Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Edited by Shane McKenzie
Published by Pill Hill Press
One of the things I love about independent and small press publishers is that they have the stones to publish things that the larger companies won't touch. Too controversial, too disturbing, not commercial enough are all reasons why some otherwise excellent work gets shot down. Pill Hill Press, however, isn't afraid of a little controversy, as is evidenced in their new anthology of extreme horror, Ruthless.
Pick a subject that will disturb, and it's in here. Violence, cannibalism, sex and drugs, you name it, you got it. More important is the fact that you get it in well-written, tight stories that will leave you shaken. Beginning with John McNee's "Bebbel," about a twisted circus freak, readers are taken through the darkest parts of dementia. While it may be difficult to say what the "best" stories in this collection are because of their content, it is equally difficult to pick stand-outs because of the quality. "Saucy," by Nate Burleigh, is a vivid description of a hooker disposing of, and eating, her John, while "To Boil" is a depraved little tale about people trapped in a basement while their imprisoner plots to boil them into soup. "Birthday Song," by Thornton Austen, is a darkly humorous tale of an old man who just hates for the sake of hating.
With anthologies it's difficult to do a real in-depth review just by the nature of the work. Every story has its own merit but isn't long enough for massive character development or grand sweeping plot arcs. What we get, then, are vignettes, little slices of action and mayhem that are just long enough to plague our minds when we close the book for a break. Suffice to say, if you like your horror dark, demented, and disturbed, Ruthless has what you're looking for.
Adding a bit of wisdom to the book is an excellent introduction from Bentley Little, in which the author correctly and effortlessly talks about the difference between extreme horror and every other schmoe out there who thinks that, just because he can come up with gross images, he's a horror writer. Not so, says Little, who states that there's a big difference between gross and horror. Ruthless, while sometimes tapdancing right down that line, manages to stay firmly planted on the horror side.
4 1/2 out of 5
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