The Woods Are Dark
Two collegiate girls stop at a roadside diner in a small town in the California wilderness. Across the street at the town’s lone motel, Lander Dills pulls in with his wife, their collegiate daughter and her boyfriend. All six soon discover the town’s dark secret when they’re abducted and ferried out to the wilderness as tribute to the Krulls, a clan of cannibalistic forest denizens.
Richard Laymon’s sophomore effort proffers late-70s exploitation horror. It lacks depth but compensates with relentless narrative propulsion via short, noun-verb sentences and dialogue-driven action.
Neala heard the crunch of rushing feet. Off to the left. She raised her voice to call out. “Ov—” Robbins clapped a hand across her mouth.
His hand had a pungent odor of gun smoke.
“Might not be them,” he whispered.
“Hey!” called a voice. The boy’s voice. “Where’d you all go?”
Robbins nodded and dropped his hand.
“Over here,” Neala called.
Laymon also surfaces a subversive streak of black humor.
He left his clothes behind, keeping only the knife, and stepped into the open. The figures across the field were still heading away. He ran toward the dead trees, watching the pair. It hurt to run naked. He wanted to clutch his genitals to stop them from slapping his legs, but it would look conspicuous.
The narrative dangles several plot threads that never resolve. Separated from his family and lost in the wilderness, Lander descends into primordial savagery in a matter of minutes as he fantasizes about murdering two Krull women.
God, it would be magnificent!
Such stuff as dreams are made of.
And he could do it, he really could. Already tonight, he’d killed three or four of these people. Why not two more?
Don’t wait. Go in now, while they’re tangled and helpless in their embraces, their bodies heaving with lust. They won’t know what hit them.
I wondered if this hinted at a darker force in the forest, something drawing out the savage within anyone who gets close.
Another unresolved thread concerns the Krull’s founder, Manfred, a giant whose roars reminded me of Solomon Grundy. We’re told he may be over three hundred years old and given evidence to support it.
But Laymon needn’t explain these mysteries. He’s crafting a world where vestiges of something primordial still linger in old houses and dark woods. Lustful, animalistic things full of terrible violence. His books aren’t journeys of discovery but visceral thrill rides.
I remember walking through the video store as a kid, eyeing the covers for the assorted late 70s and early 80s horror films. Having seen most of them now, none proved as brutal or terrifying as their cover promised. Two books in, Laymon’s delivering what those movies never could.
- 10 Sep, 202249%
- 11 Sep, 2022Finished