First published in December of 2017, ‘Death Dreams At Christmas’ offered up a collection of festive horror short stories from British author J.R. Park.  The collection followed on from the author’s previous short story collection ‘Death Dreams In A Whorehouse’ (2017).

Once A Year – 4 Pages
Each year it’s the same old story.  Christmas Eve they go through the same ritual. Getting themselves ready.  Getting the kids tucked up and safe.  For Santa’s on his way.  And he’s hungry for more kiddie flesh…

Textbook opener.  Short and snappy and perfectly on target with the collection’s festive horror theme.  Yeah, you can probably guess where Park’s going with this.  Very much akin to the antics of Futurama’s ‘Robot Santa’.  With tongue firmly-wedged-in-cheek Park fires off a lightning-fast burst of honest-to-god Xmas mayhem with all the gloriously hellish trimmings to keep your spirits up.

The Girl With The Reindeer Tattoo – 14 Pages
Guy was setting himself up for another lonely Christmas Day.  But that was tomorrow.  Today it was Christmas Eve and he had pretty much finished his last bit of Christmas shopping.  He just needed to pick up some CDs for his relatives and then he’d hopefully end the day with a beer or two with Craig.  That was the plan at least.  But it all changed when the hot-as-holy-hell cashier at the record store bumped into him later that night.  Guy couldn’t believe his luck.  The girl of his dreams, with the most incredible tattoo down her arm, wanted to spend Christmas Eve having a few drinks with him.  Christmas really had come early.  Or so Guy thought…

If there’s one type of horror that Park is becoming a veritable master at it’s pulp horror.  And here we have our first juicy slab of it.  A charming little festive story that begins with a Simon Pegg style ‘young bachelor’ premise, only to ramp up the pacing with some heated Christmas Eve sex followed by a fist full of proper old school 80s style pulp horror.  Oh yes, you’re gonna love this one.  It’s as wacky as it is viscerally grotesque.  Textbook Park through and through.

The story was first published in Michael Bray’s charity anthology ‘Burger Van & Other Short Stories’ (2016).

Christmas Wrath – 16 Pages
Sixteen-year-old Charlie Saunders hated Christmas.  He hated the weather.  Hated the carols.  Hated all the bloody Christmas cheer.  It pissed him off rotten.  So he’d started showing everyone his contempt for the season.  First up was Patterson’s stupid snowman.  A shovel through the head soon sorted the frozen bastard out good and proper.  But when his mother whisked his younger brother off for an evening carol service, Charlie found he was suddenly on his own, with nothing to do but wander the streets taking his frustrations out on everyone’s property.  Unfortunately for young Charlie, one of those properties was the Old Kitchen Italia – an establishment owned by some local gangsters.  Before the end of the night, young Charlie would be learning about the joys of Christmas, even if it killed him…

Disgruntled and destructive youths with a bigass chip on their self-involved shoulders make such satisfying fodder for a comeuppance-driven horror story.  You can just settle in and enjoy some sweet sweet justice being dished up.  That’s what we have here.  Some honest to god Christmas Karma served on a snow-covered platter of festivity.  Oh the joy.  Oh the smug as you like indulgence of it all.  Cracking ending too.  As I said…sweet sweet justice.

The story was first published in Matt Shaw’s festive horror anthology ‘Bah Humbug’ (2016).

A Christmas Tradition – 14 Pages
Each year they did the same.  Each year they’d put on that infuriating home video of her in the choir.  Just the thought of it made her cringe inside.  That was why Kerry had taken herself upstairs into her parents’ attic room.  The embarrassment was killing her.  However she’d found a way to pass the time.  She’d started exploring the various boxes up there and had inadvertently stumbled across an old Quality Street tin containing Scribbles - her beloved teddy bear from when she was a young child.  Although, barely a minute after she’d found the teddy, it’d fallen down the stairs and disappeared.  But then, when the teddy reappears, it’s far from the cuddly toy Kerry remembered.  Now Scribbles is ten times the size and hell-bent on mauling her…

This is a weird one.  Well, it’s supposed to seem weird…that is until Park reveals his final hand, and in doing so, the real motivations behind the tale are unveiled.  But before all that happens we have one strange stocking-filler of a tale, with a giant teddy bear going on the rampage.  It’s surreal and utterly nightmarish.  But where the real magic of the tale lies is how Park makes it all make sense in the end.  How it all falls into place in such a surprisingly sad and unforeseeably moving way.

The original version of the story was first published within Park’s rare giveaway collection ‘Fear Is Seldom Silent’ (2016) which was created as a gift to friends over Christmas 2016.

