First published back in October of 2018, the ‘Sinister Horror Company Annual’ offered up over 100 pages of horror goodies, including short stories, comic strips and puzzles, all with a Sinister Horror Company theme to them.  The annual came as a beautifully presented A4-sized hardback containing numerous full-colour pages, designed to hark back to the nostalgic annuals of our childhoods.

DLS Review:
The Sinister Horror Company are a veritable powerhouse of imaginative, original and ingenious horror.  Over the last few years we’ve seen some truly incredible publications come out of these guys.  However, there’s one thing in particular which we’ve seen recurring time and again – and that’s J.R. Park’s love of and uncontrollable draw to nostalgic horror.  Earlier in the year we saw the Sinister Horror Company releasing their first (and hopefully not last) line of Sinister Horror Gaming Cards, harking back to the Horror Top Trump cards from our childhoods.  Now we see the Sinister crew offering up their very first Annual, much in the same way as the Annuals we found nestled deep within our Christmas stockings each Christmas morning as youngsters.  Although crammed with nostalgic touches, please note this is still a Sinister Horror Company release, and therefore really only suitable for mature readers.

I have to say, this wonderfully presented hardback book is a thing of beauty.  Clearly a product of hard work and a passionate love for the genre, the entire presentation is a truly magnificent achievement.  From the SHC Word Search, to the never-before-seen alternative SHC covers, to the now infamous SHC ‘Not Lego’ series – the entire annual is nothing but a grin-inducing treat for all good fans of this beloved genre.  There’s hours upon hours of fun and entertainment to be had deep within the pages of the Annual, along with some superbly crafted horror stories, each carefully selected by these masterful purveyors of the manically macabre.

DLS Dissection:
Cernunnos – Daniel Marc Chant – 11 Pages
Detective Inspector Lydia Brooks was trying to enjoy some much-needed time off when the call came in.  There’d been a suspicious death in Saighir Village and they needed her there as soon as possible.  Luckily the journey over there wasn’t too arduous, and she quite enjoyed being in a quaint rural village like this.  Upon entering the scene of the crime – Cowan Cottage – she was guided into the surprisingly spacious living room where her eyes were immediately drawn to a stag’s skull - minus the antlers – sitting atop an oak desk, next to a small forest of empty beer bottles.  Her eyes moved downwards to a pile of ashes spread across a chair directly in front of the skull.  Apparently this was the deceased – a retired wealthy ex-stockbroker named Donald Haig.  The police medical examiner suspected spontaneous human combustion.  But the D.I. wasn’t so sure.  But then that was more plausible than what the yokel who’d come knocking at the door had said, demanding the skull be returned to him without further delay.  But Brooks wasn’t about to start believing in curses.  No matter how unexplainable a death may be…

This is a great read.  Drenched from head to toe in unashamed Britishness, the story deals with an ancient Druid curse that’s been awakened by a wealthy ex-stockbroker who’d moved to a quaint little village out in the sticks.  The story jumps back and forth between the Detective Inspector’s instantly dismissive investigation into the man’s possible death and that of the victim’s last day, prior to his untimely demise.  It reads like a classic early-twentieth-century supernatural horror story, crossed with a James Herbert style backdrop.  Utterly entertaining and wonderfully well-written.  You’ll also understand where the Annual’s cover art came from after reading the tale.  A superb opening story for the Annual.

Magic Night – J.R. Park & M. McGee – 1 Page
Diablo Diamonds is an exclusive venue that keeps the riff-raff away by their extraordinary high prices.  And every third Saturday is Magic Night.  Although the Great Fantastique’s assistant, Debbie, can’t for the life of her understand why the venue would host such lame entertainment…

Short and grisly, this six frame comic strip delivers a quick punch of horror that’ll get you smirking from ear to ear.  Park has penned a superbly condensed story that’s somehow told in just six frames without feeling once feeling remotely rushed.  Accompanying this, Mike McGee’s full-colour illustrative artwork is of the absolute highest calibre.  The facial expressions in each frame are masterfully penned and the colouring he’s produced offers a depth and richness to the whole comic strip.  Truly top class quality.

