I grew up not even in a small town, but outside a small town, in a place where people passing by would probably ask themselves, “who the fuck would live out here?” Well, that would be us, a native race of bastards bordering the tribes of ancient waters, only a few miles away from where the atomic bomb was created, and where to this day they still tinker with the powers of the universe. And where pre-conquistador capitals flourished and faltered, and great migrations had already taken place a few centuries earlier.
It was among this setting that the trailers were spread out with the dust blowing over the high deserts of northern New Mexico, surrounded by the mountains that held the real mystery, and most surely, a few bodies, if not whole communities that had perished in the snow and wind.
In this valley of dented trailers, lowriders, and choppers, rusting and forgotten about like their dead owners, the old Chevy and Fords, bulbous fenders and cabs, indicators of the atomic age. And the yards with wandering dogs, snarling, picking fights with the passing cars and those stranded, walking the bottom roads that led to the river and the one true highway. And out to the east were the rolling hills that reached to the blue snowcapped mountains, and to the west, cottonwoods, where as teenagers we would drink and smoke dope, and lose our innocence to the running brown waters of the Rio Grande.
But before we were corrupted with our own coming-of-age stories, it was the late-night movies, the TV, the Elvira—Mistress of the Dark. In all her glory, and for a young boy, how glorious her image was, so foreign, so exotic that she could only arrive late at night through the screen when the parents were sleeping.
She brought with her bizarre and shocking images, like the movie, Tombs of the Blind Dead, and I watched dubbed Italian horror for the first time, with girls kissing in white sheer nighties, sending shivers through this young boy’s body, hoping that mother would not walk in to the living room, exhausted after her long day, just trying to seek respite from her waking life. I remember being terrified when the resurrected brotherhood of murderous knights stormed the train and killed everyone there.
And it was the start of the influence that horror movies would have on me; not only sexually, but it would affect my sense of how I looked at life, seeking mystery, associating it with the music I would later come to worship, the imagery, the art, and later in my writing. I would be unable to escape the demons associated with the fantastique and grotesque; I would develop a mental disorder, making it almost impossible for me to think or create in terms other than in the dark and horrific images that played out on late-night bedroom TV sets and the occasional movie release at the only theatre in town.
I can’t say whether these influences were good or bad, but it made my life all the more interesting. It would stoke my imagination. It would help me deal with living in a small town, and the isolation associated with rural life. And in time, it would help me find a community among like-minded freaks and weirdos, metal-heads and punkers, or just those with a sick sense of humor. An understanding among strangers from far beyond the mountains and riverside, a shared language and recognition of signs and messages, a larger community of psychos, and we would all have something in common, I was not alone.
There was a video store in town, in this store were VHS cassettes, and each cover had its own work of art, like the covers and sleeves of album covers or cassette tapes, usually satanic, Tolkienesque, or futuristic, meant to keep a young person staring indefinitely. I must have been in junior high, maybe eleven or twelve, wandering the isles of the horror section, while the porn lingered just a few feet away in a separate closet with the sign, “You must be 18 to enter.” But without entering the closet, there was plenty of hardcore violence to be watched, with elements of sex and death, weird and strange fantasies, all waiting to be found.
And I can still remember the trance like qualities of the covers. Like Fulci’s Zombie and City of the Living Dead, along with campy classics like Terror Vision, The Stuff, and The Return of the Living Dead, sitting alongside movies made by Argento, Romero, and Carpenter, and it was around the time that Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th were churning out endless sequels, and I had no idea as to the significance of these films. I only knew that I had a strong allure towards their otherworldliness, and the fear was the fun.
I would flip the boxes over and over again, sometimes not even reading the movie summaries, fixated on the images that were often bloody and disgusting, showing dismemberment and other outlandish ways to die from supernatural entities, either alien or possessed.
How we were able to get a copy of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still unclear, but I do remember spending a night at a friend’s house. Perhaps the parents were too tired and preoccupied to care, thank goodness for the era of the Latch Key Kids, and along with Raimi’s Evil Dead, we were set to experience a terror discovered by other children in large doublewide trailers across this nation.
Images beamed from a large brown wooded paneled television set, we hunkered down on a thick carpet with only a glow from a large box lighting up the living room wall. With our bags of chips and cans of soda, and how can anyone forget the first time they saw Leather Face with a hammer, his first victim shaking convulsively from repeated blows to the head, with the victim’s girlfriend being caught in midair as she emerged onto the porch at the point of near escape. Only to be carried back into the house to be hung up like a piece of fresh killed cattle, still writhing, and you could almost feel the steel tip of the meat hook sliding into the back of your head, with smoke belching from a saw that was similar to what was in our own fathers’ sheds and garages.
It was jarring to a young mind not yet prepared for such images, and I vividly remember the experience of watching the young woman running through the house to escape her captives as she was on the edge of insanity, and it seemed almost too real. It would take several more viewings, over several more years to put it all into context, to come to terms with such savagery, but surly the lesson there was to not go into houses in the middle of fuckin nowhere, especially uninvited.
I was being exposed to something far beyond whatever it was I was experiencing in my day to day life. It was escapism that fed that festering feeling inside that would grow as the music got louder, faster, and meaner. It wasn’t Disney and there was no Sunday school.
