There’s an interesting intersection of fandoms that exists for horror and film score fans. Both incredibly passionate groups of people, the combined energy and fervor when both unite rivals some of Cronenberg’s best creations. Long relegated to obscure chat rooms, select friends and painstaking collecting habits, things began to change with the advent and popularity of social media. Suddenly, horror film score fans began to find each other and enthusiastically preach the gospel of these spooky scores. While there soon became a wealth of physical content both new and re-issued thanks to labels like Waxwork Records, Death Waltz, Mondo, Terror Vision and more, the creatives behind the music rarely received the spotlight time they truly deserved. However, J. Blake Fichera decided to change that with his 2016 book, Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers.
In Scored to Death, Fichera interviewed some true icons of the genre. Composers like John Carpenter, Claudio Simonetti, Christopher Young, Harry Manfredini and Charles Bernstein all have incredibly unique and informative conversations with Fichera. Digging into topics like process, production, techniques as well as personal histories, inspirations and motivations, Fichera’s intelligent questions and passion for the subject beautifully highlights something that film score fans have long known—scoring for film is a unique and complex art form. Simultaneously offering intimate insight on the horror genre while speaking to the larger relationship between sound and cinema, Scored to Death stands as a documented treasure for fans of horror, film and music alike.
“…Scored to Death stands as a documented treasure for fans of horror, film and music alike.”
However, there were still more conversations to be had. In an effort to keep the discussion going, Fichera has recently published his latest book Scored to Death 2: More Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers. More than just a sequel, this latest book works as a wonderful companion to the first book. While still including an impressive and recognizable list of names like Richard Band, Joe LoDuca, Brad Fiedel and Bear McCreary, Scored to Death 2 truly blossoms in where it deviates from the original. By diversifying it’s roster of talent in a variety of way, Scored to Death 2 offers fresh new perspectives that touch on an abundance of new and distinctive topics. Among the 16 brand new interviews included are conversations with Michael Abels (Get Out), Charlie Clouser (Saw franchise), Holly Amber Church (Open 24 Hours), Disasterpeace (It Follows) and renowned Japanese composers, Kenji Kawai (Ringu) and Koji Endo (Audition). Also included is an incredibly sweet conversation (and one of the last interviews ever) with Dark Shadows and Burnt Offerings composer Robert Cobert as well as a foreword by Eli Roth and afterword by composer Christopher Young.
I recently had the privilege of virtually sitting down with Fichera where we chatted all about his Scored to Death projects, what he’s learned along the way and the beauty of horror and film score fandom.
Rachel Reeves for NOFS: First let’s get a little background. How did you first get interested in film scores and horror scores in particular?
J. Blake Fichera: I consider my generation the video store generation. I was born in the late 70s so my entire childhood we had access to videos. I was also lucky enough to have two households where both my mom and my dad were interested in movies and music. Growing up, films scores weren’t really anything separate. We had film scores in our record collection and listened to all kinds of music so film scores were just part of that. I do have specific recollections of eating dinner at my dad’s house with the Chariots of Fire score playing in the background. Something else I demanded for a long time was every time we got in the car we’d pop in the John Williams score for Superman.
Also in the 80s, in addition to video stores and just having access to things, horror was just…big. On television, you had Tales from the Darkside, re-make versions of Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt and Werewolf on Fox. There was all this great horror stuff going on so I became obsessed with monsters, werewolves specifically. And of course, things like Freddy Krueger and Jason were pop culture icons. How my obsession with horror film music started was in the mid 90s. I rented with my friends John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness. That opening track with rocking guitar and synth just blew my mind. At the time I was very into bands like Black Sabbath and I was learning to play guitar. So, it became the thing that linked a bunch of my interests. It was the first horror soundtrack that I ever bought with my own money. From that, it lead to Halloween and becoming just completely obsessed with John Carpenter. When I graduated high school I went to film school and that’s where I fell in love with the films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Along with the films, it kicked off the obsession with Goblin and Fabio Frizzi. That’s really where it all started.
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“my obsession with horror film music started [with…] In The Mouth of Madness. That opening track with rocking guitar and synth just blew my mind.”
