I agree with JVJ about the goriness of pre-code horror being over-exaggerated (Obviously, I also agree about loving horror comics).
Before I had read much pre-code horror, I remember reading in comics histories how many of the other publishers were even gorier than E.C.
At that point, the only pre-code horror I'd read (or so I thought) was E.C. and I remember thinking that if the the other stuff was even gorier and more horrific than E.C. I HAD to read it.
Now, having read about 3/4 of the pre-code horror stories, I don't see where they got the idea. To me, E.C. is far and away the goriest pre-code publisher (and the best overall). What other publisher would ever come up with using a cad's intestines for base paths?
Only a handful of other publishers really struck me as having much gore at all: Ajax/Farrell, Gillmor, Story (but only after they started to deliberately mimic E.C.), Superior (though only on occasion), and Harvey (though the gore was mostly limited to the covers). Of course, unbeknownst to me, I had actually read quite a bit of pre-code horror in the form of Eerie Publications remakes which often revelled in the gore.
Of couse, compared to today's horror movies, most of the pre-code horror pales in comparison (though E.C. still stacks up).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying gore is the be-all-and-end-all of pre-code horror - sometimes it can even be used as a crutch to prop up a poor story.
I enjoy a good gory ending as much as the next guy (actually, probably a bit more) but writing was always the main thing for me (even over art, which probably makes me rarity among comic fans).
Pre-code horror writing was a mixed bag. At its worst, it relied overly much on twist endings or formulaic plots (guess who's the vampire, the return from death etc). Oddly, while E.C. often relied on just these things, I think the writing and art (plus the humor) elevated them far above the rest of the pack. One of the things I like about publishers like Ajax/Farrell and Superior is that despite the Iger Shop art (I am not as turned off by it as JVJ but it certainly isn't my favorite) they often had plots that were just out there in sheer wackiness (killer pajamas, amorous baboons, living mandrake roots, a man's face eaten off by fish etc)
A lot of it is a matter of taste. In general, I love pre-code horror, but there some publishers who just don't do anything for me at all. Ficton House bores me to tears (not just the horror - good girl art never did anything for me). ACG was too tame (though I liked some of their stuff). I thought DC actually had some great plots but the stories were ruined for me by their insistence on supplying a "logical" non-supernatural ending (that was usually anything but logical).
The big one that I disagree with most on, however (and I'll probably get drummed off of GAC for daring to say so) is Atlas. They just didn't do it for me. They were OK, but I know some people who hold them second only to E.C. and I just don't get it. The art was OK, often great (though sometimes a bit muddy for my tastes) but the writing was often abysmal. Many of their stories were nothing more that bad jokes with a cheesy punch line at the end (seemingly an attempt to emulate E.C.'s twist endings and humor).
Don't get me wrong. Atlas had its moments and I still consider an afternoon reading Atlas horror time well spent, but they'd rank in the middle of the pack for me.