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Ice Nine Kills frontman gives ‘Thanx’ for slasher flicks and psychos

Ice Nine Kills frontman Spencer CharnasAdam Reed

There will be chain saws and daggers, plenty of blood, and possibly a beheading when Spencer Charnas takes the stage at Lowell’s Tsongas Center on Thursday for his band’s “Thanx-Killing” show. He and Ice Nine Kills have carved out a niche for themselves in the realm of metalcore, where their gleefully depraved songs are inspired by the goriest scenes from Hollywood’s slasher-movie underground.

A week after the show, Charnas will celebrate Thanksgiving with his siblings at his mother’s house in Salem. Presumably, the closest they’ll get to knife violence will be the carving of the turkey.

“We’re playing the theater at Madison Square Garden the night before,” Charnas says, on the phone from a tour stop in St. Louis. “I’ll drive with my sister and her husband, who live in New York City, to Massachusetts. It’s really nice to be home for the holidays.”

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Charnas, who grew up in Swampscott, might be the most agreeable guy you could meet who’s obsessed with psychotic murderers. A diehard fan of horror movies from a very young age, the 36-year-old has found a killer formula with his band’s high-energy, tongue-in-cheek tributes to the movie world’s most prolific merchants of death. Ice Nine Kills call their vocation “theatricore.”

Growing up, Charnas says, “I wasn’t into superheroes.” Instead, his heroes were Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger — the homicidal stars of “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” respectively.

“Taking their stories and the lore around those characters and making a different form of art makes the writing process so much fun,” he says.

Named for the deadly substance ice-nine in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Cat’s Cradle,” Ice Nine Kills (INK) have progressed from the ska-punk beginnings of the band’s high school years two decades ago to the anthemic emo and death-metal growls of their current incarnation. (Charnas is the only remaining original member; Reading native Joe Occhiuti joined on bass in 2019.)

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On the band’s two most recent albums, 2018′s “The Silver Scream” and last year’s “The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood,” each song is inspired by a classic scary movie. “IT Is the End” is a carnivalesque, epic-screaming tribute to the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s evil clown novel “It.” “Hip to Be Scared” references the yuppie butcher of “American Psycho” (2000). “The Shower Scene” — well, you know what that song eulogizes.

Charnas writes the first draft of the band’s songs and arrangements on acoustic guitar or keyboards. He credits his love of movies as much as music for their vision.

The band’s videos and stage show offer blow-by-blow reenactments of horror’s most memorable scenes. The video for their blistering song “Funeral Derangements,” for instance, is a mini-movie inspired by the first film adaptation of King’s “Pet Sematary.” The truck driver in the video is played by Miko Hughes, the actor who played the boy killed by a truck in the 1989 movie.

That kind of attention to lurid detail has helped establish a devoted, fast-growing fan base for the band. INK fans call themselves “psychos.”

The members of Ice Nine Kills (from left): Joe Occhiuti, Dan Sugarman, Spencer Charnas, Ricky Armellino, and Patrick Galante.F. Scott Schafer

In Los Angeles, where Charnas has lived for about five years, there’s a large community of horror enthusiasts. He’s often in the audience at the New Beverly, the former vaudeville house and adult theater now owned and programmed by Quentin Tarantino.

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“The tickets are cheap, and the popcorn is still $2, like it would have been in the ‘70s,” Charnas says. “They show retro films, splatter stuff like ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night.’ I’m there all the time.”

He’s also a frequent visitor to the Mystic Museum, a shop and gallery in Burbank that features oddities, occult literature, and “dark home decor.” And he’s a regular customer at Slashback Video, a throwback mom-and-pop video store that stocks camp horror classics.

For Charnas, the comic side of horror movies is a key distinction.

“That plays such an important role in what we do,” he says. “We have a dry sense of humor. I’m as much a fan of Christopher Guest movies as I am of ‘Friday the 13th.’

“Movies that strike that perfect balance, like ‘American Psycho’ or ‘Idle Hands’ [1999] — that’s kind of where we live. It’s a wink to the audience: ‘We’re having fun here.’”

He hears the criticisms — that the genre is misogynistic, or that its audience must be “complete lunatics.” Not from his perspective.

“The people who like these movies, from my experience, tend to be just very nice people.”

His parents, he says, were always supportive.

“I remember them saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a phase, he’ll grow out of it,’” he says with a laugh. “Meanwhile, it’s 30 years later, and here I am talking about the splatter genre. They know at the end of the day it’s all make-believe.”

His father, he says, was a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, listening to Queen and the Rolling Stones in the car. His mother, Ila, loved Broadway musicals, especially “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” both of which she took her son to see. (His parents are no longer together; Scott, his father, lives in New York City.)

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Ice Nine Kills spent years paying their dues on the club circuit before graduating to auditoriums and arenas. The first Thanx-Killing, as the band calls its Thanksgiving season blowout, took place in 2013 at the Middle East in Cambridge. It moved to the Palladium in Worcester before landing this year, the fifth Thanx-Killing overall, at the 6,500-capacity Tsongas Center.

“We spent long years touring in a 15-passenger van, sleeping in Walmart parking lots,” Charnas says. “We were selling CDs outside other bands’ concerts, really hustling and making a name for ourselves on that very DIY-punk-attitude level. Now we get to tour on a bus and play with Metallica and Slipknot.”

These days Charnas is as busy as an undertaker during a zombie outbreak. In August, INK hosted its first inaugural Silver Scream Con, a three-day weekend at a Danvers hotel that featured meet-and-greets with Kane Hodder (Jason from “Friday the 13th”), Bill Moseley (Otis B. Driftwood from Rob Zombie’s “Firefly” trilogy), and other horror notables.

And with co-owner Derek Dillon he operates Kleaver Klothing, a lifestyle brand dedicated to all things deadly. The company, which now sells an extensive range of gear online, hopes to evolve into a multimedia platform that might produce its own films, Dillon says.

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He’s known Charnas since the late 2000s, when Dillon was an amateur show promoter on Long Island. At the time, he says, they sometimes played gigs with attendance in the single digits.

Dillon, who is now the frontman for his own band, Dead Things, credits his friend’s persistence and generosity for the band’s slow-burning success.

“Spencer INK and Spencer Charnas are two very different men,” Dillon says. “He’s forged a public character — the sadistic, over-the-top, theatrical bloody frontman. Spencer Charnas the individual is one of the smartest people I know. He’s sharp as a tack. It’s truly an honor to have watched him evolve.”

For Charnas, horror can actually provide a social benefit.

“Gore, violence, and blood — I think it’s sort of a safe way to deal with our mortality,” he says. “Subconsciously we all fear death, even if you’re not thinking about it all the time. Everybody dies. Everyone’s going to die, obviously.”

In the meantime, he and his band are here to scare you half to death.

THANX-KILLING: THE TRINITY OF TERROR TOUR

With Ice Nine Kills, Black Veil Brides, and Motionless in White. At the Tsongas Center, 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Lowell. Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. $43.50-$229. https://tsongascenter.com

E-mail James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.