The Girl Who Kissed The Dead – Tracy Fahey – 8 Pages
Lilith liked to be alternative.  She had the hair, the look, the tattoos and the attitude to match.  She was also a Mortician Beautician, and her business – Dead Beautiful – had been successfully transforming the dead for the last six years.  She’d work hard on her customers – the silent dead – until they looked perfect.  Then she’d send them on their way with a kiss for luck.  That was her thing.  She loved the pleasant dead.  However, the unpleasant dead – like her late granddad for example – that was a different matter altogether.  She made sure they got what they deserved…

What a story!  It reads like something Poppy Z Brite might pen, but without the (I’m pleased to say) annoying ‘goth’ element.  The story is very much focused on the characters – one in particular being Lilith.  Author Tracy Fahey crams in a backstory, a fierce attitude, a look, style and most importantly a distinct voice for her.  Even the secondary characters, such as the mortician, David, or the girl she helps, Holly, are given some real flesh to their bones.  Ultimately this is what makes the story work so well.  You want to find out more about Lilith and what she does.  Her little rituals.  How her upbringing has shaped her.  There’s surprisingly more layers and thought gone into the story than what initially appears on the surface.  Such a good read.

My Life In Horror – Kit Power – 4 Pages
Each month at Ginger Nuts Of Horror, author Kit Power writes about a film, album, book or event that he considers horror, and which had a pronounced effect on him when he was younger.  For the Sinister Horror Company Annual, Power goes back to January 1989 when he was a mere eleven-year-old boy, and had purchased a copy of the ‘Big Adventure Book’.  A book that contained reprints from Valiant, Vulcan and Action Comic including ‘Hook Jaw’, ‘The Black Crow’, ‘One-Eyed Jack’ and ‘Dredger’ comic strips.  It was a wholly unsuitable book for an eleven year old – but one that would later shape his career in writing, and perhaps in a small part, eventually even the man he is today…

I love these ‘My Life In Horror’ articles that Power’s been doing.  And having one based on an Annual from his childhood, in particular the ‘Big Adventure Book’ (1988), fits perfectly within the Sinister Horror Company Annual.  Like with his previous articles (and indeed all his writing), Power injects a colourful sense of humour into it, with his deeply nostalgic voice coming through in pretty much every sentence.  It’s a great read, even if you’re not familiar with these 60’s and 70’s comic strips.  But that’s because of how Power writes.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he could write about different types of gravel and somehow make it an entertaining read.

Stranger – J.R. Park – 3 Pages
She’d been sat cradling her drink for a while, waiting for her friends.  Directly opposite, on the table across from hers, a figure was sat, staring at her.  She didn’t know who or what it was, but it had been watching her for a while.  Staring…

One thing Justin Park has in abundance is a wickedly dark and sinister imagination.  This here photoshopped photographic comic strip is a prime example.  It’s like a surreal Lynch-esque dream sequence, where everything’s just that little bit off to make the whole thing utterly unnerving.  We have a young woman sitting alone in a bar, with someone or something sitting at the table opposite staring at her.  Only their face is a mass of shifting faces.  If you remember that ‘Red Dwarf’ episode ‘Legion’ where the antagonist’s face is made up from a mish-mash of the Red Dwarf crew members.  Well that’s what you’ve got here, only she’s beginning to recognise some of the people in this melting pot of faces.  Surreal.  Eerie.  Pure unadulterated J.R. Park.

