Donna and her 12-year-old daughter are on the run from her psychotic ex-husband who was recently released from prison. He had always vowed to track them down and kill them both if he ever got out, and they have no doubt he plans on keeping his word.
The pair end up making an unexpected stop in the small coastal town of Malcasa Point, Pop 400. A town with a macabre tourist attraction – an old, Victorian house called Beast House. The house has been the scene of multiple murders over the years in which occupants of the house, both invited and uninvited, have met violent, grisly ends at the hands of some sort of beast. Some believe it is simply a man gone mad, others believe that it is a monster normally only seen in nightmares.
But one thing they all agree on – something lurks in that house at night, looking for the next victim to shred to pieces with its razor-sharp claws. But Donna and Sandy are about to find out the horrifying truth behind the legend after meeting two of the town’s recent visitors; two men who have scores to settle with the thing that lurks within the Beast House.
The Cellar is book one in a four part Beast House series, as well as the first published novel by Richard Laymon. Most readers of horror are quite familiar with Laymon – his name usually being among the authors populating their list of favorite horror authors. Before his death in 2001, he had sixty short stories and over thirty novels under his belt. I have read a few of his books over the years, and while I have liked them all well enough, I decided it was time to go check out The Cellar, as it has always been describe as a “genre buster” and one of the novels that threw some readers for a loop because of its content. So, 29 years after it was first published, I can honestly say that yeah – had I read this in 1980 when it first came out, I would have been pretty shocked.
The Cellar starts off great with the introduction of Donna and Sandy along with Donna’s hideous ex-husband, Roy. Since most of The Cellar is fairly predictable, at least in the beginning, you knew that Donna was going to have a confrontation with Roy eventually and, for reasons I will get into in a bit, you knew it would probably be nasty. Coinciding with these character intros, the book sets up Beast House. Laymon describes a couple of violent murders written with a touch of dread and a good dose of tension, putting you in the house with the victims as a witness to their fate. Detailing unsuspecting individuals walking in an old, dark house while a laughing monster watched them from the shadows waiting to pounce was, overall, quite creepy.
But it isn’t the monster in the house that is the most disturbing character in The Cellar. Oh, no. That title belongs to a character who is very much human. Sort of. As I mentioned earlier, the reason why you knew that the inevitable meeting between Donna and Roy was going to be nasty is because Roy is a sociopath. A murdering, raping, pedophile sociopath, and Laymon has no issues describing his deeds, all of his deeds, in chilling detail. A lot of his abuse is directed towards a little girl named Joni. If you are able to stomach it, you will read as Roy repeatedly abuses and rapes her. This goes on through the entire novel as Joni is Roy’s unwilling companion as he hunts down Donna and Sandy. This fact, along with the murders he commits, lets you know that if things go his way, Donna and Sandy were in for a nightmare much worse than anything currently residing in Beast House.
Pretty decent setup, huh? A woman being chased down by her crazy ex-husband, a monster lurking in an old house making meat pies out of anyone dumb enough to stumble around the dark hallways after sundown. For the most part, it is. Especially in the first 3/4 of the book that are like watching trains on a collision course with each other. It’s written in a way where it isn’t too hard to turn your brain off to some of the absurdities (multiple murders – including a cop – and officials have yet to tear Beast House to the ground looking for clues but allow it to stay open for tours), but some of the other glaring problems are a bit tough to ignore.
It’s no big shocker that Laymon has a book with the “dumb female” predominately featured, as it is a common theme in some of his novels, but I still had a hard time liking Donna. While it never mentions how the hell Donna married, and then had a kid with a psychopath – we do see that she is not a very good mother and makes absolutely horrendous decisions in regards to men. She practically falls in love with a man named Judgment (no shit) who she first sees in the town’s cafe. He has been hired by a Beast House survivor to find out what is doing the killing, and is in town to enter Beast House at night and then kill whatever he finds. Like a soaked sponge being squeezed, Donna’s loins leak into her pants whenever she is around him, falling in love so quickly and recklessly that she leaves her daughter alone (or with a stranger) for lengthy periods of time – even though her ex is after them both – just to fuck him in an adjoining hotel room. It kind it made it hard for me to feel bad for her situation, although it did succeed in making me feel even worse for Sandy’s.
Another problem I had with The Cellar was with Roy. Sure I felt disgusted while reading what Roy was doing to the little girl he had kidnapped, but I held on to the hope that at the very least, Laymon was going to make sure that Roy got what he deserved in the end. Like a lot of the book, portions of the outcome are easy to predict and before the finale even arrives, you can pretty much guess what Laymon has in store for Roy. But Laymon let me down severely with how it is handled. Others who have read the book may disagree with me but compared to the things Roy did throughout the book, coupled with what we know the monster in Beast House is capable of, I was not real satisfied with what happens when they meet.
To top all of this off, the final chapters of The Cellar spiral out of control. As the secret is revealed and the final confrontations begin, all of the groundwork that had been set up fairly well in the beginning, crumble into almost unbelievable absurdity. Granted, I am reading this book almost 30 years after it was written, before what is now cliche was even considered as such, but those last moments in The Cellar were a bit of a letdown for me. Even with the disturbing moments in place, watching what could have been a pretty good conclusion become marred by idiotic decisions made by everyone involved was a tad frustrating. But somehow Laymon pulls the story out of it’s deadly tailspin at the very last second with an unsettling , two-paged epilogue that is either loved or hated by its readers. I did not expect it and found it to be just twisted enough for my liking, having me thinking of the implications long after I put The Cellar down.
Laymon fans who may not have not read this will know what to expect. His humor peeks through at times and his style of extreme horror, sex, and violence are stamped on the story throughout. For the others out there who have never read a Laymon novel and want to pick one up, The Cellar may not be the best place to introduce yourself to his work, but it’s as good as place as any, I suppose. But be forewarned – there is a lot of rape.
In the end, The Cellar did not have me clamoring to read the next book in the series (The Beast House), but make no mistake – I will be reading it eventually.Tags: author, book, Horror, Rape, Richard Laymon, The Cellar