Horror for the Holidays is a clever collection of holiday-themed Mythos fiction from Miskatonic River Press (MRP) and edited by Scott David Aniolowski. Unlike other publishers of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, MRP has a history of delivering on the promise of producing content that’s sharply focused on the topic at hand. Horror for the Holidays has the opposite problem, because almost every story is somehow tied to the Lovecraftian universe but there’s no mention of it anywhere on the front or back cover. So let’s fix that right now, shall we? If you’re looking for Mythos content, this book has it in spades.
The fellow on the cover is Krampus, the anti-Santa who punishes evil children. He appears sans long tongue (artists seems to dislike portraying Krampus with his lolling tongue) about to snatch a wicked child that is tearing the heads off of a bag full of dollies on Christmas Eve. More on Krampus later.
- “The Tomb of Oscar Wilde” by W.H. Pugmire is up first celebrating Rosh Chodesh. I’m a fan of Pugmire’s gothic style but this entry doesn’t really do his work justice. It’s very short at four pages, much of it poetry, which is lovely but I would have preferred to see Pugmire flex his claws more in the holiday tradition. In case you’re wondering, Rosh Chodesh is the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the appearance of the new moon. 4 of 5.
- The sick horror really gets going “Love and Darkness” by Oscar Rios. It’s worth noting that although it’s not explicitly stated, some of the authors featured in Horror for the Holidays are also role-playing game authors in the Chaosium tradition, so the entities will be familiar to gamers, particularly Ramsey Campbell’s contributions. “Love and Darkness” is no exception. It manages to create a S&M love story about a submissive, her master, and the little fact that he happens to be a Great Old One. Kinky, cute, and perfect for Valentine’s Day. 5 out of 5.
- “Be Mine” by Brian M. Sammons is also about Valentine’s Day, but this story is more about possession than it submission. Another Campbell critter makes an appearance by fulfilling a long-standing tradition of the “next-in-line” cycle that features in horror movies like “The Ring.” 4 out of 5.
- Passover gets the horror treatment in Lois H. Gresh’s “Cthulhu Mhy’os.” True to its title, this story features a rogue’s gallery of characters crammed into the second coming of Cthulhu. I prefer if authors name drop Lovecraft’s characters sparingly and only when it makes sense; even though this story has tongue-firmly-in-cheek, it’s a bit much. 3 out of 5.
- We move on to Easter beginning with Cody Goodfellow’s “And the Angels Sing.” This nasty story substitutes the consumption of Christ’s flesh for a cannibal cult that might just be Tcho-Tchos. 4 out of 5.
- “The Last Communion of Allyn Hill” by Peter Rawlik provides a welcome twist on Elder Things and Shoggoths but sticks to the Lovecraftian format of a story told through a diary. It manages to capture what made Lovecraft’s stories great while bringing something new to the genre. 5 out of 5.
- “Mrs. Priggs’ Easter Attire” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. and Tara Vanflower, features the Machiavellian machinations of ghouls on Easter. Digging in (forgive the pun) to ghoul politics is an interesting twist, but the females in the story are tiresome clichés more horrifying than their undead state. 3 out of 5.
- “Season of Sacrifice and Resurrection” by Adrian Tchaikovsky traces a chance encounter with a Yithian that involves museums, time travel, and of course sacrifice. 4 out of 5.
- “Horror’s Night” by Ann K. Schwader is a poetic Deep One nod to Mother’s Day, although associating the holiday with Mother Hydra is a bit of a stretch. 3 out of 5.
- If you can imagine the post-apocalyptic freedom fighters led by John Connor in the Terminator series than you have an idea of what “Free Fireworks” by T.E. Grau is all about. But it has a Mythos twist that makes it so much more than a Fourth of July tale. 5 out of 5.
- “Doc Corman’s Haunted Palace One Fourth of July” by Don Webb has the meandering gonzo journalistic vibe of Hunter S. Thompson with a dash of Mythos sorcery thrown in on the Fourth of July. 4 out of 5.
- “Translator” by James Robert Smith is about a prisoner who just might be the avatar of a Great Old One. It’s written in the first person, but the twist at the end isn’t quite as creepy as intended. The holiday? Victory Over Japan Day. 4 out of 5.
- “Hallowe’en in a Suburb” by H.P. Lovecraft stirs visuals of a Tim Burton film. Always good to see Lovecraft’s work beyond his weird fiction. 5 out of 5.
- “The Hindmarsh Abomination—or—Moonday” by Will Murray is a tricky story that turns modern day witches into cultists. Depending on your perspective this can be offensive or intriguing. While I appreciate the gumshoe-style investigative narrative, the twist ending had an inevitability about it that wasn’t very surprising. 3 out of 5.
- “The Trick” by Ramsey Campbell is the master at his best, creating a nightmarish image of a ghoul-like creature that will stick with you long after the story ends. 5 out of 5.
- “El Dia De Los Muertos” by Kevin Ross appears to be non-Mythos-related at first, but the ending proves it is firmly in the Clark Ashton Smith tradition of body-hopping sorcery. The characters get what’s coming to them, and that’s just fine with me. 5 out of 5.
- “Treason and Plot” by William Meikle continues the Carnacki tradition, complete with electric pentagram. It features a new protagonist in Charles St. Cyprian and a fiery entity on Guy Fawkes Night. 3 out of 5.
- Rememberance Day is remembered in “The Dreaming Dead” by Joshua Reynolds. It features a dream-like entity that’s the embodiment of the horrors of war and does an excellent job of combining the two terrors into one short story. 5 out of 5.
- “Entrée” by Donald R. Burleson is more Tales from the Crypt and less Lovecraft, a human ghoul who gets his just desserts. It’s in honor of Thanksgiving but you won’t feel like eating after reading it. 3 out of 5.
- “Keeping Festival” by Mollie Burleson is about Yuletide. It’s a bit too light for my tastes with an unsatisfying conclusion. 3 out of 5.
- “Wassail” by my buddy Tom Lynch’s debut story is firmly rooted (ahem) in Chaosium’s legacy promulgated by Chaosium. 5 out of 5.
- Joshua Reynolds returns with “Krampusnacht” and so does St. Cyprian. This is a superior story to “Treason and Plot” and finally gives us the titular villain from the front cover in all his child-eating glory. 5 out o5.
- “The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise: A Tale of Possession in Old Grosse Pointe” by Thomas Ligotti is another dream-filled horror story that’s more Twilight Zone than Lovecraft. 3 out of 5.
- “Letters to Santa” by Scott David Aniolowski is the most horrifying story in this volume. It’s also one of the few in the collection that parents will find disturbing. If I could give it 6 out of 5 without unbalancing the score I would, but suffice it to say it’s a strong 5 out of 5.
- “Keeping Christmas” by Michael G. Szymanski is heart-warming story about Deep Ones on Christmas. You read that right. Weirdly, it works. 4 out of 5.
- “The Nativity of the Avatar” by Robert M. Price transposes a Mythos entity for Jesus Christ. Most Mythos fans can easily guess who that is, and Price just doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. 3 out of 5.
Overall Horror for the Holidays is a solid 4 out of 5. As expected from Miskatonic River Press and editor Aniolowski, there’s not a clunker in the bunch.
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