Massacre Under the Redwoods

Country spookiness, movies, and the Texas Tranny Two-Step made Guerneville the place to be, pre-Halloween

There is no country charm, no glimmering canopy of starlight, no pregnant harvest moon, no inviting inglenook with hot mulled cider; just a thick, inky blackness that creeps over the hoary landscape like undiluted sloe oil. I glance over at the speedometer, taking comfort in its familiar glow as the tiny ribbon of asphalt that once connected us to the shiny lights of civilization dissolves in our wake. I sense, more than see, winged predators swooping and diving in the murky owl-light of the northern fields. The fetid odor of late-autumn crops and fresh roadkill seeps through the cracked weatherstripping of the passenger-side car window; despite her best efforts, Henrietta -- an old but faithful Toyota with unconvincing headlights and a newly adopted inclination to lose both heart and power every 60 miles -- offers but feeble comfort on this journey, and no radio reception is available to drown out the "Dueling Banjos" between my ears.

"Squeal like a pig!" exclaims my companion, and I smile in the darkness, at once pleased by our familiar grasp of pop culture and disturbed by our mutual reference to the 1972 Southern Gothic vacation horror story Deliverance.

Perhaps my friend will think twice next time there's a last-minute invitation to drive out into the countryside in the middle of the night to attend an event chirpily titled the "Russian River Massacre," but I think not. As our car is enveloped in the richer darkness of giant redwood trees, I seriously consider asking for a pee break, imagining myself wandering into the woods without a flashlight, maybe donning a pair of 6-inch stiletto heels and ripping off my tank top at midriff beforehand. Thankfully, a hand-painted sign offering trailers and backhoes for sale indicates that civilization and toilet paper are not far off, and my grisly, untimely demise is once again postponed.

Guerneville, California's self-proclaimed "gay playground," is just 69 miles north of San Francisco (no doubt a little extra effort went into shearing off a superfluous mile so that even the odometer reading is sexy). The tiny, one-street town -- an odd mixture of artists, hicks, homosexuals, hippies, sports enthusiasts, and working-class families -- boasts the state's largest gay dance club (north of the Golden Gate, that is) and offers karaoke at the Russian River Eagle, flagrant cruising at the Rainbow Cattle Company, and a harmonious combination of pizza and cabaret at the Main Street Station, but, tonight, the burg's dead. Dead as a doornail. Cold and quiet as a corpse. We slither through town, passing through both stoplights before reaching Fife's Resort, the oldest and largest gay accommodation in Guerneville (and summertime home of SunDance, an infamous riverside retreat for buffed and bronzed circuit-party boys).

The woman at the checkout counter is as sweet as a fresh-baked muffin, but there's something not quite right about her, too. Perhaps it's her hands, or the stiffness of her hair; whatever it is, I'm left with a deepening sense of unreality. Her map, detailed with ham-fisted care, leads me down a dark, redwood-lined lane into the shadowy recesses of the resort. Cher's club hit "Believe" emanates from the first cabin, interrupted only by shrill laughter and effeminate howls of "Fierce!" It's too clichéd to be real; I peer into the darkness, looking for the hidden cameras or the clapboard that will read Horror at Sleepagay Camp. After all, I am here at the behest of scream queen Peaches Christ, who spends her time directing comedic horror movies when she's not busy managing San Francisco's Bridge Theatre or hosting her summertime late-night movie series "Midnight Mass." The whole thing, I caution myself, might be one giant film set.

My new address is a small lane shared by a dozen small cabins. Jack-o'-lanterns twinkle on the tiny porches without penetrating the chilly gloom. The cabin kitty-corner to mine displays a drag flag, with its signature emblem of crossed stiletto heels, and a bloody and butchered Barbie doll that hangs from the eaves. In the middle of the road, under a large tree, a group of silhouetted figures turns to watch my approach before returning to the homemade porn being projected on my neighbor's wall. There is a flier posted just inside my door that warns of the presence of one or more substances that may cause birth defects. I begin to feel right at home.

Feeling "fierce" and foolhardy, I tiptoe across the lane just a little before midnight to the cabin where Peaches Christ and her sidekick, Martiny, are making last-minute adjustments to their finery, while "Massacre" co-producers Putanescaand Vinsantoscheck over late-night details and offer words of encouragement.

"We'll decide on what to do depending on whether or not we have the chain saw," says Peaches as the queeny quartet exits the cabin in a flurry of full skirts, long wigs, and -- even in the case of Vinsantos, who wears overalls -- frightfully high heels.

"I've got the severed head," says Peaches, as if it is the definitive statement. The queens disappear into the darkness along a gravel-strewn path, and I follow.

In spite of the huge bonfire and a tremendous, leering jack-o'-lantern, the large forest clearing staged for "Midnight Mass" is dark enough to hide the crowd of 100 sprawled on blankets and benches in front of a makeshift movie screen stretched between two trees. According to Peaches, it's the most attractive crowd she's ever seen. I stumble across a couple entangled in an embrace and grab a seat just as the spotlight roars to life. Peaches emerges from the woods with a chain saw framed in twinkle lights and a severed head that bears an uncanny resemblance to Martiny.

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