Joseph LoDuca ought to be familiar to horror fans, having been a long-time composer for Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise and, more recently, for Don Mancini’s Child’s Play films. We wanted to ask the 2-time Emmy-winning composer about those films and TV series and his craft. Enjoy!
Interview with Joseph LoDuca
1428 Elm: You have won Emmy awards in your career and the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Army of Darkness. What, in your opinion, is required to be a master of horror music?
Joseph LoDuca: If you are implying that I am a master, I am flattered though I consider myself more of a seeker. I am constantly surprised where my intuition leads me. I think to succeed as a composer for horror. You must be open to the crazy possibilities the genre affords. At the same time, you need to ask, “What makes this tale different from all others?” and hunt for that unique hook. Horror composers are generally given a long leash, and you also have to be comfortable with that freedom. And let’s face it, experience is a definite plus.
1428 Elm: In terms of feel, SyFy’s Chucky is different from The Evil Dead franchise, as it includes more of a conventional, modern electro-pop soundtrack in addition to the score. Ash vs Evil Dead had more of a classic rock vibe. How much do these different vibes differentiate the two series?
Joseph LoDuca: Good question. The influences of the songs included in both series do influence the score, however in an oblique way. With Ash vs, Evil Dead, some of the classic rock vibe filtered into the score cues, which could have a more organic 70’s vibe. Most often, the songs there are used for ironic effect and to take a bite out of the graphic horror.
The history of that franchise favored large or chamber orchestra for the bulk of the score, so I stayed true to that.
With Chucky there is a broader timeline to cover. There are flashbacks to past decades that shed light on how Tiffany and Charles Lee Ray became a couple. Those cues can have an 80’s synth vibe. TIffany in the present-day strikes me as a classic Hollywood vamp, and so the theme and score for her are lush. The songs in Chucky can be used to amplify relationships as well as to comment on horror. I use many of the sounds and processing techniques in contemporary pop in the score, particularly when we are focused on our hero trio of middle schoolers.
Hero vs. Villain
1428 Elm: In the Evil Dead franchise, Ash is ostensibly a warrior, whereas Chucky is obviously a villain. In what ways do these different central characters uniquely impact the scores?
Joseph LoDuca: Ash can be a hero, however reluctantly. There can be humor in that. Chucky and Ash get all the best lines and all the best laughs. Most of the time I stay away from humor in the music.
I’m the straight man. Always have been, since the first Evil Dead. That said, there are times when I just have to go along with the silliness, like when Ash splinters into dozens of little Ashes, or when Chucky sticks his head up from inside a toilet. They are similar in that they both crack wise, and Ash can oftentimes be just as self-serving as Chucky. So that sense of irony can find its way into the music.
Both characters have iconic themes. Ash is ascribed french horns, the traditional choice. For Chucky, it’s a detuned toy piano. It plays well against his feigned innocence and can be twisted into a backdrop for the little psycho demon.
Sam Raimi and Don Mancini are the true masters of their craft and have very distinctive visual styles. The ways in which they compose every frame inspires the music more than anything.
1428 Elm: You were involved in the Evil Dead series for a long time, and the first film wasn’t a big-budget Hollywood production but became a cult favorite. Are there advantages to not having a big budget versus having practically everything handy?
Joseph LoDuca: The string quintet plus me that comprised the score for the original Evil Dead is a palette that was just so right for a ramshackle cabin in the woods. So much so that when I decided to re-write the score several years ago, I used the same instrumentation. The first choice of any composer is to set limitations. That can be the most fortuitous.
Chucky as chaos
1428 Elm: What are your thoughts on Chucky as a character?
Joseph LoDuca: Chucky is Chaos with a capital ‘C’ embodied in a baby doll of a Trojan horse. He’s a little guy, but when the monster emerges, the score plays him like a huge behemoth. I use every tool in my kit to convey his devious, preternatural evil. In the series, Chucky rationalizes his role as a defender of the defenseless, a vigilante against bullying in order to seduce converts with impressionable minds. Our young heroes have to dig deep to find their own humanity in their darkest moments. The show is just as much about their own journeys as the mayhem Chucky brings.
1428 Elm: Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi made Army of Darkness into more of an outright action-comedy-horror film, which distinguished it from the other Evil Dead sequel. Did that make it easier or more difficult to compose music for it?
Joseph LoDuca: I considered Army of Darkness an homage to the mythic-historic epic. It immediately reminded me of movies I would see on TV on Saturday mornings as a kid; the Harryhausen films, like Jason and the Argonauts or The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. That was the world we were in, and there were many musical precedents I could draw from.
Influences and the future
1428 Elm: Which film composers are your influences (I’m assuming Jerry Goldsmith is in there somewhere)?
Joseph LoDuca: So many: the haunting voicings of Bernard Hermann, the achingly beautiful melodies of Ennio Morricone, the vibrant orchestrations of John Williams, the angular developments of yes, Jerry Goldsmith. I can find inspiration in just about any score I come across.
1428 Elm: Both you and Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini are jazz musicians, and not everyone would make that connection between horror music and jazz.
Joseph LoDuca: I think the question you are asking is, “How does a musician with a jazz background approach writing a horror score?” First off, the work chooses us, at least initially. To be a film composer is to be a musician with an acute storytelling gene.
I was drawn to jazz because it requires an understanding and a connection to music on a deep, personal and instantaneous level. So similarities my friend Harry and I might have are an approach to horror that involves moment-to-moment improv (so much of horror must turn on a dime) and a natural ease with levels of dissonance—not to mention rhythmic muscle to get hearts pumpin’!
1428 Elm: What are your thoughts on toxic fandoms, such as people getting too defensive when others criticize a film or TV series? (For the record, I’m a Chucky fan, but in the past, I’ve been accused of not being a big enough fan for someone’s liking, and if you wish to read my response to that where I don’t hold back, check it out here).
Joseph LoDuca: Be careful when you criticize Chucky. He reads all the social media feeds! In the current climate, Chucky is a metaphor for those quick to condemn anything or anybody for the slightest gaff. It only takes one for him to put you on his hit list. I think our showrunner and Chucky’s creator, Don Mancini, has done a fantastic job of respecting his cult fans and inviting a new generation into the Chuckyverse.
1428 Elm: What upcoming projects are you working on, and what can we expect from Chucky in the future?
Joseph LoDuca: It looks promising that Chucky will return. He always does. That makes me smile.