Black Aura – 13 Pages
When his co-pilot strolled up to the cockpit and took her seat down next to him, Captain Aaron Buckhard quite frankly couldn’t believe his luck.  A gorgeous redhead with legs that made it impossible to concentrate on anything else.  Together the two of them would be flying the Black Aura; whilst covertly spraying the population with mind-control chemicals.  Although, being Christmas Eve, their mission was a little different from merely keeping the population docile and compliant.  Tonight they had the Satanic Cloud Elves to deal with…

If you thought that last story was wacky, then trust me, you aint seen nothing yet!  This little gem of imaginative madness is off the frigging wall.  You’ve got a Quagmire-esque pilot (named Buckhard no less), a hot redhead co-pilot (whose of course, not who she appears), crazyass Satanic Cloud Elves that flying around the place, a wacky-as-fuck government conspiracy, and an opposing cell of ‘freedom fighters’.  Yeah, it’s got pretty much everything chucked in there.  And of course, it’s laced with quick-witted comedy from start to finish.  This one’s just over-the-top entertainment my friends.

Fragmented – 5 Pages
They were settling down for evening.  The kids - Jaime and Heather - getting excited about the day that lay ahead of them.  Christmas Eve was itself a magical time for a young family.  Although at first the power cut put them on edge.  But they soon found the fun in the situation.  That is, until dirty, old Farther Christmas showed up with his white beard stained red from the blood.  That’s the moment when the Christmas Eve slaughter began…

Pretty standard psychotic ‘Santa Claus on the rampage’ story here as far as the plot goes.  However, it’s with the ‘fragmented’ and punchy-as-a-drunk-Irish-man prose where the originality behind the story lies.  Short, bare to the bone statements without any padding whatsoever.  Barely a word’s wasted.  Just quick-fire words that together paint a fast paced story that fires along at a disorientatingly fragmented pace.  Bang bang bang.  Job done.

Behold All The Angels – 12 Pages
It had been a long journey, one that was far from over for the weary travellers.  The four of them had come far.  Their quest beginning at their temple in the Far East.  Now they just wanted to rest for a while.  Fill their empty bellies and replenish their energy.  And like a beacon in the night, the Inn called out to them.  It was the only building they’d seen out here for some time.  They would try their luck there.  After all, who could turn away the Servants of the Sacred Whisper?...

Aside from penning his own brand of new-wave pulp horror, Park is also a veritable master of elaborate action-packed high-intensity (almost manga-like) horror-thrillers.  If you’ve read ‘The Exchange’ (2016) you’ll know exactly what I mean.  High-intensity, action-rich and wonderfully elaborate characters with a hugely involved mythos secreted into the very fabric of the story.  This one’s got it all shoe-horned into just twelve manically jam-packed pages.  Furthermore, the interweaving with the classic biblical story of Christmas is as clever as a fox with two heads.  And including a female alongside the three wise men (but stating “women are always written out of history” to validate her unwritten appearance in the Christian story) is just fucking genius.  Utterly entertaining.  Completely impossible to put down.  Loved it.

A Touch Of Frost – 13 Pages
For their Christmas party the crew and presenters of the TV show ‘Ghost Gazers’ had gone to a quaint little restaurant where the producers had laid on a banquet of food and wine.  They’d had a good first run of filming.  A debut series that covered a surprising amount of ghostly apparitions that actually worried some of them.  Blonde bombshell and lead presenter - Sarah – was a hardfast sceptic to most things paranormal.  But even she had to admit some of the stuff they’d seen, some of the places they visited, left an unpleasant feeling on her.  Like at the Ram Inn where she could’ve sworn blind the Mad Cavalier was in the very same room as her; touching her with his hate-filled icy fingers.  Still, that was all over now, and it was time to enjoy the party.  If only Sarah could take her mind off it all…

Here we have a creepy little offering about a small crew who’ve finished filming their ‘ghost hunter’ style show, and are now enjoying their Christmas party.  Much of the tale is made up of them reminiscing about the eerie places they’d filmed at, and how they invariably ended up giving the show’s lead presenter the chills.  But of course the real ‘horror’ awaits us in the here-and-now.  And hats off to Park, the run up to the twist ending is surprisingly chilling.  Nice one.

A Demon In Santa – 8 Pages
Santa’s wife handed him his sack.  It was that time of year once again.  Time to deliver presents to all the good little children around the world.  But something had crept into his sack without them knowing.  A gremlin that hated Christmas with every ounce of its despicable body.    And if its plan worked, then this year Christmas was going to be very, very different…

As the short introduction to this little seasonal horror informs us, this particular story was penned by the author when he was just ten years old.  Along with an accompanying photo of the budding young horror writer, the story is presented as a scan of the original hand written story (along with the teacher’s encouraging comments at the end) as well as a full typed-up version – although Park’s handwriting as a young nipper-snapper is very legible and adds a certain charm to the story when reading it.  The story itself is incredibly well written and entertaining for a ten year old.  You can really see a natural flair for storytelling in it.  And of course, that unmistakable leaning towards the demonic creatures and the macabre.  What a talented young son of a gun that Mr Park is.

