Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Beast House by Richard Laymon

The Beast House
By R Laymon
Copyright 1986

The Beast House is the second in a trilogy Richard Laymon wrote about the mansion in the coastal California town of Malcasa Point and its unusual resident. It also works as a stand alone novel.

Author Gorman Hardy, author of a best selling, true, haunted house novel receives a letter from a young woman telling him of The Beast House in Malcasa Point, CA. The Beast House is quite a tourist attraction for its wax depictions of the men and women who were murdered there by some unseen and unspeakable beast. Janice Crogan has acquired the diary of the original owner of the house and wants Hardy to write a book about it. She wants half the profits.

Hardy is intrigued. He writes Janice and tells her that he will be attending a library conference in San Francisco soon and will visit her in Malcasa Point to examine the diary (whose author penned a quite racy account of her encounters with the beast reputed to haunt the house) and to visit the Beast House.

Meanwhile, at the library conference, Tyler and Nora are two bored librarians looking to do something interesting while at the conference. Tyler begins to wax nostalgic about a man to whom she was once engaged who was a police officer in a town several miles up the coast. Nora suggests they make the drive and see if Tyler’s old boyfriend, Dan, is still around.

They travel to the last address Tyler had for Dan and find that he took a job as a police officer in Malcasa Point. His former neighbor provides them with an address and the young ladies head north. As they depart, the neighbor tells them that they must take the Beast House tour, they’ll love it.

While en route north from San Francisco, Nora and Tyler meet with a deranged motorist who runs them off the road in a fit of road rage. As the man prepares to rape Tyler, two men in a Mustang stop. They push the guy’s pickup truck off the road into a gorge, then administer a well deserved beating. To thank their heroes, Nora and Tyler invite the men to join them for a drink at the next bar they come to on the road.

They stop for their drink. They find out the two men, Abe and Jack, are recently discharged Marines at loose ends, looking for a little fun and adventure before settling into civilian lives. Nora and Jack hit it off right away. Tyler, still hoping to find her old flame, is attracted to Abe, yet reticent.She’s honest with Abe and tells him that she has to be sure about Dan before she can start a relationship with him.

The four travel to Malcasa Point to find Dan, who is supposed to be a cop in the little town of approximately 400. They find his address, but it’s obvious that no one lives there anymore. The neighbor, a strange old drunk named “Captain Frank” who tells them cryptically that Dan can be found at Beast House. Tyler and her friends check into the only motel in town, planning to visit Beast House the next day.

Gorman Hardy and his assistant who helped him launch his first true ghost story book by becoming the real life star of it also travel to Malcasa Point. There are there to cut their deal with Janice to get access to the novel. They also check into the motel, owned by Janice’s parents. There, Hardy presents Janice with a contract that promises her 50 percent of all of the proceeds generated by the book about Beast House.

The next day, Tyler and her friends as well as Gorman Hardy and his buddy, take the tour of Beast House. There, they learn the legend of the house that is supposedly haunted by a humanoid creature whose lust for blood is matched only by his lust for sex (as evidenced by the journal Hardy has in his possession). The tour takes them through several rooms of the home, lead by a woman who lost her husband and children to the Beast that supposedly roams within. Ghastly wax statues, maimed and dismembered. One of those statues, is Dan, dressed in his police uniform and badly disfigured. Tyler knows there will be no picking up with Dan and is sad not only for the chance of rekindling a lost love, but for the fate of her former lover.

The four adjourn to a bar that evening to have drinks. Soon they are joined by Captain Jack, well into his cups and his mind and mouth lubricated. He tells them the tale of how the beast, Bobo as he calls it, came to arrive at Beach House. Captain Jack’s father, a seafaring man, brought it back when it was an infant from a remote island inhabited by like creatures. It killed his father and took up residence at the house.

