Massachusetts author Matt Serafini is a new face for horror fiction. His first book, "Feral", released in 2012. He appeared in the short story collection "All-Night Terror" in 2013 alongside Adam Cesare, and now, he has released his second full-length novel, "Under the Blade", courtesy of Severed Press.
I had the opportunity to talk with Matt about his new novel, his influences and that Megadeth cassette tape that he wore out in high school.
MM – Matt, from the synopsis of your new book, "Under the Blade", it sounds like you are knee-deep in 80s horror. The main character, Melanie, survives a camp killer and then returns years later to confront her fears. What can you tell us about the story without giving away spoilers?
80s horror is all over this book, yeah. That's by design. What I didn't want to do was retell a familiar story. People might read the first chapter and think "okay, I know what this is all about," and my hope is that I'll be able to take them into unchartered waters by subverting that expectation.
MM – So camp horror, masked killers, machetes…this is pulling at my adolescent heart strings. I can remember watching so many slasher films in the 80s and early 90s. It's like you just knew the flow of those films, the stereotypes, the T&A, the obligatory rules of the surviving main character. What is it about that particular style of horror that you like and were you able to put some of those in the book?
I've always loved slasher movies. The combination of likeable young characters, isolated and atmospheric environments, crazed killers and, hopefully, awesome gore FX really captured the attention of my younger self. As an adult, I've got a lot of nostalgia for those movies, but you can't fill 300 pages with people wandering into the woods and dying, so I wanted to take those classic elements and weave them into a more complex narrative.
This book delivers over-the-top kills, T&A, prolonged chase scenes—expected genre mainstays. But the story goes beyond them. My main character is a woman in her 40s, and not necessarily beholden to the genre's "rules." She lives in constant fear of Cyrus Hoyt (the killer) coming back for her, but she's also been ground down by a stagnant career and dysfunctional relationships. She's sort of forced into returning to the scene of the crime, and as she digs into the past, she discovers that the town of Forest Grove has more than a few skeletons in its closet. I absolutely think slasher fans will find a lot to like about the book, but the story goes beyond what's anticipated—and that's really why I wrote it.
MM – Again, I adore that particular sub-genre of horror, almost to the point of criticizing Wes Craven's spoof of the formula in the 90s with his "Scream" franchise. Matt, as time goes by and we see more and more found footage films and supernatural themed horror, do you think the "masked" killers have truly died or maybe just on hiatus until we can find a more appreciating audience for them?
I was just having this conversation with some friends. If you look at the slate of horror films released theatrically this year, it's beginning to look like supernatural and found footage horror has run its course. With the exception of "Annabelle", a prequel to last year's massively successful "The Conjuring", no supernatural or found footage film has lit the box office on fire, and there's been at least five in wide release. I think audiences are tired of them and though it hasn't happened yet, I feel like the slasher film is poised to make a comeback. This stuff is cyclical, and I think the serious slasher film has been away from the screen for so long that it could feel completely new to audiences once again.
MM - You have both of your full-length novels on Amazon as print copies as well as digital. In an age where we are reading on our phones, laptops and tablets, do you think we are losing any intimacy from holding the old fashioned book by lamp light?
Oh, absolutely! I'm immensely grateful for e-books in the sense that there's a sizeable amount of people who enjoy discovering books that way. When you're a new author, it's incredibly hard to get your work noticed, and people are more likely to roll the dice and drop a few bucks on a Kindle file than spend twelve bucks on a paperback from a writer they're unfamiliar with. So I don't want to disparage digital at all. I just don't think you can ever replace the feeling of an actual book in your hands. As you say, it's a more personal experience, and I think it helps form a connection to the material that you can't get with e-readers. At the end of the day, a good story is a good story, and if you're into it, then the format probably doesn't matter, but I find that with e-readers the temptation is there to switch over to the next book if I'm not grabbed right away. That scares me a little.
MM – Obviously we are a music outlet focusing on heavier styles. But you and I have talked about all types of music and how it affects us in terms of writing. I listen to a lot of horror movie scores when writing and even reading. Do you listen to music when you write and if so, what style do you typically like to hear and why?
