Kids have their fictional heroes. For some it might be Batman or Spider-Man or Katniss Everdeen. They’re usually good guys. Ariel Pink’s childhood hero was a villain: a burn victim with a razor glove and a passion for murdering teens while shouting some darkly comic puns. He had seen horror movies before A Nightmare On Elm Street, but Freddy Krueger was something of a gateway drug for Pink, whose horror-movie obsessions bleed into interviews, live shows, and, of course, his songs. “Four Shadows,” which will appear on Pink’s new double-album pom pom, sounds like he wrote a real theme to an imaginary ’80s vampire flick. Meanwhile, Before Today had “Fright Night,” an imaginary theme song for an actual ’80s vampire flick. The latter is mostly concerned with vampires and black cats, though Pink does manage to slip in the always-pertinent question once posed by Brooklyn rap legends the Fat Boys: “Are you ready for Freddy?”
There’s genius behind Ariel Pink’s ability to refract pop trash into something profound, but he’s not usually eager to discuss his methods, and anyone reading this is likely aware of his caustic interview persona. In talking about horror films, however, a lot was revealed about Pink: the faint, sad nostalgia for growing up in the ’80s upon viewing Poltergeist, appreciation for misunderstood art (via John Carpenter’s massively underrated Lovecraft-ian film In The Mouth Of Madness), and an ability to conjure sincerity from offensive shlock (he shared his fondness for — and a brief a cappella rendition of — “Is This Love?” from Troma’s Toxic Avenger, a song that could pass for a Pink original). Below you’ll find highlights from my recent horror-filled chat with Pink, and perhaps a recommendation or two for a good Halloween flick.
The Thing (Dir. John Carpenter, 1982)
PINK: I love Wes Craven movies. I love The Thing.
STEREOGUM: The John Carpenter one?
PINK: Yeah. It’s just like the best.
STEREOGUM: What do you love about The Thing?
PINK: The effects, the mood, the terror, the realism … Kurt Russell.
STEREOGUM: I spent years saying that’s the best John Carpenter score, and then I found out it’s Ennio Morricone who did it.
PINK: It’s probably one of the only John Carpenter movies without a Carpenter score.
In The Mouth Of Madness (Dir. John Carpenter, 1995)
ARIEL PINK: In The Mouth of Madness is a good movie.
STEREOGUM: My friend who lives out in LA now and makes horror movies always tells me that’s his favorite by Carpenter, but I’ve never seen it.
PINK: That is one of the best. I remember I had done cocaine when I was in high school, and I went to go see it in the movie theater with a friend of mine, and my heart started racing so fast that I had to excuse myself. I was a horror movie fan at that point but the combination of the anxiety and being stoned and also on cocaine just gave me … I had to leave the theater. Which says a lot.
STEREOGUM: It’s one of the more supernatural one’s he made, right? Tell me about it.
PINK: Sam Neill. It’s about a book, about an author. Everybody that reads the book goes schizophrenic because it’s got these paranormal things attached to it. It just kind of rocks your world and if you get too sucked into it … anybody trying to do research with it is essentially a goner.
Hausu (Dir. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, 1977)
STEREOGUM: I’ve seen the film House show up during visuals at some of your shows.
PINK: Oh Hausu. I don’t really consider that a horror movie.
STEREOGUM: I mean, it plays at a lot of those conventions.
PINK: It’s just a really great, artfully made effects movie. It’s just really surreal and unique — really, really unique. But I don’t put it in the horror movie category, although it is almost like what the Japanese would consider to be a horror movie.
Tales From The Darkside (1983-1988)
PINK: Tales From The Dark Side … did you ever watch that show?
STEREOGUM: It’s funny you bring that up. My grandfather did the monologue that begins each episode. Isn’t that weird?
PINK: [Pink begins acting out the opening of Tales From The Dark Side] Dude that’s your grandfather? No way.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. My mom still does that same impression.
PINK: That’s incredible.
STEREOGUM: It scared me so much as a kid.
PINK: George Romero is behind that. There was a book I had called Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh, and it’s the story of George Romero. All the movies — all the Dawn Of The Dead, Night Of The Living Dead, all the way through Tales From The Dark Side, Night Rider, Martin — they were all filmed in Pittsburgh, you know. It was probably a cheaper location with cheaper costs so they were able to really hone the craft and make it kind of homegrown.
Night Of The Living Dead (Dir. George Romero, 1968)
STEREOGUM: What was your favorite of Romero’s Dead films?
