The Cellar – Richard Laymon
Feature Books – 1990 (Originally published 1980)
When I read Richard Laymon’s Flesh a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised. I planned to read more of his stuff. There’s a lot of authors and books out there though, and I wasn’t sure which of Laymon’s books to check out next, so I forgot about him for a while. Then I read a post on Too Much Horror Fiction that mentioned a Laymon book featuring “a mutation where the tip of the urethra can extend as a kind of “mouth,” with its own tongue”. I put this book on my to-read list immediately. A few months later, I read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, a history of horror in which the author describes the same book as unsuccessful. I then saw another negative review of this book on Mica’s blog. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser. I knew it was going to be crap, but I had to read The Cellar to see what all the fuss was about.
Yuck. This is a horrible book. Yeah, it’s a splatterpunk novel, and it has lots of blood in it, but that’s not why I’m yucking it.
This book is horrible because it’s paedophiley. I know that horror is supposed to be shocking and all that, but I never want to read about children getting raped. Maybe that makes me a wuss, but I’d prefer to be a wuss than a person that likes reading books about kids getting molested. Nope. No. Fuck off.
This is the story of a woman and her child running away from their abusive husband/father. They run until they end up in a small town that contains a house that has a murderous monster living in it. There, the woman falls in love with a man who is trying to kill the monster. You can guess how this ends – the whole gang goes into the Beast House and things turn out horribly for all of them.
Ok, the plot is dumb, but that’s not important. When I finished my first Laymon book I noted the exact same thing. The problem here is the child rape. The dad gets out of prison and immediately tries to get home to rape his kid again. It’s literally the first thing he does. It’s not really believable that anyone would be so stupid, but he’s the bad guy in a trashy horror novel, so I’ll let that slide. When he gets home and finds that his family have fled, he breaks into another family’s home, kills the parents and then repeatedly rapes the child.
At this point in the novel, I was feeling pretty grossed out, but not at all in the way I want to be grossed out. I continued reading in the hopes that this disgustingness was included in the book for a reason. I thought that Laymon might have been trying to make his readers hate this dude so that they would get a big kick out of his inevitable (and hopefully exceedingly brutal) demise at the hands of the beast. The beast does get the nonce, but his death is swift and dealt with in a few sentences. The descriptions of him raping children are definitely longer than the description of the beast quickly killing him. He gets off nice and easy in comparison to the child he raped. She is kidnapped by the beast and doomed to a life of more rape.
I recently read a book called Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ in which a character is raped multiple times. It was a truly horrible book, and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but the rape scenes served a purpose. Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is about humanity’s apathy to the suffering of others. It’s not pleasant, but it’s supposed to make you think. Richard Laymon’s The Cellar is a novel about a monster with a mouth on his willy. The violence and rape here is served as entertainment. There’s so message or philosophy behind this crap.
Maybe I seem like a hypocrite. I enjoyed Edward Lee’s The Bighead, a book from the same genre with even more rape and bloodshed, but even Lee’s infamous splatterfest is tasteful enough to steer away from paedophilia. There is a scene in it where a child is about to get diddled, but that scene ends, satisfyingly, with the diddler getting diddled himself.
In short, the scenes of child molestation in The Cellar do not serve to enhance the plot. They are entirely superfluous and do nothing than make the book feel creepy in an entirely unenjoyable manner.
This was Laymon’s first novel, and I did enjoy the other book I’ve read by him, so I won’t say I’ll never read anything else of his, but I’ll probably wait a good long while before giving him another chance. I had originally planned to read the 3 sequels to The Cellar, but that’s not going to happen. Even without the rape, this book is crap.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Stephen King had poo-pooed The Cellar in Danse Macabre. Funnily enough, the edition pictured above features a quote from King on the cover. I assume that quote was about some of Laymon’s later fiction. I have edited the cover so that it contains what Stephen King actually said about this pooey piece of garbage:
16 thoughts on “The Cellar – Richard Laymon”
I love Richard Laymon but definitely understand why some don’t. I read his later books as a teen and dug them a lot but when I got back into horror seriously a few years ago some of his books left me cold, particularly with his treatment of rape, etc. I’ve swung back around on him and generally like all of his books to some degree or other now and think the extreme horror field as we know it wouldn’t be there without him. I didn’t get around to reading “The Cellar” until last year and liked it for what it was, a dumb pulpy plot-first B-movie of a horror book. I don’t think he was endorsing the behavior of his killer but I totally understand why someone wouldn’t want to read anything close to what is described within. I think mainstream literary novels like “The Kite Runner” and “The Prince of Tides” go into that territory in way more detail but one can easily argue those assaults are more central to the plot than what goes on in “the Cellar”. But reading about Laymon (his own excellent autobiography and writing guide, “A Writer’s Tale”, Brian Keene’s reflections on him as a mentor in “End of the Road”, Kelly Laymon’s (his daughter) stories about her dad on various podcasts, have made me appreciate him more as a person. He was certainly more conservative politically and socially than I am but I think one of the reasons he was so pro-law enforcement is because he had such a hate for rapists and assaults, for anyone who victimized women or children. Which is why those things are detailed in his books by his monsters, it’s literally the worst thing he can imagine and I think in a way he was trying to exorcize it. Anyway, if you do choose to read further Laymon I highly recommend “In The Dark” which I’ve read several times and love. It’s way less overall grotesque than most of his work but really has a great puzzle of a plot. I also recommend “Endless Night” which I thought was terrifying, “The Travelling Vampire Show”, and “Bite”. I can’t recall another time he used children as victims in the same way that he did in “The Cellar” but women certainly face such abuse in many of his works (though women also often play the protagonist in some of his works as well). The sequels to “The Cellar” and largely better as well. And you’re right, that King quote that is on so many of his books is definitely about later works.