NOFS: So, Scored to Death 2 is a follow-up to your first book, 2017’s Scored to Death. In that first book you interviewed some of the biggest names out there when it comes to horror score composing. What compelled you to write another one?
JBF: Well as I was doing the first book, I realized that it had to end at some point. I could only put so many composers in the book and so many interviews. I really wanted to roll into another book. I wanted to release this one, get started on the next one and have the next one out the next year. My publisher didn’t see it that way. The feedback I got was, ‘Let’s wait a year and see how this one does.’ So I patiently waited for a year and focused on Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers Podcast and other things. Then, a year came. So I said, ‘What’s the word?’ And they said, ‘Yeah…I think we’re gonna pass on it.’ So deciding that my work with interviewing composers wasn’t over yet, I weighed my options and that’s how Scored to Death the podcast started. It was just because I wanted to continue doing it and I didn’t know how else to do it. It seemed like a natural fit. And then, somewhat through the podcast and some other weird circumstances, my publisher came around. It was a weird, convoluted way to get to the second book, but that’s how it happened.
NOFS: The roster on this second book is much more diverse than the first one, in a lot of different ways. There’s a much wider representation present and honestly, it was a really nice thing to see. Was that important to you when you were compiling your list of composers for this second book?
JBF: Yes. The first book had some very important criteria. First was, who’s music do I love? Who do I want to talk to? And there was an emphasis for me in diversity of style. And a little bit in age. The first book is really heavily weighted with composers whose careers started in the 70s and 80s. But I did want to present what was going on in ‘contemporary horror score composing. That’s why I interviewed people like Joseph Bishara, Nathan Barr and Jeff Grace. I was trying to be diverse. But when the idea for the second book came along, there was the additional criteria of, what didn’t the first book do? How can this be a really great companion to the first? By wanting to do that I had to look at the first one and say, ok. The first one is heavily weighted with this certain generation of composers. And they were all white men.
So for the second book, there was definitely an effort to weigh it heavier with contemporary scoring. I also wanted a more diverse point of view. That’s why I wanted to talk to people of color and a woman. The other thing I felt was important in the new book was the nationality and region. The first book had some Italian composers, but other than that it’s mostly American composers. So I thought, what’s another really influential region in the world of horror? And an obvious answer for that was, Asia. I was hesitant to do it because I knew there would be a language barrier, even more so than with the Italian guys. Getting Kenji Kawai and Koji Endo was really difficult, but luckily, they were willing to do it. There was a lot of hoops to jump through, but I thought it was important to represent the East in horror. I got really lucky getting access to them.
“for the second book, there was definitely an effort to weigh it heavier with contemporary scoring. I also wanted a more diverse point of view.”
NOFS: It’s pretty incredible you were able to snag interviews with both Kenji Kawai and Koji Endo. They are both so influential and have amazing bodies of work, but we don’t often hear much about them here in North America. Tell us a little bit more about how those interviews came about and what that process was like.
JBF: So like the first book, I had to sit down and think about what scores and films I love. I love Takashi Miike movies and The Ring was such a big deal here. It still is! The ripples of Ringu, we’re still feeling the effects of that. Those two became the natural choices. After that, I had to put on my detective cap. I had to figure out how to find them both. There’s so little information here about them to go on. So it became a hunt. I figured out who releases their soundtracks, who produces the movies and who distributes them here. It just became emailing every contact for every person they worked with that I could find.
Luckily, it worked out. The people who distributed Takashi Miike’s most recent film here said, ‘We can put you in touch with his producer.’ It was all done through other people because they don’t speak English and I was working a lot with middle people. Finding them was really difficult. Then, it was trying to figure out how to interview them and find information about them so I could interview them. It was by far the hardest thing about the book.
NOFS: Before any film score comes to fruition, every composer is faced with a literal and metaphorical blank page. And one thing your books beautifully highlight is the fact that no two composers approach that blank page the same way. After interviewing so many incredible composers, are there any similarities or major differences in their approaches that maybe surprised you?
