First published back in September of 2016, continuing with the ‘Bad Apples’ Halloween Horror anthology series, ‘Bad Apples 3’ offered up a further seven slices of Halloween Horror for the discerning horror fan.

Belle Souffrance – Adam & Evans Light – 37 Pages
Serge Jacques Aubichon had quite a story to tell.  Standing there, wearing his father’ special suit, he reflected back on the events that had led to his current predicament.  Whilst the tramp crouched over before him chomped away on dumpster pizza, Serge relayed his story.  Like everything else in his life, the Halloweens that mattered had come in threes.  The Halloween his parents had died.  The Halloween his wife had died.  And now, as of the stroke of midnight, the Halloween when his life would truly begin.  This is the night he will be reborn.  The Serge of old will be no more.  And L’Artiste will be born…

Talk about a messed-up, bleak as you like, opener in order to kick-start the ‘Bad Apples 3’ anthology off with.  Indeed, the Light brothers have immersed this first Halloween inspired offering with a thick, near impenetrable blanket of weird mystery throughout its length.  Who is this strange taxidermist out on the hillside on All Hallow’s Eve?  What on earth is he doing with all these dead animals?  What’s he burying?  What the hell’s going on?  But gradually, piece-by-piece, the oddness begins to lose its blur and a chilling sense of grimness begins to emerge from this mysterious quagmire.  And as it does, so everything starts to slip further into an abyss of blood-drenched horror.  Let the beautiful suffering commence.

Chocolate Covered Eyeball – John McNee – 22 Pages
After his parents upped and left to live in Florida, thirty-four-year-old Campbell Ratiff decided he would return to Hollybrook with his girlfriend Becca to move into his childhood home.  After a couple of days of being there, and it being Halloween, he takes Becca to Koolter’s Candy for some Halloween treats.  The strange little sweetshop had always left an unpleasant stain on Cam’s childhood.  But with it being Halloween, he felt Becca should experience Old Man Koolter’s curious and ghoulish sweets.  It was a sort of local tradition.  People would travel from miles around to get a bag full of his Jellied Brains, Oozing Blood Bon Bons, or Chocolate Covered Eyeballs.  And this Halloween might be their last opportunity to sample such grotesque delights.  After all, it looked like Old Man Koolter’s shop was finally closing down.  And all Cam could think was to thank god for that…

This is what Halloween’s all about.  Local legends, kids getting high on sweets, and a good-old-fashioned ‘Tales from the Crypt’ style story.  Author John McNee’s absolutely nailed the whole festival theme here.  What we have is a guy returning to his childhood hometown with his girlfriend whereupon he reembraces a goofy local rumour that has stuck with him since leaving.  It’s tongue-in-cheek colourful Halloween humour from start to finish, with bucket loads of fun to be had throughout.  Indeed, McNee’s not gone for the same sort of grizzly horror as the Evans brothers had with their earlier offering – in fact there’s very little in the way of actual ‘horror’ per se - but it nevertheless delivers plenty of entertainment with one weirdly twisted moral lesson behind it.

October’s End – Craig Saunders – 18 Pages
Harvey was just eleven-years-old when he went to the house at October’s End.  He’d gone with his friend Alan, anticipating a good Halloween haul from the kindly old lady who lived there.  However when they got to the front door, an old man - not an old lady - had answered.  Alan must have lost his nerve and scarpered for he was no longer by Harvey’s side.  But Harvey stayed put to speak the immortal line…“Trick or Treat?”.  Of course, friendly old folk like this always invited you in. A spot of cake before he moved on to the next house.  So why is it that stepping foot in that dusty old house made him feel so ill at ease?  To his right - a hall with a musty old carpet stretching onwards.  To his left - more of the same.  But that had any been many years ago.  Many October’s had passed by since then.  Many more knocks on the door.  Nevertheless the same question still plagued his mind.  Just how many of him had there been?...

Craig Saunders is one of those authors who can set an atmosphere with a seemingly effortless ease.  He gets the mood for the piece just right, allowing the story to gradually seep into you, rather than tell the story more directly.  Indeed, the story’s one purposefully clawing slowburner, working a series of surreal dreamlike sequences one after the other, until it begins to make some resemblance of sense.  Well, I say sense – it’s more an appreciation of a fuller picture.  A frosted window into a chilling nightmare.   A glimpse of a fuller bodied horror that ends leaving more questions than answers.  This is cold, bleak Halloween horror.

