Although “extreme horror” has widely been considered a playpen where only cisgender heterosexual male creators may participate, it is undeniable that there is a distinct shift in the model of this subgenre with a bounty of openly queer writers storming the gates and chanting: “We are here, too.”
Over the past few years, “extreme horror” has faced a resurgence in the mainstream thanks to influencers on apps like Instagram and TikTok. Content creators who discuss the high-octane violence and exaggerated sexuality of these books seem to skip to the top of the algorithm and, in turn, help certain books go viral. Although many would argue that the “extreme horror” subgenre caters specifically to a cisgender heterosexual clientele with so many of the authors representing the same ilk, it’s become increasingly obvious that readers hunger for more diverse representation in the genre.
Thankfully, there are countless openly queer authors emerging from the shadows and systematically proving how—and why—queer extreme horror is uniquely disturbing. Here are my top five favorite extreme horror books by queer authors.
Arguably one of the most buzzed-about books of 2022 on this list, Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt is a masterpiece of post-apocalyptic extreme horror fiction. Set on the desolated New England coast, the book chronicles the plight of Beth and Fran—two trans women who are desperate to survive a cruel, unforgiving landscape fraught with feral men and other perilous hazards. Felker-Martin’s prose is taut and precise, urging the reader to keep turning pages until the final act of depravity.
The book is as timely as ever with so much anti-trans legislation being passed in the United States. Although Manhunt is a rollicking descent into debauchery fueled by rage, passion, and fury, there is a gentleness lingering between the pages—a testament to the resilience of the queer spirit.
Poppy Z. Brite remains one of the most iconic and highly lauded authors of extreme horror fiction to this day. Exquisite Corpse is Brite’s magnum opus—a debauched excursion into the darkness that resides within us all. The novel follows the exploits of Andrew Compton, convicted serial killer and necrophiliac. Brite’s writing is so lush and decadent, comforting the reader until they are suddenly awakened by an onslaught of violence so rich and so graphic that even the most hardened readers of extreme fiction would blush. Exquisite Corpse is the definition of “depravity.”
With Brite’s lush, poetic descriptions of such brutal and unrelenting violence, readers might be initially bewildered by the juxtaposition between such beauty and raw viciousness. Thankfully, Brite’s prose is so confident that readers will understand why Brite has been lauded for decades as one of the finest and most compelling writers of extreme horror fiction.
We Are Here to Hurt Each Other
Although Ashe is relatively new to the scene of horror fiction, her debut collection, We Are Here to Hurt Each Other, immediately bolsters her as a fascinating voice in extreme horror fiction. Ashe’s prose is vivid and uniquely disquieting with such lyricism, such refined songfulness.
Clearly influenced by iconic extreme authors like Clive Barker and Kathe Koja, Ashe’s collection is a magnificent introduction to her mind. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this collection (other than the impressive command of language) is the fact that the stories collected here are connected and interlocked with one another in a way that forces the reader to forget they’re reading a collection. We Are Here to Hurt Each Other is arguably one of the finest collections released in 2022.
Of course, a list dedicated to transgressive queer fiction would not be complete without a work penned by the incomparable Kathe Koja. Although The Cipher seems to be Koja’s more popular work with the reading public, Skin is equally as fascinating and perhaps even more unsettling with its graphic violence. The plot follows a sculptor, Tess, who eventually crosses paths with a “guerilla performance artist” known as Bibi. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, their relationship intensifies while Bibi continues to push her body to the very limits. An unnerving and uncomfortable examination of relationships
Books of Blood - Volume 1 “In the Hills, the Cities”
Although technically classified as a short story, horror icon Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities” certainly makes up for its length with unrelenting brutality and graphic violence. The plot follows two lovers, Mick and Judd, who unwittingly happen upon a grotesque ancient ritual in a rural area of Yugoslavia. Barker’s writing, as always, is luxurious and mesmerizing to read. Although this particular story may not be his most celebrated or most famous (when compared with other iconic works from his notorious Books of Blood like “Dread” or “The Midnight Meat Train”); however, “In the Hills, the Cities” remains an uncompromisingly unique vision of queer horror.