Extreme Horror

What is the Extreme Horror Subgenre?

Extreme horror, also known as hardcore horror or splatterpunk, is the goriest, most violent, most sexual, bloodiest scare you can find! Nothing here is left to the imagination. Every last gruesome detail is spilled onto the page in an effort to shock and disgust the reader. As a subgenre, extreme horror began in the 1980's, using the term splatterpunk. It was seen as a subversion of the more traditional forms of horror, where much of the terror took place in the minds of the reader. Extreme horror writers wanted there to be nothing safe or suggestive about their brand of terror. The term, splatterpunk, was coined by writer David Schow, considered to be the gather of the subgenre, in 1986. It has since fallen into disuse, for less descriptive terms, such as extreme or hardcore horror. These terms also encompass a larger aspect of the genre, such as the writers of extreme horror who were not part of the splatterpunk movement, and whose writing does not necessarily contain the same culturally subversive undertones.

The graphic nature of extreme horror is not without criticism, of course. Critics have derided the subgenre as "torture porn", and even Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, slammed the subgenre saying that it did not inspire terror so much as nausea. Themes of sex and violence are common in extreme horror, as well as themes of racism, homophobia, and torture. This is the subgenre that rips away the curtain of suggestion and imagination and forces the reader to stare into a world of nightmares, a world that may or may not be very similar to the world around us. If horror is said to expose the harsh truths of humanity, extreme horror does so in intricate and gruesome detail.

Extreme Horror Characteristics

Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in extreme horror varies. This subgenre can have archetypal characters or explore the deepest, darkest minds of serial killers.

Level of Plot: The level of plot is moderate in extreme horror, as there is not much mystery in the subgenre. This does not mean that there are not complex plots, only that everything is laid out on the page, with little left to the imagination.

Level of Supernatural: The level of supernatural in extreme horror varies, but is generally moderate to high. This subgenre is the stuff of nightmares, oftentimes, those nightmares are of the supernatural variety, though, not always.

Level of Scary:  The level of scary in extreme horror is high, as the purpose of this subgenre is to elicit terror and disgust.

Level of Violence: The level of violence in extreme horror is very high. This is a subgenre where nothing is left to the imagination. All of the blood and guts and gore are spilled onto the page.

Typical Setting: There are no typical settings for extreme horror, although many seem to take place in urban settings, similar to noir horror.

Related Horror Subgenres

Due to its gritty nature, noir horror could be considered a related subgenre to extreme horror, though extreme horror is much more graphic in nature. Serial killer, crime, psychological, and satanic horror are also also related in that they employ similar themes to extreme horror. Another graphic subgenre that is closely related is visceral horror.

Don't Read Extreme Horror If You Dislike…

This genre is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. If graphic depictions of sex, violence, rape, or torture offend, this is not the genre for you.

Cities of Night by Philip Nutman- This collection of short stories, with everything from the comic to the harsh and graphic, is held together by the narrative of Jamie Rivers, a psychic reporter who foresees his brother's violent and untimely death. Nutman doesn't shy away from the disturbing in these stories, and suicide is a common motif.


Exquisit Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite- This bloodbath of a novel follows two serial killers, their intended victim, and an ex-lover to their terrifying collision. Ander Compton considers killing to be his art form. After staging his own death, he escapes to America to perfect his art in the seedy streets of New Orleans. He sets his sights on Jay Byrne, a frivolous playboy, only to discover that Byrne shares his dark desires. Together, they seek out the perfect victim. Because of his growing attraction to Byrne, Vietanamese-American runaway, Tran could become their next target.


Seeing Red by David J. Schow- This collection of short stories is brutal, but at the same time, smart and sexy. The stories range from the grotesque to the comic with commentary on everything from Hollywood to graverobbing. The breakout star of this collection, however, is the terrifying short story Not From Around Here, which shows just how scary the deep, dark woods can be.


Off Season by Jack Ketchum- The first novel of one of extreme horror's brightest stars, Off Season was partially inspired by the legend of Sawney Bean. Ketchum's tale follows four friends who travel to vacation in Maine, and the brutal, cannibalistic family that stalks them.


Cipher by Kathe Koja- This 1991 Bram Stoker award winner chronicles what happens when starving artists, Nicholas and Nakota, find a strange hole into nothing in their apartment, and the dark things that happen as they experiment with it.


The Nightrunners by Joe R. Landsale- Whether it be the disturbing reality of a poverty stricken town, the horror of rape and murder, or a terrifying demon, The Nightruuners is a novel that does not shy away from any graphic detail in its portrayal of a couple fleeing to an isolated cabin in East Texas to escape the tragedy that has been inflicted upon them and the evil that chases after them in the night.

The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon- Vacationers are kidnapped, and left in the forest to be sacrificed to the Krulls, deformed, cannibalistic creatures. As they struggle to navigate the harsh terrain and elude the savage Krulls, the darkest parts of them come out. While editing tamed the version published in 1981, the volume released in 2008 was truly disturbing.


The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector- When loser Rudy Pasko stumbles into being turned into a vampire, he unleashes his new powers in the underground world of New York City in a major killing spree. As the bodies pile up, police have no leads on the killer whom they've aptly dubbed The Subway Psycho. It's up to a renegade group of misfits, led by the gruff Joseph Hunter, to stop him.


Books of Blood by Clive Barker- The Books of Blood are the collection of short horror stories that launched Clive Barker's career in 1984. The stories range from bone-chilling to gruesome to humorous, but they're not short on violence. The title is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these stories.


Succulent Prey by Wrath James White- Joe Miles was attacked by a serial killer as a child, and he was the only victim who survived. Now, he's developing strange cannibalistic urges. He begins to believe that these instincts are a disease passed on from his attacker. As he fights to keep from turning into a monster, the body count rises, and the murders get more brutal and violent.

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