I first discovered Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in high school. Taking place at another video store, where a friend of mine worked, and we would watch the movie on a small television behind the counter, the strangeness of the movie itself, in vintage black and white, exotic and rare, like nobody else knew about it, seemingly apropos to everything else we were exposing ourselves to. This was around the same time in my life when I was discovering bands like Ministry and Sonic Youth, and the TV show, Twin Peaks, played weekly, filling us up with more dark strangeness, and the movies and music provided liberation from our working-class predicament.
Tom Savini had released his remake of Night of the Living Dead, and I remember being one of the only few persons at the theatre, with its meager two screens and bad sound. In summer, bees sometimes made their hives in the rafters, and there was always the clinking of beer bottles rolling down to the front row, sometimes they were my bottles. In winter, the parking lot was poorly lit, mostly empty, and bitterly cold.
I remember being impressed with the colorized gruesomeness of the remake, and I had no preconceived notions, I loved it for what it was. I could not critique it for better or for worse, but could only appreciate it for its obvious contribution on a lonely night, while eating old dried out theatre Twizzler sticks in the lobby, and talking to the girl behind the counter, who years later would become my wife.
Life went on, and when it came time to having to write a preface for my grad dissertation, a novella, I could not escape the need to alter the story into a dark interpretation of my own experiences. A story interspersed with real life events, shaped and twisted until it was some apocalyptic dream that I must have had while on acid. Was it just me trying not to accept reality?
Incapable of rendering life for what it was, boring and nihilistic, or so I naively thought, although years later life would prove to be all too exciting and meaningful with the birth of my daughter, and my wife’s cancer diagnosis.
But back then, my graduate committee probably didn’t know what the fuck to do with me.
When writing the preface, I was trying to explain to my committee why the plane fell from a sky that turned green, and why a biker stranded on the side of a highway was experiencing catastrophic changes to a once familiar land, and why there were hunters in the mountains, high on magic mushrooms, trying to get back to their families in the burning valley, while those evacuating the town migrated north under a green firmament.
When it came time to write down my explanations, I returned to what I had always known, and to what I had first been inspired by to help explain my artistic choices; George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. I had chosen an apocalyptic theme which seemed the natural vehicle after all, growing up where I had, and the idea of seeking escape was a natural story line, seeking hope in a fucked-up situation, and in the preface, I wrote:
In Dawn of the Dead, those familiar things that people have come to rely on become the greatest threat, as the infected devour the living without thought to relationship, a shopping mall becomes a prison, and the streets become a sea of undead. Objects become worthless, losing their value in an apocalyptic world, and in the end, it is not materiality that the survivors covet, but escape, as previous world history becomes inconsequential and a new history begins.
A distrust of government and societal norms was something that Romero said he was trying to address.
Maybe the genre is a wish for escape, and if we look at those prepping for the End in their basements across this nation, fortifying their basements with a stockpile of MRI’s and freeze dried food. What are we to think? Are they nuts? Or are they also tired of society, praying for an end to it all, a change; no more taxes, no more government, no more bosses telling them what to do. An anarchistic belief in self-reliance and isolation with just ourselves and our sister wives. Strange days indeed.
Speaking of the end, I believe a good horror movie must have a significant amount of cringe value, but it must also be fun. We can watch the nightly news if we truly want to see the horror of ourselves in action. We can look at ultra-realistic torture porn like in the movies Hostel or Jigsaw, movies that for the most part I could never really get into, maybe they were just too mean for even me, too realistic in portraying the sadistic nature of people, and I would venture to say society as a whole. I want escape, not a reminder of what is out there. I want to laugh at the special effects, while being disgusted and shocked at the same time. I want a good story, something unbelievable.
About Rudolfo A. Serna’s book: Snow Over Utopia
Snow Over Utopia is a genre bending short novel of apocalyptic fantasy, sci-fi psychedelia, and doom metal.
In an age of savage science powered by black-mass, and thrown away bio-matter leaked into an underground sea lit by the heart of the great tree, a girl named Eden loses her rare blue eyes. Escaping her fanatical and sadistic slave masters with her eyes in a jar, she runs away with a murderer named Miner. After fleeing for their lives deep within the forest, they are found by the Librarian and his daughter Delilah, and sheltered in their mountain-top sanctuary. But she cannot stop there. If Eden wants to restore her eyes, then she must go on through time and space in a necrotronic stream generated by the living computer program called Witch Mother.
While mutantoid priests in underground bunkers monitor transmissions from the great tree, Eden and Miner must face the horrors of the factories and the coliseum run by the Robot Queen in the city of Utopia. Can they make the ultimate sacrifice and complete their mission? Or will they fail in Snow Over Utopia?
Our own V. Castro reviewed Snow Over Utopia a little while back. Check her review out now!
Also note that Rudolfo is going to potentially be joining the Sci-Fi & Scary team. We hope everything works out because we would love to have him on board!
You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.
Rudolfo A. Serna was born under the nuclear shadow of Los Alamos National Laboratories and raised in the orchards, mountains, and fields of northern New Mexico. Occupations have included carpenter, landscaper, wildland firefighter, creative writing coordinator, and adjunct professor. With a penchant for ‘70s horror B-movies, psychedelic doom metal, permaculture, and nature worship, he lives with his wife and daughter in Albuquerque, NM, writing dark fantasy sci-fi. A regular contributor to Brick Moon Fiction, his stories can also be seen in Bewildering Stories, Aphotic Realm, and Augur Magazine. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico, and serves as the digital steward of the Mutantroot Art Collective. His novel, Snow Over Utopia, is out with Apex Publications.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.