The Cellar is the first book in Richard Laymon’s Beast House series. The story begins when a young lady named Donna Hayes discovers her husband has been released from prison. Donna takes her twelve-year-old daughter Sandy and flees town. Her Husband Roy is a dangerous, abusive man and his interest in their daughter is less than paternal. In fact, the things Roy did to Sandy were the reason for his extended stay in prison.
Donna drives out of Santa Monica with no fixed destination in mind but ends up heading north. She takes the coast road and is making good time until a heavy fog drifts in from the sea. The conditions are too dangerous for driving, but Donna is scared that Roy will manage to follow them and believes if he finds them it will cost them their lives. Filled with fear, she continues driving, but the fog gets ever thicker and the car leaves the road.
Donna and Sandy are not severely hurt, but they are going nowhere now, and have no choice but to wait in the car for the fog to clear. Then a man appears and wants to get in the car with them. Donna and Sandy are both too scared to unlock the door, a confrontation ensues, and the man is injured. When she goes to see how badly she has hurt the man, Donna realizes that, although a strange Character, the man is a little backward and so, feeling a little less apprehensive about him, she accepts his offer of a lift to the nearest town.
The man’s name is Axel and he drives the girls to Malcasa Point and drops them off at the Welcome Inn. Before leaving he gives them some complimentary tickets for The Beast House. The Beast House is the local tourist attraction. It’s the supposed home of The Beast and no one ventures near Beast House at night because they are scared they will encounter the monster. Through the day it is a different matter. Axel’s mother Maggie Kutch owns the house and she conducts the tours, even though her husband and three of her children were killed by the beast.
Sandy wants to go on the tour and, as their car is damaged and waiting for parts, Donna agrees and Maggie proves to be somewhat of an unusual character. “You may be asking yourselves why a woman’d want to take people through her home that was a scene of such personal grief,” Maggie tells the group. “The answer’s easy m-o-n-e-y.”
Beast House is in bad taste, but it gets plenty of business and brings a lot of m-o-n-e-y into the town. Maggie no longer lives in the house though, she lives across the street from it, in a house with no windows—none at all. Very strange!
Donna might have a sadistic husband on her trail and a car in need of repair, but she still finds time for love and is quickly swept off her feet by the bounty hunter, Judgement Rucker, who’s come to town to slay the beast. Not that Jud really believes it is a beast. He thinks it’s a man and plans to find out one way or another.
Roy, meanwhile, is hot on his family’s trail, he’s already killed again and has acquired a new girlfriend, who is much too young for him and still in shock after seeing what Roy did to her parents.
The Cellar is 254 pages long and, despite the fact its subject matter may offend some readers, it is a very good book and inspired three sequels: The Beast House, The Midnight Tour and Friday Night in the Beast House. The Cellar will not be to everyone’s taste though. Some readers might find it offensive because one of the characters is a paedophile, but The Cellar does not glorify child abuse. Nor does it provide lurid details of sex activities between a man and a child. The reader is always aware of what kind of a man Roy is though; he’s bad to the bone and totally without remorse or morals.
The characters in Laymon’s novel are very believable. It’s easy to like and identify with some of them, and it’s usually these characters that find themselves in the most danger. Or dead. The bad guys in Laymon’s novels are equally believable and easy to hate, but rest assured, the worst of Laymon’s villains usually pay a high price for the things that they do.
I have read The Cellar twice and enjoyed the book both times. I think that many other regular readers of horror fiction will probably enjoy it as well, but, if the thought of reading a about a character like Roy leaves a bad taste in your mouth, I suggest you give this one a miss and try one of Laymon’s other novels instead. Funland is extremely good and I give Night In The Lonesome October my highest recommendation.