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Things I Learned Growing Up as a Catholic Horror Fan

Paraguay. December 28th, 1985. 1:30 am. The country continues to be under the iron grip of dictator General Alfredo Stroessner. Stern social conservatism and years of military rule result in a society that embraces Christian values and abhors dissent.

In a small hospital, deep in a rural town, there’s commotion, agitation and excitement. After 11 hours in labour, Adriana and Manuel finally hear the cries of their newborn son: me.

I like to think that I grew up to be a decent human being: I do others no harm and try to help when I can. Despite no longer being a Catholic, my upbringing certainly informed my values and continues to do so to this day.

But I must admit, I definitely had conflicts between my belief system and my hobbies when I was younger. You see, I was a Catholic, sure, but I was also an avid fan of horror films and heavy metal music. And those two, they were oil and water, particularly in the Satanic Panic era.

Below are the things I learned growing up as a Catholic with an undying love for horror films and heavy metal. While mostly amusing now, I believe they paint a colourful image of what it was like to live in a post-dictatorship country in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

I’m definitely going to Hell (probably?)

This is a big one, and it had to come first. Sure, there is no passage in Scripture dedicated to telling off people for liking horror films and heavy metal. Understandably, I might add. But there are plenty of instances where the Bible encourages Christians to not let the devil take hold (Ephesians 4:27) or risk plaguing our minds with evil images (Psalm 51:10). And that’s just the literal instances. If you were to take into account the interpretation of Christian values, it’s a foregone conclusion that anybody who likes something as violent, gory and scary as horror films is holding a one-way ticket to down-under (and I don’t mean Australia).

But Catholics, unlike a lot of other Christian denominations, have confession. One of the Sacraments of the Church, penance (and confession) guarantees that your sins will be forgiven if you repent and ask Christ for forgiveness.

This meant that 12-year-old me had little qualms while watching Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, because unlike Elliot Spencer (a.k.a. Pinhead), all I had to do to free my soul from eternal doom was to go to church on Sunday and confess.

The sin-because-you-can-confess dichotomy is playfully acknowledged by Catholics, even by parents disciplining their children. It made it less of a chore to be a Christian in ways that we thought mattered more than what we watched on TV.

It’s important to mention that a lot of Christian denominations, particularly Protestant Christians, don’t believe in confession and consider it an unfair get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s not my place to comment on personal beliefs, but growing up, I found this “loophole” allowed me to enjoy the finer things in life with a clean conscience.

After all, what’s finer than Clive Barker’s writing? Not much, I’d say.

I’m a Satanist (according to the neighbours)

Though Pope John Paul II (what a cool name, just flows off the tongue, eh?) brought a lot of progressive change to the Catholic church, it would take decades for it to take hold on the general population. For little Marcos growing up in 1990s Paraguay, there was no “progressive agenda”. Satanic Panic was in full swing, and despite coming from a good family, I was the prime target for the evilest of eyes and the loudest of whispers.

Looking back, I realize I must have caused my parents a lot of heartaches. Though I believe I should have been free to watch horror and listen to heavy metal, I’m sorry that they probably had to endure a lot of awkward conversations regarding my “strange behaviour”.

Whenever there were reports of grave digging in my town (all of which I had nothing to do with, of course), my friends and I were always under the watchful eye of the police and our neighbours. Sitting outside my house, listening to rock, elicited the scorn of the whole block. My friends and I stopped getting invited to parties and sporting events. It was even harder to date, but it’s entirely possible (and rather likely) that I was just very bad at it.

I moved to Canada in 2003, and the whole world opened up to me. I didn’t realize how much I had kept inside until I no longer had to do it. In what is possibly the lamest “coming out of the closet” you could ever imagine, I was finally free to watch, and listen to, whatever I wanted. It changed my life, as I developed into a multimedia producer through my interest in metal and horror. I now own my own business, a studio dedicated to creating content for companies, as well as my own projects. I even directed a fairly successful horror short film.

I can’t help but wonder if things would have worked out similarly had I stayed in Paraguay.

God creates them (and the devil gathers them)

This is a very old saying, mostly used to signal the imminent arrival of a storm of unruly children. It’s a running joke between Catholic parents. But it is also an apt way of describing the sense of community that I experienced from friends and peers. While the doors to mainstream society closed ever more tightly on me, more and more “outcasts” like myself began to extend their hands of friendship.

The truth is, these people were wonderfully kind and rarely judgmental. Having experienced discrimination due to their preferences (much like I had), they were understanding and provided me with the acceptance I had been craving my whole life. Even in Paraguay, there were people who would lend me VHS tapes of the rarest and craziest horror releases or metal albums. Once in Canada, I dove 100% into the “alternative scene” as it was called, and I’ve never looked back.

I experienced a similar “brotherhood-through-hardship” phenomenon when I served in the army: it was because we had been through something difficult that we were bonded together, and not in spite of it.

Paraguay and the world have moved forward in terms of accepting individuality, but much work remains to be done. I share this part of my life with the hopes that it will help provide a better understanding of this time in history, and the incredibly vast impact of societal pressure.

After all, we should all be allowed to watch Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 without feeling any remorse, shame or scorn. However inferior it may be to its predecessor.

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