Simply put, The Cellar is Richard Laymon at his best. He keeps the reader completely off-balance with a barrage of brilliant deviance. Laymon’s prose is fired off like bullets from an Uzi. The bursts are short and EXTREMELY hard-hitting. It is Laymon’s unique style that helps propel The Cellar’s frantic speed and gory narrative.
The story opens with Donna and her 12 year-old-daughter, Sandy, fleeing from her deranged ex-husband, Roy. Donna and Sandy make their way up the California coast until their car has an untimely accident and they are forced to spend a few days in the small coastal town of Malcasa Point. A few days in a small coastal town can’t be too bad can it? Well this town is a bit different because Malcasa Point has the dubious distinction of being home to a morbid tourist attraction known as the Beast House. The Beast House has a long history which is soaked in blood and laced with murder. The locals whisper about a beast that enters the house at night to destroy any trespassers.
While Donna and Sandy are holed up in this tiny town Roy closes in on them. The thing about Roy is that he is an ex-con who has a penchant for abusing young girls. He is also a total psychopath who will stop at nothing to destroy the lives of his ex-wife and daughter and has no issue dispatching anyone who gets in his way.
As Roy closes in on Sandy and Donna we are introduced to two additional characters, Judge and Larry. As a child Larry was attacked by the Beast of Malcasa Bay but lived to tell the tale. In fact he is one of the only people to have ever survived a “beast attack” and as a result he has spent numerous sleepless nights in the grip of the memory of the Beast. His insomnia and fear have finally driven him to the brink of his sanity and he enlists Judge, an ex-military type, to finally hunt down and destroy the Beast.
The story comes together as all five main characters end up meeting in Malcasa Point and are forced to confront their worst nightmares- both human and others, well, not so human. The resulting finale is nothing short of pure genre greatness.
The Cellar is the standard to which I hold all other horror fiction to. Laymon uses the horror of reality along with the terror of the fantastic in such a way that I am never able to get comfortable when reading The Cellar. Laymon approaches the horror of the story from so many angles that he leaves the reader no place to hide. Whether reading about the taboo exploits of Roy as he indulges his pedophilic urges or bearing witness to the Beast as he violates his prey, The Cellar brings all types of scares.
When I first read the back cover of The Cellar I was giddy with excitement. I was holding a book that depicts the gory exploits of a monster who stalks a small coastal town. I immediately thought to myself, “How can that not be fun?” Well, there are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe The Cellar but “fun” is not one of them. The fact of the matter is the real beast in the story is Roy. Laymon describes his crimes against children with an unflinching sense of realism. There is absolutely nothing that is off-limits. This book was published 31 years ago and the descriptions of Roy’s atrocities are just as jarring today as they were then. Again, this is a testament to Laymon’s greatness.
As I mentioned earlier, Laymon also uses some surreal horror to keep the reader on edge. When we are not being exposed to Roy’s heinous acts, we get to meet the infamous Beast of Malcasa Bay. The Beast has been terrorizing Malcasa Bay since at least 1903- claiming at least 10 “official” victims. The reader is introduced to the origins of the Beast through the found diary of Lillian Thorn. Lillian was the first inhabitant of the Beast House and the diary outlines how the Beast began entering her house (and the inhabitants of the house). It also explains Lillian’s bizarre role in the Beast House murders as it traces the downward spiral which made the Beast what it is today. The diary was a truly unique way to introduce the audience to a very mysterious creature. Again, this a testament to Laymon’s creative prowess.
I understand that this book is not for everyone. It is an all out assault on the reader as Laymon attacks you from every possible angle. As a father of young children I found the Roy subplot to be especially unsettling but isn’t that what this genre is all about? It is about authors bringing their readers to a place they normally wouldn’t go. It is not supposed to be safe. Everything should not end well. This is what Laymon understood and this is what made him one of the true masters of the genre.