Christopher Young is a true legend of horror film composition. His ability to terrify and mesmerize an audience with his music is nearly unparalleled. Scores for such films as “The Fly II,” “Hellraiser,” “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” “Species,” “The Dark Half,” “Urban Legend,” “The Grudge,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” and “Drag Me to Hell” have chilled fans souls even when experienced independently of the pictures!
And he’s got a new soundtrack designed to instill a ‘cadaverous pallor’ in horror music fans for the frightfest “Sinister.” Read on, as we pay respect to a man who continues to shock and awe at every turn, Mr. Christopher Young.
You are an undisputed heavyweight champion of horror film scoring. What is your method of choosing projects in the 21st century, when you are at such a level?
You know what? The fact of the matter is that I don’t think I am getting as many calls for horror as you might think. There’s a period where I tried to stay away from as much as possible, because I have a love/hate relationship with them. As with anyone who works in the genre, it’s hard to be completely, unabashedly in love. There’s always a certain amount of reservation with constantly coming back to them.
But indeed, there are some younger directors whom I work with who are known for doing these kinds of movies, and they hunted me down. And they so happened to be good movies, so I’m not turning them down. It’s not that I’m getting lots of calls to do horror, however, only my agent really knows for sure.
“Sinister” was not a case of me hunting the film out, it just happened that the director of that film [Scott Derrickson] I had also worked with on “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” and he wanted me really badly. And anyone who wants you that badly for a project, even if you are trying to stay away from those kinds of films, it’s really hard to say no. If the director thinks that you are going to make the difference between night and day for the film, and they are passionate about it, it’s hard for anyone to say no.
I was simply wondering, because, as is well-documented, in 1987, you flipped the script on how horror movie music can be presented with “Hellraiser,” and then in 2009, you did it again by introducing Eastern European folk music into “Drag Me to Hell.” Frankly, I’m a little surprised your phone isn’t ringing off the hook for horror.
Well, I’m glad that you think that “Drag Me to Hell” was offering something new that it surprised you. When I wrote the score, I was only thinking about making the right score for the movie and making Sam [Raimi, director] a happy guy. I was just thrilled when I started getting responses like yours. I was like, ‘Really??? The score is THAT unique???’ So, that’s good. I think they all are my best effort at the time – trying to accomplish exactly what was asked of me. And I guess in the case of “Drag Me to Hell,” what was asked of me enabled me to work in top form.
Tell me about your approach to “Sinister,” which really sounds unlike anything you’ve done previously.
My approach to this score was unique in that, here I am working with Scott Derrickson again, and he tells me that there really isn’t a lot of money for it, and he was very interested in doing it electronically. He said, “I want you to think about this in a different way than you have with most of your orchestra scores. I’m not interested in themes; I’m more interested in a sound-design horror score.” And you know, those are really popular now, but I’d never really had an opportunity to explore that world.
Usually when I am approached to do a score for a horror movie, it’s to attempt a repeat-performance of what I did way back on “Hellraiser” or “Jennifer 8” – one of those really orchestral scores. I’ve always wanted to do something that gets me away from the orchestra, because, let’s face it, the minute you introduce a violin section to your score, I don’t care how imaginative you are, there’s a certain personality of sonority that is brought into the palette that is unmistakable. I always try to ask the directors if I can do something more experimental, but they always say, ‘Maybe on your next movie, but not on mine.’
So, the great thing about “Sinister” is that it gave me the chance to explore that other world, and in many ways, it felt like I was reinventing myself. This score is not laden with a lot of tunes, and usually with my horror stuff, I get a little obsessed with spelling out some core themes. The film is remarkable, and the score integrates really well into the picture.
However, what you hear on the CD is not exactly what you hear in the movie. What does that mean? I delivered a score that works for the film pretty damned well, but it’s my feeling that a lot of sound-design scores are hard to listen to on their own. Why? Because they consist of blocks of sounds in varying densities – they aren’t governed by the same principles as music that people like to listen to. So I used the same material that I presented for the film, but I reworked it and introduced some new material for it to become a more satisfying listening experience.
I’d like to think that when you listen to the CD, each track is holding your interest and is not just a bunch of abstract sounds that aren’t going anywhere. So what you are getting on the CD is eleven tracks of newly-written and reworked material, and the twelfth track is an extended suite of the material presented for the film situated in a 10-minute piece. And then the thirteenth track is a dance-like remix of one of the themes. How weird is that?
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