The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

The Traveling Vampire Show may be the perfect novel. Not the perfect novel for everybody but the perfect novel for me. In case you were not aware, I am a complete sucker for a well told coming-of-age story. Boy’s Life, Dweller and It sit firmly atop my ‘Best Novels of All Time’ list. I’m also a fan of over-the-top Looney Tunes brutality and gore. The Traveling Vampire Show has all of that and more.

The story follows three 16-year-old best friends: the eternal Boy Scout Dwight, a well read tomboy Slim and dim witted Rusty. The novel takes place in a single day as this trio attempt to get into a road show called The Traveling Vampire Show. The show is strictly an adult affair but these three are determined to get in. This is the backdrop for one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.

There are elements in the story that bring me back to the magic of childhood. The type of magic that made monsters real and dreams attainable. When Laymon conjures up the image of an enormous man gliding down the center of the street while wearing a ghost costume- I can see myself as a kid, believing with all my heart that what I am seeing is real. I could feel Dwight’s pain as he battled with longing and turmoil that only a 16 year-old boy can know. I felt like Laymon was describing my youth. Sure the events weren’t the same, but the emotions sure were. He was able to tap into the universal emotions that each of have felt at one time.

Then as I am getting all warm and fuzzy Laymon decides that he wants to take the reader to The Traveling Vampire Show. At this point the story takes a complete 180. The tender emotions of youth are replaced with razor sharp spears and unspeakable horror. Things get COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTROL. I have never been so blindsided by a book and it was absolutely brilliant!

The Traveling Vampire Show may not be representative of Laymon’s typical work but it is a reflection of his best work.  This is a book that will be enjoyed by life-long Laymon fans, as well as those who may have been put off by his earlier offerings.  In short, this is a novel that every genre fan needs to read.

Friday Night in Beast House by Richard Laymon

Ever wonder where hormonally charged youth in Malcasa Point take their dates on a Friday night?  Maybe they take in a movie and grab some dinner or it could just be a simple walk on the beach?  Nope.  In Malcasa Point, the kids get their thrills on Friday night by sneaking into the infamous Beast House and having the time of their lives.


Return to Malcasa Point… two young lovers meeting at midnight for a very special date… meeting at the Beast House… after hours… in the dark… it’ll be a night they never forget!

 The premise of this novella is quite simple.  Mark is a typical young man who will do anything for a date with the most attractive girl in school, Allison.  After finally mustering up enough courage to ask Allison out, Mark is elated when she agrees.  The only problem is that Allison insists that the date take place in the Beast House…… after hours. Not one to let logic (or his sense of personal safety) stand in the way, Mark agrees to the date and formulates a plan to sneak into the Beast House and hide out until the staff has left.  Mark’s plan is executed flawlessly and the two teenagers spend a night together that will change them forever.

 This novella was released 6 years after Richard Laymon’s untimely passing and the final result is a work that feels like it is not quite finished.  The characters are entirely one dimensional and there are elements of the plot that don’t seem to be thoroughly fleshed out.  Take Mark for example- there are times when he seems innocent and sincere and other occasions when he comes across as a malicious little snit.  In one scene he is fretting over the prospect of lying to his parents and then a few chapters later he is frightening young children who are taking the Beast House tour by mimicking the sounds of the beast. The audience can never “get close” to him because there is no consistency with his characterization.  As a reader, this is a very difficult thing to overcome when trying to get caught up in a story.

 The other aspect of the story that didn’t sit right with me was the scene with the beast.  In an attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I will say that the beast engages in activities that are consistent with previous encounters but it just didn’t seem right here.  Maybe it was the age of the children or maybe it was the reaction to the beast’s attack but the scene did not really flow with the rest of the story and completely took me out of it.  A more fluid and realistic ending probably would have served the story a little better.

 It should also be noted that there were some strong similarities between Friday Night in Beast House and Laymon’s final novel The Traveling Vampire Show. These two stories tell the tale of a young man coming into his own in very bizarre settings while grappling with the inner conflict of good vs. bad.  The difference is that The Traveling Vampire Show’s Dwight is a much more emotionally developed character than Mark.  This is what makes the coming-of-age angle work so well in The Traveling Vampire Show and, conversely, what makes Friday Night in Beast House a bit of a “ho hum” affair. As a bit of trivia, in both The Traveling Vampire Show and Friday Night in Beast House we find the protagonists hiding out atop a refreshment stand when they have unique run-ins with a canine. 

 The story is an entertaining little romp through the world that Laymon superbly created with The Cellar but it is far from his best work.  The sensuality and gore that define the Best House Chronicles are present but the strong characters and cutting narrative seem to be sadly absent.  If you’re willing to look past some poor characters then this story is a fun little voyage into that crazy placed known as Laymon Land.

