The Top 5 American Badasses of Twisted Fiction

The Dreadful Tales family is an international entity. Although our staff are only currently represented by America and Canada, Dreadful Tales is connected to writers and fans all over the globe. I have a special connection with Japan and a deep love of Canada, for both their contributions to horror and the friends I’ve made there. But this weekend it’s all about the U.S.A.! Typically this is an excuse to exhibit our independence by getting drunk in the early afternoon, blowing shit up, and eating brats until we pop. This year I started to reflect on all the fictional characters I would want to spend Independence Day with. I orchestrated a fantasy BBQ with my favorite all-American authors and their bigger than life creations. In celebration of America’s independence I offer my picks of the greatest Patriots of modern fiction. These are the men and women who protect us from evil, monsters, and the general riffraff who threaten our freedoms. Enjoy beyond the break!

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The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon

The story behind The Woods Are Dark is a very interesting one.  In 1981 Richard Laymon was new to the scene.  He had written The Woods Are Dark for Warner Books and was eager to be published.  Warner took Laymon’s chilling tale and gave it the ol’ strip job- cutting one very important subplot as well as a fair bit of the gore and sexuality.  In short, Warner treated the pages of The Woods Are Dark much like the savages on those pages dealt with the unsuspecting travelers who found themselves in the woods. They completely destroyed them.  In 2008, through the tireless work of the Laymon family, The Woods Are Dark was released in a new restored edition as the author originally intended.  This is a review of that book.
Neala and her friend Sherri only wanted to do a little backpacking through the woods. Little did they know they would soon be shackled to a dead tree, waiting for Them to arrive. The Dills family thought the small motor lodge in the quiet town of Barlow seemed quaint and harmless enough. Until they, too, found themselves shackled to trees in the middle of the night, while They approached, hungry for human flesh…
Early Laymon novels always seem to get right to the action.  These first works could never be considered a “slow burn”.  The Woods Are Dark is no different.  You open the book and BAM! – Laymon goes right for the jugular.  It is blazing hot from the first page when a hairy, legless shape tosses a severed hand at a passing car.  That is one hell of way to open a story. The amazing part is that Laymon never waivers from this excruciating intensity.
Even with the non-stop action, Laymon peppers in some truly interesting characters. After the encounter with the legless monster the story devotes the first few pages to greetings as we are pleasantly introduced to the fun-loving Neala and Sherri as well as the good-natured Dills clan.  After the formalities are dispensed with, chaos ensues.  Laymon assaults the readers with a barrage of grisly scenes involving unthinkable violence and graphic cannibalism. There is no reprieve from the horror.  Everything is fair game.  
As the novel unfolds, we learn that there is a seemingly ageless race of feral cannibals lurking in the woods of a small town.  The townsfolk have agreed to supply the cannibals, known as Krulls, with an endless supply of victims in exchange for their own safety.  Once these victims are handed over to The Krulls it is absolute carnage as The Krulls do what cannibals do best- run amuck and bust up the joint.  Picture Cannibal Ferox mixed with The Burning.  Pure woodland flesh chomping insanity.
Aside from the very complex Krulls there are plenty of well developed personalities with the most interesting being the patriarch of the Dills family, Lander. Dills is a self proclaimed pacifist who is forced to survive alone in the treacherous woods.  Lander is separated from the rest of his family as he is stalked by The Krulls. Laymon allows Dills to slowly drift into insanity and he eventually begins to resemble one of the savages who are hunting him.  The transformation of Lander Dills is masterfully executed with a frightening level of believability.  After reading the Lander Dills story (easily the strongest subplot in the book) I was amazed that Warner chose to cut it.  It really grounds the novel in reality and makes the goings-on all the more frightening.
No matter which version you read-The Woods Are Dark is a tough book.   It is extremely mean spirited and completely unapologetic.  It is also a classic that every genre fan needs to read.  A word of warning though- please clear a few hours to reading The Woods Are Dar because you WILL NOT be able to put this one down.
I would like to recommend reading both the Warner version and the restored version.  The Warner version is much less sexual and the Lander Dills plot is severely stripped down, but it does include some really interesting chapters dealing with the townsfolk.  The other major discrepancy is the ending.  The difference is night and day, my friends. Night and day.

Funland by Richard Laymon


Funland is one of those books that seem to fall squarely in the “good-but-not-great” category amongst Richard Laymon aficionados.  This absolutely baffles me. All of the classic Laymon conventions are perfectly executed in Funland– the carnage, the humor and the weirdness- Funland has it all!


The resort of Boleta Bay is not the carefree place it used to be. A series of unexplained disappearances, and holiday-makers threatened by an army of leering bums, casts a shadow over summer pleasures. But now Boleta Bay is fighting back and their campaign leads them to the abandoned Funhouse.


Boleta Bay is the perfect Laymon setting.   It is a resort town with plenty of tanned bodies and crazed tramps.  This makes for the perfect venue for Laymon to indulge in his classic recipe of splatter and sensuality. He shifts between hot-and-steamy and disemboweled-and-decapitated so naturally. It is the contrast of the beautiful bikini clad girls with the shabby hobos that really encompasses what Laymon’s writing is all about.
Funland sports one of Laymon’s more robust plots. There are up to six subplots taking shape at any given point in the novel.  Usually when dealing with so many characters and intricacies I tend to find flaws with at least one or two. Luckily this is not the case with Funland because (as usual with Laymon) he crafts some genuinely engaging characters.  Laymon gets you into the head of each character with subtle ease.  There is no clunkiness or awkwardness.  It just flows. This is really the backbone of Funland. At no point do you ever getting bored with any particular plot because the individual characters are just so damn strong. When all of these plots finally come together it is truly remarkable. It is a real testament to the literary talent of Richard Laymon.


