Greetings! Welcome to the second entry of Horror Classics Revisited where I review a seminal work of horror fiction. My first and foremost reason for doing this is that I think it will be fun for me and hopefully for all of you too. Secondly, it may serve as a good reference point for new readers to the genre. For the month of March, I will do John Skipp and Craig Spector’s controversial classic The Light at the End.
Splatterpunk: 1. Horror fiction that usually features graphic depictions of violence, sex, sexual violence, violent sex, gore, and other such things. Well known examples include Jack Ketchum’s “Off Season” and Edward Lee’s “The Bighead”
Generally, when one hears the term “splatterpunk” the above definition is not far from what pops in one’s mind. Because of this, many have been turned off to the subgenre, and in turn may have avoided such titles like The Light at the End or Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood or Poppy Z. Brite’s early nasties. Lines were drawn in the dirt between those who championed “quiet horror” and the practitioners of splatter. Critics who did not like horror to begin with now had a brand new reason to dislike the genre.
The Light at the End by writing team John Skipp and Craig Spector is considered by many to be the first “splatterpunk” novel. Released in 1986 its influence is undeniable with its lead villain inspiring the Spike character from the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show and Skipp & Spector editing the legendary zombie anthologies The Book of the Dead and Still Dead. Last Halloween, the novel was rereleased as an ebook through Crossroads Press, exposing it to a new generation of bloodthirsty readers. Not bad for a novel in a subgenre that is often criticized for having gore for gore’s sake.
So what is it that has given this novel the staying power that it has. The gore, while at times shocking, is nothing new by today’s standards, so let’s not look at it for the time being. There was also a strong undercurrent of sarcasm throughout the work and in the attitude of its authors. That mentality was popular at the time, and certainly drew attention to the work, but even that is not enough to garner the novel’s staying power.
The novel is set in New York and in the 1980s when New York was still a pretty scary place to be. The main character is Joseph Hunter, a man who sees the sickness of the world around him and dreams of leaving town. His mother is dying after an attack by some thugs. What makes him so strong and what gives the book its heart and soul is that even though he is in oppressive circumstances, he chooses to do something about it, rather than let himself be controlled by them. When we meet him, he runs down a mugger who has taken an old lady’s purse. When he discovers that the subways have become home to a murderous, punk rock vampire, he steps forward to stand against the evil with a diverse group of characters whose fates are tied to the vampire’s exploits. In this respect, it is a classic hero story.
Throughout reading The Light at the End, one would not be able to tell that it was written by two people. Anyone who has collaborated on a project knows how important and frustratingly difficult it is to forgo their individual voices to find that third voice. Here there is no distinguishing which scenes were written by Skipp and which were written by Spector. The narrative is seamless throughout and that feat alone is worth applauding.
Are there scenes that some would find offensive? Sure, but as both have said in interviews, everything was loud in their works. It was rock ‘n’ roll horror. The blood and guts were there in all their gruesome glory, but so were the heart, the soul, the humor, and the story (which when all is stripped away is a brilliant, modern retelling of Dracula).
Gore for gore’s sake? This reviewer thinks not.
Next Month’s Horror Classic Revisited: The October Country by Ray Bradbury