White Knuckle Ride – Tim Clayton – 3 Pages
Tim doesn’t do horror.  He doesn’t watch horror films or read horror novels.  That’s because horror means something totally different to him.  You see, Tim has “compulsive curiosity”.  That is, he’d hear about something, and then his mind would think of nothing else until he too has experienced it.  It’s something that’s undoubtedly made his life that much more varied.  That much more exciting.  But it’s also gotten him into all kinds of trouble.  Experiencing the good and the bad.  And the unimaginably psychotic…

Holy Christ on a superbike is this an intense, crazy, head-fuck of a read.  Clayton’s not so much offered us a story as much as simply chatted with us about his “compulsive curiosity”.  The sort of crazy shit he’s gotten up to because of his obsession with experiencing everything at least once.  Like climbing a huge fuckoff mountain in Poland because he’d read about a bunch of people who died going up Mount Everest, and then found he couldn’t get the idea of climbing a mountain out of his head.  There’s some other not-so-great shit he’s done that he mentions almost in passing.  But you see he’s not trying to ‘big up’ his life experiences, or boast about what a badass he used to be.  Far from it.  He tells us about all these experiences with a smirk on his face.  A sort of “what the fuck have I gone and done now” kind of way.  And then once we understand this, once we have an idea of what Clayton’s like, then that sets the scene for the next bit.  The shit that scares the bejesus out of you.  The crazyass split-second thoughts most of us daren’t even admit to ourselves, let alone cast to paper for the world to see.  Yikes it scares me even thinking about it.  And yeah, Clayton’s right, this is horror.  True fucking horror.

The Last Patrol – Andrew Freudenberg – 6 Pages
Outside the rain was lashing down, thrashing against the sides of small tent.  Sarge had just come in and was already getting himself ready.  Putting on his outfit for all those who were eagerly awaiting their entrance.  Sarge didn’t know where they were, thanks to the alcohol and tranquilisers.  That’s how he liked it.  He didn’t want to be recognised.  Not that it was likely anyone would anyway.  Not with all his clown gear one.  And now it was showtime.  Time to clear his mind of all the past trauma and give the crowd the show of their lives…

What the fuck did I just read?  It’s like ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) goes to the frigging circus.  Essentially you’ve got three characters – Sarge, Doc and the boy.  On top of all their camo gear, these guys now don various pieces of clown garb for another wacky show.  A strange and surreal show where these three put on a relatively run-of-the-mill clown routine, only using the military equipment they have to hand.  But their minds aren’t on the performance.  They’re elsewhere.  It’s all pretty surreal.  And it’s not so much wacky as it is heart-wrenchingly depressing.  Such a strange but deeply unnerving tale, where comedy is perhaps the furthest thing away from what these three clowns actually produce.

Crash – Lydian Faust & Jorge Wiles – 2 Pages
They’d gate-crashed a masquerade party.  The two of them, dressed in fine gowns they’d stolen.  Both with masks hiding their faces.  But Lisbeth had started to push her luck.  No self-control.  She’d gotten drunk and now she was going to give them away…

For her comic strip, author Lydian Faust offers up an enchanting little tale following two young women who gate-crash an upperclass masquerade party.  Possibly based on the story of Lisbeth Nypan and her sister, the short tale doesn’t really play upon any aspects of their story per se, but instead reaches for the horror twist ending with a wickedly cheeky smirk.  Jorge Wiles provides the illustrations with a keen eye for zeroing-in on the prime elements of the story to tell the devilish tale.  It’s a sleek, smooth looking comic strip, with some good depth given to each frame to keep your eyes focused squarely on the unfolding story.

Naked Wings – Mark Cassell – 2 Pages
Whilst his parents sat and watched television, Stephen had crept out of the house and into the neighbouring field.  The sound of all the birds, their cawing and landing into the field, had drawn him out there.  Now he hid in the nearby foliage, watching.  And the longer he watched, the stranger it became…

Magnificent stuff!  Mark Cassell’s short and sweet offering is more a piece of fantastical flash fiction than a horror short story.  Although that’s not to say it’s not a little unnerving.  It is that.  It throws some pretty strange imagery and a particularly odd setting squarely into your face, before the bizarro-like oddness of the twist-ending comes to fruition.  But it works.  In fact, it works wonderfully.

