Ruthless: An Extreme Shock Horror Collection
Shane McKenzie, editor

Pill Hill Press
Trade Paper, 240 pages, $16.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

The unabashed ugly side of human nature is unflinchingly explored in Ruthless: An Extreme Shock Horror Collection. Sadism, sadomasochism, and cannibalism abound in the 19 tales in the anthology. The only apparent restraints are those used in acts of bondage. Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t well written; some are extremely powerful. Many are excruciatingly unnerving. Certainly, none are bland.

In “Sanctity of Passion,” an Upper East Side psychiatrist trains his patients to become emotionally dependent on him. He abuses their psyches; manipulating them (with the aid of drugs) into self mutilation and subsequent suicide. Like another literary psychotic shrink, Hannibal Lecter, this doctor is a cannibal. Savoring each willingly sacrificed morsel, he enjoys the preparation as much as the meal. Isolating the weakness of his victims enhances their flavor. Writer Daniel Fabiani is psychologically insightful: “Within the haggard minds of the city folk lay the deepest and most surreal form of fragility that the world has ever known: the need for a friend.” Fabiani’s protagonist capitalizes on this need, big time.

Compulsion carried too far is also addressed in Danny Hill’s “Your Tender Loving Touch.” A recently widowed man misses his wife’s caresses. Since she’s lost her life, but not her limbs, he decides to make do with what’s available. Initially, he embraces the pacifying effects of a severed arm: “Come to think of it, the limb’s incapacity for anything other than its servile indulgence of him did not nuisance James in the least. Even the smell of decay steadily emanating from his wife’s arm day by day did not unsettle him.” Eventually, however, it seems obvious that a little dismemberment goes a long way. What was once perceived as disarming becomes alarming. Imbued with gallows humor, perverse pervasive laughter goes hand and hand with the horrific elements of the tale.

Relationships continue to wreak havoc on mental stability in “True Love” by Shane McKenzie, and “Strength” by Alec Cizak. McKenzie employs a bizarre and brutal game show to expose the faulty complacency between lovers. Assumptions of status and security are literally fractured, sliced, and torn asunder, as painful truths become revealed. Cizak delves into a tormented young mind, and examines the notion that torture breeds torture. The writer wisely plays upon the anguished aspects of the central character; the brilliant picked upon outsider whose world view is shaped by how others treat him. When inflicting pain starts producing orgasms, the youth’s path is set. At once terrifying and tragic, this depiction of descent into psychosis is most disquieting.

Ruthless: An Extreme Shock Horror Collection lives up to its title. It is not a book for the squeamish; the tome contains no tame tales. For those with a taste (and stomach) for the radical and relentless, Ruthless will be resoundingly rewarding.

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