Some readers agree with me and can't understand his popularity either. Cool. But I'm also kinda intrigued by what his fans see in him, so I have been open to giving him another chance. I found Night Show (Tor 1986, originally published in the UK by Futura, 1984) online for cheap. Always liked the cover (thanks Jill Bauman, a Tor regular), and it takes place in Hollywood and the main character is a female Tom Savini. All right, not bad, I thought, let's check it out, see if Laymon can do this.
I had no sense that Laymon cared or was excited by what he wrote in Night Show (or in the other two novels of his I've read), unlike pulp writers such as Graham Masterton or Shaun Hutson, both of whom seem to at least be having a high old time creating dumb mayhem, which of course translates to enjoyable reading. I had a problem believing in any of the events occurring, and Laymon makes no effort to convince the reader of any truth. As for horror itself, there's virtually none. I had read reviews of the novel that noted this, so I wasn't expecting graphic splatterpunky horror - but when there is blood-spilling, Laymon describes it, more than once, as "red gore." Come on dude, really?
Original first edition, 1984 Futura UK paperback
1992 UK reprint (in the book both head and monster are fake)
Laymon sets everything up in the most banal, one-dimensional manner possible. Plodding along from one chapter to the next, riddled with corny tone-deaf dialogue, nothing in Night Show seems dangerous and nothing that feels real is at stake. Why do I care about these people? Dani deals with Tony in an entirely inappropriate, unbelievable way, inviting him to hang around and even sharing beer with him while Jack looks on bemusedly. And Dani has no strength whatsoever; how in the world did she make it in the movies? A female artist so successful in the horror industry in the 1980s who's not a scream queen is unique, but I had the feeling the character is only female so she can be menaced as the victim. And teenage Linda's storyline is simply a cheap, pale imitation of I Spit on Your Grave: abused woman goes after her attackers, using her sexuality as bait. Since I knew nothing about Linda, I had no reason to believe she had such fortitude to kill and kill again.
So Linda is the real psychopath, while Tony is a total twerp who needs his clock cleaned, but he never really hurts anyone. Was Laymon making an attempt at irony? Perhaps - and certainly not a bad idea at all - but his writing is so lazy, so enervated, that the irony seems more inadvertent than intended. There's no suspenseful build-up, and then when the two storylines do collide, the resultant climax - which is basically the same as a 1970s made-for-TV thriller or a by-the-numbers '80s stalk 'n' slash - goes off like a damp squib. Just... yawn.