Viceral Horror

What is the VIceral Horror Subgenre?

Much like its extreme and splatterpunk cousins, visceral horror is disturbing, bloody, and gut-wrenching. Nothing is left to the imagination, and no gory detail is left undescribed. The purpose of this is to cause terror so intense that the reader actually feels their heart pounding as they turn the page and their guts writhing in anticipation of the next horrific detail. Visceral horror is often brutal and action-packed.

The subgenre of videogames that has developed from this type of horror is known as survival horror, and perhaps this may be a better description because in survival horror games, the aim, as the main character and player, is to survive the story. The same can be said for visceral horror because tales in this subgenre drop the reader and protagonist very early in the story into a world of violence and terror so unlike our own that it is like a punch in the gut. As the story progresses, the brutality never flags. In fact, it intensifies. Every gruesome detail is gory and explicit in an effort to firmly place the reader into the nightmare world of the story.

Also similar to extreme horror and splatterpunk is this subgenre's desire to cause the reader unease with this high level of detail. However, unlike the other subgenres, visceral horror has no culturally subversive aim in doing so. The reader's gut reaction is the reason. True to its name, visceral horror is written to elicit a specific reaction from the reader. As such, it can sometimes be considered more tame than extreme horror or splatterpunk because the aim is not to nauseate but to play on instinctual fears and cause unease, disgust, and of course, terror.


Viceral Horror Characteristics

Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in visceral horror will generally be high to sufficiently place the reader in the story, as the reader will need to have a fully fleshed out character to identify with.


Level of Plot: Because too complicated of a plot will fail to incite the desired reaction, expect plots in visceral horror to be moderate to low in level.


Level of Supernatural:. The level of supernatural in visceral horror varies depending on the type of story being told. Generally, though, visceral horror has no need of ghosts and ghouls to terrify. So, expect the level of supernatural in this subgenre to be relatively low.


Level of Scary: The level of scary in visceral horror is high as the aim of works in this subgenre is to trigger instinctual fear.


Level of Violence: Obviously, leaving no detail undescribed, the level of violence in visceral horror is expected to be high.


Typical Setting: Typical settings will be familiar to easily place the reader in the story. Even in Hell or post-apocalypse, the setting will generally be a city or community.

Related Horror Subgenres

The most obviously related subgenres to visceral horror are extreme horror and splatterpunk, which has since been combined with extreme horror. Visceral horror is often confused with extreme horror because of the graphic nature of each. Crime horror, serial killer horror, and to a lesser degree, some supernatural horror can also be related to visceral horror.

Don't Read Viceral Horror If You Dislike…

Graphic detail. This subgenre is not for the faint of stomach or for those who scare easily. If you like your horror quiet or subtle,  and your scares light, this is not the genre for you.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum- Written by the forefather of visceral horror, this novel is chillingly based on actual events and tells the story of a young girl who is violently abused and tortured by her increasingly deranged guardian.


Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite- Nothing wonders why he feels so out of place until he discovers that he is half-vampire. Then, he goes on a quest to find his true parents, a quest that may cost him what is left of his humanity.


The Stake by Richard Laymon- When a horror writer stumbles upon a body with a stake driven through its heart, his belief in vampires is sorely tested. When he begins to have disturbing dreams about the victim, he unearths a deadly mystery.


Castaways by Brian Keene- While filming a reality show on a not-so-deserted island, the cast and crew are hunted by the island's nightmarish inhabitants.


The Damnation Game by Clive Barker- Barker's name is pretty much synonymous with graphic and disturbing horror. His first novel, a tale of a gambler caught between his millionaire employer and the supernatural forces that pursue him, is no exception.


City Infernal by Edward Lee- Goth girl, Cassie thought she knew all about hell until she travels there to retrieve her sister's soul. What she finds is not a scorching wasteland with lakes of fire, but a vast and dark metropolis.


Swan Song by Robert McCammon- In the wake of a nuclear war, a battle between good and evil brews as dark forces hunt humanity's last hope in this Stoker award winning novel.


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer- The first in the Southern Reach trilogy follows the twelfth expedition into the mysterious Area X after all other missions to explore the area have yielded gruesome results.


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis- In a critique on consumerism, American Psycho
introduces Patrick Bateman, a young, wealthy investment banker who seems to have it all. At
night, however, Bateman begins experimenting with murder, descending quickly into more
violent and depraved escapades, or so he tells us.


The Apocalypse by Peter Meredith- This  may seem like another story about the zombie apocalypse, but it is the human villains who are truly chilling as the monsters take over in this series opener.

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