Oh what fun it is to DIE! When Austin’s parents drag him and his little sister Fiona to a remote cottage for Christmas, he’s less than thrilled about the forced bonding exercise. But after learning that their holiday getaway was the site of a horrific crime, this family on the rocks will have to fight for their lives against a legendary killer… because Candy Cain is slashing through the snow with a very long naughty list.
Oh what fun it is, indeed! If you’ve picked up Candy Cain Kills by Brian McAuley, odds are you’re a fan of not only horror literature but films as well. With Shortwave’s Killer VHS Series of novels, we’ve been treated to a cinematic tale set during (what some claim to be) the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas. A family travels to a remote, recently renovated cabin in the hopes of rekindling the spirit of the season. But of course, this cabin holds some dark, unspoken secrets. What could possibly go wrong? In the span of less than 150 pages, McAuley sleighs (see what I did there?) his way through this Christmas slasher packed with entertainment and downright gory fun.
While Candy Cain Kills contains a multitude of enjoyable aspects, perhaps my favorite is the true sense of cinema that’s established with its plot. McAuley’s narrative reminded me of so many of the slasher horror movies we all know and love. The nature of his prose isn’t forcing movie references down your throat either; it simply feels this way, oh so naturally. The combination of thorough characterization, interfamilial drama, haunting lore, and violent, creative kills thrives in this Christmas killing, winter wonderland.
Another strength of Candy Cain Kills is Candy Cane herself, or the legend of her at least. Unbeknownst to the whole family, the cabin they rented was the site of a brutal set of murders on Christmas morning, one that supposedly left everyone dead. However, as is typically the case with these kinds of tales, truth is stranger than fiction. The sole survivor of this Christmas day massacre lurks in the halls of this cabin and has been lying in wait for years. McAuley spins the legend of Candy Cain so well through the use of the “found footage” trope. A recovered camcorder gives Austin and his family a front-row seat to the terror that unfolded so many years ago.
Slasher stories can sometimes seem a little too removed by not establishing strong connections with the characters before they are picked off, one by one. Candy Cain Kills doesn’t suffer from this common error; rather, it does the complete opposite. Austin and his family feel like very real people with very real and relatable problems. His social life is on the precipice of changing with the revelation that his crush may in fact like him back. His sister, Fiona, struggles to be understood by the rest of her family as someone who utilizes a cane. Their parents are struggling to keep their marriage afloat amidst financial struggles. While each character has their own hardships, they are also more than their struggles. Fiona is witty and sarcastic, delivering dialogue that had me giggling more than once. Their father wants to do right by his children even if it is a bit misguided. There’s lots of love amongst the dysfunction which makes the killings all the more brutal.
If you’re looking for a holly-jolly, horrifically good time, you simply must pick up Candy Cain Kills. Easily read in one sitting, this is the perfect way to kickstart the holiday season for horror fans. In fact, I would even venture to say this is the perfect read for someone looking to get into reading horror as a genre. If you’ve been a casual fan of horror movies and want to expand your repertoire a bit, McAuley effortlessly masters the same feelings of watching Ghostface chase Sydney in a dark cinema. Austin and Fiona’s struggle to survive the wrath of Candy Cain is equally entertaining and heartfelt and told at a pace that’s hard to put down. A perfect addition to Shortwave’s Killer VHS series, there’s truly no better way to usher in the Christmas season than reading a book like this.