Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Richard Laymon
Published by Leisure Books
Brilliant, dark, and gory as all hell, The Woods Are Dark was one of Richard Laymon’s crowning achievements in horror; too bad those of us in the U.S. never got to see it the way the author intended.
Seems his publisher at the time hacked the book to pieces and released it without anything approaching the author’s consent, and according to his daughter Kelly in her forward for this new edition, it’s the move Laymon always attributed to his failure to reach the masses in the States. The book was released almost uncut in the UK, and anyone who follows Laymon’s works knows how well he did over there.
So now, for the first time ever, we finally get to experience The Woods Are Dark in its unexpurgated form, and what a form it is! Like Ketchum’s The Off Season, The Woods are Dark is a non-stop thrill ride of terror through some of the most evil factions of humanity.
The story takes place near a small town in the middle of nowhere. First two female friends and later an entire family make the mistake of stopping in this minuscule burg and, before they know what’s happening, find themselves as human sacrifices to the things that live in the woods, things called Krulls.
They’re human, but just barely. Cannibals who apparently have been in these woods for centuries. The only thing the neighboring town can do to keep them away is offer up travelers, and they’ve been doing it for so long they know nothing else. One man, though, has decided enough is enough. One of the girls he’s tied to a tree is a girl he fancies quite a bit, so under the cover of darkness he goes out and helps her and her friend escape, along with the family. Pretty soon they’re all separated, each experiencing their own night of terror as they’re plunged into a world that is pure evil, kill or be killed (and eaten), and with no hope in sight for escape.
The father of the family loses it pretty quickly and finds himself thinking the same way the Krulls do. The daughter watches her boyfriend slaughtered and is eventually raped by Krulls, only to be told she can join them if she’s willing to fight to the death. That or be killed and eaten. Which would you choose? Meanwhile the heroic rescuer and his companions manage to find the home of one creature that might actually be worse than the Krulls, something that even the cannibals themselves fear as he is known as a taker of heads.
Just when you don’t think it could get any worse, it does, and that’s what makes The Woods Are Dark so much damn fun. Yes, fun. You see, unlike The Off Season, the subject matter here is approached with a noticeably lighter tone. Horrible stuff is going on all around, but you just can’t bring yourself to feel that bad for the characters, no matter how much they suffer, because it’s never taken thatseriously. For me it’s all about Laymon’s tone throughout, a tone that was a trademark of the man and one of the elements that keeps me loving it every time Leisure puts out another one of his stories. You could tell he wanted the reader to have a good time in his nightmarish visions, even if he makes you question your own morals sometimes.
Clocking it at just over 200 pages, The Woods Are Dark is a lean and mean piece of backwoods horror that you should not pass up!
4 1/2 out of 5
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