Whatever happened to splatterpunk? For a while, it felt like all the rage in horror. Just as the seventies had the Antichrist, the eighties had apocalyptic disasters and the early nineties had serial killers... the late nineties had, well, really disgusting horror.
There were a few collections (not all of which were too terrible), but this particularly nauseating subgenre never really made good on its threat to go mainstream.
Blood, Jay Russell's foray into splatterpunk, has some potential - although it is worth noting that Russell's better efforts were in the urban fantasy Marty Burns books. But it is, ultimately, splatterpunk.
For the innocent, here's your pocket checklist for splatterpunk:
-Death by being torn apart by human teeth
-Death by something attacking the ass and/or groin
-Blisters, pustules and/or tumors
-Sex, messy, with an inanimate participant (alive/dead/animal/object)
The list goes on, but, let it suffice, splatterpunk isn't your grandmother's Gothic horror. Rather, it it uncarefully treads the line between terror and disgust - the core belief is one that 'anything that gives you nightmares is horror'. Semantically true, but still, not often conducive of great literature.
Meanwhile, back in Blood, Rusell has written splatterpunk. Slightly more coherent than most, but, according to the checklist above (in which he ticks every item - some repeatedly), splatterpunk.
In Blood, a drug called Tunnel is taking over the streets of LA. The police investigate the drug - and a series of spectacularly squishy murders - and soon get caught in a hidden war between the mysterious powers behind the drug's creation. Needless to say, everyone involved is creepy, and virtually every page involves a fluid (of some sort) explosively covering a room. (Eew)
Everything in Blood is aggressively rooted in 'reality' - adding to Russell's craftsmanship when it comes to creating a tome of disturbingly brutal behavior. With even a hint of the supernatural, the reader can hide behind a mystical disbelief ('Oh, well, only a "demon" would do that...'). Blood has a vague connection with vampirism (which is seemingly explicit if you read the Amazon reviewers), but that's more of a throwaway line given that the bad guys and good guys alike seem to revel in chewing on their fallen foes. When it comes down to it, everything in Blood - no matter how crazy or gross - is carefully measured to seem as real as possible. (Again, eew.)
Although Reagan (that's one of the cops, not the former President), is a well-defined character, that's mostly because he's mostly a cliche - a sort of embittered cop/PI figure, world-weary but still in over his head. Brolin, his partner, is more interesting. As a policewoman, she's set up to be a bit unusual, and the chip on her shoulder is more understandable than that of the aggressively wise-cracking Reagan. The bad guys are just that - bad guys. They're all horrible in escalating ways - each one more depraved than the one before. This is splatterpunk -that's why they're there.
There's not really a moral, or much higher meaning. But, still, as depressing as Blood is, it still has good guys, bad guys, a bit of redemption and something approaching a happy ending (or, at least, a neutral climax). Despite being horror based on squishiness, you still won't want to turn away - Russell is a good enough author (read his Celestial Dogs to see him at his best) to craft a storyline that can handle the regular insertion of outright obscenity. That's a talent, you know.
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