Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s splatterpunk fiction today. This is mostly because I’m re-reading an old 1980s horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson that I first discovered when I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s. Back then, old second-hand splatterpunk novels from the 1980s (or, more accurately, the mid-late 1970s to the early-mid 1990s) were the coolest thing in the world. Or at least I thought that they were. Alas, I was a little late to the party.

But, having refreshed my memory about this awesome historical genre (which, for some reason, I lost interest in a few years ago), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write 1980s-style splatterpunk fiction. And, yes, some of these might shock you. Because…. *organ trill*… old splatterpunk fiction has more in common with high-brow literary fiction than anything else. Allow me to explain…

1) Characterisation!: Whether it is more visceral “video nasty”-style stories by Shaun Hutson, poetic and sophisticated splatterpunk stories by Clive Barker, the supernatural drama of Graham Masterton or the classic stories of James Herbert, old splatterpunk novels had one thing in common – Characterisation!

A classic splatterpunk technique is to start a chapter by introducing a new character. The writer will then spend a couple of pages showing the character going about their daily life, whilst also giving the reader a bit of information about their backstory and personality. Usually, the character’s life will be slightly mundane, unusual and/or miserable. The audience is given a while to get to know this character. Then the character dies horribly in some kind of ultra-grisly way.

This technique works because of the characterisation. Because we get to see the ordinary life of the character and learn a bit about them, their inevitable grisly demise is more dramatic and shocking. They aren’t some generic background character, they’re an actual, relatable character. This technique is especially effective in the early parts of a splatterpunk story, when the audience can’t quite be certain which characters will be the main characters and which characters won’t survive to the next chapter.

But, regardless, characterisation is more important than you might think in 1980s-style splatterpunk stories.

2) Eloquence: 1980s splatterpunk fiction is more sophisticated than you think! In order for the genre to evoke the emotions of foreboding, disgust, suspense and/or horror that it is known for, it has to be well-written. In other words, splatterpunk fiction is a genre that involves painting with words, poetic descriptions and all sorts of sophisticated stuff that you might not expect.

For example, whilst you might not think of him as a “high-brow” writer, Shaun Hutson’s narration is often a lot more eloquent and complex than you might initially think.

To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus”: ‘In the high street, one or two half-timbered houses sat almost reluctantly alongside red brick shops and small offices.‘ This sounds a lot like something from a literary novel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a novel that looks like this

This is the cover of the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” (1984).

…And contains more blood & guts than ten horror movies. But, why do 1980s splatterpunk novels include such eloquent language?

Simply put, it has to do with the contrast between beauty and ugliness. A lot of what makes 1980s splatterpunk fiction such a distinctive genre is because it describes ugly things (eg: death, decay, violence etc..) in beautiful ways. Classic splatterpunk fiction renders grisly scenes of horror with the skill and finesse of a poet describing a beautiful sunset. If you don’t believe me, then read Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” for some expert examples of this.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel, then you need to paint with words. You need to be eloquent. Your writing needs to be sophisticated.

3) The mundane: Like with “high brow” literary fiction, splatterpunk stories will often focus heavily on ordinary, mundane, dreary everyday life. The characters will be ordinary people. The locations will often be ordinary towns, suburbs and cities. But, why?

Aside from making the settings and characters more relatable to the audience, and contrasting the ordinary and the grotesque for dramatic effect, the main reason why old splatterpunk writers do this is because of the “punk” part of the splatterpunk genre.

In short, the crappiness of grinding, dull, mundane everyday life is part of the horror. It is shown to be something inherently oppressive, bleak and menacing. The world isn’t shown in some stylised, idealised way – but with the bleak cynical clarity of a nihilistic punk song. The world is shown warts and all. And this is before the giant rats, zombie vampires, deranged serial killers etc… begin to appear.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk story, then focus on the mundane.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Advertisements

Short Story: “Demo” By C. A. Brown

Note: This story is a stand-alone companion piece to this story.

If there was one thing that Kirsty missed, it was demo discs. Back in the day, videogame magazines used to come with discs filled with the first levels of seven or eight different games. Sure, it was meant as a promotional thing. But, she thought, there was something democratic about it. It was like catching an episode of a drama on TV, rather than only being able to see it in an online boxset. It was democratic.

She was about to mention this to James, but he just sat back on the sofa and pulled out his phone. He tapped it a couple of times and stared at the tiny screen, absorbed in something. Probably some trendy article about “de-cluttering” or whatever.

So, she read a book. It was an old paperback horror novel from the ’80s that she’d picked up in a charity shop for 50p. The cover read “SCYTHE MANIAC!” in dripping red letters and showed some dude with glowing red eyes standing in front of a midnight sky and swinging a scythe at the reader. Within a few seconds, she’d lost herself in the story….

Above the roar of the combine harvester, Farmer Green focused his attention on the spinning blades in front of the windscreeen. Rage roiled inside him. The sheer cheek of that supercilious little man from DEFRA insisting that.. he… went on a safety course! He’d been working the harvester since he was a lad and had not suffered so much as a scratch from the efficient, slicing blades.

