Review: “O Little Town of Deathlehem,” ed. Michael J. Evans, Harrison Graves

Pros: Some original, spooky Christmas stories
Cons: Like most anthologies, the quality is variable
Rating: 4 out of 5

O Little Town of Deathlehem: An Anthology of Holiday Horrors for Charity, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves, is an excellent collection of holiday weirdness: Christmas-themed horror stories! Since this is a horror collection, of course I should include a trigger warning for animal abuse, attempted rape, and violence. This isn’t a particularly bloody anthology on the whole, but it has its moments.

I felt the book started off strong with Catherine Grant’s “One of His Own,” in which Krampus takes in a little girl and raises her to help him. The story resolves a little quickly, but it’s overall quite good. Another good tale is D. Alexander Ward’s “Home for the Holidays.” A psychotic one-eyed man named Henry has been oddly rehabilitated by “Mummy,” and now he only kidnaps bad people. He’s collecting “family” for a very special Christmas with Mummy. This one is almost a little Lovecraftian. “Deck the Halls,” by Chantal Boudreau, is a short-but-satisfying tale of a man who tries to speed along his mother’s death at Christmas time, and what happens to him afterward.

Raymond Gates’s “All I Want for Christmas” is one of the creepier tales in here. Ryan is trying to finish his novel while his wife and daughter go out to listen to Christmas carols. He’s stuck on one particular chapter with a deadline looming, and a mysterious caller offers to give him his fondest wish–to finish his novel. There’s just a matter of a small price to be paid…. In Randy Lindsay’s “You Better Watch Out,” one boy decides to break his younger brother’s belief in Santa. Kris Kringle, however, does not approve. Peter White’s “Saint Nick Sticks” sees four men dressed up as Santa rob a bank. When three of them turn on the fourth, however, things rapidly go sideways in some most unexpected ways. The ending of this one particularly delighted me. Jeff C. Carter’s “With Their Eyes All Aglow” follows an entomologist in the jungle and his wife and child back home, as Christmas-time arrives. The amazing discovery the entomologist has made soon turns into a nightmare that rapidly grows out of control.

“Shop Till You Drop,” by Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin, is a curiosity shop tale in which various over-worked parents and grandparents come in to the shop late on a Christmas Eve seeking presents for loved ones. Of course anyone familiar with the curiosity shop genre knows the presents won’t be quite what they seem! This is a straightforward but fun entry in the book. J.P. Behrens brings us “A Christmas to Remember,” in which we meet ten-year-old psychopath Nathan. I can’t imagine why anyone who acknowledges that their son is at least a little bit troubled would risk giving the gift he wants to his younger brother; I mean, that seems like a gimme. But the parents’ desire to believe their son is normal leads to a very not-so-merry Christmas.

The start of Nicky Peacock’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Crime of the Year” has a stereotypical interaction in which a manager steals his subordinate’s idea and presents it as his own, but it gets more interesting from there as young Sally tries to handle a not-so-fun office holiday party. The ending is a little confusing, but the story is creepy. Ben McElroy’s “Krampusnacht” teaches us the important holiday lesson: don’t cut Krampus off in traffic, boys and girls! The narrative voice feels a little too cool and clinical for a horror story, but I like the ending. In Adam Millard’s “Lots of Love, Uncle Billy,” Ivie mysteriously gets a Ouija Board from her Uncle Billy, who’s been dead for several months. This doesn’t head in nearly as creepy a direction as you’d expect from that setup, but it’s still a good tale.

Mark Onspaugh’s “You’d Better Watch Out” sees a Santa “cursed” to still deliver presents to children the world over even though most of them have been zombified. “Santa Claws is Coming to Town,” by Rob Ferreri, starts off with a werewolf attacking Santa Claus. The path the story takes is predictable, and the tone is a bit too bland. B.J. Jackson’s “Riley and the Big Man” sees Riley making a deal with a rather dodgy Santa Claus that puts his brother’s life in danger. It’s genuinely engrossing and creepy, although the ending is a little quick. Another creepy entry is Christopher Miron’s “Ornaments,” in which a couple of ugly Christmas ornaments play a role in avenging some naughty behavior.

Michael Thomas-Knight’s “Holiday Icon” is the second zombie Christmas story here, and I rather like it. The attitude of the characters that becoming a zombie only happens to “lesser” people is a nice send-up of some real-world attitudes. I wanted to know more, though–the behavior of the zombies seemed to be changing, and that didn’t really go anywhere. Rose Blackthorn’s “Christmas in the Snow” deals with mysterious disappearances. It’s predictable but creepy. Simon Bradley’s “Special Delivery” sees Santa making a wager with Satan in which he bets that he can collect one soul in one week. The ending is good for a laugh. Another fascinating entry is “Silent Night,” by Liam Hogan, in which deadly Santa drones (you’ll just have to read the story) have killed many people off. I love the idea, but it’s a little heavy on the explaining and ends abruptly. I’d prefer for it to be the beginning of a much longer story:

In homes across the country, people cowered beneath their Christmas trees. Only real ones would do, the pine scent masking their fear.

The couple of problems that seemed to repeat were: a few stories that weren’t carried out far enough; a couple that had a too-straightforward tone; and some that were a tad too predictable. Overall, however, this is an enjoyable anthology of Christmas fear!

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