Meanwhile, Hardy and his partner have hatched a scheme to swindle young Janice out of her share. Hardy’s partner, quite the lady’s man, invites Janice to come along to Beast House that night to help him take some pictures. While they’re gone, Hardy plans to steal the contract so there will be no evidence of the deal.

Brian takes Janice to the Beast House and they begin prowling the perimeter fence, looking for the legendary hole in the ground that lets the beast escape the house when necessary. After a short search, Brian begins to seduce Janice. As they are making love, Brian is attacked and Janiced is knocked unconscious.

The next day, Janice’s parents show up at Hardy’s room, wanting to know where their daughter is. They know that she came to his room to discuss business. Hardy tells him that she went with his assistant to the house to get some night time pictures and agrees to accompany them to the house to search. He is worried because Brian has pulled off this type of swindle before without a hitch.

They arrive at the house and begin their search. Soon, they find Brian and Janice’s clothing lying beneath a tree. A further search reveals Brian’s body impaled upon the steel spikes of the fence surrounding the house. Janice’s parents are enraged. When Janice’s father attacks Gorman, he kills him, then kills the mother as well. He’s confident they will be considered just two more victims of the Beast. His book plans are safe.
Tyler and her friends encounter Hardy, whom they’d met at the library conference just a few days before, at the restaurant adjacent to the motel. Hardy – too much the coward to go to the house himself – offers Abe and Jack take him up on the offer and plan to break into Beast House that night to get the pictures.

Abe and Jack make their way into the house and start taking pictures. In an act of chivalry, Abe decides to smash the wax figure of Dan Jensen so people won’t see Tyler’s lost love on display in his death throes. After taking their pictures, they decide to descend into the cellar which is not a part of the tour. There, they find a tunnel that leads off in the direction of the house where the owner and proprietor of Beast House lives.

Meanwhile, Janice awakens to find that she’s alive and other than some deep scratches, physically ok. She is locked in a dark room. She ponders her situation when she hears a key slip into the lock. A young girl comes in with a little bit of food and a can of pop for Janice who is obviously being kept alive for a purpose. The girl tells Janice that she is a willing resident of the house, but her mom, locked in a room down the hall, is not and has tried to escape. Sandy tells Janice that escape from the house is impossible.

Janice overpowers Sandy and knocks her unconscious. She fashions a weapon out of the pop can by tearing the aluminum to make sharp edges. When a woman comes to check on Sandy, Janice ambushes her and escapes into the hallways of the house – but it’s not Beast House. It is a strange residence that sets behind Beast House – the Martha Kutch home – she who owns and operates Beast House.

When Abe and Jack are overdue, Tyler and Nora go to Hardy and tell them they are going to Beast House to look for their boyfriends. Hardy agrees to accompany them. He’s not worried about their safety, but wants to recover they camera and any pictures they took. They take off for Beast House.

Janice creeps through the house, but can’t find the front door which, according to Sandy, is locked anyway. She heads toward the cellar of the Kutch house where she finds her parents and Brian stuck to the wall on spikes like bugs on a pin. As she is taking in this horror, she hears something coming down the steps. She hides and observes as a humanoid creature with long claws approaches her mother’s corpse, takes it off the wall, and begins to devour it. Janice screams and the creature comes for her.

Just as it is about to have its way with Janice, Dan and Jack arrive and put a bullet in it, killing it. They decide to vacate the premises and call the cops.

They exit the house just as Nora, Tyler, and Hardy arrive. They go to a phone and call the police, letting them know that they’ve rescued Janice and that there are dead people inside the Kutch home. They then head back for Beast House and await the police arrival.

The police arrive, but are immediately ambushed and gunned down by Martha Kutch and her family. Abe and Jack decide to take matters into their own hands and rescue Sandy’s mother, who apparently has a newborn baby with her. Hardy wants to accompany them, dreaming of the live action photos that will propel his book to the top of the best seller lists.

