First Edition Version

Restored and Uncut Version

First published back in 1981, Richard Laymon’s novel ‘The Woods Are Dark’ was one of the first novels to be released by the author. The novel was originally published by Warner Books, in which the publishers made a number of amendments to the story, most notably making sizeable cuts to the chapters involving Lander Dill.

In July 2008, after Laymon’s daughter – Kelly Laymon – located the original manuscript of the novel, a fully restored and uncut version of the novel was finally published by Cemetery Dance Publications.

This restored and uncut version also included a short five-page introduction by Kelly Lamon in which she details the difficulty she faced with collating all the pages from the original manuscript. The fully restored version includes all of Laymon’s original text, most notably, the chapters involving the ordeal of Lander Dills and his psychotic decent that had previously been printed within the extremely limited edition chapbook ‘The Woods Are Dark: The Lost Episodes’ (1988).

This review is of the fully restored and uncut version of the novel.

DLS Synopsis:
Neala O’Hare and her friend Sherri were planning to go hiking in the nearby woods when their hunger got the better of them. Stopping off for a bite to eat in the small town of Barlow, the girls noted there didn’t appear to be much going on there at that time of night. Although they noted a diner still with its light on. Perfect.

However, as the pair would soon find out, the locals in Barlow aren’t quite as friendly as they might first appear. Before the girls know what’s happening, they’re robbed and then bundled into the back of a pickup truck by four thuggish men and a teenaged boy.

Meanwhile, high school teacher Lander Dills, together with his wife, daughter and her boyfriend, decide to stop off at a local hotel in Barlow. Although, after checking into a couple of rooms, they realise the hotel isn’t quite as it might appear.

A closer inspection reveals that lights have been purposefully left on in random guest rooms, and hulks of cars have been rolled into place around the place, like empty props in a play. It would appear the hotel owners are trying to fool people into thinking the hotel have other guests staying there. That it’s a legit establishment. The reasons why they would go to such lengths soon become clear to Landers and his family, when they’re attacked by the owners and bundled off in a truck.

Not far away, Neala and Sherri find they’ve been taken to a darkened field on the edge of an expansive woodland, where a line of dead trees mark the boarder. There the pair are tied to one of the dead trees, before another truck arrives dumping off Landers and his family at the same spot.

As the two groups are about to find out, the out-of-the-way town of Barlow holds a dark secret and an even darker past. Living within the surrounding woodlands resides a tribe of savage cannibals, descended from a long line of inbred outcasts. And as the two groups are about to learn, the residents of Barlow have made a pact with these savages, bringing them human sacrifices in return for being left alone.

And tonight the inbred cannibals have brought quite the offering…

DLS Review:
Here we have one of the founding novels that paved the way for the author’s lengthy career. In this novel we have so many classic Laymon-esque elements. So many glimpses of the author's “go to” styles, tendencies and choices in subject matter. All things which later became key aspects for which the author would become so well known for.

In essence, we have the plot foundations from Wes Craven’s ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977) only relocated from the Nevada Desert and instead dropped into a remote out-of-the-way town situated close to an expansive woods. It’s a classic horror plot and one very suited to Laymon’s writing style. In fact, some years later Laymon will revisit the general premise of the tale with his novel ‘Midnight’s Lair’ (1988), where we see the inbred cannibals horded away in a labyrinth of caves.

Interestingly, in the same year as ‘The Woods Are Dark’ was first published, we also saw fellow horror author Jack Ketchum unleash his debut novel ‘Off Season’ (1981) upon the world. Ketchum’s novel also delivered a dark and twisted tale involving a group of inbred cannibals lurking in the rural outback, who would then pluck off unsuspecting visitors to the area. The similarities between the two books don’t end there! Frustratingly, Ketchum also saw his novel sliced and diced by his publisher upon its initial release. Thankfully, as with Laymon’s book, it too was rereleased a number of years later in a fully restored and uncut version.

The similarities between the two are bizarre. However, it has to be said, as mentioned above, such a plot definitely lends itself well to Laymon’s flair for delivering an avalanche of over-the-top horror that never seems to end. In this novel Laymon lets loose with all that maniacal horror, building up the madness chapter-by-chapter until its akin to the relentless bombardment of a nightmare you just can’t wake from.

The novel is split into two distinct halves, with the storyline continuously jumping back and forth between the two. The first thread follows the plight of Neala and Sherri, whilst the other follows that of Lander Dills and his teenaged daughter, Cordellia. However, as the story progresses and the cannibalistic inbreds start picking off the characters, this dual running storyline splits off into three, with eighteen-year-old Cordelia Dills split from the rest of her family and having to face the horrors of the night by herself.

The novel packs in all the hardcore gore and savage cannibalistic violence that you’d hope and expect a Laymon story to deliver. There’s numerous scenes of torture, rape, and ritualistic murder throughout the tale. We also have a wonderfully elaborate backstory about the inbreds woven into the plot, with a whole legend about the original descendants of these cannibals – dubbed the Krulls - spun into the mix. Honestly, the richness and creativity of the horror within this story is second to none with each chapter delivering so much it’s hard to put the book down.

However, for me, the real jewel in the crown is with the gradually evolving story of Lander Dills. Here we have a school teacher, whose flung into this outrageously over-the-top nightmare, in which he sees his wife and his daughter’s boyfriend both brutally murdered. He then gets split up from his daughter, with cannibals lurking everywhere within the darkened woods. What’s his response to such a situation? Why of course, he gets a raging hard-on and lurks around the shadows contemplating raping every naked young savage girl he sees!

Honestly, you won’t believe how quickly this character’s moral compass falls off the fucking chart. In the space of a few short, hellish hours, Lander goes from a well-respected loving father, to an insatiable rapist, who loves them young and tender and is fighting an internal battle with himself to rape or not to rape. I kid you not, this stuff is fucking insane!

Without the whole Lander Dill storyline, the novel wouldn’t be anywhere near the utterly entertaining masterpiece that it is. As such, the original version of the novel is missing such a vital ingredient in its mix. It’s almost like two incredibly different novels and as such, I’d go as far as to say the cut version does a complete disservice to the author’s original masterpiece.

All in all, for the absolute lunacy of the escalating horror that Laymon unleashes throughout the entire length of the novel (in the uncut version), it’s an essential read for any fan of his work, or indeed brutal, uncompromising horror as a whole. Yes the writing is somewhat raw and not as tight or refined as his later work, however, that doesn’t prevent the novel from delivering a story of pure, unadulterated horror and violent madness that’s sure to please fans of the gruesome genre.

An absolute classic piece of timeless splatter horror…

The fully restored and uncut version of the novel runs for a total of 209 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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