Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Cellar

The Cellar, first published in 1980, is a story of horror on two levels. The first is a semi-supernatural form of terror not that uncommon to the genre. The second, and more chilling, is a human form of horror that is frightening because it is plausible.

The more human terror begins with Donna and her 12-year-old daughter Sandy. Donna’s ex-husband, Roy, is released from prison after serving six years for raping Sandy. Donna understands what this means, and grabs Sandy and flees. Roy follows, intent on punishing his ex-wife and daughter for sending him to prison, leaving dead bodies in his wake, and along the way, kidnapping a pre-teen girl, who he graphically abuses. Donna’s flight ends in Malcasa, home of the legendary Beast House, which is said to be plagued by a monster that kills anyone who is in the house after dark. Donna’s path intersects that of a protector, Judgement Rucker, who has been hired by a survivor of the Beast House to kill the monster within.

This was Richard Laymon’s first published story, and is supposedly his best-selling book. The violence and depiction of the sexual abuse are still extreme for today, and must have been mind-blowing in 1980. For all its graphic nature, the story seems a bit familiar, and you have a clear sense of where it’s heading – until the last chapter, when all preconceptions are dashed, and there is a shocking, unanticipated conclusion. There the real genius of Richard Laymon, one of the genre’s great writers, is revealed.

Horror: The Best 100 Books puts The Cellar at #83 on its list. If anything, it is underrated. This was the first in Laymon’s Beast House Chronicles, followed, in order, by The Beast House, The Midnight Tour, and Friday Night in the Beast House.


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