Review: “Halldark Holidays,” ed. Gabino Iglesias

Rating: 4 out of 5

Halldark Holidays, edited by Gabino Iglesias, is full of stories meant to be a twist on the “Hallmark Holidays” concept. These are horror tales, all of which take place on or around holidays. Mostly Christmas, but occasionally Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, or Easter.

Todd Robinson’s “Mother and Child” was my favorite; even in a short length it has a lot of emotion to it. Officer Garrett Kincade volunteers to watch over the town’s haunted house on Christmas Eve. The land has been bought by developers, and they don’t want kids messing with it. It’s the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that took place there, and Garrett thinks he sees something moving in the windows.

Cina Pelayo’s “Holiday Traditions” introduces us to Jenny and her mother, Alice. It’s Jenny’s first “real” Christmas, and her family is preparing an unusual feast. I particularly enjoyed the obvious love between Alice and Jenny against a creepy backdrop.

Michael Harris Cohen wrote “What Happens In the Dark Will Soon Happen In the Light.” Daddy left for war when his daughter was five; now she’s seven and mom says Daddy’s coming home. This story definitely captures what PTSD can mean to a person and their family, but the story is ultimately quite creepy beyond that. Content note for animal harm and death.

Nicole Willson’s “Christmas Every Day” shows us what can happen when a six-year-old wishes for every day to be Christmas. There’s a great theme of revenge in here as well.

Elizabeth Hirst’s “Somebody Always Hears You” is another take on the wishing theme, as Mia, who has strange holes in her memory, decides to go home for the first time in years. I love the turn this one takes.

Mark Allan Gunnells’s “O Little Town” sees couple Kevin and Mike taking in their suddenly-very-pregnant neighbor Peggy. Unfortunately for them, the father wants in. Content warning for gory sexual content.

Mackenzie Kiera’s “A Total Super Miracle on 34th Street” is absolutely hysterical and very dark. Merry is a fantastic point of view character, and she’s just been dumped by her boyfriend on Christmas Eve. He even had the audacity to tell her that his mother hates Merry’s cooking!

Alan Baxter’s “The Bone Fire” is every bit as good as his longer works. Davie has brought his girlfriend, Katie, home to meet his parents at the holidays. His family has some very peculiar traditions.

Kathryn E. McGee’s “A Winterland Surprise” introduces us to Samantha, a rather lonely woman who directs the Christmas Eve pageant. When a handsome man with a puppy invites her to take a walk with him, she suddenly sees a different side of Christmas.

“Der Ewich Yaeger” by Alessandro DiFrancesco involves fiancees Layla and Otto going back to his family home. Otto seems very embarrassed by his Aunt Brigid, who claims to be a witch, but Layla finds her both sweet and fascinating. I love the ending of this one; it’s quite beautiful.

Greg Sisco’s “The Morbs” is a great look at a town that has no choice but to celebrate Christmas with a great deal of good cheer!

Clara Madrigano’s “She’s Back” sees Auntie Kate come back to town for Christmas. Blake and her girlfriend Meg actually rather like Auntie Kate, and because of that, Kate does something nice for them.

Jonathan Duckworth’s “Elmreach” introduces us to Daphne, who has become engaged to Ethan after one week of knowing him. Ethan’s slovenly brother Carl suggests that there might be a problem there, but he also seems resigned to the idea that he can’t really help.

Max Carrey’s “Christmas In Quail’s Egg” is another story about someone going home for the holidays, only to find out that the town is not as they remember it.

The rest of the stories had one or two problems that pulled me out of them or just felt not-quite-right.

Brian Keene’s “The Hatching” (an Easter tale) felt like it needed a little more to it. Gina Ranalli’s “Rainbow Black,” while a great story of found family vs. blood family, felt a little too tongue-in-cheek for me. Bev Vincent’s “An Invisible Christmas Spectacular” had too little information about what was happening and how; even a few more details about the residents of the mysterious mansion would have been welcome. Kelly J. Ford’s “Frito Pie” started out kind of… weird, even if it did end wonderfully.

Magnolia Strock’s “Feu de Joie,” a story in which Dan loves the Fourth of July and his pregnant wife Jessica does not, really didn’t have enough solidity to it for me to enjoy. The ending of Fred Venturini’s “The Christmas Cabin” ended kind of weirdly for me. The characters in Sheri White’s “The best Christmas Town in Maryland!” seemed too one-note, although there’s some nice bloody fun involved (content note for child death). Jillian Bort’s “A Wail of a Christmas” sees adult Jenny’s mother Alicia inviting her high school boyfriend to Christmas dinner, and Jenny thinks her embarrassment will be the hardest part of the night; the ending for this one was kind of out of nowhere.

Overall this is a wonderful anthology, and will make a great read for the holidays!

Content note: child death, animal harm/death, gory sexual content, and gore in general.

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