“The Cellar,” the first in a series of “Beast House” novels, is a competent 1980 debut for Richard Laymon, the late cultish splatter-punk writer whose style made him more Koontz than King. (This would be ancient Dean Koontz, full of licentiousness and horror, and not modern Koontz, full of Labradors and homilies.)
“The Cellar” is built around two main plotlines. One follows the “realistic” horror of an abused woman running away with her daughter from a vengeful ex-husband; the second is pure fantasy, about an unlikely tourist attraction called the Beast House – the dwelling of a mysterious monster straight out of some R-rated Scooby Doo episode. Neither plot line makes any sense, and nothing psychologically convincing happens at any point, but Laymon dares to go some dark places. The ending of “The Cellar” is more or less unpredictable in its bleakness – or is it randomness? The author earned his fandom by being unapologetic about delivering cheap gory thrills in tight, efficient packages. Only the illiterate would consider this “literature,” but it is at least a quick read, which is a sort of literary value. Today’s bloated novels could learn much.
Less worthy of emulation are the extremes ( sextremes?) of bizarre titillation dutifully sprinkled throughout “The Cellar.” The looser standards of the late ’70s, early 80s, (a funner, pre-AIDS era) lead to some descriptive ridiculousness in Laymon’s part: there is no female character in the story, (be she 6 or 86, be she romantic heroine or briefly-glimpsed cashier), whose breasts don’t fall under inspection within two lines of her initial introduction. Look. I am a hot-blooded heterosexual male. I enjoy boobies. But I can also tell the difference between healthy sexual interests and a creep at work, and Laymon falls big on the creep line.
It kinda feels like: “Grandma Moses steps out of the house, letting the cheerful morning sun warm her face as well as her pendulous, once-magnificent mammary organs. On the street outside, Mrs. Miller walks her Pomeranian, a job she performs twice daily while rarely wearing bras. The Pomeranian is of the female variety, and has six large nipples which would be quite enticing if they were placed on a woman. Suddenly a little girl named Marjorie runs into Mrs. Miller and the dog, and although Marjorie is 9 and does not really have breasts at this moment in the narrative, one day she’ll be 18, so think about THAT. Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson the mailman waves at Grandma Moses, and although Mr. Johnson also lacks breasts at this moment in the narrative, what if he gains a lot of weight in the next few chapters, huh? You could totally close your eyes and grab a handful and it would feel alright.”
It’s kinda icky, to put it mildly.
RATING : GOOD ENOUGH for hard-core gore fans, EEEWWW for the otherwise inclined.