The Uncle Taffy’s Girl – Gregor Xane – 36 Pages
Shelly was just the sort of girl that he went for.  In his eyes she was just about perfect.   Curvy and sexy with a quirky taste for pulpy horror novels.  She worked at Uncle Taffy’s Masks & Mayhem.  A shop he visited often.  Not just because he was a professional clown and need supplies.  He also went there to see her.  So when she invited him to a Halloween party she was putting on in Silver Lake, he thought maybe he’d get to take their relationship to the next level.  If he was honest, it was the only reason he was going.  But it would prove to be a party that would offer much more than your usual cheap ghoulish thrills…

US author Gregor Xane offers up a quirky, dialogue-rich tale that follows a young man who’s attending a Halloween party in the hope of getting his end away.  Written from the first-person-perspective of our unnamed protagonist, Xane doesn’t hang around with setting the scene and introducing the characters before we’re flung into the weirdness of the party and the creepyass oddness that’s going on there.  The story’s main strength is undoubtedly with the utterly believable main characters, and in particular, the various pieces of lengthy dialogue which narrate the vast majority of the tale.  There’s also plenty of tongue-in-cheek black comedy and geek humour thrown in to keep things lively.  The tale ends with a ‘you’ll-see-it-from-a-mile-off’ twist ending.  But it works well and keeps the horrorlific charm levels up nicely.

Last Stop – Edward Lorn – 20 Pages
Charli had put on a slutty French maids outfit for the party.  Okay, so it wasn’t exactly an original Halloween costume – but as long as Tyler noticed (and liked what he saw) then it was worth all the looks she’d undoubtedly have on the way there.  She’d just jumped on the bus to get to his party and already she was feeling uncomfortable.  It didn’t help that the only other passenger on the entire bus had chosen to sit down on the seat next to her.  A whole empty bus to choose from and the freak wearing a child’s pumpkin mask had parked himself right next to her.  However it was what he said next that instantly turned her night out one of pure terror.  “I’m Blake and I’m planning to kill three people tonight”…

This is what Halloween horror stories are all about.  Edward Lorn offers up a proper old school slasher with plenty of high octane, adrenaline-pumping tension with an honest-to-god Michael Myers meets Jason antagonist on the loose.  Yeah, it’s textbook tried-and-tested stuff, but it’s executed near flawlessly.  This really is the sort of stuff you want in a Halloween anthology.  It ticks pretty much all the boxes.  It’s entertaining and packed with bubbling tension and grin-inducing suspense.  There’s also just enough of a backstory and attention to characterisation to give the tale enough body to have the desired impact on the reader.  It’s tight, well-paced and doesn’t cop out with its ending.  Very nicely done!

Body Of Christ – Mark Matthews – 26 Pages
It was going to be Keagan’s first Holy Communion.  His mother was more than a little excited about the prospect.  But it wasn’t an excitement that was shared by Keagan’s father.  Since he’d irreparably damaged his spine, his outlook on life had become one of cynicism and gloom.  Living in almost constant pain, it was understandable.  And so Keagan did whatever he could for his father.  Even if it meant going against his mother’s wishes.  Like not swallowing that small wafer of bread in Communion.  But his father’s endless pain had gotten too much.  He finally wanted an end to it all.  An end to the relentless misery.  He’d go down in a blaze of glory.  Death by cop was perfect.  And when his father did it, it provided Keagan with another souvenir to be stashed away in his closet…

This one’s pretty darn messed up.  There’s something particularly unsettling about an impressionable young child having a grim and utterly fucked up childhood.  Although inherently chilling, it does however offer up plenty of potential for a powerfully emotive tale.  US author Mark Matthews introduces our young protagonist – Keagan – who purposefully pulls at our heartstrings from the outset.  From here on in things clearly aren’t going to get any easier for Keagan or indeed the reader.  It’s another story where we witness the repercussions of a damaged upbringing.  It’s a cold and painful read.  The tale starts off laced with oddness that gradually spirals into an abyss of chaotic hurt and nightmarish violence, all of which is seen through the confused eyes of our damaged narrator.  It’s bitterly cold stuff.  Don’t expect to come away from this one smiling.

Pulp – Jason Parent – 70 Pages
It was once again time for Gus Hodder – known more popularly as Gunner – to host their film club’s annual Halloween party.  Being of wealthy stock, Gunner was able to not only put on one hell of a film screening in the family’s old barn, but he also invariably had the best horror film inspired costume.  Jaime Carpenter loved Gunner’s parties.  Okay, so some of the other film club members weren’t exactly the sort of guys he would call his friends, but on a whole the thing was an absolute blast.  And this year he was hoping to try it on with Martha.  That was his mission for the night.  The trouble was Douglas had decided to tag along.  It was beginning to look like he’d be babysitting him the whole night.  That is, unless anything else happens…

To end the Halloween anthology, US author Jason Parent offers up a true horror fan’s love letter to the genre, with more quotes, in-jokes and horror movie references than you can shake a blood-speckled chainsaw at.  Even the characters themselves are named after popular horror film directors.  Indeed, half the fun of this wacky homage is in spotting the numerous references that are scattered throughout the tale.  Alongside this you have a reasonably standard slasher plot, with a ‘Scream’ (1996) style plot that works well with the horror-geek setup.  However, as the story continues, it starts to meander off down some completely unpredictable paths – juggling powers of reincarnation and the rules of the afterlife with the main ‘whodunit’ slasher plot.  It’s a strange mishmash of ideas, and perhaps one that doesn’t meld together all that seamlessly, but at the end of the day, it’s still damn good fun, and fits the anthology’s Halloween brief pretty much perfectly.

The anthology runs for a total of 231 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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