The Skirrid Mountain Inn: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure – Kayleigh Marie Edwards – 7 Pages
Skirrid Mountain Inn is not only one of the oldest pubs in Wales, but it’s also reportedly one of the most haunted locations in the UK.  Located in Abergavenny, and situated adjacent to a graveyard, the inn allows their customers to stay the night in one of three rooms, whilst the owners lock the doors and go home for the night.  On a ghost-hunting expedition, author and paranormal-sceptic Kayleigh Marie Edwards has booked herself into one of the rooms for the night.  Here’s what happened…

Edwards single-handedly lightens the mood of the Annual with this incredibly witty write-up of her experience of staying at the Skirrid Mountain Inn on her tod, with just a notebook and a spider for company (said spider was already there when she arrived, lurking under the bed, much to her delight).  What follows is a blow-by-blow run-down of her experience, including ghostly ‘orbs’ on the stairwell, the discovery of (and subsequent experiment with) a stashed away Ouija board, strange noises in the middle of the night, and a very drafty passage to the gents (so to speak).  Honestly, this a wonderfully and joyfully self-deprecating piece that’s sure to crack a smile across anyone’s face – whether a believer in ghosts or not!

Vengeance – J.R. Park & Chris Hall – 2 Pages
[Write-up by Duncan P. Bradshaw]
I've got a confession to make...when I got my copy of the Annual, I read the comic strips before anything else.  Yes, they're a 'quick win' but I've read comics since I was small enough to still climb up chimneys and clean them from the inside.  So, what do you get when you mix the twisted brain of J.R. Park and the illustrating pen of DLS head-honcho, the wonderful Chris Hall? (Suck-up much?).  Here are my thoughts:

First up, you get a cameo appearance from the silver-haired SHC boss himself as a news (w)anchor. There's a killer loose, mutilating bodies, who can catch him?  Some vigilantes with a shotgun, that's who! Unfortunately, they're not quite prepared for what the man they have tied up really is.  Like the other strips in here, this one is lean, mean and very visceral.  Without having the luxury of building up a back story, it has to deliver everything really quickly and still be entertaining.  This does that, and then some.  For me, this was one of my favourite comic strips in the annual, the main reason is that every time you read it, you notice more details.  Personally, I love the way the Thing-esque monster explodes beyond the panels that try to contain it.  Its twisting limbs, tentacles and body parts leave you with no illusion that this piece really is short, sweet and twisted.

The Black Room Manuscripts: Lost Prologue & Epilogue – Duncan P. Bradshaw – 4 Pages
The heatwave was unrelenting.  He could barely find the energy to breath let alone do anything else.  But then, through the open window of his stuffy flat, he heard the chimes of the approaching ice-cream van.  He’d sell his soul for an ice-lolly right now.  Luckily he had a few coins in his pocket.  So off he ran, in search of ice-cold treasures.  But the ice-cream van waiting in the baking sun outside is far from the usual wheeled-distributor of summertime treats.  This van is plain, without any serving hatch along its flank.  Although the back door is tantalisingly ajar.  Desperate for his reward for leaving his flat in this heat, he takes a peak.  And what he sees will make him think he’s hallucinating.  But what’s to come is far, far worse…

As the short introduction to the Duncan P. Bradshaw’s Prologue & Epilogue states, this split story was originally written to bookend the third ‘Black Room Manuscripts’ anthology.  However, when SHC and Duncan parted ways, it was thought the story might never see the light of day.  That is until now.  And thank Lucifer’s underlings that it did, because despite its short length, the story is an absolute beauty.  Well, it’s not really a story.  As I said, it was meant to be a prologue and epilogue, bookending an anthology.  And you could see how it would work perfectly in doing that.  The prologue section draws you in. Whets the appetite with hints of dark, unnatural horrors to come.  The epilogue on the other hand leaves you feeling lost, confused and bewildered by the maniacal horror unleashed.  Both are perfect in opening and closing a horror anthology.  And it’s all written in the wonderfully flamboyant style that has become Bradshaw’s signature.  A great read from an undisputedly talented author.

