By Edward Hyde (Tabloid Horrors; 1988)

Here’s an interesting artifact I recently unearthed from my closet, a horror novel packaged as a tabloid newspaper, complete with (bogus) ads and photos.  Printed in South Carolina by someone calling himself “Edward Hyde” (a pen name, obviously!), it’s a lurid, nasty, occasionally funny first person account of a cannibalistic serial killer named Edgar, told in the form of a lengthy letter he writes to a supermarket rag called “The Grapevine.”

It seems Ed and his buddies Lonnie and Bruce tried to steal a priceless treasure from the tomb of Latomba, an African witch doctor.  In dong so, however, they got a curse put on them that causes ‘em to live like Latomba’s people–as cannibalistic nutcases, in other words.  The spirit of Latomba wastes no time putting the curse into action, as the plane ferrying our “heroes” back from Africa crashes in the Alps, leaving them without food and a plethora of corpses…eventually leading to you-know-what-ism.  The guys are rescued, but things only get worse once they get back to civilization and split up.  Ed, who’s remarkably composed despite having just survived a horrific plane crash, finds his cannibalistic urges boiling to the surface and embarks on a killing spree in which he “takes to lunch” quite a few unsuspecting folks, managing to rape a woman and nearly disembowel his young daughter while he’s at it.

Nasty though all this is, Jack Ketchum it ain’t.  The writing is endearingly crude at best, with frequent attempts at “humor” that aren’t too humorous (i.e. the idea that Latomba’s spirit has picked Hannibal, TN for Edgar’s cannibalistic exploits because “black people love to make things rhyme”).  Hyde bills the story as a “Fun, Grossout Horror Novel”, but I think he’s miscalculated: it’s gross, certainly, though not much fun.

To continue: Edgar meets back up with Lonnie and Bruce and discovers they too have been “taking people to lunch.”  The three decide to open a fast food joint and serve their customers some “choice cuts.”  What this has to do with the curse of the title I’m not sure, but they manage to serve up the flesh of several young boys they lure into a cave and then beat to death.  They also run down hitchhikers for fun and circumcise Lonnie’s wife (after which “we ate the meat we cut off her.  We ate it raw.  The three of us growled and fought over it like alley cats scuffling over rotten fish in a garbage can”–charming).

Such is THE CURSE OF LATOMBA.  The narrative is erratically paced and overstays its welcome, particularly in the final third, during which Edgar is forced into auto cannibalism inside a trailer; for some reason the author, who so enthusiastically embraces the grotesque in the rest of the account, wimps out here, referring us to Stephen King’s story “Survivor Type” in place of flesh and blood (pun intended) descriptions.  The final pages, taken up with psychiatric studies and eyewitness accounts of Edgar’s psychosis, also fall flat: the story is simply too ludicrous to support such things.

That leaves the ads and photos.  As I said up front, the novel is done up as a tabloid newspaper, with cheap newsprint and type that’s arranged into four columns on each page (often making it a bitch to read).  The fake ads are the best part of the package: they include a full page spread promoting a diet that promises its users “the muscles of a bull” and a small caption for “Holy Joe, the World’s Greatest Psychic”, promising that “if you call within the next thirty days, he will give you a personal message from Elvis from the other side.”  All ads come complete with addresses where you can send money (although the author helpfully warns readers at the outset that they’re all phony).  There’s also a photo spread of Edgar’s victims and the locations where they met their demise, with oft-hilarious captions–my favorite was the one accompanying a picture of a boarded-up building, apparently “once a thriving restaurant before Edgar’s sick vision of twisted revenge turned it into a Ho-Jo for cannibals.”

If unique packaging were enough to guarantee success, THE CURSE OF LATOMBA wouldn’t have met the fate it did.  I ordered it out of the April 1988 TWILIGHT ZONE magazine, which ran a small piece on it (claiming it “deserves high marks for original presentation”) and its author, who planned “to market LATOMBA in small horror magazines this winter and try for newsstand distribution next summer.”  Success proved allusive, however, and this endearingly odd package remains as obscure as it was back in ’88, if not more so.  It deserves a look nonetheless, as an experiment in creative publishing of which today’s horrors might want to take heed.