Music is a huge part of the process for me. When I'm working on a book, the first thing I do is create an iTunes playlist to serve as the book's soundtrack—songs that invoke an atmosphere similar to what I'm working on and that typify specific characters. All of it helps me sustain a certain mindset for the 3-4 months it takes to hammer out a first draft. Horror movie scores are a huge part of that, specifically the work of John Carpenter. I love that he scored so many of his own films. They create a mood unlike anything else, so there's always a little Carpenter on my playlist. Any soundtrack is fair game, but I use a lot of rock and pop as well. When writing "Under the Blade", because Melanie is a child of the 80s, I had a LOT of hairbands in my playlist. Namely so I could stay connected to Melanie's past, but also to keep myself rooted in that era.
MM – Growing up you mentioned that you really liked Megadeth's ‘Rust in Peace' album along with bands like Napalm Death and Metallica. Do you think any of those early metal records contributed to your horror writing today?
I loved Megadeth in the 80s and early 90s and I still go back to their stuff now. Everything up to and including 'Countdown to Extinction' is in my iTunes library. Not only do I think they influenced me from an early age, but their stuff was so social and political that I often credit them with making me want to pay attention to the world around me during my formative years. I think that's also true of Napalm Death. I'll admit that part of their appeal, at least initially, was to listen to something so far removed from the mainstream—me embracing as many punk rock sensibilities as a pre-teen could. But the energy and ferocity of that music was something I gravitated to, and that was true of horror movies as well. Anything with an "edge" felt dangerous, and therefore appealing. In that sense, I think that's why horror and metal often go hand-in-hand.
MM – Who is scarier? Alice Cooper, Dee Snider, Dave Mustaine or Lady Gaga?
Well, I LOVE Alice, so he's going to trump just about anyone that you can put him up against as far as I'm concerned. I've got his whole discography and he's always in rotation in my house. I even play his super obscure 80s stuff like "Flush the Fashion" and "Zipper Catches Skin" with frequency. He's a more versatile artist than given credit for, and his lyrics are incredibly underrated. In general, I don't think Alice has ever been given the breadth of credit he deserves—I honestly think he's brilliant. And it's funny that you mention Lady Gaga because Alice has praised her in the past, even covering "Born this Way" in concert! Gaga has thanked him for allowing her to "steal" his show, and Alice has said that she (and other female pop stars) are carrying on his tradition of elaborate stage shows. In a weird way, Gaga feels like something of a successor to Alice: parody of excess who delights in making the mainstream squirm. Honestly, I like Lady Gaga a lot, especially her first few albums. There's a satire and substance to her lyrics that's really funny—and kind of rare for today. As for Dee Snider, I never found him scary, just 100% awesome. Still waiting for that "Strangeland" sequel, Dee…
MM – "Under the Blade" is out now on Severed Press. Is this your new publisher and will you release more books through them?
Severed Press has been very good to me! They allow their writers a great deal of freedom to tell their stories and you can't ask for anything more than that. They published "Under the Blade" as well as my first book, "Feral", and they're handling my third as well.
MM – Can you tell us what you are working on now or what is slated as your third release?
My third release is called "Devil's Row" and it's coming in November. It's something of a prequel to my first book, although you needn't have read "Feral" to pick it up. It's a werewolf western, but transported to 18th century Europe. It involves a ragtag band of gunmen who try to kill a notorious werewolf and fail, and must contend with the fallout from that as they try and navigate to safety.
MM - For our readers out there, what other new authors do you recommend checking out?
There's so much quality horror fiction out there right now that it's a great time to be a reader. Jonathan Janz has become a guy whose work I never miss, and I recently read "Shadows in the Mist" by Brian Moreland, which is a supernatural thriller set in WWII. I had the hardest time putting it down. I'm halfway through Bryan Smith's "The Killing Kind" right now and it's depraved in the best possible way.
MM – Thanks again for your time. Good luck with the new book and all of your future endeavors!
Thanks for having me, Maximum Metal! This was a total blast!
You can hear Matt Serafini on Dread Central's Dinner for Fiends podcast. He is also a columnist for Dread Central and Fangoria.
Matt's Amazon Page
"Under the Blade" on Amazon