By Thomas Canty and Phil Hale (Donald M. Grant; 1985)

Here’s an illustrated Christmas tale we can all enjoy, an extended 44-page poem about a little boy terrorized by toothy monsters that emerge from his closet on Christmas Eve.  It’s the scary flip-side of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a genuinely dark evocation of mirth and nastiness that directly recalls the Brothers Grimm at their grimmest.

A climactic line reads “Things get glossied over/Or coated with sugar.”  Not in this story, which has the unnamed child at its center bundled into a bag and hauled off by the creatures, who promise “we’ll take you away/And you’ll never come back!”  They replace the kid with a rag doll–and the next morning, when his parents wake up, “The carnage begins…”

Other memorable lines: “As your arms leave their sockets/With wet sucky Pops!/And they pull off your ears/In two bloody red clots” and “Then they tighten their grip/And your little bones buckle/And the last thing you hear/Is their soft liquid chuckle.”  Obviously this will never be mistaken for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Thomas Canty was the writer and Phil Hale (of Stephen King’s DARK TOWER books) the illustrator.  The text and pictures go hand in hand, each complimenting the other.  As fine as Canty’s macabre stanzas are, they work best in tandem with Hale’s dense illustrations, done in a classical Rockwellian style that gives this freaky account a disarmingly cozy aura reminiscent of any number of beloved holiday stories.  Yet the creatures pictured are nightmare-inducing creations, emaciated humanoid things with beady doll eyes and huge mouths lined with sharp teeth.

A MONSTER AT CHRISTMAS is, finally, a profoundly screwed-up piece of work.  Its ultimate outrage is saved for the last page, in which a profoundly bleak yet darkly comedic twist is unveiled that moves the tale from Brothers Grimm territory into the realm of Ambrose Bierce.