For the better part of a decade, when the staff at Satellite Bar and Lounge has wanted to show a scary movie, they’ve turned to Schuylar Croom. Best known as the frontman for Wilmington-based metal band He Is Legend, Croom moonlights as a bartender when he isn’t on tour. His collection of horror movies numbers “in the hundreds”—a few dozen of which he keeps on a shelf behind the bar to light up the backyard screen at Satellite every night in October through Halloween.
Croom’s taste in horror movies is eclectic. On a recent evening, patio-dwellers were treated to a double feature of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and the low-budget indie favorite “The Descent.” Such diversity is par for the course for movie nights at Satellite, where films are chosen by whoever happens to be behind the bar. “It’s pretty much dealer’s choice,” Croom says. Potential selections include everything from Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” to the Tom Hanks dark comedy “The Burbs,” to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
“Usually a patron will come up and ask one of us, ‘Hey, can we watch ‘Pumpkinhead?’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ We’re not watching, you know? We’re working.”
Croom always has been drawn to the macabre. The son of a New Hanover County sheriff, he spent whole weekends as a kid poring over his dad’s crime-scene photos. It was during that time with his dad and grandmother (his parents split when he was 3) that he developed a love for the horror genre. “We went through the entire section of the Blockbuster on Shipyard,” he says.
His passion grew into his teenage years, too. A self-described “goth kid,” Croom painted his fingernails black, watched the movie “Halloween” obsessively and found refuge in the dark music of Marilyn Manson and The Cure. “When you’re raised Southern Baptist, you gravitate toward the things you feel distant from,” he says.
Eventually, he met his He Is Legend bandmates at the now-defunct Manifest Records on Market Street. True to form, when the band splintered and needed a new name, Croom found it in the Toronto-based horror movie magazine Rue Morgue.
“We were sitting in Flaming Amy’s [flipping through the magazine] and I saw an article about Richard Matheson, who wrote ‘I Am Legend’ and some ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes,” Croom says. “I guess the name stuck.”
With his armpit-length dark hair, copious tattoos, and a seemingly endless supply of vintage tees, Croom certainly looks the part of hard-rock frontman. But his commitment to all things sinister doesn’t stop there. Borrowing from shock-rock forebears Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne, Croom has worked hard to bring his love for horror to the stage.
“For a while I was the dancing clown,” he says, referring to the band’s earlier days. “I would put on makeup to look like I had been beaten up—have a blacked-out tooth and bloodstains on my clothes, wear a top hat, throw glitter.”
In 2017, when He Is Legend toured with GWAR—a band whose act includes elaborate costumes, the simulated beheading of the Pope, and buckets of fake blood, much of which is sprayed on the crowd—Croom came away impressed by the band’s theatricality as well as its professionalism. “Watching the way they rehearse … I’ve never seen such work ethic.”
Now, Croom takes a more cerebral approach to leading He Is Legend. Last year, while writing material for their latest album, “White Bat,” in Los Angeles, Croom went down a morbid rabbit hole, canvasing mausoleums, visiting the grave of Walt Disney, and generally getting himself into what he calls “a vampire mind.” He also immersed himself into Michelle McNamara’s true-crime book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” about the Golden State Killer. “I would be at a bar by myself, having a beer, waiting for the sun to go down, and think, Who here could I could best snatch without getting caught?” Croom says with a laugh. “Eventually, I thought, You’re going a little too far.”
The result is a concept album that’s part David Cronenberg, part Pantera. It chronicles a fictional killer known as White Bat—”a person that’s clearly doing wrong but finally looking in the mirror and figuring it out.” On the album’s hard-charging title track, Croom sings, “You’ll never catch me in the light/I’m why you lock your doors at night/Call me evil/Call me Satan/I’m in the shadows salivating/Just close your eyes and count to ten/Play nice, you’ll never see me again.”
A video clip for the song “Boogiewoman” is similarly filled with ghoulish imagery. It depicts the band playing in what appears to be a black-lit haunted house.
Since its June release, “White Bat” has been well-received, earning the band some of the best reviews of its career. Still, Croom says he never lost his aspirations for working in horror. He hoped to be a part the locally filmed “Halloween Kills” (Croom worked as a prop master on films like “Splinterheads,” “Take Shelter” and “Angry White Man”). “I was doing every trick I could to try to get in there and do a little cameo,” he says.
It’s just as well: He Is Legend embarks on a cross-country tour beginning October 13. The band will play 30 shows in 39 days, traveling from Oklahoma to Texas to Arizona to Tennessee. Though he won’t be home for Halloween, Croom hopes to spend the day at Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. And there’s always the possibility of bringing a little mischief to the stage the previous night.
“We’re never going to have, like, fire and fucking blow-up sheep,” Croom says, smiling. “But who knows? I wouldn’t mind some cool lights, ya know?”