Fifty – Chris Kelso – 3 Pages
Two years ago the council pulled him out of Road-Kill collection and reassigned him to working in Memory-Cutting.  Basically a seller of amnesia capsules.  Or truer still – a council-employed drug pusher for those who want to forget.  Of course the drug wasn’t anywhere near as full-proof as it was advertised.  But then that’s where a good salesman comes in.  Which is what he was.  A drug-dealing salesman.  And he was about to meet with his next customer…

The imagination on Chris Kelso is nothing short of spectacular.  But then when you combine that great strength with his incredible wordsmanship – you get something that leaves you slack-jawed and breathless.  You get a piece of writing that sends your mind off on a journey within seconds of picking up the book.  Reading Kelso’s work is like running into a crowded city centre after licking the back of a hallucinogenic toad.  There’s madness everywhere.  But it all somehow makes sense.  A crazyass, mind-bogglingly relevant sense.  That’s what you have here.  A piece of impeccably well-written Bizzaro-cum-Beat Generation fiction.  Pure Kelso through and through.

A New Flavour – Jonathon Butcher – 4 Pages
Mel knew she should never have let Tony bully her into pulling over for a greasy breakfast.  Now her guts were churning.  But when she tried to shit the discomfort away, her day just got a thousand times more fucked up.  A voice was calling out from below.  From down the pan where she’d just released a big turd.  A voice that beckoned to her.  “I’m Kreb, but you can call me The Chocolateman”…

He’s back!!!  The world’s most repulsive antagonist / anti-hero.  For those that’ve not yet encountered the shit-demon that is Kreb Sabertooth (aka the Chocolateman), the faecal fiend is some sort of fucked-up cross between the Candyman and that Whatsapp video your mate sent, that you really wish you’d never seen.  To learn more about the vile antics of Kreb you need to pick up a copy of Butcher’s limited edition chapbook ‘The Chocolateman’ (2017).  It’s one gut-churningly messed-up read.  What we have in this Annual is Butcher continuing the story of Kreb with a photo-comic strip in which Butcher plays the role of Kreb himself.  The end result is EXACTLY as you imagine it will be.  Vile, despicable, lowbrow and utterly hilarious in such a wrong way.

The Incredible Case Of Marie Dunster – J.R. Park – 13 Pages
It was autumn, nevertheless Charlie and Marie had decided to go camping to celebrate their anniversary.  After all, if it got cold, they could just snuggle up in their tent.  Either that, or do some other coupley things to make them warm.  However, it was during this very activity when their romantic camping trip turned into a horrifying nightmare.  All Marie could do was watch as Charlie was dragged out of the tent, his eyeballs oozing out of their sockets as wisps of smoke poured out of his every orifice.  Something unnatural and truly terrifying had visited upon this place.  Something that would eventually wreak untold havoc, once the police eventually caught up with Marie Dunster, some four days later…

Concluding the anthology we have a good-lengthed short story by J.R. Park.  And it’s pure pulp horror through and through.  From the outset we’re greeted with a relatively graphic scene of sex that quickly descends into an explosion of visceral gore, akin to the opening sequence to ‘Dog Soldiers’ (2002), only ramped up around a thousand notches.  Fast forward four days and the local police department have caught up with a decidedly stone-faced Marie Dunster.  From here it’s all textbook 80’s horror, mixing over-the-top pulp with 80’s sci-fi.  Our protagonist, the disbelieving Detective Lamb, is a wonderfully constructed character, determined and persistent until the bitter end.  There’s so much to like in the story.  So much horror.  So much maniacal sci-fi.  So much goddamn entertainment.  What a way to conclude the Annual.  Park you absolutely nailed it.

Other additions:
Dot To Dot – 1 Page
Sinister Horror Word Search – 1 Page
Sinister Horror Company: ‘Not Lego’ – 7 Pages
Sinister Horror Company Alternative Covers – 2 Pages
Sinister Horror Cards: Create Your Own Card – 2 Pages
Sinister Horror Crossword – 1 Page
Colour In J.R. Park’s ‘Easter Hunt’ Scene – 1 Page
Spot The Difference – 2 Pages

The Annual runs for a total of 104 pages.

© DLS Reviews





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