Grumbling to himself, Farmer Green heaved the steering wheel. His gnarled fingers nearly slipped on the hasty gaffer tape repair to one segment of it. No doubt that the silly bureaucrat would probably moan about that too. But, the trendy people at the harvester company had stopped making spares. Even though, he thought, this venerable old machine would probably outlive any of the fancy bleeping gadgets that those slick salesmen kept pushing on poor farmers like him.

And then Farmer Green saw it. Behind the yellow haze of chaff, the shadow of a man stood in the field. The farmer’s face went beetroot red and he stamped on the brake as hard as his old legs would allow. If it was that stupid lad from Wilson’s farm again, then there would be harsh words spoken. Balling his fists, he waited for the harvester to judder to a halt. But, when the clouds of chaff fell to the ground – there was no-one there.

He rubbed his sweaty brow and blinked twice. Maybe it was all just a trick of the eye? Maybe he was imagining things in his old age? Letting out a sigh, he started the engine again. But, before he could even put foot to pedal, the window beside him exploded in a shearing shower of sharp shards. The tip of a scythe shot through the hole like the beak of a hawk swooping in for the kill. The razor point slashed…

Kirsty was interrupted mid-sentence by James shouting ‘Alita! Is the internet down? Alita! Dammit!

The silent smart speaker sat on the table next to the TV. A green light stared back at him. He tapped his phone frantically. He walked over to the router and poked it a few times.

Finally, he turned to Kirsty and let out an exasperated sigh: ‘Typical. We get one bloody peaceful afternoon and they decide to repair the internet or whatever. What the hell are we going to watch, read or play?

Short Story: “Last Refuge Of The Splatterpunks” By C. A. Brown

Rick almost let out a blood-curdling scream when he saw that an online bookshop had placed a content warning on his 1986 novel “SCYTHE MANIAC!“.

In bold letters, it had read “This novel contains frequent graphic scenes of a grisly nature and is suitable for mature audiences only“.

For a second, he thought about getting on the phone to his publisher or firing off an e-mail to the press. It would be a way to stay relevant. But he remembered that, these days, teenagers don’t read horror novels any more. Even if they did, they’d probably obey the content warning.

These days, he thought, the press wouldn’t bluster and foam at him for criticising the warning. They would just tut at him in a “concerned” fashion. There would be a vicious stream of carefully curated outrage in the comments below every editorial. Some of these wholesome pacifists would probably send him death threats too. Rick let out another sigh. Since when, he thought, did controversy become such a bad thing?

His eyes drifted over to the bookshelf beside his writing desk. Twenty dark spines stared back at him, festooned with bold words like “DEATH RATTLE!“, “SKELETON FIENDS!” and “SPIKES!“. These days, he thought, it looked less like a trophy cabinet and more like the horror section of some indoor market book stall, frequented only by nostalgic old people.

There was only one thing for it. Rick made a phone call and picked up his leather jacket.

Thirty minutes later, he sat in the beer garden of The Fox And Hounds with a rollie in his left hand and a half-finished pint in his right. Opposite him, a man with long white hair reached into his own leather jacket and pulled out his mobile phone. It was a good, solid model from 2002 that could withstand horrors worse than either man could write about. It bleeped quietly.

Rick stubbed out his rollie and sighed: ‘I suppose you’ve heard about the content warnings, Dave. They’ll be putting them on your books next.

Dave let out a bitter laugh: ‘Fat bloody chance! They’d actually have to sell. Seriously, I make more money flogging my old publisher copies on eBay than selling new copies. Luckily, my remaining ten fans are wealthy, successful people.

Really? I thought you’d turned to bank robbery, or sold a kidney or both.‘ Rick chuckled.

Dave raised his bushy eyebrows: ‘You know, that would be a brilliant idea for a novel.

Taking a hearty swig from his pint, Rick said: ‘Too bloody right! Even better, there could be some kind of demonic ghoul who decides to stage a robbery…

…Of the organ bank. I love it!‘ Dave’s eyes shone brightly. For a second, Rick could see a hint of the stunningly handsome twenty-three year old man he’d first met at an author panel back in the ’80s. The crowds had gone wild when they’d appeared on stage. There had been nothing but a sea of leather jackets and heavy metal T-shirts. They were rockstars.

As Rick slumped forward, Dave muttered: ‘… and it wouldn’t get published. And you know why?

Rick was about to reply with an explanation that almost sounded like the conservative editorials that had hounded him throughout his twenties. But, before he could say anything, Dave just pointed towards the pub window.

Behind the faded glass, a widescreen TV played silent news footage of bombed-out cities, bodies on stretchers and screaming faces. A minute later, it was replaced by footage of police officers in some rural field somewhere gathering solemnly around a small white tent.

Maybe we’re just in the wrong market?‘ Dave said ‘With all of that stuff in the news, we should be selling our books on the bloody “Mind, Body & Spirit” shelf. They’re practically… relaxing…. by comparison!