Darkness, Tell Us (1991) by Richard Laymon

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Greetings from Laymonland, where all men dream of women’s tits and women get raped as a matter of course. A bunch of students fool around with an Ouija board and make contact with a supernatural entity named Butler, who guides them to a treasure hidden somewhere in the mountains. Road trip!

After the promising seance that begins this bloated nonsense, the novel careers off to a discount slasher on a remote camping ground and stays there until the end, with the kids swimming and goofing around and doing very little of any interest. Meanwhile a muscular half-nude man with a machete stalks the forest because it’s a thing that happens, apparently. There might’ve been a back story to the killer but honestly, by that time I’d already checked out.

Laymon’s prose and dialogue are dull beyond dull, a constant diarrhea of inane language. The characters of Howard and Angela are (horny) outsiders, the teacher and her beau are the (horny) adult characters and the rest are just names on a page. The plot is idiotic, with the final rapey twists bending the structure of the novel so hard the book can probably rape itself.

And yes, there’s a whole lot of raping going on, rape here, rape there, some rapes in the past and some imagined rapes, rape rape rape. At one point, one of the female characters even says she wishes she had been raped, because I guess deep down all the Laymon characters just want to have violent non-consensual sex. My objection here is not out of political correctness: it’s because this stuff is in a profoundly poor taste for cheap shock value and no other reason. It’s something only a truly pathetically bad novelist would do.

There’s no redeeming feature here. Sometimes Laymon’s novels can have a fast plot or just rapid violent action, but here it all feels stilted. The settings are uninspired, the pace is noticeably slow, the villains make no sense at all, the good guys are boring af. I don’t need an Ouija board to tell me that Darkness, Tell us is S-H-I-T.

* (1/5)

The Cellar (1980) by Richard Laymon

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Cellar is a bad novel. It’s trash, it’s dumb, it has practically no redeeming qualities. Every character in the novel is obsessed with sex (and not in a good way, but in a deeply weird, all-encompassing way) and nobody acts or speaks like a normal, sensible human being.

Of course those were the hallmarks of Richard Laymon’s oeuvre, so you get what you asked for when you grabbed one of his novels. The Cellar from 1980 is, however, his first novel so pretty much everything is still undeveloped. It’s all surface, with no depth to anything. Well, in all honesty, most of Laymon is. Plotwise, The Cellar is very basic: there’s a tourist trap called Beast House, which is said to be stalked by a clawed, murderous beast during the night. Several people eventually congregate at the house, Jud and Larry are there to kill the monster, Donna and Sandy are on the run from her crazed ex-husband, and the ex-husband Roy is on their trail because he wants to rape his daughter. Basically.

Roy does a lot of raping and murdering in the novel, and he actually takes a young girl named Joni along for the trip and casually molests her every chance he gets. The writing of these scenes is remarkably pedestrian, which, to really grasp for some reasonable explanation, does underline how much of a psychopath Roy really is. The other characters aren’t any better, and perhaps after reading about Roy’s exploits one gets slightly nervous when Laymon describes Larry, who is supposed to be a good guy, befriending young Sandy. In any case, for most of the characters their only motivating factor to do anything is sex. This also applies to the monsters, who are insatiable and whose sexual organs are described as having a tongue or something that really makes everyone want to have sex with them. Not that they wouldn’t anyway.

The Cellar is so slim it doesn’t have time to get unbearably dull, and it does instil in the reader a morbid curiosity to find out what Laymon will come up with next. But other than that, there is no enjoyment in entering The Cellar. It’s all just too idiotic. Some points are due, however, for the epilogue, set some time after the finale, which does allow for a quite creepy ending and shows the way for the sequels that nobody really asked for (Beast House, The Midnight Tour and Friday Night in the Beast House).

* (1/5)

Midnight’s Lair by Richard Laymon

midnightslairA group of tourists visiting Mordock’s Cave is plunged into darkness when the lights go out. Their guide, Darcy, leads them to the elevators that go up to the hotel on the surface, but they are similarly out of order. Soon, the elevators come crashing down in flames. There’s rumoredly another way out beyond the sealed-off end of the cavern, so they go and break down the wall built in the 1920s to get there. As they break through, something grabs one of them; and soon the tourists are fighting for their lives.

Richard Laymon peels off the layers of the story slowly and deliberately; everything’s connected, but it’s up to the reader to connect the dots. It’s a truly well executed structure, the horror rising not so much from what’s on the page, but from what’s implied. The creatures trapped in their small, sealed-off world beyond the wall may be the enemy, but they’re also victims of an unspeakably horrific crime that’s continued for over half a century, from father to son.

The action in the present doesn’t really match the epic horror of the backstory, but it does its job; the impenetrable darkness of the cavern lends a nice touch to the already claustrophobic setting. The characters are likeable, and even a budding teenage serial killer, whose actions begin the events that unravel the legacy of horror, occasionally comes off as strangely sympathetic. As it’s a Laymon novel there’s sex, of course; but it never overwhelms the story, instead it plays into it. A fast read at a concise 250 pages, with brisk pacing that never lets down, Midnight’s Lair is one of Laymon’s best.

****½ (4.5/5)

Originally published in 1988 under the pseudonym Richard Kelly. Visit the official Richard Laymon site

One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon

1419565Nipples. So many nipples. And lots of carnage. Richard Laymon is up to his usual tricks in One Rainy Night, a 1991 novel about a mysterious rain that turns ordinary folks into homicidal maniacs.

The story begins a day after a black youth is killed by a bunch of hooligans. Sadly for the mostly white town, the young man’s grandpa happens to know voodoo. He literally rains down his vengeance, causing a black rain to fall on both the guilty and the innocent. Everyone caught by the downpour goes on a happy rampage, like it was the most natural thing in the world to drink your neighbor’s blood.

It’s fast-paced, action-laden stuff for 400 pages. Familiar Laymonian archetypes abound, with Trev the cop and John the everyman, along with Maureen the woman who gets abused. Sex, as usual, looms large even in the most violent scenes; there’s no such horror that would turn off Laymon’s characters from appreciating some well-formed boobies. The end may be nigh, but man, those boobies look nice!

Despite all the titillations, the action gets slightly repetitive. There’s only so much the rain can do, and even those things are very limited (only first-hand exposure has any effect). On the surface it’s a splatter story, and that’s all it is.

The racially motivated murder that starts it, however, does give the story some unexpected originality. Deep down the carnage is a race riot, fought between white people who have been showered by the black rain (thus coloring them black, a feature often mentioned) and those who are yet dry. Basically, in the absence of an outraged black minority, the wronged family enacts its revenge through proxies. While someone somewhere will no doubt be offended by such ideas, it does follow the mechanics of many riots, often sparked by just one severely unjust murder. In One Rainy Night the mayhem may be magically induced and its violence is turned up to eleven, but otherwise it is sadly close to real life.

** (2/5)

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)