My First Fright featuring Matt Hayward

Chupacabras don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, but I’d argue that they’re much scarier and menacing than either of those oft-mentioned cryptids. If you’re unaware, chupacabras are mythological creatures found in the Americas that look reptilian (or like wild dogs) and go around sucking blood from livestock. Yeah, they’re weird little vampires that get high on cow blood. Yuck. 

Matt Hayward hasn’t run into a chupacabra himself (he’s not a believer), but these bloodsucking creatures did make an impact on him nonetheless—made possible by a chance viewing of a low-budget ’90s documentary. 

Matt Hayward is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated author and musician from Wicklow, Ireland. His books include Brain Dead Blues, What Do Monsters Fear?, Practitioners (with Patrick Lacey), The Faithful, A Penny For Your Thoughts (with Robert Ford), and Various States of Decay. He compiled the award-winning anthology Welcome To The Show and wrote the comic book This Is How It Ends (now a music video) for the band Walking Papers. Matt received a nomination for Irish Short Story of the Year from Penguin Books in 2017. Lady Luck (written with Robert Ford), and Those Below The Tree House (a novel) are both coming later this year. He is represented by Lane Heymont of the Tobias Literary Agency and can be found on Twitter @MattHaywardIRE or at his website.

(Interview conducted by John Brhel)

CEMETERY DANCE: What book/movie/show/etc. got you into horror?

Chupacabra: An artist’s rendering

MATT HAYWARD: My first fright wasn’t a movie or a book; it was actually a strange, late-night documentary on the chupacabra. I was about 8 years old, home alone, up too late, and I was frozen to the spot. The documentary made me think these things were as real as dogs, and I was terrified. When my sister opened the door, I think I screamed. Then came an alien documentary, and I don’t think I slept for about two days straight. The concepts lodged in my brain and became a kind of obsession for the bizarre.

Nice! We haven’t had anyone mention a documentary yet. Chupacabras are scary. Do you remember any specifics about the documentary?

Mainly the illustrations, pencil sketches. Big eyes and sharp teeth. Like the typical gray alien depictions but on all fours and with bug-like pincers. That, and interviews with backwoods farmers showing off their mutilated cattle.

Creepy. Had you been exposed to cryptids before?

Oh, yeah. The word “cryptid” was used in the documentary and lodged in my brain. I was a kid, so that interested me to no end. Queue years of late-night, dodgy Loch Ness documentaries about rotting pieces of wood. I loved it. Being from Ireland, I’d heard tales of banshees and the like, and creatures from other cultures and places really sparked my imagination.

Did the chupacabra scare you or more so intrigue you?

I think, being that age, the more something scared me, the more it intrigued me. The visual of the chupacabra (and the fact it stalked backwood farms), was so fascinating and macabre. The documentary was double-featured with one on gray aliens, too. And watching reenactments of lights paralyzing people in their beds as these tall, stick-like things materialized in their bedrooms really captured my imagination. I’m not a believer in anyway, but the storyteller inside me went on overdrive with possibilities.

Chupacabra feeding on a goat. Image from BBC-Earth

Have you explored cryptids or similar creatures in your own stories?

Absolutely. I’ve explored Irish mythology in a lot of short stories (“The Faery Tree,” “Rodent In The Red Room”…) and even in a new novel called The Flood, which features the Kelpie. Cryptids have always fascinated me, though I’m not a believer in any sense. Bob Ford and I also used the chupacabra in the sequel to A Penny For Your Thoughts, actually. And I wrote an alien novel set in Ireland that I never sent out for publication, now that I think about it.

Have you seen any other monster/horror documentaries that have had an impact on you?

I can’t think of any individually, but the vibe of those ’90s low-budget documentaries definitely left their mark. Average people in the middle of nowhere terrorized by bizarre critters, terrifying pencil sketches, and awfully-acted recreations with rubber monster suits. I loved them all.

I hear you on that. It’s kind of like Unsolved Mysteries. There was something so special about the ’90s production quality.

Such a unique vibe. Sometimes the production quality lent to the scare factor; people did great things with the little they had available. I remember one “abduction” recreation where these lights filled a bedroom, and then, soundlessly, these stickmen with giant heads materialized over someone paralyzed in bed. Terrified me. I was only a kid, so the notion of being frozen to the spot while these things came and took me to outer space was pretty terrifying. But bizarrely intriguing, too. The wheres, whats, and whys always played on my mind.

Do you still find the chupacabra interesting? If so, why?

I find it interesting for the fact it’s a modern cryptid. Any new sightings of supposed things lurking in woods or lakes intrigues me. I love watching grainy footage of alleged bigfoots and nessies. For the chupacabra, it’s a sickly little vampiric critter feeding on farm animals—what’s not to love?

Nessie?

Haha. Do you have any favorite cryptids? Nessie? Bigfoot?

I love lake monsters. Deep waters terrify me, so the notion of some giant monster roaming the depths is as about as terrifying as it comes. Sasquatches and skunk apes are pretty interesting, too. I wish we had an Irish equivalent. But Ireland does have the banshee, and I’ve always wanted to do a banshee novel. Someday, when the pieces click.

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