Laura Murphy’s lighthearted, horror-comedy Cursed Friends recently premiered on Comedy Central. We interviewed the film’s composer, Corey Wallace, about his experience working on the music, his association with Hellraiser score creator Christopher Young, and how underrated actor Ken Marino is.
Interview with Cursed Friends composer Corey Wallace
1428 ELM: When composing for Cursed Friends, how much of the music was shaped by the character’s unique curses and personalities?
COREY WALLACE: We decided during the spotting session that having individual themes for the characters would be too much, and too confusing, and it would be more beneficial for the story to focus on one main theme that represents The Curse and/or Stacey Friendship (Kathy Griffin), the main through-line of the story. It’s important that a film score clarifies the drama for the audience, and really it’s only one curse happening to all these characters, even if they are manifesting differently.
You can hear that theme introduced in the Main Titles, and there is a sub-theme that we called The Fates, which is a musical sting that happens when the characters realize that the curse is coming to life, such as Mikayla’s (Nicole Byer) fingernails or Andy’s (Harvey Guillén) Segway. The hit is quite layered, but the main color is a flutter-tongue flute which is used very specifically in the film to help tie things together dramatically for the audience.
1428 ELM: Cursed Friends is more of a comedy, but you’ve also been involved in the music
departments for The Walking Dead and The First Purge. Is a different mindset necessary to suit those different moods?
COREY WALLACE: Absolutely. Because Cursed Friends is a comedy, the horror aspect is always a little over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek. It’s a fun kind of spooky instead of actually trying to scare you, and I’m always thinking, “what can I do to make this scene even more fun?”. Cursed Friends is not really a satire or parody, but it plays off of decades of horror tropes, and the music can do the same thing.
When a musical technique has made the rounds from invention to convention to cliche, playing off that is like a little wink to the audience. The score is definitely more reminiscent of the 80s and 90s than what’s currently being done. If I did the same thing in a dark, gritty horror scape like Walking Dead or First Purge, it would probably come off as cheesy, dated, and stale. It’s all about context.
1428 ELM: Which curse is your favorite from the movie?
COREY WALLACE: [SPOILERS] It’s hard to pick since one of the film’s strengths is how smart and clever it is about The Fates coming true. The breadcrumbs get laid without you knowing it and then pay off in hilarious ways. Erica’s (Jessica Lowe) packing “mishap” means she’s dressed as Mario instead of Princess Peach for Halloween, and before you know it she’s plunging a toilet in said costume, manifesting her MASH job as a plumber. My favorite scene about the Fates is seeing how Nicky Evans (Ken Marino) is living his MASH life, his one-liners just crack me up.
I think the most clever spin on the Fates is when Fishbein (James Austin Johnson) tells Erica “We’re having a kid”, unexpectedly referring to a baby goat. There’s a strong case to be made that Andy’s curse is the best because Harvey Guillen is just incomparable, and his reactions to all his Fates coming true are hilarious —“I’m too hot to show up to the club on a Segway like Paul f***in Blart!”
1428 ELM: I see you’ve also been involved with many short features. What can you tell us about some of those?
COREY WALLACE: Most of the shorts I’ve scored have been animated shorts. Two of my favorite genres to score are horror and animation, and while it’s relatively easy to make a low-budget horror feature film, there’s little way around the fact that animation is extremely costly and time-intensive.
There aren’t a lot of independent animated features out there, so if you want to get started in animation then shorts are the way to go. I’ve had the privilege of scoring over 50 animated shorts, including some that have won Student Academy Awards, and I’m very proud of the score to Mime Your Manners which won me a Hollywood Music in Media Award in 2020.
1428 ELM: You are listed on IMDb as a score coordinator to Christopher Young. What does a score coordinator do and what was it like working with him?
COREY WALLACE: Score Coordinator is the most commonly used credit for a composer’s assistant. Hyperbolically, a Film Composer’s job is 10% writing music and 90% dealing with all sorts of other stuff, and a score coordinator or assistant can take away some of that burden and free up the composer to focus on the most important and creative tasks. What a composer’s assistant is asked to do ranges wildly, and I’d say that Christopher Young’s team performs some unique tasks relative to other assistants.
For example, Chris was bred in the pre-digital era, so he does his composing on the piano. One of my jobs was to transcribe what he played at the piano into a written sketch that would then be mocked up by another assistant in order to be presented to the director. Most composers, including myself, will sketch, compose, loosely orchestrate, and create a mockup all at the same time as a standard part of the workflow.
1428 ELM: What are some of your favorite horror movies and TV shows?
COREY WALLACE: My favorite horror films include Psycho, the original Black Christmas, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream (honorable mention to other Kevin Williamson scripts from the ’90s like The Faculty), Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 and Drag Me to Hell, and most recently I loved Hereditary. On TV I absolutely adored Scream Queens.
1428 ELM: What are the best approaches to making scary music?
COREY WALLACE: A great approach to making scary music is to try and create sounds that have not been heard before (I say try because that’s quite a daunting ask). Animals find comfort in familiarity, but there’s no greater fear than that of the unknown when tapping into that base instinct. It’s very unsettling for an audience to hear music that is not quite like anything they’ve heard before. This is one reason why pop songs have used a similar set of chords and instruments for half a century, it takes people to a happy place, but in horror, we’re always trying to get people out of their comfort zone any way we can.
Over the years I’ve expanded my studio with digital and analog tools for processing, warping, or mutilating sounds into something new, distinct, and scary. It’s amazing what kind of sonic universe you can open up from almost any sound. The scary sounds of Cursed Friends, although they might be loud, dissonant, or nasty at times, are ones that should be familiar to audiences from the ’80s and ’90s, so that familiarity should bring a sense of fun to the film, not necessarily scares.
Ken Marino, comedy hero
1428 ELM: Cursed Friends features plenty of recognizable actors, but I personally think Ken Marino is underrated. What do you think?
COREY WALLACE: See question 3 above, I agree! I think people in the know understand just how hilarious Ken Marino is, but you’re right, he’s probably underrated on a larger scale, probably known as “that guy” to wider audiences.
When I demoed for Cursed Friends, they gave me the Ken Marino scene to score, and seeing that got me so pumped about this movie. From Wet Hot American Summer to Burning Love and Party Down, he’s been a comic force in my life. I even saw him at a grocery store once but didn’t want to bother him while he was with his family.
1428 ELM: Cursed Friends already has both fans and detractors. What would you say to
prepare people for what the movie offers?
COREY WALLACE: From what I can tell by reading reviews on Letterboxd, I think people who go in with the right mindset are coming away from it with a good experience. It’s a silly bit of fun, don’t take it too seriously, watch it with friends, ingest your product of choice, and just enjoy yourself! Special shoutout to Rotten Tomatoes posters Joel Z, Mark Y, and Zovi O for your 5-star reviews!
1428 ELM: What other projects are you working on?
COREY WALLACE: I’m excited for the upcoming release of Jamie Winterstern’s storm-chasing adventure drama Supercell, starring Alec Baldwin, Skeet Ulrich, and the late great Anne Heche. Its world premiere will be at the Newport Beach Film Festival and will be released wide in January.
Next projects will be Dan Glaser’s Viking horror Afterwalker, which promises to be an absolute feast for me in terms of weird sound design and cool Viking colors, as well as the debut animated short Stached from Patch Animation, featuring real-time rendering on the Unreal Engine. Also, after working on the final season of The Walking Dead for more than a year, I’m excited to see the final episodes dropping this Fall.
We’d like to thank Corey Wallace for answering these questions! Cursed Friends may be seen on Comedy Central.
(WARNING: The trailer contains adult language.)
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