Cellar, The (Book)
Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Richard Laymon
Published by Leisure Books
This is, as they say, the one that started it all. Though for U.S. readers that particular phrasing doesn’t mean a whole helluva lot since for whatever reason Laymon never caught on over here. Many more experienced writers with more knowledge than I can tell you why and just what went wrong; all I know is that The Cellar is considered the novel that put Laymon on the map, managing to shock, disgust, or delight (sometimes all three) anyone who came across this story.
The Cellar is Book One in the Beast House Chronicles, a cycle that continued with The Beast House and The Midnight Tour, and tells of a young mother named Donna whose ex-husband is released from prison and her efforts to get as far away from the man as humanly possibly. His name is Roy, and he’s insane. He’s been in San Quentin for an indeterminate number of years, though it’s not nearly long enough considering his crimes. When Donna hears of his release, she grabs her daughter, 12-year-old Sandy, gets in the car, and just starts driving. She doesn’t care where they go, but she knows if they sit still for too long, Roy will find them.
Soon they end up in Malcasa Point, a small town in Northern California that is home to The Beast House, named as such because of the numerous deaths (the most recent of which opens the book) that have occurred in its walls by what the rare survivors describe as a beast. Not a man, not an animal… a beast.
One man, a survivor of a boyhood beast attack, befriends a new neighbor whose job it just so happens to be is to kill people for money. He hires the man to help him kill the beast that still haunts his dreams, and soon they meet up with Donna and form an unusual bond. When Roy finally tracks them down, things get really bad; and when the group learns of the hideous truths of the Beast House, they get even worse.
Like much of Laymon’s works, The Cellar is best enjoyed with as little foreknowledge as possible as to the plot’s numerous twists and turns, in fact just knowing the book has them may be giving too much away. It’s a great story, fast paced and purely Laymon through-and-through (complete with the gratuitous use of the word “rump”), and indeed I would say it’s one of the nastiest of his books that I’ve read.
There are things that go on this novel that must have been incredibly shocking when the book was first published, 1980, because it contains the actions of both man and beast that are still sure to set some off their lunch during the quickly-paced novel. This is not the kind of story you should just jump right into if you’re not familiar with Laymon’s work, as it’s not really indicative of the rest of his output. He’s never been one to skimp on the violence or gore, but the rampant twisted sexuality in The Cellar isn’t the sort of thing he delved into very often.
Not that it’s detrimental to the book or just simple exploitation; when Laymon does something in a story, it’s always for a damn good reason, as if he had planned them all out ahead of time and knew exactly where he was going. My only real complaint is the end which, while certainly refreshing by the outcome of the story alone, felt a tad rushed, as if he had more he wanted to say but had to hit deadline. Perhaps Book Two shed some more light on that, I’m not sure.
If you’re a fan of Laymon, you’re going to love this book. If you’re a fan of truly twisty plots and blatant sexuality, you’re going to love this book. If you’re a reader who feels horror should be subtle and psychological... chances are you’ve never read a Richard Laymon book anyway. On second thought, maybe The Cellar would be a good place to start...
4 out of 5
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