The Cellar is the first of Richard Laymon’s Beast House series of books, comprising this novel, The Beast House, The Midnight Tour and the novella Friday Night at the Beast House. It’s not just the first book in this series, but was the first novel that Laymon ever had published, and showed us a glimpse of what would be in store from this great horror novelist.
It’s a short, punchy, yet quite brutal novel, but one that doesn’t lack depth. It creates and then continually manages to maintain a successful air of mystery, alongside an uncomfortable but compulsive horror-feel. With shocking moments peppered throughout, this one continues to ride through to an unexpected ending.
Affairs open as our main character Donna receives notice from the police that her husband, imprisoned for violent sex-offence crimes, has been released on parole. Fearing, rightfully so, for her daughter the pair flee from the family home and set out on a road trip. Before they know it they find themselves fatefully led to the small town of Malcasa Point, where they soon come across the Beast House and the terrifying mysteries it beholds.
Parallel to this, the book follows Donna’s husband as he commits a series of horrific acts (genuinely shocking to be honest) as he seeks down his wife and daughter. At the same time an unlikely pair team up to track down the eponymous beast of the title.
One is a cynical mercenary-type with a conscience, the other scarred by a childhood experience in the house and both seeking respite from their troubles and potential redemption should they resolve the mystery surrounding the house. Eventually the paths of all involved meet up to face down at Malcasa Point, in a scary, well-written showdown and lingering climax that still shocks after re-reading.
Laymon was a prolific and talented writer, who contributed over forty well-known and respected novels to the horror canon. He is often accredited for writing in a sub-genre of horror that later evolved into that known as splatterpunk, and in which authors such as Poppy Z Brite came to feature with some prominence.
He injects humour into his works through his characters, sometimes in the situations in which they find themselves, and creates likeable protagonists – likely so that you will be shocked more when they’re put through the grille, but then the oldest tricks are often the most effective.
But do beware; this novel makes for some very uncomfortable reading at times. Subjects and topics that many will find uncomfortable are really tested here and it’s harsh at times, make no doubt.
Richard Laymon wrote to shock, and with The Cellar his aim to push the boundaries on horror literature were successful. It’s a gripping beast of a book, and will leave its boot-print stamped into your grey matter long after you’ve finished it.
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