I fought off flocks with Hitchcock,
I critiqued The Night Gallery,
I went to The Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone,
and came back with some Amazing Stories.
-Jorge Mendez, “Breakthrough”
Photo by Jeff Hewitt
A while ago I decided to start going to open mics again. The first one I found was at The Venue On 35th hosted by Jorge Mendez, an accomplished spoken word performer. As an open mic host, he’s enthusiastic, kind, and endlessly patient. I’m generally not. I couldn’t do what he does.
I’ve known Jorge for a few years now. He’s a good friend of mine and, turns out, besides being an open mic host and a damn fine poet, he’s about as big a horror fan/aficionado/nerd as I am.
After my initial experiences with Things That Go Bump At The Venue and his truly awesome Halloween party, I knew it was only a matter of time before I interviewed Jorge for Blogferatu (obviously it had to be October and had to be 13 questions).
JT WILLIAMS: Why Halloween? What is its appeal for you?
JORGE MENDEZ: I’ve always been drawn to all things creepy, spooky, and dark. A day that celebrates this was bound to sink its teeth into me. Plus, of course, there’s the free candy. I think it’s the most fun of all the holidays. It gives me a chance to use my creativity while decorating or designing that year’s costume and have fun doing it.
There was a period in my childhood where this was taken away from me when my father became a Jehovah’s Witness. All my comics, decorations, toys, anything horror. All gone! I wasn’t even allowed to read scary stories. I remember this being confusing and devastating to me.
When I became an adult and able to celebrate Halloween my way, it became an obsession. Now It’s now longer just a day long celebration. Now it lasts the entire month of October. Sometimes longer!
JTW: Things That Go Bump At The Venue is coming up. When and how did that come about?
JM: Originally the Halloween event was part of our Feature Sundays line up, back when that event was still themed. 2 years ago when we changed the Feature Sunday format, we decided to make Things That Go Bump its own yearly event. This will be its 4th year in all. It’s easily my favorite event that we do at The Venue. It gives me an opportunity to combine 2 of my very favorite things, Halloween and The Arts.
JTW: Related to that, your Halloween party has become almost legendary for some of us. What made you start doing that?
JM: Every year I convert my home into a haunted house. Top to bottom with a different theme each year (this year it’s Asylum). It only made sense to have a party in it. I’ve been doing it since 1999, and this will be the 6th year at this location. It’s always a great time, and everyone seems to get really excited about it every year.
JTW: You reference horror characters in several of your poems, and horror is a theme in several others. In particular, I’d like to ask you about “Piggies” and “Phantom Limb Syndrome.” Can you talk about how those two pieces came about?
JM: “Piggies” came from a writing assignment given to us in D.D. Delaney’s first acting for poets class. We were told to create a character and write a poem from that character’s perspective. Given my already naturally existing attraction to horror, I chose to write as a serial killer. This is hands down my favorite poem to perform. I love to see the crowd reaction when the poem “turns off the lights on them” so to speak.
JTW: That’s always a great moment, even when you know it’s coming.
JM: “Phantom Limb Syndrome” didn’t actually start as a horror piece. Originally, it was just another lost love poem about person A missing person B. As I fleshed it out though, it turned dark all on its own. The fate of person B was a surprise, even to me.
JTW: How did you get started writing?
JM: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Even before I could write words, I would write stories using pictures and would “read” them to my parents as I pointed at the drawings. It feels like I’ve just always written. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t.
JTW: I know you have a particular affinity for Jack Skellington and Frankenstein’s creature. Can you elaborate on that?
JM: I love both those characters for similar reasons. Both are innocent characters that, though well meaning, do things that were inadvertently harmful. Jack found himself at a point in his life where he felt empty inside, as though something was missing from his life. When he discovered Xmas, it inspired him to try something new to him, but with his limited understanding and culture in the macabre, this didn’t turn out so jolly. He meant well though.
When NBX came out, I was a teenager who also felt empty and felt like all my efforts to find my “filling” failed.
