“Ladeez and Gentlemen… Welcome to the sickest sideshow on earth! STEP RIGHT UP and SEE… SATAN’s 3 RING CIRCUS of HELL! written by The Grin Creeper himself, Robert Steven Rhine, and edited by his parasitic sidekick, the freakish cover artist, Frank Forte. The superlative artwork inside this tent represents four years of hard labor in haddes by 43 of the most astounding, amazing and incredible illustrators in the netherworld! So, let’s get this show on the road! I just hope you can find your way out of the freak house. Ballyhoo kids!! Heh… heh… heh…” - Book Introduction
Some of you may have never heard of Robert Steven Rhine, but that’s about to change. He is an award-winning horror short story and comic book writer, founder/publisher/editor-in-chief of Girls and Corpses magazine and has even dabbled in filmmaking. You could say that he is a renaissance man of the sick and twisted. Truth be told, I had never heard of him (although I had heard of his magazine) until I received a press release for his re-issue of the nearly 300 page 2005 collection of his grotesque and humorously bent Satan’s Sideshow themed series. Being a comic book geek as well as a horror movie nerd, I was instantly interested in seeing just how far an indie publisher like Asylum Press would go to gross me out.
I was pleasantly surprised when I got the book at the caliber of the glossy, high quality cover, pages and actual printing. It’s a beautiful book even though it’s filled with some of the most stomach churning, offensive and fucking funny stories and illustrations I’ve ever seen. Comparisons of the anthology to Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow are inevitable but R.S. Rhine has taken that somewhat mainstream content to the next level… of Hell. Some of his stories are darkly humorous like “Party Clown” where a desperate woman hires a homeless clown for her son’s birthday party where he does some, uh, gut busting tricks. Others –like those of my favorite author Clive Barker who Rhine shared pages with in the horror anthology “Dark Delicacies”– haunted me even days later. The relatively involved tale “Fast Acting Xilotripimene” involves a drug that prolongs pleasure and systematically skinning a man alive… yeesh.
The ideas are original and the writing is tight but what brings the yarns from your mind’s eye to fruition on the page is the art. It varies from the cartoony to the downright aberrant. A few of my favorites show up like Tim Vigil (“Faust: Love of the Damned”), Jeff Gaither (Rock & Roll Monster Art) and John Cassaday (“Planetary”). I even found a few new favs like the Geiger-esque Jacob Hair, the creepy realism of Rich Longmore and the ghetto-fabulous cartoon style of Steve Mannion. The whole book is an incredible collection of macabre, sexy and outlandish color and black & white illustrations that bring Rhine’s extreme sense of horror to life. “Satan’s 3-Ring Circus of Hell” is one of those books that I will come back to every so often to reread and will be sure to find something I didn’t see or realize about a story before. And I’m sure that some of them will live in my brain forever… *shudder*…