New book Scored to Death interviews many major film composers
It’s alarming to consider just how many people are unaware of music in film. I don’t mean the use of some sort of popular Top 40 tune or classic rock anthem draped over a scene, I’m talking about the use of score, that sound in the background that manipulates what we see and how we see it. Those notes that are often expertly arranged and edited to wring maximum emotion out of the viewer. General horror fans rarely contemplate score, they don’t “hear” the music, it’s the invisible entity, withering in the shadow of image and dialogue.
But music can often be a character in cinema,
And when it comes to horror? Well, the score is King, really.
Think about John Carpenter’s breakthrough 1978 film Halloween. Here we have a fairly subdued, minimalist picture that consists mainly of a pack of babysitters wandering about, with a man in an inside out Star Trek mask spying on them.
Expertly filmed and performed to be sure.
But without the synth and piano soak of Carpenter’s essential soundtrack, would any of it really have registered as profoundly?
Because someone walking down the street is just someone walking down the street. But with music and sound to alter the atmosphere, that otherwise benign sequence becomes something dangerous, dark, full of dread and menace.
Indeed, you don’t just watch horror, you listen to it and that’s why author J. Blake Fichera’s hefty trade paperback book Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers is such a welcome tome
Fichera has assembled a series of in-depth, intelligent interviews with some of the genre’s greatest living aural architects, composers whose work has helped shape the history of dark cinema.
Among the highlights of the book are chats with Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cujo) and Simon Boswell (Santa Sangre, Hardware, Stage Fright) as well as Carpenter himself, who is open and seemingly excited to talk about music as opposed to other aspects of his filmmaking process. Carpenter admittedly was influenced by some of the Italian masters, specifically Goblin (Suspiria, Deep Red) and here we get an amazing interview with Goblin’s main keyboardist and most famous member, Claudio Simonetti as well as Maurizio Guarini, who joined the band later and who has since become an essential part of their new incarnation. Guarini is the glue that holds Italian horror music together as he also did ample time with Fabio Frizzi, bringing his crazed keyboards experiments to Frizzi’s scores for Lucio Fulci’s greatest films. Frizzi is of course interviewed at length as well.
Contemporary masters like Joseph Bishara and Tom Hajdi of tomandandy also figure essentially into the body of the book. Scored to Death closes with a chat with Hellraiser legend Christopher Young; his is an amazing piece that goes deep into the life of a man who still veers seamlessly between indie and mainstream music making.
Scored to Death may not be the last word on the subject of horror film composing, but it is a mini-masterclass, passionately designed and intent on proving the essential nature of music in the genre.