Why Horror Gets a Bad Wrap — a Book Review of “The Woods are Dark” by Richard Laymon

One of the inherent challenges in reading and reviewing a novel that came out 35 years ago is whether you allow more recent influences to affect your opinion on what you read. I find it nearly impossible not to have this occur, so up front, my review may be (read: IS) biased, based on the time frame I’m reading this book versus when it originally came out.

Take a breath. Here goes.

You know how horror gets a bad wrap?

People that don’t read in the genre have some vague notion that horror is just some ridiculous bloody chop shop with tons of gore and naked people running around with little to no character development.

Well, this book is what gives the horror genre a bad wrap.

woods.jpgThe Woods are Dark is the epitome of every B-Horror flick you’ve ever seen. A bunch of horny people get kidnapped out in a town, dragged into the woods, and are terrorized by naked cannibals. These same people pretty much all end up naked themselves, ditching any moral compass and turning into killers — one who may be worse than the “Krulls” who are chasing them.

The writing itself felt like it was put together by a teenage boy who giggles every time he hears the word “penis” or “breasts.” Characters are thin caricatures, the plot is a big circle, and there’s not a single character you can latch onto, hoping they make it through alive.

I did like the idea of these kidnapped people becoming savages themselves in an effort to turn the table, so to speak, and there were some undercurrents in the novel that, had they been better developed, could have turned this into a much more sophisticated read. As it stands, however, this is the schlock everyone assumes we “horror aficionados” love.

The horror I’ve come to love, and the reason I’m so attracted to the genre, has nothing to do with naked blood splattered people running around making hair-brain decisions. Yes, that’s a sub-genre within the greater horror genre, but there’s so much more to the reason we love the dark.

Horror is a place where anything can happen, ranging from the supernatural to every day disturbances. We hear and see enough of those disturbances on a daily basis. Lately it seems a day can’t go by without a mass shooting somewhere. It’s mind-boggingly tragic and almost incomprehensible.

This too, is not what horror is about.

Horror is the escape FROM these real life tragedies.

Death, sickness, unemployment, relationships ending, car accidents, or just plain old misplacing your cell phone. We need a break from the awfulness we experience daily, and horror is that place we can crawl into where the baddies aren’t some random cosmic occurrence, but things we can put names to. Where heroes can rise up AGAINST evil. Where we can experience those heart-pounding moments of fear and fright and still make it to bed safely that evening.

This is why I write in the genre. Why I read in the genre. Why books that don’t have some defining moment of dread or horror don’t really make sense to me. After all, I get enough of a dose of real life every day.

Give me the supernatural, the unknown, the mystery, the noise in the dark, the shadow in the night, the monster, the killer, the kidnapper, the harbinger of doom, the apocalypse, the end of times, the demons and ghosts and beings from other worlds or other dimensions … for these are the ammunition, the body armor, if you will, we need to face the real challenges we meet each night and each day.

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