(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series featuring an interview with famed composer Joseph LoDuca, known for his music for The Evil Dead and Chucky/Child’s Play franchises, along with noteworthy films such as Brotherhood of the Wolf and popular series such as Xena: Warrior Princess. Here was the first part.)
In this second and final installment of our interview with composer Joseph LoDuca, the conversation leans a bit heavier into the pre-Chucky years of his career. Despite being best known for his contributions to horror, LoDuca’s masterful ability to play in a variety of genre sandboxes has garnered him quite the resume. As comfortable crafting engaging, fantastical action sequences for television shows like Xena: Warrior Princess or Spartacus as he is a nail-biting thriller or heartfelt romantic comedy score like Bad Samaritan and Here After, the bonds of expectations serve no purpose for the prolific creator. Keeping this fact in mind, I sought to highlight this diversity by touching on both a familiar and perhaps a lesser-known project in his career—The Evil Dead (1981) and Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001).
Both equally stunning in their execution and tailored fit to their visual cinematic partner, these two starkly different films effectively capture and showcase the range of LoDuca’s skill and style. Having been nominated for everything from a dozen Emmy Awards over the years (and winning twice), to a Saturn Award, César Award, a Streamy, and multiple Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, LoDuca is not a composer easily placed one convenient box. That said, our conversation merely begins to scratch the surface of LoDuca’s incredibly prolific career. However, in the end, I hope this interview motivates you to check out more of LoDuca’s music. Not only is there a dynamic and wonderful catalog of scores to choose from, but LoDuca also confirmed that he will be returning for Chucky Season 2 on SyFy; which means he’s (thankfully) showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Vehlinggo: From what I understand, the Chucky production had a lot of COVID-related hoops to jump through in order to keep the cast and crew as safe as possible. Did the ongoing pandemic and everything that comes with that affect how or what you composed for the show?
Joseph LoDuca: No, it didn’t really affect me. You know, we composers, we only come out when we have to record with other musicians. I mean, generally speaking. And as a matter of fact, I spent most of my career writing in the studio from my home in Michigan. And that’s where I’ve spent all of the pandemic. So, my day-to-day didn’t change at all. Everybody else’s world was thrown into a place they hadn’t ever envisioned, but I was just doing my thing as usual.
I mean, for [Chucky series and Child’s Play creator Don Mancini], besides all the protocols, he hadn’t even met the cast until maybe the first read-through the week before shooting. He had to cast remotely. And even when he got to Toronto… (because they were in Canada), they had to quarantine. I think for a couple of weeks. So, it was propitious when he actually met them in person and could start working.
OK — follow-up question — did you perform this whole score yourself? Or did you have other performers for certain parts?
No, this is actually all me! It’s all me except for one cue in the final episode, where I had a singer that seemed really appropriate for the sort of the last scene in the series… I won’t spoil [it] for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. [Laughs]
That’s actually really surprising and it kind of leads me to something else I’d love to pick your brain about. You know, technology can be a huge asset in helping capture or replicate sounds without the assistance of other performers. But, do you think there is something you lose by having that ability? Is there a certain loneliness factor to the composing process by simply having the ability and technology to do everything yourself?
Yeah. If you’re going to be a composer, you’re going to spend a lot of time alone anyway. But, for a long time, I’ve felt that the march of technology, in all of our daily lives, is sort of a conspiracy to separate us from each other. I used to go to events — let’s say an ASCAP [performance rights organization] event — and they would honor an elder statesman. I remember Michel Legrand talking about coming over from France and sleeping on Henry Mancini’s couch. He then set him up with an agent and, just having that sort of interaction. Or, the days when a composer was on the lot, you know?
I was on the Warner Brothers log for six or seven years. And, that was different because you’re on a floor with other composers and music editors. You’d go grab lunch and there’d be this sort of communal aspect. There are certain complexes where this type of music gets places in London and in L.A., but generally, we’re all kind of isolated from one another. And that’s too bad because you don’t have that push-pull of the input. …The push-pull has always been in my career, but really between the director or the producer or the showrunner, and that’s about it. I haven’t really been involved in projects where there are multiple voices in my head. It’s been that kind of dialogue. So yeah, we miss it. And then, the opportunity to go out and have the music played by an orchestra is really always a special event. It’s probably the most special event and I think every composer would say that.
You have such an overwhelmingly fascinating career and I simply can’t have you here and not ask you about The Evil Dead. As your first gig as a film composer, how did that opportunity come about for you? And, because it was your first, what did you learn from that experience?
Well, everything about film scoring because I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t considered it as a pursuit of any kind. I was in music school and I was a music student at that point who happened to be introduced by someone who was helping Sam [Raimi], Bruce [Campbell], and Rob [Tapert]. They were helping raise money for final shoots and post-production on the film.
