Book Review – Dark Celebrations by Calvin Demmer

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If you’re a lover of horror and/or flash fiction, then chances are you are probably familiar with the work of Calvin Demmer. And if not you really should be.

His collection, The Sea Was a Fair Master is one of the finest flash fiction ensembles you’ll find, so when he announced another collection; Dark Celebrations, I was sold.

This book holds 12 stories, though none of the flash variety. And although this is a great group of tales, I did kind of miss the short, snappy flashies that made ‘Master such an awesome book.

Perhaps I fear change too much.

Anyway, I suppose I should just get to explaining a few things about these stories then, yeah? OK then.

Hungry Ghosts kicks things off, and the title says it all really. A young couple are holidaying in China during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Things are thrown right into Uneasy Street on the very first page where a list of tips for surviving the festival are given. This was such a great way to start the book.

When the horror ensues, it seems a pretty good idea to take heed of these tips. Because the ghosts are more than a little peckish.

Labor Day Hunt follows a guy with a failing business who could do with a lucky break. You know when things sound too good to be true? Yeah, it’s one of those. When you’re offered a substantial amount of cash for only a few hours work it’s either because the job is a) dangerous or b) illegal.

I don’t want to spoil this one because the reveal is one you don’t want to know about beforehand. Needless to say, the blood flows and the tension racks up.

The next tale to grace the pages is Trick or Death. Set on Halloween evening, a guy is doing his best to make pranks to use on his flailing YouTube channel. The lengths he goes to are decent enough, but he really does have a better offer from his camera-lady. He should really have taken this offer.

But alas, the call of the online celebrity status is too strong and our guy continues on regardless. Things don’t turn out well for him, duh!

Then follows the mushy romance story, awww. Just kidding, of course. Although there could be love in the air in Thanks Sinning, where a dude is propositioned by a hot waitress. She is rather forward with him to say the least and before long he’s off into the woods with her for a bit of ‘fun’.

But his idea of fun and hers are slightly different. In order to ‘get in there’ he needs to prove his manliness. Yeah, this girl is quite the psycho.

I found Three Dead Men to be my least favourite story here. A girl is terrorised by three dead dudes in her uncle’s house. While the story is told at a great pace with a decent amount of action and gore, I found the whole thing more amusing than scary. Perhaps that’s because I had a cartoon version of these guys in my head, or something.

Things pick up (and then some) with Happy Dark Year. This one was one awesome. A dude argues with his lady, then heads off to a New Year’s party with his mates. He’s alone, so surely he can be misbehave a bit, no?

Well he never gets the chance to. I loved this one, it had a great twist that I didn’t see coming, but now looks so obvious. Ooh I love me a dark ending.

Dying Valentine is another corker. This one involves a guy heading over to meet his girlfriends’ parents on Valentine’s Day no less. But on his way he knocks over a woman with his car, who then threatens to report him to the police if he doesn’t pay her off. What a dilemma.

That’s all I can really say about this one. But things get weird then weirder, and a little bit grosser. You don’t want to know much going in to this one.

Things dipped a bit for me with Spring Outbreak. This one has a familiar subject matter but didn’t really add enough to make it truly great. There was no ‘wooaahh’ moment that singled it out from any other story in this genre. Although saying all that, it was nice to have one of these tales in the collection. Note I haven’t mentioned which genre I speak of; I ain’t no spoiler-boy!

She Will Rise is a perfect revenge story where the person suffering really deserves it. Calvin does an excellent job presenting an absolute shit of a character who really gets what’s coming to him. Although the way he’s disposed of is something that I didn’t see coming straight away.

A kid hires an escort to take to his prom and impress his friends with in Prom Screams. Obviously the girl he takes is to be presented as his real life girlfriend. The only problem is that the girl he originally hired isn’t available, so he’s left with her replacement. And this replacement isn’t exactly what you’d call normal.

The moral of this story is don’t play with fire.

Things go even weirder with Unidentified Fatherly Object. Government conspiracies, aliens, and secrets withheld over years are presented here. A young lad who’s father died unexpectedly goes searching for answers. And he finds the answers, wishing he hadn’t.

Independence Denied closes the collection, and involves our good friends The Great Old Ones. Yes, these guys are alive and well deep in the depths of the oceans and are still out to cause insanity when discovered. A nod to The Shadow Over Innsmouth here where a group of survivors worship the God from the water. This was a really great way to end things.

So there you have it, 12 really different stories but each infected with the same, unnerving vibe; Demmerish, if you will. These stories really do have it all; werewolves, mummies, mermaids, vampires, zombies, ghosts, and the aforementioned Lovecraftian beasts.

I had a great time with this book. Yeah, not all the stories worked for me, but that’s what you get with collections like this. The ones I did enjoy far outweighed the not so great ones, so I came out the other side feeling mighty satisfied.

If you’ve never read Calvin Demmer before then this is a great place to start. I’d recommend this one before delving into ‘Master, though. In my opinion this is not quite as amazing as that book, but then, it had a lot to live up to.

Go check it out!!



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