JBF: I found that when I finished the first book I lumped composers into two different categories. There’s the classically trained, educated composers and the self-trained, more rock-driven composers. One of the things I loved about how the interviews turned out in the first book was how they were different, but how they were alike was also really interesting. Not by any specific design, but in both books, there’s a lot of similar questions. That just how the conversations happened. When I was doing the podcast and going into the second book, maybe it was a generational thing and having some younger composers, but the lines were much more blurred. The idea that classically trained guys seemed to hear the music before they wrote it. And the rock guys kind of improvised to the movie or let a synth sound kind of navigate what they were feeling. It’s a fine line, because both of them are different sides of the same coin.
Things I were expecting to have answered a certain way in the second book became different. Of course it was guys like Charlie Clouser who was in NIN for a bunch of years and has this uncanny fascination with sound. He’s coming at it from this very unique perspective. But when you’re looking at what he’s doing with the sounds of dental drills and subway screeching is actually not very different from what Richard Band was doing with an orchestra when he was doing The House on Sorority Row. They were both layering sound to create music. That was the big eye opener for me from the second book. These things I thought I knew from the first book became blurred and opened the doors up to different views on processes. Even when they are similar, they are different.
“…things I thought I knew from the first book became blurred and opened the doors up to different views on processes.”
NOFS: Even though your books are horror composers specifically, they have so much to offer fans of cinema in general. These conversations really reveal the importance and art innate in quality film scoring.
JBF: I think people that are drawn to it like you and I, I think we have an idea of what it’s doing. And it’s impacting us in subconscious ways. But when you get to hear or read about it and hear the people who make the music explain it and why they are doing those things, it really opens up your eyes to what it is that film music is doing for narrative and film in general. It really is fascinating. There were books that interviewed composers before mine, but they weren’t really interviewing the composers I wanted to learn about. And when they did, they were more music theory-driven and it was a language I didn’t speak. That really became the biggest drive for me to do the books in the first place and keep doing it.
NOFS: I don’t have to tell you that horror is a very passionate community. Horror has some of the most dedicated, enthusiastic and rabid fans out there. And film music is kind of the same way. I’m curious why you think that is and how these communities have become so closely linked?
JBF: I talk a little bit about that in my introduction because that was something I didn’t even realize. I understood that my friends didn’t think about of listen to film music the same way I did, but I didn’t realize that there were people much more passionate about it than me. And that there were people like me who loved film music in their own way. It’s obvious, but it’s something I never really thought about. I was very aware there was a horror community. But there aren’t like, film music conventions (laughs). That was enlightening to me and it was something I didn’t really discover until the first book came out. And then I became really welcomed into this film music community which is great! They are very similar. They’re small, but they are mighty. The film music community is much smaller than horror, but they are just as passionate. And the fact that now with the advent of these record labels re-issuing all these scores, it’s kind of thrown these two communities together to make this really interesting super fan hybrid.
But why horror music? That’s one thing I asked almost every composer, ‘What is it about horror music?’ And most of the answers come back to the horror fans who are rabid. And there’s been a lot of interesting answers around that. Simon Boswell pointed out in the first book that most people are introduced and get into horror in their teens or tweens when it’s still a little bit taboo. Because of that, it’s exciting and sticks with you in a weird way. There’s all the thoughts about why people like horror and the practicing for death and all these theories, but I think it’s just passion. When you find something you’re into, you latch on to it. And when you feel like the thing you love isn’t appreciated as much as it should be, you get even more passionate about it. You have to make up for it in a weird way. And the beauty of social media and the internet is now we’re able to find the people that are like us. Now we feed on each other’s passion.
“The film music community is much smaller than horror, but they are just as passionate.”
Scored to Death and Scored to Death 2 are now available at the official Scored to Death site and of course, Amazon. You can also check out Blake’s podcasts Scored to Death: The Podcast and Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers through most major podcast providers as well as his Salem Horror Fest 2020 and Convo x Fango composer panels!
What are some of your favorite horror score composers? Have you checked out either of the Scored to Death books? Let us know over to Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook, and get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.