The Cellar: Richard Laymon (Kendall Review)

And so begins the Kendall Reviews Richard Laymon chronological read through. Laymon’s an author I’ve been aware of since I was a teenager, but only read a few times. I won’t discuss what I’ve read before (I’ll be rereading them soon enough), all I really recall was that the books featured copious amounts of sex, gore and violence and were an enjoyable quick and easy read. Since then, alongside the accolades I’ve read many a criticism about Laymon and the horrors that lie behind those often gorgeous covers. This is why I’ve decided on this read thorough. Back in 1998 I bought every single Headline reissue, somewhat bizarrely they have sat on my shelves unread since then. It’ll be at least 25 years since I last read a Laymon novel, in that time I’ve married and had two daughters. My views may have changed but my passion for horror and the darker genres remains as strong as ever!

The Cellar (1980)

Visitors flock to see the Beast House with its blood-soaked corridors and creaky doors. Armed with video camcorders, these poor souls enter the forbidden house, never to return. The deeper they go into the house, the darker their nightmares become. Don’t even think about going into the cellar.

The Cellar tells two stories. The first is the tale of Donna who is on the run from her ex-husband Roy. Roy has just been released from San Quentin after serving time for raping their daughter Sandy when she was just 6 years old. Donna and Sandy, who’s now 12, flee the family home, and find themselves in the small Northern California town of Malcasa Point, unfortunately for them Roy has also found his way there. The second, is of The Beast House, a tourist attraction in also Malcasa Point offering guided tours based around its grisly history of murders that have happened there since the turn of the century. It’s here at The Beast House these two stories clash and we find out exactly what is going on down in The Cellar.

Right off the bat  this book has forced me to change the rules with which I review books. Usually I would read 50% of a book regardless of how I felt about the content. Some may think that’s too generous, but if an author has taken the time to write a book then I should at least reciprocate and give the book time to breath. Now I’m additionally operating a three strikes policy for reasons that will become quite clear.

The Cellar blurs the horrors of the fantastic with real horror, and this for me usually makes for an pleasurably uncomfortable read. The first real horror we’re faced with here is pedophilia. Roy is the most despicable specimen I’ve read in a long while. Bravo to the author for making me utterly despise this vile scum. It’s only through implication that we know EXACTLY why Roy was imprisoned for 6 years and why Donna and Sandy have gone on the run upon his release.

We join Roy at the family home having only missed Donna and Sandy by a few hours. He’s in a rage, overpowers the man of the house who lives opposite, killing him and then his wife. It’s after this shocking display of Roy’s violent side that we see another side to him. Roy turns his attention to Toni, a 10-year-old whose parents Roy has just killed. I just don’t understand why Laymon uses implication so effectively and then resorts to a descriptive chapter where Roy sexually abuses a 10-year-old girl in a bath whilst her parents lay dead downstairs. Strike 1 Mr Laymon! I’m no prude and I of course understand that this is horror fiction but these acts are unnecessarily descriptive, bordering on salacious. I won’t go into details, but a reference to Roy ‘withdrawing’ after another of his vile attacks, only a chapter later, almost had me snapping the book shut Strike 2 Mr Laymon! As the book progressed I felt that Toni was being written as if she was much older. Was this a conscious decision by the author? It certainly doesn’t make things right, but I’d like to think that maybe Laymon realised he’d overstepped the mark. Saying that, I couldn’t forget that Toni was in fact a 10-year-old child the subplot could so easily be dropped with no detriment to the main plot.

‘Let’s go,’ said the man with two children. ‘This is the most crude, tasteless excuse for a voyeuristic thrill I’ve ever come across.’

Page 54, The Cellar, Richard Laymon

The previously mentioned subplot tarnishes what could actually be a reasonably enjoyable horror. The Cellar has a few additional problems, which I’d also like to touch on.

Characters actions occasionally took me out of the novel. For instance, Donna and Sandy are hiding out in a motel, fearful for their lives. That is until Judd turns up, a man who makes Donna weak at the knees just by looking at him and has her creeping out of her motel room, leaving her daughter behind asleep, to have sex with him. Baffling! Annoyingly Donna is a very strong woman until she is in the presence of a man where she becomes stereotypically dizzy, willing to offer herself to the manliest of men. Women in this novel are often ogled at without their knowing, male characters catch glimpses of pert breasts, thrusting nipples, long thin legs & firm rumps. The threat of rape is omnipresent, adding to the uncomfortable vibe The Cellar oozes. Women tend to meet a nasty end with brutal wounds from man and beast whilst most male deaths seemed somewhat tame in comparison with Roy’s demise being horribly underplayed, he deserved a hell of a lot more! Words like ‘engorged’ and ‘throbbing’ are used with wild abandon, causing me to eye roll and wonder if I’ve accidentally started reading a teenager’s list of rude words.

Have I been overly critical in my assessment of The Cellar? I honestly don’t believe I have. For all the criticism, the story, without all the abhorrent pedophile subplot was perfectly readable. I did want to find out what was going on inside the Beast House. And believe me, it’s utterly bonkers when you do find out!

You must absolutely approach The Cellar with caution. Just skip any chapters that feature Roy up to the moment he turns up at Malcasa Point, you really won’t miss anything. From that moment on, you have an enjoyable old school, twisted horror story with issues that I’m hoping are down to being a debut novel, that races along to a somewhat shocking conclusion.

What’s more telling about this review is that I’ve barely mentioned The Beast House and what happens within, the humans in this tale are more abhorrent than any ‘monster’.

And I haven’t even mentioned the bestiality!

Star Rating (out of 5): 2**

Next on the Richard Laymon readthrough

The Woods Are Dark (1981)


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