Clonazepam, you name it, I’d been overprescribed it and its other mellow kin.”

Her boyfriend has dumped her, and she lost her job following a particularly severe breakdown in the workplace. Her parents are unsupportive and blame Ansley for her troubles, particularly her stanchly right-libertarian father: “To Dad, my problem, the withdrawals, was, of course, due to my own poor choices in how I handled my crippling anxiety, the panic attacks, the blackouts, the flare-ups.” By the time the wedding rolls around Ansley is left feeling like the family misfit, and she knows full well that her sister’s wedding day will be a test of self-endurance.

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Merciless by Bryan Smith (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52666849._SX318_SY475_Newlyweds Grant and Lindsey celebrate their marriage with a trip to a mountainside cabin owned by Grant’s family. During their journey, Lindsey’s libido begins running out of control: she suggests such erotic adventures as having sex beside a country road, or getting jiggy in every state of the country. But their most extreme exploit begins when they meet a man named Jorge – and Lindsey shoots him with a tranquiliser so he can be abducted and taken back to the cabin for a round of torture.

Grant is initially surprised by this development. Not because his new wife is kidnapping someone, but because she has decided to do it so soon: they had previously agreed to abduct and murder someone at the end of their trip, not the beginning. Grant and Lindsey, as it happens, are a pair of sadists who bonded over their shared obsession with serial killers, and when bedroom roleplay failed to satisfy, Lindsey agreed to marry Grant on the sole grounds that he helped her to carry out a murder for real. “There’s literally no reason we had to wait until the end of the trip”, she argues. “And the sooner we go ahead and do it, the freer we’ll be. I’m talking about real freedom, Grant, freedom in its purest fucking form.”

And so Grant goes along with it. At first it is just the three of them in the cabin: two would-be murderers and their victim. But they receive unexpected visitors when members of Grant’s extended family – a couple and three children ranging from infant to eye-rolling teenager – drop by at this most inconvenient of moments. Furthermore, the cabin is not quite so isolated a retreat as the two kidnappers hoped: a mysterious man, who lives as a recluse in the mountains, is keeping an eye on things…

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Toxic Love by Kristopher Triana (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

54272456._SY475_Mike Ashbrook is struggling in life: his wife divorced him, he boss fired him, and his two daughters – one a teenager, the other approaching that point – are growing away from him. He has to find new work, not an easy task as a 45-year-old with no collage degree. He settles for becoming a janitor, and even then he draws the shortest straw: his new job involves cleaning up human remains. Picking out the shattered skull fragments of a man who committed suicide with a gun to his mouth, mopping up the blood of murder victims – all in a day’s work for Mike.

But things take a more positive turn when Mike meets his new co-worker: a beautiful young woman named Sage (“She looked like she should be selling lingerie, not filling up blood buckets”). At first, Mike believes that the gruesome task will be too much for her, especially given that their first job together is in a bedroom where two children were brutally murdered. But to his surprise and dismay, Sage finds the prospect utterly exciting: “She sounded like a kid seeing Star Wars for the first time. There was no shock or disgust, no horror, only childlike wonder.”

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Killer Lake by David Benton and W. G. Gagliani (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

50817838._SX318_SY475_More than twenty years ago, a group of devil-worshippers led by a man claiming descent from Aleister Crowely performed a human sacrifice in the name of their dark god Asmodeus. Decades later, teenage friends Mandi, Anna and Krystal – accompanied by Danny, maladjusted nephew of Mandi’s old parapsychology professor – head to the coven’s stomping ground of Killdeer Lake. Unaware of the area’s dark history (the local nickname of Killer Lake is merely surfer-dude slang, they are assured) the girls hope to spend time with a bevy of sexy and wealthy young men.

The characters may be heading off the beaten track, but the reader knows full well that they are not straying too far from Hollywood: Killer Lake unabashedly evokes the atmosphere of eighties teen horror films. The main characters are a glamorous lot straight out of a tinseltown backlot (“her half-shirt exposed her impressive abdominal muscles, not to mention the lower part of her breasts”) with even Danny, the socially awkward boy treated as a pariah by most of the others, described as being rather hot. The threshold between normalcy and danger is marked by a run-down shop containing one of those eccentric old men who pop up in horror films to warn youngsters away, but our protagonists nonetheless cross over in the hopes of finding hedonistic delights (“Krystal wasn’t shy, grabbing their dicks under the murky water’s surface as they swam by. It’s like fishin’ for dick!”).

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The New Flesh (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52883162._SX318_SY475_The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg is an anthology themed around (but not officially endorsed by) the director whose oeuvre includes the likes of Videodrome, Scanners, Rabid, Crash and eXistenZ. None of the stories are adaptations in the literal sense, but all draw inspiration from Cronenberg’s recurring motifs.

The first few entries do a thorough job of setting the stage. Brian Evenson’s “A Bad Patch” is about a man who finds his stomach swelling, almost as though he is pregnant. He begins wearing his dead wife’s clothes for comfort – but the faceless corporation that employs him shows little sympathy for his condition. “Red Lips in a Blue Light” by Sara Century follows the daily life of a TV presenter and bit by bit unveils the surreal, oppressive and ultimately artificial nature of her existence. C. M. Muller ‘s “Descrambler” is a Videodrome-influenced story set in the era of VHS, about a young horror fan who watches a mysterious video that subsequently allows him to see a species of strange extra-dimensional creature.

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Polish Extreme (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52852716._SX318_SY475_Polish Extreme is an anthology of horror stories originating in Poland – or, at least, themed around Poland. The book opens with Tomasz Czarny’s “Can of Coke” in which Meg, a busty Goth girl, works at a delicatessen and puts up with the unwanted attention of her lecherous boss Sloan. As unpleasant as Sloan typically is, when Meg walks in on him indulging a drug habit, he soon manages to take a turn for the worse. In terms of storytelling aesthetics, rather than subject matter, this is the oddest entry in the anthology. Its plot hinges on an awkward turn of phrase (which may well have sounded more natural in Polish) and it lacks any structure of the sort that is conventional in English-language horror: there is nothing that can really be termed a surprise twist, for example, no revenge to follow the rape. It is primarily a character study in grossness that grows until it reaches a brutal climax.

Next comes “Vomit Your Soul” by Lukasz Rasecki, the monologue of a man who kidnaps and tortures to death members of heavy metal subcultures. After a graphic description of his latest victim (a seventeen-year-old grindcore guitarist) the narrator divulges his motivations, revealing that he is a religious moralist who sees himself as punishing sinners. The character portrait is thick with irony: the torturer tolerates music that glorifies Satan, on the grounds that doing so implies a belief in God, but despises metal that glorifies death and nihilism; he disdains cruelty to animals, but sews them inside his victims; and he shows an in-depth, almost fanboyish knowledge of the bands he loathes (the author is himself a metal musician). The ultimate irony is that he has become a figure worthy of the death metal songs that he so despises.

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