By the way, I also read “Let’s Go Play at the Adams’” last year and it still haunts me.
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Yeah, I don’t really think he was a bad guy. I just think he made some poor decisions when writing this book. I’ll give “In the Dark” a look. I’ve heard good things about that one!
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A lot of modern horror stories have actually used the devices of child molestation or sexual assault to ratchet up the shock – even Stoker’s “Dracula” had “the Bloofer Lady,” formerly Mina’s friend Lucy, attacking children vampirically. And of course, there’s Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist” as well as several scenes from Stephen King, e.g. “The Library Policeman,” which are pretty graphic in their descriptions of kids being violated. But you’re right, there’s a difference between being transgressive for effect and just being gross.
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yeah. I agree. I wouldn’t say that authors should avoid certain topics, but there’s something very flippant about the way Laymon deals with paedophilia in this book. No sir, I don’t like it.
Have you ever read H.R. Wakefield’s Ghost Stories? He can be frustratingly rambling and misogystic but he wrote a slim 1,800 word masterpiece called “Blind Man’s Buff” and an early haunted doll story later turned into a TV episode.
His work can be quite uneven, but man he was probably the last writer of the classic Ghost tale, dying as the Beatles gained fame in 1964. M.R. James called his first book “A nasty bunch” of stories.
I’d love to know your thoughts on him.
Sounds very interesting. will check him out. Thanks!!!
“The Cairn”, “Blind Man’s Buff”, “Look Up There!”, “The Red Lodge”, “The Triumph of Death”, “The Sepulchre of Jasper Sarasen”, “The Alley”, “Lucky’s Grove”, “A Fishing Story”, “Farewell Performance”(the Doll one), “The Bodyguard”, sparing his best efforts to do for women what Lovecraft did to minorities.
I can provide photocopies of each, the Ash Tree Press reprints cost nearly a Firstborn anymore and took me a while to obtain just what I have.
“The Cellar” is one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read, along with another one or two of his as well as Jack Ketchum’s “The Woman.” I think, however, you missed the implicit plot device. The abusive father who escaped from prison is killed swiftly to show how inconsequential he is to the beast, a figure supposedly far more terrifying and disturbing. Many writers do this and King’s “It” is another example; Bev’s brutally violent husband follows her to Derry and is dealt with by Pennywise in what amounts to a passing moment. I think the idea is that what our imagination is capable is far more horrific than what another mortal being can do unto us. Pennywise and The Beast are the stuff of nightmares.
Implicit plot device? LOL. There’s nothing implicit about this novel; it’s just plain dumb. A sexually abusive father is far, far nastier than some kind of mutant werewolf on any and all levels. There’s no comparison. Seriously, if you had to choose between getting killed by a monster or raped by you dad, which would you go for?
It’s a cultural taboo, so you think it’s worse, even if it may be nastier. Most people want to live and you are placing too much weight on sexual depravity whilst underestimating most peoples huge fear of dying. If that’s not the case, most people who’ve been sexually abused by family would kill themselves, which thankfully most don’t.
Getting killed by a beast isn’t all that scary. It’s unpleasant sure, but it’s part of nature. Animals are dumb. There is no malice when an animal kills to protect its territory.
Getting raped by a parent is about as unnatural as it gets.
You know that if you enter a tiger’s cage, you will get mauled. You live with this knowledge comfortably every day of your life. Would you feel as comfortable knowing that your father wanted to rape you?
If I awoke and found myself in a lion’s cage or in the Nile river with crocodiles, I assure you, I’d be terrified. You are confusing unease and disgust with fear. And there is nothing scarier than immanent violence and death.
Are you 12 years old? I can see how the writings of Richard Laymon would appeal to somebody with such a limited and utterly naive view of the world.
No, are you? Personally attacking me because my world view is not yours seems rather 12 years old. I have a friend who was abused by her father and some of the things you have said seem naive and actually offensive to me.
That’s because your friend is your daughter. Piss off.
Laymon was writing a horror story. You are just gross.
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