(author’s note, this is another old review I’m porting over. It was originally written in January 2007)
After 25 years, “The Cellar”, Richard Laymon’s first novel in his Beast House series, finally made it’s way into paperback via Leisure Books last fall. Those of you who, like me (up until this weekend) have never read a Laymon book, or “The Cellar,” may find this a good starting point to jump in at.
“The Cellar” focuses on a tourist attraction in a small California town called, you guessed it, “The Beast House”. The Beast House has a very lurid history, full of murders and sexual depravity, that has tourists flocking to hear the story of the legendary Beast and the murders it supposedly committed. The main characters of the story, Donna and her twelve-year-old daughter Sandy, get mixed up with the house when they try to run away from Donna’s ex-husband/Sandy’s father, Roy. Roy was incarcerated for raping Sandy when she was six. Donna takes Sandy and hits the road, going anywhere as far north as she can to put distance between Roy and her daughter.
On the way she has a car accident and ends up having to stay the night in a small town where the Beast House is located. Meanwhile, Roy is going on a rampage of carnage, rape, torture and arson to find out where his family has gone. Staying at the same motel as Donna and Sandy is the only known survivor of an attack by the Beast, Larry Maywood Usher, and an ethical killer for hire named Judgment “Jud” Rucker, who has been hired by Usher to dispatch the beast.
This is not a book as much as it is a cerebral carnival ride. There are no heavy insights to the human condition here, no social commentary, just a straight-up entertaining read. Laymon wants to take you on a trip through the mysteries of the Beast House and he does it in good fashion. No words are wasted, and there is no verbal muscle flexing or showing off here. It starts off visceral and keeps on going.
Then there are the characters. They are all vividly painted. I felt they came across as real people with real feelings and their dialogue comes across as real and takes us inside the character’s minds. There is a special relationship that evolves between Sandy and Larry that in almost any other author’s hands would have been over done. This is where Laymon shines.
The relationships between the characters are simple, yet seem fresh, not because of narration but because of the way they act and react to each other. Laymon doesn’t go pages and pages on end describing what each character thinks. He understands that the reader has the ability to think and reason out why characters are the way they are and why they do the things they do. He keeps the action constantly moving forward, and the mystery of the Beast House always before the reader, baiting us into reading more.
“The Cellar” isn’t anymore than what it sets out to be, which is a macrabe, good old-fashioned haunted horror house thrill ride; short, sweet, and to the point. It’s a light read that doesn’t feel too light, combining the sensibilities of gaslight horror films with the scholock of 70′s and 80′s horror. It’s violent, disturbing (you will HATE Roy), sleazy, entertaining, pulpy fun. I have not read any of the other books in the Beast House series or the other works of Richard Laymon, but after this I plan to do both.