There are 18 holiday-themed stories within the 384 pages of this collection, out now from editor and bestselling author Christopher Golden and published by Blumhouse Books. It’s fun to see different authors’ takes on the season, along with individual styles and there are just so many flat-out bizarre ideas, too, along with fairytale-like folklore and even a Dickensian novella.
Let’s discuss that one first; from Sarah Pinborough (Behind Her Eyes), “The Hangman’s Bride” is a page-turning close out to the book. It centers on the rough life of orphan chimney sweeps in Victorian England, namely “Tom,” who has replaced “Tom-Who-Died”, and whose real name is William. He’s sent to scour the soot-caked chimneys of a nobleman who performs hobbyist hangings, a chilling way to pass the time, but we learn that there’s a solid (and unexpected) reason for this. If I had to do the movie pitch mashup, I’d call it The Grudge by way of A Christmas Carol, perhaps if only highlighting the darker elements of that tale. This novella is cinematic for sure, and I can see it being easily adapted into a feature film with the right budget.
Headed onto folklore territory, Seanan McGuire knocks it out of the park with “Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow.” An odd babysitter comes across a trio of kids who’ve not known true parental love, and she tells them about a faraway legend who returns children who’ve not yet developed bitter, awful personalities of their own — back into the ether. It’s lovely and heartbreaking.
Golden’s own “It’s a Wonderful Knife” stabs into my sweet spot for revenge, especially for a wronged woman in Hollywood, and I’m a huge fan of the hilarious title alone. Some may see the end coming, but it’s sheer fun going on that adventure. Way at the top of my favorite Christmas-themed horror stories, ever.
Michael Koryta’s “Hiking Through,” is a tale in which I definitely saw the ending coming, but I still enjoyed the honesty of the brokenhearted character trying to find a spot of peace along the freezing Appalachian Trail on Christmas Eve.
Jeff Strand’s “Good Deeds” is a terrific, blackly comic take on the “giving” spirit of the holiday season, the kind that makes you suicidal — in the most hilarious of ways.
From Joe R. Lansdale, “The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel” is seriously creepy as all hell. It takes place partly in flashback and partly in the present of a grand old hotel going to rot — with a mysterious and terrifying entity taking up residence in one room. Highly recommended.
Sarah Lotz’s “Not Just for Christmas” is about an entire industry of artificially intelligent pets, and just how horribly — and hilariously wrong — that can go.
“Love Me” by Thomas Sniegoski is a twisted, fun little tale that reminded me a bit of the Zuni fetish doll battling Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror, but much funnier.
John M. McIveen’s “Yankee Swap” is a great little thriller that I loved reading, another page turner. I want to read more weird, chilling tales from him.
Josh Malerman’s “Tenets” is about a creepy, downtrodden ex-con cult leader attending a holiday party, in which things turn weird. (Of course, they do!)
Scott Smith’s “Christmas in Barcelona” is a stranger in a strange land take on “The Gift of the Magi,” and definitely won’t be for everyone, as it’s not quite horror, but more surreal drama.
James A. Moore’s “Mistletoe and Holly” is a more subtle tale of shivers that brought the old Bob Clarke film Deathdream to mind, only set during winter and the holidays.
Hark! is a fun book filled with lots of interesting ideas and weird tales. Like any anthology, every story isn’t going to be for everyone, but I found most stories enjoyable if not downright entertaining. Sneak away from the family with a little eggnog and enjoy liberally.
Out now from Blumhouse Books and editor and bestselling author Christopher Golden, Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is a fun tome of holiday-themed horror stories, including one really great novella by Sarah Pinborough. A great gift for your favorite spooky reader.