First available back in 2001 as a print-on-demand self-published book, and then later by Mandrake Cult Fiction in April of 2002, US author Mark Mirabello’s novella ‘The Cannibal Within’ soon made a name for itself due to the sheer graphic nature of the cannibalism, torture, violence and bestial depravity included within the tale.

DLS Synopsis:
At the time he didn’t know the true significance of the phone call.  He just listened as the woman talked of those who consume the flesh of young girls.  However, the very next day the caller appeared in his office, hoping to tell him about the race of beings that exist in a vast labyrinth of tunnels underground.  Beings who share many physical similarities to us – but at the same time, have many horrifying differences.  And with that she offers him a manuscript which provides the secrets of this underground race - the transhumans.  A manuscript that he has now reproduced from memory, along with details surrounding the woman’s own disturbing story.

And so it begins with her first encounter with the transhumans that took place in October of 1972 within the dark rural woodlands near Point Pleasant in West Virginia.  Here, under the ethereal glow of the moon, her inseparable best friend, Maddalena, and her decided that they would summon Satan.  With Maddalena already practising in the ways of the occult, the two young girls had the necessary knowledge and symbolic paraphernalia to perform such a black ceremony.  However, after the two girls chanted the sinister incantations from The Red Book of Aoin, pledging their allegiance to the forces of darkness, the girls suddenly realise that they are way out of their depth.

Confronted by a trio of beastly demons, the girls are viciously raped before Maddalena is eaten alive.  With her mind almost completely lost from watching her best friend being consumed by the beasts, she finally witnesses the demon-like beings transform into near-perfect replicas of the two girls.  A last memory before the dark relief of unconsciousness sweeps over her.

But the horror is only just beginning.  Awakening in a grave-sized steel cage with both of her legs and arms broken, a lifetime of suffering in the captivity of the underground depths of the transhumans’ caves awaits her.  Raped periodically over the years that follow, she will give birth to many mutant babies for the beasts – the majority of which will be eaten alive after living just two years during which time they are fattened for the slaughter.

But this lifetime of torment can’t go on for ever.  Her suffering is finite and the day will come when she can escape her underground hell and return to the world she has almost but forgotten above…

DLS Review:
The overall concept behind the novella is certainly an interesting one.  What the reader is presented with is a text that has been reproduced by the author Mark Mirabello after he supposedly spoke with the unnamed woman from the story.  It’s all fiction, but the use of this faux-reality to the story does bring the two sections of the book together by this nice bookending structure.

Furthermore this is not the only oddly contrived structuring within the book.  Interestingly, Mirabello decided to break down each of his chapters into further sub-chapters, with their own individual titles announcing what will play out in the proceeding passage.  It’s a little strange, perhaps edging towards pretentious if anything.  But it does add a certain ‘mythological manuscript’ feel to the whole presentation – which could work in its favour just a little.

However, what is very off-putting about the entire presentation of the novel is how Mirabello clearly wants to show how well-read he is.  At the beginning of each chapter Mirabello inserts as many historic quotes as he dare get away with, whilst within the text itself Mirabello jumps at each and every chance to reference a classic writer or philosopher or just a long stream of his cultist knowledge.  And that’s not to mention how keen Mirabello is to mention his Ph.D wherever possible.  And don’t get me started on how focused upon his educational background the ‘About the author’ blurb on the back of the book is.

Aside from all these tiresome references and supposedly high-brow insertions, the story itself is quite a simplistic and surprisingly unoriginal one.  Like a grim amalgamation of Richard Laymon’s ‘Midnight’s Lair’ (1988), Jeff Long’s ‘The Descent’ (1999), Jack Ketchum’s ‘Off Season’ (1988), and something Chris Barnes or Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse might pull together if they were attempting some Lovecraftian fiction – it’s all very much in the same territory as where numerous others have trodden.

Nevertheless, the end result is a horror story that’s rammed full of some pretty intense and markedly strong elements; although none are really given the absolute attention they need to really get the reader by the guts and give ‘em a good old yank.  Okay, so at times Mirabello does get down ‘n’ dirty with the visceral grime, along with offering a generous helping of some tasteless depravity.  Indeed, at times the story does edge towards being dubbed ‘vile’ with its almost constant barrage of a horrific hell.  And in a ‘Death Metal lyrics’ way, it works.  But on any other level, Mirabelo misses the mark by a long shot.

However, do expect nothing short of bleak, perverse and guttural horror, all with little to no overall direction. It does the job, it gets to the real dirt of Mirabello’s transhuman race - exposes their monstrous side for all its worth - then gets the hell out.

Strangely, the last third or so of the book pulls away from the story per se, and instead delivers quite an intricate overview of the transhumans.  Here Mirabello details their supposed origins, social make-up, diet, beliefs, society and ritualistic lifestyles.  Although still packed with grim horror - most notably the cannibalistic elements – this latter chapter feels annoyingly disjointed from the story as a whole; adding very little other than to show how many elaborate and intricate ideas Mirabello has come up with in the creation of his underground transhuman race.

But for a quick and simple horror read that packs in the grime – it’s not all that bad.  Indeed, when our unnamed captive is down in the filth of the underground tunnels, the story offers up quite a compelling read of utter misery and endless suffering.

The book runs for a total of 138 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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