Our loyal readers know that the Dreadful Tales family are a bunch of Laymon fanatics, hence the homage to him in our title, but this review comes with a little confession. I wasn’t always a Laymon fan. In fact, I was disappointed and highly critical of my first Laymon read The Cellar. Without getting into specifics, let’s just say I could’ve never guessed I would be devouring every piece of nasty Laymon fiction I could get my hands on this past summer. Luckily, my brothers in horror wouldn’t let me quit with just one try and after receiving a Laymon care package from Colum and giving him another shot I was officially converted over to the darkside. Now a loyal follower, possessed by the demon cry of the master of splatterpunk, imagine my surprise when I found the title you see to your left, Night Show (Tor Books 1986), at a local coffee shop / used records & bookstore. It’s little place in Bowling Green, Ohio called Grounds For Thought (clever, huh?). They have coffee, of course, sandwiches and other pastries. They also have a section of used comics, records, and an ever-growing stock of used books with a few shelves marked “horror” in red drops of blood. Well, not real blood I hope. But I digress. I must’ve perused this shelf dozens of times throughout the summer and although I’m sure I saw Night Show among the stacks it wasn’t until I had an itch to scratch for this infamous writer that it finally caught my eye. The cover has a great 80’s vibe enticing the reader with plenty of blood, some scary thrills, and the essential babes-stalked-by-mad-killer thread. While Night Show doesn’t quite deliver on as much blood as the cover suggests, all Laymon’s other signature elements are there; non-stop action, tough babes, and crazed killers!
There are two different summaries of the story depending on which edition of Night Show you pick up. The Tor Books edition that I scored at the coffee shop is as follows:
Dani Larson is the Queen of Horror Movie Special Effects. Grisly murders and mutilated corpses are her stock in trade. Nothing scares her – not even watching herself shotgunned into fragments of butcher-shop gore.
But now the gore is real, and the woman without fear is in terror of her life. She is being stalked by the Chill Master, a psychopath who first wants to be Dani’s apprentice, then her lover, and finally: her replacement.
Can Special Effects defeat a madman, or is a movie come to life too much for the Queen of Horror?
The Headline Book edition simply reads:
High-school prankster Tony Johnson kidnapped school beauty Linda Allison and locked her in a haunted house for the night. Linda didn’t see the funny side. Now Tony is in Hollywood and has forgotten all about Linda. But she certainly hasn’t forgotten him.
Either synopsis is a glaring reminder of how much I misunderstood Laymon. Both summaries exemplify a common theme in his work; women who defy horror stereotypes. I’m not proud to admit that I made a snap judgement about Laymon’s relationship with women based on their representation in The Cellar, but I am glad that I had an opportunity to finally see the error in my initial impression. If you browse Goodreads for reader reviews on Night Show you will find many that open with the explanation that this is not Laymon’s best work. I would even say this is a pretty weak entry when pitted against my favorites, but considered on its own Night Show is still a highly entertaining, fun and thrilling ride. And this story is made better than average with the strong female leads. In an industry dominated by men (especially when this book was originally published in 1984), Laymon throws an interesting curve ball by casting Dani as the Queen Horror Movie Special Effects. Not only has she garnered great success and admiration for her work, but she is also beautiful. Double threat! You also have the beautiful Linda who sets out to prove that she won’t take an ill-fated prank lightly. All the famous slashers have a final girl who uses her will to survive and clever methods of combat to defeat her killer, but Laymon’s books are filled with kick-ass chicks! And as Laymon proves in Night Show, they’re not always the stereotypical goodie goodie who refrains from sex, drugs, and alcohol. Taking Dani for example. She’s just a regular chick with a healthy libido who likes to party and won’t be pushed around. And she creates the best special effects in the biz. Now that’s my kind of final girl!
Speaking of libidos, there is a ton of sex in this book. Laymon books are often filled with sexual content, but for some reason the sex scenes in this book were a little overkill. Not because they were over the top or too explicit, quite the contrary. They just seem to drag on and became repetitive at times. A minor grievance for a story that delivered most of the time. I was more interested in the plot development and the intimate lover’s moments seemed like meaningless intermission between the action.
Night Show is not a book that solidified Laymon as a master of gore. This book is more toned down in graphic content compared to his other works, but the story definitely doesn’t suffer for it. Even though he is more frugal with the blood and guts it doesn’t make the chills and thrills any less jarring.
Overall, Night Show is a satisfying jaunt into subdued Laymon country. Not quite as gruesome as Laymon fan favorites and veers slightly off course at times, but a fun little horror nugget to snack on if you have some time to kill.
Keep your eyes peeled at the local garage sales and used bookstores and you just might find the vintage Tor Books edition. Otherwise, you can pick up the Headline Books version at Amazon.com here.