Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted
K. Allen Wood, Michelle Howarth, editors
Shock Totem Publications, LLC
Trade paper, 100 pages, $5.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
It is such a great feeling to discover that a new kid on the block is an asset to the neighborhood. Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted is a welcome addition to the horror community. This digest format magazine is a delight; it features some fine stories, crackerjack interviews, brief reviews of movies, books and records. Music is given its due in the periodical; as inspiration for writing, as punctuation for fiction, and as aural entertainment.
In a candid and colorful interview with John Skipp, for example, the author discusses his roots as a musician. Skipp employs many four letter word adjectives in conversation, just as he does in his fiction. The result is a bleepingly amusing piece; of special fun is the Los Angeles earthquake anecdote.
The original stories in the magazine are, by and large, terrific reading. The first story, “The Music Box” by T.L. Morganfield, takes a Twilight Zone type theme and heads it into darker territory. Initially, the tale bears a resemblance to the “Living Doll” episode from Rod Serling’s TV series. Instead of a Talky Tina doll, Morganfield uses a stuffed animal as the center of household upheaval. It is amazing how the author takes a worn elephant toy and turns it into a shocking, frightening weapon of destruction. The elephant is gentle and benign to those who love it, but loathsome and lethal to an enemy. Plush toys will cease to be perceived as cute and cuddly for those who read this story; its title has a chilling meaning that becomes all too clear at the end.
A great bookend to “The Music Box” is the grand finale in the magazine. “Thirty-Two Scenes From a Dead Hooker’s Mouth” is a doozy of a tale. Writer Kurt Newton spares no details in a sordid and sad episodic portrait of a life gone astray. The poignant prostitute idea has been done many times, but seldom attains such nervy tension. What makes this even more remarkable is that the narrative is told in reverse; the character’s end is the opening sequence. There is no surprise about where she is going; she is gone, hence the title. What is fascinating is to see how she got there, and each successive scene moves closer to that comprehension.
Shock Totem deserves a warm reception by its neighbors in horror’s colony. New blood, especially tasty new blood, is good news for us all.