The Midnight Tour by Richard Laymon

After the events of the second book, the Beast House is now a national tourist attraction thanks to Janice Crogan.  Janice was one of the few survivors from The Beast House and she has cashed in on her story big time!  There have been two books published and an entire series of films that all deal with the rich history of the house.  The once quiet town of Malcasa Point has been inundated with curious tourists who arrive by the busload.  Janice even runs a Beast House Museum in town.
Another new addition to the town of Malcasa Point is the Midnight Tour.  For the paltry sum of $100 visitors are treated to an evening of all things beast.  The evening ends with the Midnight Tour of the Beast House which gets into some of the more “graphic” details that the regular tour may leave out.  Of course there are various characters that share separate stories but are ultimately brought together by the Midnight Tour, only to have all hell break loose.  It is the same tried-and-true formula that Laymon implemented in the previous two novels and the results are no less shocking here.  In fact, the last 50 pages of The Midnight Tour may be the most intense of the entire series.
The Midnight Tour is quite long compared to the previous two entries and much of its bulk is devoted to the retelling of the Beast House’s origins.  Of course this may turn some readers off, but I ate it up.  The Beast mythology was the most intriguing part of the entire series for me and I loved hearing the various interpretations of the tumultuous events that led up the final conflict at the Beast House.  It is truly fascinating to hear so many interpretations of the same events.  There is also a large portion of the book devoted to Sandy Blume.  Readers will remember Sandy as Donna Haye’s young daughter in The Cellar.  Sandy’s story is told through a series of flashbacks that bridge the gap between the end of The Beast House and the beginning of The Midnight Tour. While the Sandy character did get a bit stale and unbelievable at times, it was a welcome addition and it was the thread that really tied all three stories together.
Focusing more on atmosphere and less on splatter, The Midnight Tour really showcases the evolution of Richard Laymon as a writer.  While I certainly love the balls-to-the-wall intensity of The Cellar, it is interesting to see Laymon slowly establishing the tension and dread in the story.  In The Midnight Tour he has a very strong command over his writing and is able to manipulate the mood better than in any of his other works.  There is nothing better than being helplessly left in the hands of a master as he guides us through some horrific terrain. 
Aside from the writing, Laymon has also matured as a storyteller.  He is able to take some pretty gutsy chances with the narrative. I like to equate The Midnight Tour to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.  The name of Janice Crogan’s novel is The Horror and it does not take any great stretch of the imagination to assume the The Horror bears a striking resemblance to The Cellar and The Beast House.  As characters reference The Horror, I feel like I have read it.  It is a very interesting approach to the story.  The reader almost feels like the first two books in the series were works of non-fiction as opposed to the first part of the fictitious series.
The Midnight Tour was a fitting end to the Beast House Trilogy.  It stayed true to the conventions that were set forth in The Cellar while putting its mark on one of the best genre series I’ve had the pleasure of reading.   This series should be mandatory reading for all genre fans.

The Beast House by Richard Laymon

The Beast House picks up a year after the events in The Cellar.  Old Maggie Kutch and her merry band of beasts are still running amuck in Malcasa Point while one of the town’s residents, Janice Crogan, decides to try to cash in on the infamy of the Beast House by sending an inquiry to legendary genre author Gorman Hardy.  Hardy is intrigued by Janice’s letter and sets off to Malcasa Point to do some additional research.
Meanwhile two young librarians, Tyler and Nora, are also headed to Malcasa Point to seek out Tyler’s ex-fiance.  In typical Laymon fashion, the two women run afoul of a belligerent traveler who wants to put a serious whoopin’ on the two little ladies.  Just as the man is about inflict some serious damage (with a car antenna, no less!) two Marines come to the rescue.  Once the librarians have been saved, the four decide they will make the journey together to Malcasa Point.  Much like Judge and Donna in The Cellar, love begins to blossom between one of the marines, Abe, and Tyler.  Laymon uses this budding romance to exploit the inner turmoil with Tyler.  She is out to find her ex-fiance yet she is very much attracted to Abe.  Although not the same type of circumstances, this same type of turmoil was shown in Donna’s character in The Cellar.
Once in town the librarians and Marines come across one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever encountered in a Laymon novel.  His name is Captain Frank and he is a long time resident of Malcasa Point.  The locals think that Captain Frank is nothing more than a crazy old drunk who will do anything to be the center of attention.  It turns out that Captain Frank really is a crazy old drunk but he also harbors a very dark secret- his father was the man who brought the beast to Malcasa Point.  Frank’s telling of the beast’s origin story was nothing short of gripping.  It added a new dimension to the beast and I thought it was the definite high point of the novel
As The Beast House speeds along, all of the characters eventually meet up.  They all decide (for different reasons) to explore the Beast House after dark and chaos ensues. The last quarter of the book goes by in a flash as Laymon packs in the action and blood with total mastery.
The Beast House is an absolute blast.  Laymon takes the reader on one wild rollercoaster ride resulting in some pure horror fun.  Gone is the unsettling aggression of The Cellar.  Instead, Laymon keeps the mood light and the horror isolated within the walls of the actual house.  This makes for a much more comfortable (but not necessarily better) read.
I loved the inclusion of the Gorman Hardy character.  Hardy’s elaborate description of the house added a definite cinematic quality to the proceedings.  I could feel the house coming alive as Hardy made note of the soulless windows and Victorian architecture.  Hardy also made my inner fanboy jump for joy when he asked Abe how he knew about his pseudonyms and Abe responded by saying that he simply “checked the copyright page”.  Ah, Laymon you old devil! 
The Beast House is an extremely solid entry into the Beast House Chronicles.  I love how the whole series is tied together in very subtle ways.  It is like returning to a childhood vacation spot and seeing a landmark that triggers a wave of memories. If you were turned off by some of the more intense subject matter found in The Cellar, then give The Beast House a try.  It is a much more accessible entry point into the Beast House Chronicles.

The Cellar by Richard Laymon

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.