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Richard Laymon ‘The Woods are Dark’ Review


Written by: Matthew J. Barbour

Richard Laymon was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, writer of the splatterpunk genre. Over the course of about 20 years, he published more than 50 short stories and 30 novels.  Like his contemporaries, such as Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, Laymon pushed the boundaries of the horror genre by writing clear straight-forward passages of violence and sexual deviancy. These blood-laced narratives served to shock and disgust the reader.

During his life, Laymon became a mainstay in horror literature throughout Europe. Yet, he remained relatively unknown in his homeland, the United States. Laymon always maintained that this was due to the initial edited release of The Woods are Dark in 1981. The book, according to Laymon, was full typos and grammatical errors. It also removed a pivotal character, Lander Dills, featured in the initial draft.

Richard Laymon passed away in 2001. Later that year, he was posthumously awarded the Bram Stoker Award for The Traveling Vampire Show. Several unpublished novels were released in the years following his death, including the original manuscript for The Woods are Dark in 2008. This rerelease was done by his wife and daughter as a means to correct the mistake nearly three decades before and give fans of Laymon’s work a chance to read the story as he had intended.

The Woods are Dark is set in the forests of Eastern California, near Yosemite National Park. The narrative follows a group of college girls and the Dills family. Captured by the townsfolk of Barstow, they are brought into the woods and offered as sacrifices to cannibalistic savages, known as the “Krulls.”

With the help of a distraught local, the two groups manage to escape. The Krulls give chase. They are your stereotypical inbred hicks with a hankering for rape and human flesh.  However, the Krulls are not the only thing lurking in the shadows and the woods are dark.

The initial 1981 release focused on the plight of the two college girls, Neala and Sherri.  With the rerelease in 2008 much more of the book is given to the Dills Family, specifically a good father turned murdering rapist – Lander Dills. It is clear that Laymon saw each sacrificial group as a different lens with which to explore the same concept.

Neala and Sherri in many ways represent purity, or as close to pure as you can get in a Laymon novel. They choose the path of the righteous. Whereas, the Dills choose survival by whatever means necessary. They embrace the darkness which surrounds them. In the case of Lander Dills, his quest for vengeance ultimately turns him into the same evil that destroyed his family.

Lander Dills serves as a reminder to the reader. Violence is often cyclical. Moreover, human agency, or choice, is not something that can be necessarily predicted. With the focus on both, the college girls and the Dills Family, Laymon shows many different characters. They arrive at this shared event with unique upbringings and points of view.  They act accordingly.

Unfortunately for most, regardless of how they act, death is inevitable. This is after all a Richard Laymon novel. Many die. The actions which lead to these deaths are varied and entertaining. Not all of the violence is directed towards the escapees either. Expect rape and slaughter on both sides.

Interestingly, the restored and unedited version of The Woods are Dark, released seven years after his death, may be Laymon’s greatest accomplishment. It is everything you want in splatterpunk. The narrative is unrestrained. Three decades later it still shocks and disgusts. The Woods are Dark serves a reminder of a life lost too soon. RIP Richard Laymon.

Order it right here.

Rating: 5/5

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About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

4 Comments on Richard Laymon ‘The Woods are Dark’ Review

  1. I’ve never read anything by Laymon, but I’ve looked at his books at the store dozens of times. This sounds like one I should read – I’ll start here. Thanks for the great review!

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    • Matthew J. Barbour // December 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm // Reply

      If you are thinking that you will try it, make sure to get the 2008 version by leisure books. That is the one that features the chapters with Lander Dills. Just remember, with the exception of Flesh (which sucks btw), Laymon does not pull any punches. His characters are creepy and the story always sinks into depravity.

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      • I was disappointed to see that it isn’t available as an ebook in Canada (at least not through Kobo). Thanks for the warning about the earlier edition though. Those types of errors can be distracting after a while.

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  2. Interesting. I’ve been a fan of Laymon ever since I discovered One Rainy Night in a used bookstore, but I didn’t know the history of The Woods are Dark. It’s about time to do the man some justice snag a copy of that restored edition.

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