Mercedes M. Yardley was only eight years old when she read her father’s copy of Stephen King’s It. Pretty intense material for someone so young, wouldn’t you say? But years earlier, Yardley had been introduced to what i09 referred to as “The Most Horrifying Children’s Movie Ever Made.” Perhaps she was better prepared to handle the horrors of Pennywise the Clown after repeatedly watching a scary movie starring….a pink-haired unicorn?
Yardley is a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. A self-described dark fantasist, she is the author of multiple books and short stories, including 2013’s Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love and 2014’s Pretty Little Dead Girls. We had a video chat about her first fright, and her choice was unexpected, to say the least.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: What is your “first fright”?
MERCEDS M. YARDLEY: You’re going to laugh, but this is truly horrifying. It’s a movie called Unico in the Island of Magic. It was my first anime. It’s about this tiny little unicorn that makes people happy. It’s cute and has pink hair. Unico is all bright and happy, but there are monsters. These characters called the Winds want to kill this unicorn. One of the Winds takes Unico and drops it off all alone in this weird, little land. There’s this villain called Lord Kuruku—just terrifying. He turns people into stone and uses their bodies to build walls for his castle. So, his castle is built out of these dead bodies.
When did you see it?
I was about four or five. I think it came out in ‘83 or ‘84. My mom’s like, “This is cute. Here’s a show about a little unicorn.” And I had nightmares.
What scene was the most horrifying?
Lord Kuruku would do weird things with his body. He lives inside this bubble and floats around in it. He would get angry and stick his eyes out one side of the bubble, and then he’d turn around and stick his face out the other side of the bubble. He gets angry at one point and his eyes go huge and just kind of come forward. I think I remember yelling as a kid (screams). It was that scary. But he was so angry, and he forced this boy, Toby, to do all these things, to turn everybody into stone creatures.
This doesn’t sound like it’s appropriate for kids.
It’s a kid’s movie. It’s in the kid’s section. It looks very sweet. It looks adorable. You can watch it on YouTube. Just very sweet. And they were like, “Hey, watch this cute, little show.”
Have you watched it since you were a kid?
Yeah, I watched it when I was dating my husband, actually. They had it in the video store and I was like, “Wow, I remember this as a kid. Let’s watch this.” I was still terrified. I was like, “This is so scary.” And he’s like, “That’s an adorable little unicorn.”
It still scares me. We watched it again on YouTube about two years ago, because our children wanted to watch it, and I was like, “Yeah, you know what? No. Mommy writes horror, but you can’t watch it now.”
Do you think you’re only afraid of Unico now because it scared you when you were little?
Yeah, it’s totally irrational. I’m sure my husband could watch it with my kids and it’d be just fine. They would love it. They’d eat it up.
I can’t help but notice in the background you have a unicorn poster…
That’s The Last Unicorn. (Note: The AV club called this movie “nightmare fuel to a generation of kids.”)
So you really like unicorns, huh?
No, I’m not really into unicorns, except for these two. (The Last Unicorn) is also an anime and this also terrified me to death. Here’s the thing about both of these shows. They’re both beautiful—beautifully animated, wondrous ideas, very imaginative—but the dark things are very dark. So Unico has this scary thing that’s trying to kill it and this thing is trying to obliterate this light, and it’s the same thing with The Last Unicorn. I like that concept. You have something peaceful and small being chased after something horrendous, but they both stand up and fight it.
Why do you think Unico is so scary?
Being so young, I think most of the movies I had watched were pretty sanitized. And this one was scary because here’s this small, cute, little thing just being tromped.
She’s all alone and the unicorns all alone. I think when you’re four, you feel little and alone and defenseless a lot, and they didn’t have anyone to take care of them—and that was really terrifying to me.
There’s no happy ending. Unico is alone and being taken to be dropped off somewhere else, alone. And the same thing happens in the other movie, too. Something that’s after you will always be after you. You can’t fight it. “Sweet little unicorn, you’re destined for misery.”
Unico scared you, but you just kept watching it anyway?
It’s absolutely terrifying, but it was so beautiful. It was bright, it was beautifully drawn the characters were engaging. It was charming and it was sad, and I guess, somehow, I like that being sad. The Velveteen Rabbit is beautiful and sad, but you still read it, you still watch it.
Do you like to write things that are beautiful and sad?
Yeah, very fanciful. I write a lot of magical surrealism. That’s part of what I liked about Unico. These weren’t real situations, and I write a lot of that—flowers falling from the sky, things that just don’t really happen. I write ‘whimsical horror,’ is how I put it.
What was it about that initial scare with Unico that you enjoyed?
I liked watching it with my brother. We were all scared and we could be scared together. I think one of the reasons I like horror and I like that show is I like the feeling of being scared because it’s exciting. But I don’t like being scared alone; I like being scared with someone else. It’s like you shared something. Like, “Oh, my goodness, wasn’t that a crazy show?’” It’s almost like a bonding experience. I actually bought my brother the Unico DVD and I gave it to him for Christmas and he was like, “Oh, this was so scary.”
Everybody feels fear. Everybody’s afraid of something. It’s a basic human emotion. I like the bonding of it. And then I like that you can turn it off, and it’s contained in your TV or in your book, and you can go to your bed and be okay.
Do you think Unico in any way informed your sensibilities as a writer?
Yeah. I do a lot of children-in-peril, innocent-things-in-peril. Also, I think I write without being graphic. I can be graphic, but I choose not to. I’d rather mention somebody slipping in blood versus “And then the aorta burst forth.” And I think that’s part of it as well—I was scared without having to see the gore. I like to be scared with my eyes open. If it’s really gory, I have to cover my eyes, because I am a perpetual child. The Big Bad going after something that seems defenseless is something that comes through my work a lot and it probably has something to do with Unico. Terrifying, terrifying Unico.
I’m glad that I could drag this up for you and make you think about it all again.
Thank you. I’m going to watch it before bed and just cry.