Here’s how Ice Nine Kills’ Spencer Charnas became a horror fan
When APTV Director Bobby Makar asked Spencer Charnas what his favorite scary movie is, he wasn’t setting up a bloodbath. Indeed, the Ice Nine Kills singer is a die-hard enthusiast of scary movies of all kinds. Horror films, splatter reels, you name it. If it bleeds, it feeds Charnas’ imagination to run wild in his chosen musical genre. Forget Christmas: In his world, Halloween is the most wonderful time of the fear.
In this APTV interview, the I9K frontman discusses his love of all things horror and how it’s affected him. No, we’re not implying the singer is a simpering candy-ass afraid of his own shadow. Horror movies have been essential not only to Charnas’ personal aesthetic, but to how he conducts himself in the real world. Because you never know who may be watching…
Do you remember the first time you saw a horror movie?
SPENCER CHARNAS: I do. I had been going to a video store with my mom for years. It was actually one that was attached to a grocery store. And to kill time while she was shopping, I would always go and peruse the different aisles of the video store. I always ended up in the section that said “Horror.” The cover art that drew me in the most, at least at first, was John Carpenter's Halloween. There's something about the simplicity of just the black cover of the pumpkin with the butcher knife through it. And the blade sort of morphed into the other parts of the pumpkin. For whatever reason, I was like, “I've got to see this.” After a little bit of convincing, my mom rented it for me. And so it began.
What kind of shows or movies were you watching before you got interested in horror?
You know, I don't really remember. I don't really have too much memory of the stuff that I like pre-horror. I've always been a fan of just film in general. I love comedy, horror, thriller, action. But at that time period when I was getting into horror, I was probably really into comedies like Police Academy and those kind of movies that were a little bit silly, like slapstick stuff. My tastes have obviously expanded over the years. It's funny: I'm pretty loyal to all those movies that I used to love back in the day. So my taste now is really a strong combination of horror and comedy. So I meet somewhere in the middle. And that definitely reflects in everything that I do with the band.
You said your first exposure to horror was John Carpenter's Halloween, which, my God, what a great first entry into the horror-movie genre. Was that the one that really landed for you? Were you hooked?
Yeah. I was very young when I saw it. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and it really disturbed me. That faceless white mask, sort of the simplicity of that film and just not really knowing what is this entity that's following around Laurie Strode and these other high school girls. And I became obsessed with the boogeyman. And it definitely scared me to the sense where I would be sleeping at night, and I would call out for my mom and dad to come check on me because I thought Michael Myers was in my closet or something.
I would obsess over getting the costume [with] the right Michael Myers mask. My mom would take me to all these different costume stores to find the right mask. I started to dress like him every Halloween, walking around the neighborhood. Even before Halloween, like a few days before. Throughout the month of October. I think that was maybe subconsciously a coping mechanism. If I was Michael Myers, then you couldn't get me, maybe.
That makes logical sense in the mind of a kid, for sure. So what was the next step? What were the next movies that you were watching after Halloween?
I got into all the Friday The 13th [movies]. It became a ritual for my cousin and I when we would go to Florida for winter break. Every night, we'd go to Blockbuster, and we would rent to a new Friday The 13th or a new Halloween or a new Nightmare On Elm Street, and that started to solidify my love for the genre even more. You know, watching it late at night on a vacation—just like really good memories of being scared. But in a fun way.
And then in the late winter of 1996, I became aware that this movie called Scream was coming out. They were promoting it all over MTV. And I saw the ads, and it drew me [in]. Immediately, it reminded me of all these movies that I was watching on VHS at the time. And so we were in Florida. I was with my cousin and my parents, and there was a buzz going around on the beach during the day that this movie Scream came out, and someone said it was scarier than Halloween. When I heard that, I was like, “Get me to the theater tonight.”
So I went with my cousin and my mom and dad. I was 11 and saw Scream. I remember that night so vividly: that opening scene when the killer starts talking about Michael Myers and Jason. This was the first horror movie I'd seen in the theater. And I was blown away by that film. I remember being so scared. But again, obsessed with it, trying to find the mask and the costume. And if you could believe it, at that time, that mask wasn't so prevalent. And now it's so ubiquitous—it's everywhere. But at the time, it wasn't really out in stores.
So I made it my mission to find that mask and find a voice changer that was used in the movie. And I remember getting the voice changer and being disappointed. This doesn't sound anything like Roger Jackson, the guy's voice. But it was a cool prop to have, and Scream further solidified my love of the genre. And I've been hooked on it ever since.