So, I saw a very rough version of it and I was called into their office next to a magic shop. I had a cup of freeze-dried coffee on a hot plate and they said, “Can you make scary sounds?” I was like, “Yeah, sure. I can do that.” So I did a little demo and then I had to figure out how to fit music to picture. That was the big learning experience. And, this was a long time ago. So this was trying to work with a video cassette player that would not shuttle back to where you wanted it to go and to write little X’s on paper where things would happen in the film. It was a lot harder than it is now to do that.
But I think when I saw the final result on a big screen, I was hooked. I just thought, “This is great. I think I’d really, really like to do this.” It took a long time to get it going, but it worked out very, very well. And there was no way to know that Evil Dead was going to become this sort of classic, cult movie. It was just a fun project that I said “yes” to.
“… There was no way to know that Evil Dead was going to become this sort of classic, cult movie.”
It’s pretty incredible the ripple that such a seemingly simple scenario like that can have. I have to imagine it was that one moment that changed the entire trajectory of your life.
No question. Yeah.
Something the Child’s Play franchise has in common with Evil Dead (and a lot of your other projects) is the element of comedy. Your music always walks that line of timing and tone really effectively and I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you approach and navigate that delicate balance of horror and humor.
You just said it. You’ve got it all figured out, Rachel. [Laughs] Horror and comedy are all about timing. It’s the timing of when to come in and when to lay out. So much also depends on the editing and on the sound. You know, when my kids would be watching a horror movie with their friends, I’d walk down and I’d say, “Not yet….not yet…not yet…THERE!” And sure enough, that’s when the ax comes through the door or whatever. I’d totally spoil it for them.
But I think the main thing, and what I learned early on with Evil Dead, is that to really make it work, you stay away from the humor. The music really plays it straight — UNTIL that moment where it’s just so ridiculous that you have to jump in. And it comes up a lot like that. And Chucky, he’s got all the best lines. So you really don’t have to step on those. I think that, again, one thing that has worked for quite a while in the modern era is, you throw in the pop tune for the punchline. That’s your ace in the hole for humor.
In Ash vs. Evil Dead, there was a scene in one of the episodes where Bruce as Ash has to put a deadite’s face through a meat slicer in a deli. And Rob Tapert said, “Joe, you know, I think we’ve gone too far with this. Can you help me out?” And I said, “I can’t help you out, but play the rock tune from the ’70s. That’s your fallback. You’re on your own buddy.” [Laughs]
I recently picked up Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release of Christophe Gans’ 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf and, it’s absolutely stunning. You composed the score for that film and not only is it beautiful, it’s also a really unique piece in your body of work. Tell us a little bit about working on that project and how that experience was a little different for you.
I loved working on that film and I loved working with the European filmmakers, because they have a unique respect for music. And I think that, with that film, even though it takes place in the late 18th century, there are very few references at all to that era in the music. It was very eclectic and all the things I love about film composing are in that film. I play a lot of instruments — a lot of ethnic instruments. It’s a microcosm.
Because we have the character of the Indian guide in Mark Dacascos’ character, I bought some Lakota Indian flutes and played some really cool sounds and themes for that quality. There’s sort of an Ennio Morricone vibe to it, but it’s played on oud and tablas. Which, I don’t think are instruments that Ennio necessarily used in any of his scores. There’s of course also the use of a full operatic orchestra. There are ethnic vocals and there are also choral vocals. There’s electric guitar and Capoeira drumming for one of the fights. There’s even a pop song in the end credits. So, everything I love about music and everything I love about film composing is in that film.
“It was very eclectic and all the things I love about film composing are in that film.”
It’s really so lovely. Any chance of a vinyl release of the score someday?
That’d be very interesting! I wonder how we could make that happen. We should call our friends at MONDO. [Laughs]
Yes, absolutely! Well, I just have one final question for you. I read somewhere that you don’t necessarily seek out horror scores, they just tend to come to you. But I am curious, what it is that you love about composing in the horror sphere, and what is it that keeps drawing you back?
Well, the resume sells itself, I suppose. It’s an easy sell for my agents. [Laughs] And it’s a calling card. But, I think what’s great about it is that there aren’t any rules. There are far fewer restrictions on a composer. Other genres have tropes that are more restrictive. Think of romantic comedy, for example.
But with horror, you can be as crazy as you want — as long as you can maintain the dread and as long as you can find new ways to do that while searching for new sounds. I think some of the more interesting developments in film music have been in horror movies in recent years. You know, think of movies like Hereditary and The Lighthouse. Some of that stuff is just brilliantly, primally upsetting.
All eight episodes of Chucky Season 1 are now available to stream via Peacock. You will also be able to hear more of LoDuca’s music in Season 2 of Chucky, which is currently slated to release via Syfy later this year.