The Woods are Dark by Richard Laymon

laymonwoodsaredarkWell now. The cannibals sure are horny in the second novel by Richard Laymon. Yes, it’s sleazy as hell, misogynistic, perverted, idiotic etc. Nobody ever blamed Laymon for being politically correct. But it’s also a fast-paced thriller, a reasonably gripping tale of survival, although I assume that’s mostly because we already have some attraction for the genre, not because we have any care for the characters.

The characters enter the story as they make a rest stop in a small town. They are promptly captured by the townsfolk, who have an ancient pact with degenerate cannibalistic creatures that live in the forest next door. Townsfolk provide fresh meat and fertile women for the cannibals, and in return the cannibals don’t eat and rape the town. Only this time one of the Delivery Men (group of men charged with delivering the goods to a sacrificial place in the woods) becomes attracted to a victim and decides to free her. This doesn’t go well with the cannibals or the townsfolk, and the chase is on. Add some other characters also trying to survive, and that’s basically it.

Laymon’s writing is concise, except for florid depictions of sex. The balance seems similar to bad movies from the eighties, with poor acting most of the time but swelling, saccharine music every time something emotional happens. Characters exist mostly for the advancement of the plot, and most of their actions are motivated either by the need to survive or the need to get laid. Not to put a too fine point on it, but philosophically, considering the whole human race, those two motivations might very well be as basic as it gets.

Presumably the novel was severely abridged by the publisher. Maybe this included explanations for some incongruous details, such as the psychopathic 12-year old girl, who nonchalantly slices throats and guns down people, much to the dismay of her mother. There are hints that some of the cannibals lead double lives, being regular townspeople one day and horny cannibals the next, with a lot of crossbreeding both ways. That would explain why many in the town seem less than human, but none of this is adequately developed. Perhaps in the expanded version.

All in all a strangely fascinating novel, trashy yes, but almost so trashy it’s good.

*** (3/5)

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