Joseph LoDuca, composer of the Evil Dead / Child’s Play franchises!


Joseph LoDuca should be familiar to horror fans, having been a longtime songwriter for Sam Raimi evil Dead franchise and, more recently, for Don Mancini’s Child’s play movie theater. We wanted to ask the 2-time Emmy-winning composer about these movies and TV shows and his art. Enjoy!

Interview with Joseph LoDuca

1428 Elm: You won Emmy Awards for Your Career and the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Army of Darkness. What do you think it takes to be a master of horror music?

Joseph LoDuca: If you imply that I am a teacher, I am flattered even though I consider myself more of a researcher. I am constantly surprised where my intuition takes me. I think I am successful as a horror composer. You have to be open to the crazy possibilities that the genre offers. At the same time, you must ask yourself, “How is this tale different from all the others?” And hunt that unique hook. Horror composers usually have a long leash, and you need to be comfortable with that freedom as well. And let’s face it, the experience is a definite plus.

1428 Elm: In terms of feel, SyFy Chucky is different from Devilish death franchise, as it includes more of a conventional and 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 vibrations differentiate the two series?

Joseph LoDuca: Good question. The influences of the songs included in both series influence the score, but in an oblique way. With Ash vs. Evil Dead, some of the classic rock vibe filtered out in the score clues, which might have a more organic vibe from the 70s. More often than not, the songs are used there for an ironic effect and to tone down the graphic horror.

The story of this franchise favored large orchestras or chamber orchestras for most of the score, so I stuck with that.

With Chucky there is a larger timeline to cover. There are flashbacks to decades past that shed light on how Tiffany and Charles Lee Ray became a couple. These cues can have an 80s synth vibe. Tiffany in the present strikes me as a classic Hollywood vampire, and so the theme and score for her is lush. Songs in Chucky can be used to amplify relationships as well as horror commentary. I use a lot of contemporary pop processing sounds and techniques in the score, especially when we focus on our trio of college heroes.

Hero vs. Villain

1428 Elm: In the evil Dead franchise, Ash is ostensibly a warrior, while Chucky is obviously a villain. How do these different central characters have a unique impact on the scores?

Joseph LoDuca: Ash may be a hero, but reluctantly. There can be some 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 music.

I am the straight man. Always have been, since the first evil Dead. That said, there are times when I just have to come to terms with the silliness, like when Ash shatters into dozens of little ashes, or when Chucky pops his head out from inside the toilet. They are similar in that they both crack up, and Ash can often be just as selfish as Chucky. So that sense of irony can find its way into music.

Both characters have iconic themes. Ash is attributed to French horns, the traditional choice. For Chucky, it’s a detuned toy piano. He plays well against his feigned innocence and can be turned into a backdrop for the little psychopathic demon.

Sam Raimi and Don Mancini are the true masters of their craft and have very distinctive visual styles. The way they compose each 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 was not a big budget Hollywood production but became a cult favorite. Are there any advantages of not having a big budget over having almost everything on hand?

Joseph LoDuca: The string quintet plus me who composed the score of the original evil Dead is a pallet that suited a run down cabin in the woods perfectly. So much so that when I decided to rewrite the score several years ago, I used the same instrumentation. The first choice of any composer is to set limits. This can be the most fortuitous.

Joseph LoDuca – Courtesy of Aaron Lam / White Bear PR

Chucky like chaos

1428 Elm: What do you think of Chucky as a character?

Joseph LoDuca: Chucky is Chaos with a capital “C” embodied in a Trojan horse doll. He’s a little guy, but when the monster emerges, the score plays him like a huge juggernaut. I use all the tools in my kit to convey her underhanded and supernatural ailment. In the series, Chucky streamlines his role as an advocate for the defenseless, a vigilante against bullying in order to seduce converts with impressionable spirits. Our young heroes must dig deep to find their own humanity in their darkest times. The show is as much about their own journeys as it is about the chaos Chucky brings.

1428 Elm: Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi did Army of Darkness in addition to an outright action-comedy-horror film, which sets it apart from the rest evil Dead following. Did it make it easier or harder for him to compose music?

Joseph LoDuca: I’ve considered Army of Darkness a tribute to the mythical-historical epic. It immediately reminded me of the movies I saw on TV on Saturday mornings when I was a kid; Harryhausen movies, like Jason and the Argonauts Where Sinbad’s Seventh Voyage. This was the world we were in, and there were many musical precedents that I could draw inspiration from.

Influences and the future

1428 Elm: Which film composers are your influences (I guess Jerry Goldsmith is out there somewhere)?

Joseph LoDuca: So much: the haunting voices of Bernard Hermann, the painfully 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 sheet music I come across.

1428 Elm: You and Friday 13 composer Harry Manfredini are jazz musicians, and not everyone would make this connection between horror music and jazz.

Joseph LoDuca: I think the question you are asking yourself is: “How does a musician with a jazz background approach writing a horror score?” First of all, the work chooses us, at least initially. To be a film composer is to be a musician with a keen storytelling gene.

I was drawn to jazz because it requires an understanding and connection to music on a deep, personal and instant level. So the similarities my friend Harry and I might have are an approach to horror that involves moment-to-moment improvisation (a lot of horror has to turn on a dime) and a natural ease with levels of dissonance – not to mention the rhythmic muscle to get hearts pumping!

1428 Elm: What do you think of toxic fandoms, like people who get too defensive when others criticize a movie or TV series? (For the record, I am a Chucky fan, but in the past I’ve been accused of not being a big enough fan for someone’s taste, and if you want to read my answer on this where I can’t hold back, take a look here) .

Joseph LoDuca: Be careful when criticizing Chucky. He reads all social media feeds! In today’s climate, Chucky is a metaphor for those who quickly condemn anything or anyone for the slightest blunder. It only takes one to get you on their success list. I think our showrunner and Chucky creator Don Mancini did a fantastic job 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 is coming back. He still does. It makes me smile.

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