Dear Constance – 12 Pages
During the run-up to Christmas, the snow had been unrelenting.  Around the Milton family home, the fields and pathways were covered in a deep blanket of crisp white snow.  Nevertheless, as was tradition, the family would gather at the house for Christmas Day.  Cousin Greta and Aunt Alice had already arrived.  However, with his dear sister now heavily pregnant, Gabriel Milton had taken to writing to her on a daily basis rather than have her make the increasingly treacherous journey through the blizzard to their snow-covered home.  Although this year they had an added guest.  Father Feeney had been visiting when the snow first hit, leaving him stranded at the Milton’s family home.  Not that it was a problem.  Martha and Charles could more than accommodate an extra guest.  And who better to be staying with them at such a time of year than a priest.  Or so Milton thought…

This one’s an absolute beauty.  Undoubtedly the best story in what is proving to be a rather fine collection.  Set in 1842, and written via one-sided letter correspondence from Milton to his younger sister – Constance – the tale is masterfully executed, to such a degree that it instantly pulls you in with the utter believability of the thing.  The atmosphere, pacing and nineteenth century ‘voice’ given to Gabriel Milton (our letter writer and protagonist) is absolutely flawless.  In fact, the whole thing is an absolute treat to read.  One of those short little tales that makes you grin just thinking about it.  Perfectly fitting for the season.  Wonderfully ‘in period’.  It’s an exhibition of the versatile skill of the author.  Oh no, he’s not just a pulp horror author boys and girls!

The Thirteenth Day – 21 Pages
Their post-Christmas bash had been even better than the pre-Christmas ones.  Although neither Nick nor Gary could remember much of the previous night after Tom broke out the chillum.  That was pretty much what finished the two of them off.  They’d woken up the next morning to a house that looked like the apocalypse had been and gone.  And considering these were student digs - that really was saying something.  But as they made their way downstairs, past the broken bottles and splattered walls, something seemed wrong.  But it was only when they saw the first splashes of blood that they realised how very messed up the situation was.  Very messed up indeed…

Ho-Ho-Holy shit this one’s a fun read.  Some tongue-in-cheek seasonal pulp horror with plenty of blood splatter and fiendish chuckles thrown in along the way.  A sort of Adam Millard style of horror, with the comical antics that students get up to as a solid base for the joviality of the tale.  Yeah, the story doesn’t take itself seriously one bit.  It’s there to entertain.  Simple as that.  A splash of light-hearted lowbrow pulp horror with a chuckle inducing ending.  Damn good stuff.

The Wassailer – 11 Pages
It had been a hard few months for both Special Constable Aimee Forrest and her brother, Jake.  Her whole family had been ripped apart by the events at the Oracle building site and the horrific aftermath that followed.  Jake had been put into a psychiatric hospital.  Cared for night and day.  Locked away for his own safety if not that of others.  But all that time he’d been suffering.  He couldn’t be left alone.  If it wasn’t Laura screaming in his head, then it was the new one.  The Wassailer.  The bastard dream of an exiled angel and the dweller of the twelve dark deeds…

Okay, so you need to have read ‘The Exchange’ (2016) prior to getting stuck into this one to really appreciate what’s going on.  In essence it’s a follow on story, a sort of miniature sequel, carrying on a few months after ‘The Exchange’ (2016) left off.  Here we see poor old Jake locked up in a psychiatric hospital.  His sister, Aimee, is back on the beat and gradually pulling her life back together.  But Jake is being troubled by voices in his head.  Laura screaming and a new entity.  This Wassailer.  And it’s when Jake starts describing the Wassailer that Park really comes into his own.  A truly terrifying, ungodly, Lovecraftian beast.  But for me it’s the continuation of the mythology that really gets me grinning.  The subtle touches that Park weaves into his stories.  Digging a little deeper you’ll find that in the Middle Ages, a “wassail” was an exchange between the lords and their peasants.  Yep, it’s all about an exchange.  It always was.  And there’s something almost magical about uncovering these little details.  How everything has a link.  A hidden meaning.  Everything has a reason for being in the story.  And I love that.  Fucking love it.

The story was first published for the Sinister Horror Company’s countdown to Christmas as one of their freebie offerings for the ‘Sinister Horror Company Christmas Calendar’ (2016).

The collection runs for a total of 156 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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