Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Extreme horror, hardcore horror, and splatterpunk are a variety of titles applied to a subgenre of horror which developed in the 1980s and 90s. Before this time, more often than not violence and sexual misconduct in horror was implied rather than explicitly stated. Authors such as Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and Clive Barker changed all this by writing in gritty detail about these acts as a means to shock and disgust the reader. Today the subgenre continues as the gore and perversion are amped up to even more gratuitous levels.
Cheryl Mullenax’s collection, Necro Files: Two Decades of Extreme Horror, examines the evolution of the extreme horror subgenre. It is not a best of anthology. Instead, it presents a selection of extreme horror tales in order of their release. The goal is to pay homage to some of the classics while introducing readers to new talent within the subgrene today. Also while the title implies two decades, 30 years are represented starting with a story by George R.R. Martin in 1976 and continuing through 2006 with J. F. Gonzalez. The complete collection includes:
“Meathouse Man” by George R.R. Martin
“Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe R. Lansdale
“Diary” by Ronald Kelly
“Abed” by Elizabeth Massie
“I am He that Liveth and was Dead… & Have the Keys of Hell and Death” by Randy Chandler and T. Winter-Damon
“Xipe” by Edward Lee
“Bait” by Ray Garton
“Painfreak” by Gerard Houarner
“Lover Doll” by Wayne Allen Sallee
“The Spirit Wolves” by Charlee Jacob
“Godflesh” by Brian Hodge
“Every Last Drop” by John Everson
“Blind in the House of the Headsman” by Mehitobel Wilson
“An Experiment in Human Nature” by Monica J. O’Rourke
“The Burgers of Calais” by Graham Masterton
“Ecstasy” by Nancy Kilpatrick
“Pop Star in the Ugly Bar” by Bentley Little
“The Sooner They Learn” by Wrath James White
“Addict” by J. F. Gonzalez
While the stories chosen by Mullenax for the collection are certainly worthy, notably absent are the works of John Skipp (1980s), Poppy Z. Brite (1990s), and Bryan Smith (2000s). Moreover, “Meathouse Man,” by George R.R. Martin, and “Night They Missed the Horror Show,” by Joe R. Lansdale, have been reprinted numerous times. It is likely most interested in the collection have read these stories before. However, there are several lesser known gems hidden within the collection.
One unexpected treasure is Graham Masterton’s “Burgers of Calais.” When John Henry Dauphin’s truck breaks down in the quintessential New England small town, he has to get a job to pay for the repairs. Dauphin goes to work as a cook for a local burger joint that is killing its competition. Mind you, they are not literally killing anyone, but something is definitely amiss after a customer finds a bullet in his hamburger. Now it is up to Dauphin to solve the case of the mystery meat.
Another, Bentley Little’s “Pop Star in the Ugly Bar” follows a nameless starlet. She likes to tell the media that she is really into alternative sex and knows what it is to be extreme. Somewhere along the way the starlet begins believing her own hype and stumbles into a sex club where deviant behavior is the norm. Now, she will learn the meaning of extreme sex whether she wants to or not.
The downside to Necro Files: Two Decades of Extreme Horror comes in the strong emphasis on sexual horror over gore –which, while not necessarily terrible- misrepresents the subgenre as a whole. Still, fans of the subgenre will be pleasantly surprised. There are almost no misses in the collection. Newbies and seasoned horror aficionados will come away with a few new authors to follow as a result.