Frankenstein’s creature was a favorite since the first time I saw Boris Karloff in the original 1931 classic. I must have been 4 or 5 years old. I couldn’t understand why the villagers attacked him.
I always saw him as a misunderstood character that was tortured and punished for merely existing without his asking to exist in a world that feared him. I always feared the angry villagers more than the creature. It’s such a tragic story at it’s core. This one is really close to my heart. I love this story.
JTW: Who are some of your other favorites?
JM: That’s a question I could write a book on. Let’s see…Wolfman is one for similar reasons to Jack and Frankenstein’s Creature. Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s IT was a source of nightmares for a good chunk of my childhood. Tim Curry’s portrayal of the clown was brilliant and still effective well into my adulthood.
Of course there are the classics like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface and the like, but Jason Voorhees from Friday The 13th has always been my favorite of the more contemporary movie monsters. The fact he never speaks is terrifying as is the idea that you can’t outrun him plus he’s so creative with his kills. I appreciate that in a maniac.
JTW: How about your favorite horror movie?
Photo by Jeff Hewitt
JM: I don’t know that I have a favorite I can narrow this down to, but as I mentioned I like the Friday The 13th movies (not all though. That Jason in space shit was garbage).
I like the Universal Studio Classics Lon Chaney’s Wolfman, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. Any of the George Romero zombie movies. Slasher films and zombie movies are definite favorite categories.
I also love a good horror-comedy like Sharknado or Scary Movie 2. Some of my top picks are VHS and VHS 2, House of 1000 Corpses, Babadook, Evil Dead, Monster Squad, People Under the Stairs. The list is never-ending really.
JTW: Are there any horror movies or types of horror movies you don’t like very much?
JM: I’m not a big fan of Sci-Fi horror with the exception of Alien. I don’t care much for the “found footage” genre either.
JTW: Is there a horror movie that had a bad effect on you?
JM: One movie that genuinely scared me…I’m talking “feet-on-the-couch-turning-on-every-light-as -I-move-about-the-house-peeking-around-corners-scared” was The Strangers. I made the mistake of watching this alone at 3a.m. in the middle of absolutely NoWhere, North Carolina. It’s just one of those “it can and has happened” type of stories. Just horrifying.
JTW: What’s the weirdest horror movie you’ve ever seen?
JM: Ah man, there’s a few. One that immediately comes to mind is a film called Teeth. It’s about a woman with teeth in her vagina. Yes! Teeth in her vagina. There’s also Trailer Park Of Terror, The Toxic Avenger and a movie about a town that gets invaded by giant bunny rabbits called Night Of The Lepus.
One of my favorite ones, though not so much weird as it is just a different twist on the slasher film, is Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. This is a movie where everyone dies although no one is necessarily murdered. I highly recommend this movie.
JTW: So do I. It’s sick and hilarious at the same time. If you liked Night Of The Lepus, I’d also suggest Frogs. Do you have a favorite horror writer?
JM: Everyone always answers this question with Stephen King but yes, Stephen King. I mean, come on right? Also Edgar Allan Poe, Dean Koontz, George Romero, and of course Mary Shelley off the strength of Frankenstein alone.
JTW: What other things scare you?
JM: It’s funny. The things I find scary are usually pretty commonplace for most other people. I’m really afraid of needles. I have to turn my head if they’re on screen. I really don’t like rodents of any kind. Not mice. Not hamsters. Not Guinea pigs. Nothing like that.
In film I’m most afraid of the real life horrors. Things that can and do happen in real life like the home invasion in The Strangers or the psychotic minds of killers like Hannibal or Norman Bates. Humanity’s dark side. That’s scary. That’s truly terrifying.
More about Jorge Mendez
You can follow Jorge on Facebook
and catch him Thursday nights, 8-10 on Radio Free Radio
with co-host Terrell Mercer on The Chocolate Milk And Waffles Show
. Jorge’s book, Keys & Crowbars
is available from San Francisco Bay Press
. Better yet, if you’re in or around Norfolk, Virginia, pick one up from the man himself at The Venue On 35th
open mic, Monday nights from 7-11.