Of course, all of these characters give Laymon ample opportunities to indulge in the blood and brutality that have become his grisly calling card. The gore flies as the hobo population is terrorized by a group of local teens, known as The Trollers. The Trollers wage their war against all those who oppose them and Laymon finds some truly inventive ways to get the reader cringing by utilizing the unique midway setting of Funland. There are scenes of graphic torture and humiliation as The Trollers attempt to intimidate the bums that will have even the most seasoned Laymon fan squirming.


The final 100 pages of Funland are Laymon at his finest. In fact, I would say that the last five chapters may be the best chapters I have ever read.  Absolutely sick and brutal! The pacing and action will have your heart thumping and the pages will keep turning. In typical Laymon fashion he takes the story from a place of normalcy (normal for Laymon at least) and then he ups the ante- resulting in some out-of-your-skull absolute insanity. He masterfully mixes the horror of the situation with the natural desires of the characters with perfect results.


If you are looking for a book that showcases, not only Laymon’s ability to frighten and arouse, but also his talent as a master storyteller- Funland is the book for you!

The Wilds by Richard Laymon

The Wilds was the first of Cemetery Dance’s popular novella series.  The book is extremely rare and quite collectible.
Ned Champion had just been dumped by his girlfriend, Cora, but that’s no reason to cancel his backpacking trip into the Lost River Wilderness Area.
He’ll just go without her.
And he’ll keep a journal of his adventures.
He’s bound to have a fine time.
Alone in the wilds.
Completely on his own.
Absolutely free to do whatever he wishes.
Anything at all.
With nobody there to watch him or criticize him or hold him back — or arrest him.
It’ll just be Ned in the wilds.
And the Wilds in Ned.
Laymon takes a very unique approach with this novella and chooses to tell Ned’s story in diary form.  This gives the reader a front row seat as we see the Wilds take over Ned’s mind.  The Wilds begin to creep into Ned’s thoughts and they slowly begin to influence Ned’s actions.  He becomes one with the Wilds as he makes the transformation from dumped college student to lone hunter.  The first person perspective allows the unimaginable change to become quite believable and justified.
Ultimately, the The Wilds is a story about a young man coming to grips with the opposite sex.  He is very inexperienced in every way possible.  His frustrations and confusion manifest themselves in a way that is comfortable to Ned.  See, Ned is an experienced outdoorsman so instead of sitting in his dorm room wallowing in self-pity over his most recent failure, he chooses to put himself in familiar surroundings.  Unfortunately for his fellow hikers, Ned is still a little curious about women and he feels like he may be ready to indulge in that curiosity.
The Wilds is a strange trip.  It is scary and brutal but, in some bizarre way, at its core it is a love story.  A love story between man and nature, but also a love story between man and woman- two beings finding their perfect mate despite being insanely flawed.
I loved this book and feel lucky to have read it. It is a very quick but highly satisfying read.  I encourage you to seek out the beautiful Cemetery Dance edition (or at least find a generous friend who is willing to lend it to you).

Beware! by Richard Laymon

Where exactly should I start with this one? Maybe with the invisible man running amuck in a small town? No. How about the crazy bizzarro cult that has infiltrated every facet of the normal world? I guess that might not be the appropriate launching point either. Well we always have the abused heroine who is willing to forego revenge on a man that repeatedly assaulted her in order to give some two-bit author a good story. No, not that either. I guess I’ll just start at the very beginning.

I had no idea what Beware was about when I opened the book. I was immediately hooked when it started to play out like a violent ghost story. There were unthinkable murders and assaults committed by an unseen assailant- all of which were masterfully told through a series of newspaper clippings. I was in heaven! This was shaping up to be one fine novel. Then everything got kinda……. well,weird. Yeah, I guess weird would be the word for it. It wasn’t necessarily bad but it certainly wasn’t what I had hoped for. Things just spiraled out of control in a completely unexpected way. The ghost turns out to be an invisible man who kidnaps a woman he has been lusting after for years. He intends to keep her as a prisoner in her own house. Of course she escapes and we are led on an insane adventure that leads to Las Vegas and the surrounding dessert where she is assisted by a novelist and some sort of super-human strong man private detective. All of this happens while a blood thirsty cult is closing in on the invisible man. Things got so out-of-control that I was fully expecting a UFO to swoop down and bring the story to an end.

Now I realize that I sounds like I didn’t care for Beware but that isn’t the case. Laymon had ample amounts violence and action which held my attention throughout. His writing was so tight and fluid that I had to keep reading. The problem was that I found myself being entranced by the writing and not the story. This makes for a very difficult read.

I voiced some of these concerns to the almighty Colum  and he wished that someone had warned me about Beware before diving in. Apparently it is known amongst Laymon fans that Beware is his completely insane over-the-top story that doesn’t jive with his normal style. I think with that in mind I may go back and give it a second chance. Until then I will continue to slowly shake my head every time I think of Beware.