PINK: Night Of The Living Dead. Absolutely, no question. One of the best horror movies ever.
STEREOGUM: Where were you when you first saw that?
PINK: At home. I had it on video.
STEREOGUM: How old were you?
PINK: Ten or eleven or twelve. Something like that.
STEREOGUM: What did you first think of it?
PINK: I thought it was one of the best black-and-white movies I had ever seen in my life. It was a movie that was almost more realistic because of its black and whiteness. The whole opening, you can’t even tell it’s nighttime. It’s really light out in the beginning you can’t really tell there’s just an overcast over everything. The whole idea of, there’s some guy walking and he’s saying, “They’re coming to get you,” and he’s joking about it … that’s going to happen.
The Toxic Avenger (Dir. Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman, 1984)
STEREOGUM: Do you like any Troma movies?
PINK: Toxic Avenger. I love that song “Is this looooove?” You know, in the love scene?
STEREOGUM: With the blind girl?
PINK: Yeah, the blind girl. And then he’s got the street cone in his hand, and tips it like a hat.
Poltergeist (Dir. Tobe Hooper, 1982)
STEREOGUM: Man, I haven’t seen that since I was like 12 and it scared the shit out of me. I’ve never been able to re-watch it.
PINK: One of the best movies ever, and it also has that emotional aspect to it. I saw that when I was like five. There’s all the weird haunting parts of the movie itself. There’s Carol Ann’s death in Part Three. The death of the daughter during the first one. There was also the filming: all these weird doomy predictions and all these tragedies.
STEREOGUM: I saw it late enough that its reputation kind of preceded it. but when you saw it …
PINK: It was just a movie that had the Steven Spielberg association that was sort of selling it. Just the nature of being in a house … the parents really, really reminded me of my parents, and it was really an emblematic representation of life at the time. You know, the early thirties parents in suburbia. Like in ET, it all takes place in a nameless suburbia, with these housing developments, and I love those things.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982)
PINK: Halloween 3 is the best horror movie ever.
STEREOGUM: It’s so underrated!
PINK: One of the best movies ever. It has the feeling of Halloween [the holiday] to me a lot more than any of the other ones for some reason. As you get older, Christmas loses its charm, Halloween kind of loses its charm, it doesn’t give you the same feeling as it did when you were younger: all the smells, all that stuff. For Halloween 3, the feeling of Halloween is there. Wearing the pumpkin mask … and those poor parents. Snakes and cockroaches …
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (Dir. José Mojica Marins (aka Coffin Joe), 1964)
PINK: You know what’s also really good is the Coffin Joe series.
STEREOGUM: I don’t know about it.
PINK: They were made by a Brazilian director who was a contemporary with Romero but probably even more intense. There’s one of them that’s called At Midnight I Will Take Your Soul, but look up the whole Coffin Joe series. He’s this top-hatted, just evil [character] — but he’s like the host of the show. And it sounds kind of hokey, with his top hat, but the director is the guy, he plays the character and he’s this Tales From the Crypt kind of guy. But he’s got really intense dialogue, really doomy, really, really evil, and it got banned eventually. Every single one of his movies became gradually more extreme until they practically got pornographic in nature and they were banned.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (Dir. Wes Craven, 1984)
STEREOGUM: So what’s your favorite horror movie?
PINK: Nightmare On Elm Street. I had Freddy Kruger posters on my wall when I was a little kid. I grew up with him and I loved him. He was like my superhero. There’s no competition between him and Jason.
STEREOGUM: What’s your favorite Nightmare On Elm Street outside the first one?
PINK: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, in that order, going down. But Part 1, there’s nothing like it.
STEREOGUM: I actually just re-watched the second one earlier this month; that one always feels separate from the rest to me.
PINK: Yeah, the second one was kind of considered way worse, and then the third one was kind of a return from that. I was part of the whole club — I actually won a contest and I got to wear the Freddy glove. My dad actually did surgery on Lou Adler, who was a producer for Freddy’s Nightmares, so I went on the set and I got to wear the glove, but I won The Dream Master Part 4 on VHS, and I remember receiving that and being super psyched. I saw it in the movie theater. When I saw it in the movie theater it was the height of my Freddy mania.
STEREOGUM: I love that one for the cockroach scene. It’s so gross.
PINK: [doing a strikingly accurate Freddy Krueger impression] YOU CAN CHECK IN … BUT YOU CAN’T CHECK OUT!
pom pom is out 11/17 via 4AD.