Were you actively creating your own horror stories? Writing, were you making backyard movies, anything like that around horror?
I definitely remember embarrassing my sister. She had this big Sweet 16 birthday party where we bussed all of her friends into Boston from the suburbs to this Hard Rock Cafe party. I remember when the after-party came back to my house, I was in the backyard constructing some sort of a haunted house with all of my masks and stuff. So in that regard, I was definitely creating horror and embarrassing my family at the same time.
When did you know that this particular genre, this particular way of storytelling, was going to be such a prevalent part of your life and your art?
When I began the band, we were very different in musical genre than we are right now. We were based in the punk and ska world. That's where my head was at when I formed the band—bands like Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger [and] Less Than Jake. Although we played that kind of music, there was always that horror aesthetic that I wanted to capture, whether it was in our T-shirt designs or the tongue-in-cheek macabre lyrical content that we had. Even in our pop-punk days, we would use samples from Halloween.
But as the years progressed and as our sound developed, we started to incorporate more genres like metal and symphonic elements and [a] Broadway theatricality. We started to delve more into horror. The real catalyst for it was when we released Every Trick In The Book, which was our album based on literature. I picked The Exorcist and Carrie to cover it. And we did these high-production-value horror-movie-type videos for those songs. That's when the band started to gain traction. It was a combination of, “Wow, this is really exciting people” and “This is fun as hell for me to do” because this is everything I love. So for the next album, I said, “Let's do every song about a different movie,” and that's when we doubled down on that idea. And we haven't looked back since.
It's been the most fun I've ever had making music because it's combining my two loves, which are music and horror. I love to introduce people to the genre. It's so cool to hear people say, “Hey, I got into horror because of you guys.” So if we can help elevate those films and shed light on not just the most-known films but some of the more obscure ones, then we're doing our job.
Throughout music and especially punk and heavy metal, there's this weird natural crossover between punk and horror and gore. Why do you think that phenomenon occurs? What’s the bridge between those two things?
I think that the bridge is really that they're just naturally subcultures. They appeal to both metal and punk. These extreme films that are gory can really test what someone can handle psychologically. It's just that natural community. These filmmakers who are making this dark, gritty, maybe even tongue-in-cheek thing. They get it. They're the cool cats. And I think because of that, those subcultures will always be married.
And to me, heavy music or any kind of music—even like Bernard Herrmann, who did the Psycho score—it's intense, whether that's classical-sounding music or orchestral. But it gives you that hard-hitting feeling you can't deny. And that's what horror does. I think that maybe in the brain chemistry, those two things are very closely interrelated.
Choose an extremely underrated horror movie and then one you consider to be overrated and overdone.
When A Stranger Calls Back would be my first choice. To me, I would say the movie Idle Hands, which is more of a horror-comedy, was severely underrated. I saw it in the theater opening night. It came out 10 days after Columbine happened. I think the studio pulled most of the advertising for the film, and it didn't get a proper premiere. People weren't interested in seeing anything to do with violence with teenagers. This movie has nothing to do with gun violence or being bullied. But it was just a victim of really bad timing. But like most great movies, it found its audience. It has a cult following to this day where they still are doing screenings 20 years later with cast and crew.
Overrated? I never like to talk bad about the art form because I like supporting the genre. I never really saw the hype behind the Insidious movies. It was fun [seeing them] in the theater, and there were some cool jump scares. But I didn't get all the brouhaha on that particular series.
What's the greatest lesson a horror movie has ever taught you?
People talk about the Friday The 13th series as being the most Reagan-eque series of the ’80s. Because it was like Jason was the hand of God, punishing these sex-crazed teenagers who were drinking and doing drugs. And because of their sins, so to speak, Jason drowned. You know, they weren't paying attention to him. So he died. And so it began as this revenge story. Obviously, I don't take the morals and ethical implications of Friday The 13th too seriously. But definitely sometimes when I'm thinking about doing something wrong, I think, “You know, maybe Jason's looking around the other corner.” So in a lighthearted way, that's my answer.
Ice Nine Kills' new live album, I Heard They KILL Live!! is out on Fearless Records. Tickets to watch their streaming event “The Silver Stream” on demand are available until Sunday, Nov 1 at 11:59 pm here. The event features a full set recorded at their sold-out show at the Worcester Palladium last year and a bespoke, original horror movie, hosted by horror icon Bill Moseley. While you're at it, pre-order I9K's graphic novel, Inked In Blood, available from Z2 Comics.