Woods Are Dark, The (Book)

The Woods Are Dark review!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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Johnny Butane

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  • Rorschach

    This sounds really good. Will have to seek it out.

  • G.D.

    Why oh WHY have no Laymon books been adapted into movies yet?

  • Johnny Butane

    Damn straight, and there’s plent out there to choose from now thanks to Leisure!

    Is it really 50 pages? Some of the things mentioned in the book’s intro that were cut out makes my head spin. How did it make any sense at all?

    • Cash Bailey

      It says here about the 50 pages.


      I’ve read that my Australian version (247 pages in my 1991 Headline paperback, in fairly large type) may be the same as the more complete UK printing, so maybe the cuts won’t seem drastic.

      Actually there’s some very interesting comments on Amazon, with one guy claiming that this new Leisure version is actually MISSING some stuff that’s in the aforementioned Headline version.

      But I’ve got this new version on order so I might go in the forum after I read it and talk about the differences.

      As for movies…

      I reckon Laymon’s books would have the average Hollywood douche running for the hills. The fact that his books are so ‘high concept’ is both a blessing and a curse. They’re virtually film-ready, but the brutal sexualised violence that is such a major part of his style would be the first thing that would be tamed way down.

      They need indie film-makers to make some Laymon films. Much like what they’ve done with Ketchum. Because it probably won’t be until then when readers start flocking to his books.

      • conundrum

        It is missing the parts that the original publisher added against Laymon’s wishes. This version is based on his original manuscript, before an editor got their hands on it. So compared to the original release there are new parts added as well as old parts (including entire characters and subplots) removed.

  • Cash Bailey

    Aw yeah! I’m so psyched to read the restored version.

    This has long-been my sentimental favourite of Laymon’s books. it was the one that turned me into a fan and to think that we now get another 50 pages of awesomeness is just great.

    Thanks again for these reviews, Butane. In my opinion every person who reads this site owes it to themselves to get into Richard Laymon. Give the man some props in his home country that he never got to enjoy in life.