You cannot consider yourself a fan of the horror film genre without coming across the work of composer Richard Band. A veteran of nearly 35 years in the industry, Band has been an integral part of such twisted and fun films as “Ghoulies,” “Troll,” “From Beyond,” “Demonic Toys” and the inarguable horror classic “Re-Animator.” In addition to receiving an Emmy nomination for his work on the “Masters of Horror” Showtime television series, he also laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most beloved of horror film franchises, the Full Moon Features “Puppet Master” series!
His work on “Puppet Master” was brilliantly chronicled in Perseverance Records’ “Puppet Master: The Soundtrack Collection Box,” which spotlights his original work on five of the films in the series. His cues, however, are actually utilized in every “Puppet Master” movie, including “Puppet Master X: Axis Rising,” which was released on October 23rd. For what is “Puppet Master” without Richard Band? Read on, as we attempt to wind the man up!
Running through your expansive list of credits, it becomes apparent that you are versed in many different genres of films. Does it ever bother you that you are primarily known as a “horror composer”?
Yeah, actually. It got so bad that at one point, I refused to do any horror films for almost seven years! And during that time, I totally went in the opposite direction and did a lot of family films, comedies, animation for WB Kids Network, romantic comedies – a whole slew of things that most people do not associate me with. I took a long period of time off, because 1) I was kind of burned out doing them, and 2) I felt the need to spread my wings and do other things.
But the way I got back into it was when Stuart Gordon [director of “Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” “Dolls,” etc.] called me in late 2005 to do the “Masters of Horror” series for Showtime. He really wanted me to do his episode, which was called ‘Dreams in the Witch-House’, and I had already loved the idea of the series so much that I said, “Okay, why the hell not!” And lo and behold, I received an Emmy nomination for it, which was the first time a horror score was ever nominated for an Emmy! It was a nice re-entry, so to speak, to the genre.
How did you come to develop your style of symphonic synthesizer scoring? It was rather revolutionary when you started doing it?
Well, it was, actually. The first score I did (which I co-scored with Joel Goldsmith), which was for ‘the classic’ [laughs] “Laserblast” was all electronic – before MIDI even existed! But other than that, for the first 10-12 years, I only did orchestral work. That was my mainstay for a long time.
But then, when MIDI finally came out and synthesizers started becoming more sophisticated, I started using them not so much out of choice but more out of necessity, because the film budgets began getting lower and lower. But I always liked having live instrumentation, so I found a way to combine the two to make it sound quite realistic. But even as good as the technology is today, I always try to bring in as many live musicians as I can to supplement the electronic aspect of the score. There’s nothing like live musicians!
Aside from “Re-Animator,” most people recognize your name from the “”Puppet Master” film franchise. How did you become involved (and embedded) in that world?
Initially, David Schmoeller [director, writer], who I’d known for a while, called me and thought I’d be right for the job. It just seemed like a really interesting project at the time, because of the whole connection with the Nazis and how the whole thing started I thought was a fascinating concept. I found it very intriguing, and I wanted to give it a real Eastern European, old-school feel so that you had a sense of the time, thematically.
But it also had to have sadness, a melancholy aspect, and it had to reflect the fact that even though the puppets were doing really nasty things, they’re actually the good guys in all of these movies. It was very important to come up with a theme that embodied the smallness of it, the melancholy of it, the bizarreness of it…and therefore, the main theme became very famous.
I think what helped make that theme so memorable was that you used a waltz format to embrace the playfulness and moroseness.
Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. And that’s the thing I really like to do in the genre – juxtapose what one might expect from a typical horror film against what you are seeing in the film to add another dimension to it. I like trying different things. In the case of “Re-Animator,” I’ve had thousands of people tell me over the years that that score and the way that I treated it changed the way that movie scoring was done for the entire genre – taking a horror movie and giving it a type of quirkiness that you’d never heard before. I definitely like twisting things, let’s put it that way. [Laughs]
The interesting thing about “Puppet Master” is that it was one of my disappointments, because there was so little money available to do that score, I wasn’t able to use any live instruments. That is one of those few scores that is totally electronic. I would have loved to do that main title and various cues with a real orchestra, but it just didn’t work out. On “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil”, there’s a few live instruments and I totally reconfigured the main title to present it in a whole different vein. And this was the first time in nearly twenty years that the main title was re-done.
When you were working on “Puppet Master,” were you aware that you were inadvertently competing with other ‘killer doll’ movies that had been cropping up?
No, not at all. To be honest, I purposely try not to pay attention to things like that so that I’m not influenced by it. Of course, after the fact, I became aware of it.
What kept you coming back to score more films in the “Puppet Master” series?
Keep in mind that “Puppet Master II,” “III: Toulon’s Revenge,” and “4” basically used the music from the first film, so they were mostly tracked, and I only did about 15 minutes of new music for each one. So it was actually a combination of them wanting to use my music from the first one and my agreeing to them under the condition that I could edit it myself and create new music for them, so that they had their own identity.
How closely involved were you with compiling the material for “Puppet Master: The Soundtrack Collection Box”?
Oh, I was very closely involved with it. It had been a very long-term project, working on it for close to two years – getting all the masters together, remastering everything, coming up with a good sequence, approving all the art. I was very much involved with it, and I think it’s a very good box set, no question about it! There’s a good, long history with those films, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Of course, I wasn’t the only composer – there was also Peter Bernstein, John Massari, and Jeff Walton. For the past 23 years, only one CD was ever released of “Puppet Master” soundtrack music, so we thought it was finally time to do this right! Everything that is and was the music of “Puppet Master” and its various incarnations is in this box set.
And other that the five CDs which cover all the scores, from a collector’s standpoint, the booklet is incredible – it’s got interviews with the composers and directors, tons of pictures – it’s a great collector’s item!
Keep up with Richard Band on MySpace and at his official website.
“Puppet Master: The Soundtrack Collection Box” is currently available at Amazon and Perseverance Records.
And get your “Puppet Master” movie and merchandise fix over at Full Moon Direct!