They enter Beast House and go down to the cellar. They travel through the tunnel to the Kutch House. Hardy takes pictures of the carnage in the cellar, but loses his nerve. He decides to return to the outside on his own, promising to lead Janice to safety. But they are ambushed by one of the creatures that quickly kills Hardy. But it’s not murder it has in mind for Janice. It pins her down, spreads her legs, and reveals its sex organ (equipped with teeth on the tip), and tries to rape her. Then an unlikely hero arrives to kill the creature – Captain Jack – who in his nightly drunken rants always promised to kill the creature.

Abe and Jack, guided by Janice, find Sandy’s mother’s room where she is imprisoned. As they are trying to free her, they are confronted by Martha Kutch and one of the creatures. They shoot Kutch and her creature. They free Sandy’s mom and her baby. They find Sandy where Janice left her, beaten but alive. She fights them when they try to take her out, so they leave her and escape.

They all meet in front of the house. The woman, accompanied by Captain Jack, are safe and Abe and Jack are also safe. The repulsive Gorman Hardy – instead of writing the story of Beast House – becomes part of its lore.

Janice goes on to write the story and make millions for herself. Abe and Tyler marry and operate a motel many miles up the coast from Malcasa Nora and Jack are still dating hot and heavy. It would seem to be a happy ending.

However, when police explore the Beast House and the Kutch house behind it, the teenage girl, Sandy, is nowhere to be found. She is dwelling deep inside the house, thinking about what to name her unborn child. . . the chil of the Beast.

I was disappointed to find out after I was well into this novel, that it was the second in a three part trilogy based on Beast House. The first, called, The Cellar, tells the story of how Donna and Sandy came to be there. The third, called The Midnight Tour, tells what happens to Sandy, her brood, and the Beast House.

It worked well as a stand alone novel and I enjoyed it a great deal. Laymon is not much on character development. Tyler, Nora, Abe, and Jack, are really developed only as much as needed to propel the story. Not much is given to development of Sandy in this book, probably because she was developed in The Cellar, as was her mother, Donna, who plays just a bit role in The Beast House.

Since the foursome were new editions to the story, it’s obvious they weren’t developed in the earlier novel. Tyler’s sudden discovery of her desire to rekindle an old flame seems more spontaneous than something over which she has been brooding. The instant emotional attraction the couples develop is also given superficial treatment. Just a bit more interaction between them before they fell in love would have made them more credible characters.

Gorman Hardy is developed enough to make him unlikeable, but he’s too simple. His thinking is simple, his motives are simple, and he doesn’t plot. He just acts one event at a time. A more devious Gorman Hardy would have added to the book.

Janice is the best developed character of the book. Her thoughts, emotions, and planning make her a rich character. Since she is the one who ultimately writes the story of what happened to her in Beast House and it is she who stays in Malcasa Point to run the motel left to her, we must believe this well developed character has a role in the next novel.

Laymon’s writing reminds me very much of John Saul, who writes stories driven entirely by plot. Like Laymon, Saul develops his characters just enough to propel the story, but even Saul provides deeper characters than Laymon.

According to various websites, Laymon wrote particularly violent and gory horror. I didn’t find Beast House that gory or violent – certainly no more so than anything Stephen King writes. I found The Beast House to be a fast paced novel that was a bit thin on character and completely lacking in meaningful subplots.

I write of Laymon in the past tense because, unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in 2001.

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable book. I may even pick up the first and the third books to round out the trilogy.

1 comment:

  1. You're better off reading the trilogy out of order. The Cellar probably would have discouraged you from reading more Laymon novels. 
    — I read the books in order, but I read several Laymon novels I liked before starting The Cellar. Otherwise I might have abandoned Laymon before starting another book. 
    — I've read dozens of Laymon's novels since, because I'm a fan, but the early eighties novels are rarely as good the newer ones. 
    — The Cellar is pretty good, but it's also harsh. The pedophilia and abrupt ending would not have won me over. Other books like "Midnight's Lair" and "Body Rides" are what got me addicted.