Few composers who continually get pulled back into a genre that gave them birth have as much fun both screaming, and laughing about continually being clawed by their fateful, creative relationship than Joseph LoDuca. Born in Michigan around the same time as another native with whom he’d be joined at the hip, LoDuca was well into fulfilling his rock and roll aspirations with the big town likes of Jeff Beck and Bob Seger before getting the call to enter a possessed cabin in the backwoods. The result of his impressively frenetic, orchestral score done a dime was the beginning of horror history for both LoDuca and Sam Raimi, whose “Evil Dead” series spun both men into Hollyweird careers. LoDuca would become one of the hardest working composers in terms of TV hours on such sword-and-sandal, Raimi-produced series like “Xena,” “Hercules” and “Spartacus,” in addition to the modern-day adventures of “The Librarians” and “Leverage” amongst his monstrously prolific credits. And while LoDuca has certainly been able to play his scares straight in film scores like “The Messengers,” “Boogeyman” and “The Burrowers,” there’s nothing more delightful than when the composer fully drinks the horror-humor cocktail with the screwball, fever dream attacks of “Evil Dead 2,” “Army of Darkness,” “My Name is Bruce” and “Curse of Chucky.”
For a composer in an long-term musical affair with one of modern horror’s most legendary directors, it’s almost insane to think that Joseph LoDuca has never hooked up with Joe Dante, a wackily colorful filmmaker who’s penchant for movie in-jokes and go-for-broke energy has certainly put him into the same movie geek-as-filmmaker league as Sam Raimi. But while it’s certainly taken a while for this meeting of the minds to happen, “Burying the Ex” delivers the cartoonish goods as Dante encourages LoDuca’s manic talents to go for broke in the service of putting an unwanted, undead girlfriend from hell firmly in the grave. But it’s not like things were always bad between hapless, horror-store clerk Max (“Odd Thomas’” Anton Yelchin) and his beyond-PC, green-loving lady Evelyn (“Twilight’s” Ashley Green), even if her activism has now driven him to the break-it-off point – especially after meeting the way more attractively suitable, movie loving ice cream store owner Olivia (“San Andreas’” Alexandra Daddario). However, just before he can break it off with Evelyn, she gets smashed on the front end of a bus. Though Max gets over the tragedy to heat things up with Olivia, an inadvertent promise made over a devil doll brings an even more unbearable, increasingly decaying Evelyn back from the grave with a way hotter libido, a mad-on for Olivia and a growing taste for flesh.
Told with the eccentrically likable energy and in-jokes we’ve come to expect from the man behind “The Howling,” “Gremlins” and “Innerspace,” as done on a hipster-friendly indie scale (but of course with a Dick Miller cameo included), “Burying the Ex” announces its perversely funny musical intentions straight off the bat with violins and mournful melody – stuff that’s the lifeblood of such horror-comedy scores from the time of “Young Frankenstein” and “Love at First Bite,” but as crossed with a hangdog alt. youth rock vibe that’s all the rage in romantic scores now. LoDuca’s fun collision of two vastly different musical worlds greatly add to “Burying the Ex’s” mission of putting new blood into the unkillable zombie genre. But beyond affirming Dante’s retro street cred by exhuming such goofy scoring stalwarts as Theremins, organs, stabbing strings, raging choruses and bombastic, storm-filled menace so familiar to anyone who grew up watching late night creature features, LoDuca’s humorously twisted, theme-propelled score for “Burying the Ex” also brings in any number of unexpected musical suspects from Indian sitars to Argentinean tangos, as well as nicely unexpected, truly feeling romance to create a palpable romantic bond between Max and Olivia, one that makes you hope this cute new couple persevere at putting the ex out of their misery. As such, Joseph LoDuca’s greatly enjoyable, done on a shoestring score has the spirit to help Dante’s good evil vibes stay vital, especially when horror mavens of his generation are increasingly struggling to stay above ground.
Now facing another round with Sam Raimi’s Deadites as he makes “The Evil Dead’s” return on Showtime extra groovy, Joseph LoDuca relates the time he spent “Burying the Ex,” even if her like remains thankfully unkillable for the composer.
In a way, do you think you’ve been scoring an absurdist brand of horror film ever since the first “Evil Dead?”
It is certainly a sub genre that pops up regularly. Add that to straight up psychological horror/thrillers like “Pay the Ghost,” or the wacky farces like so many episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Come to think of it, music in film is an absurdist pursuit. Why should it be there? We seem to be wired for it.
Joe Dante was an upcoming genre filmmaker at around the same time as Sam Raimi. What were your impressions of Joe’s seminal movies, and what was it like to get to actually work with him?
I am a life-long student of music. I can’t say that I have expert knowledge of genre filmmaking. I did not set out to be a film composer. The work chose me. I know that Joe Dante is loved and revered by his legions of fans, as is Sam Raimi.
Joe was a pleasure to work with. He is the consummate pro, and knows what works. We were on the same page from the beginning, and I was able to come up with the right questions ahead of time. That put us in shorthand mode pretty quickly. He gave me two notes on the score. They were: “Can we turn up that sting?” and “Can we turn up that sting?”
What do you think the differences are between Joe and Sam’s approaches?
My work on Sam’s films was on scripts he had co-written. “Burying the Ex” was written by Alan Trezza (love his dialogue). My impression is that Sam relishes jumping between extremes, both visually and dramatically. Joe’s work tends to develop out of the story in a Spielberg-like arc. Either way, you are guaranteed a wild ride.
Given the Joe loads his movies with horror in jokes and visual references, how much “homage” did you want to play to classic horror scores and their instrumental tropes of Theremins, organs and bombastic music?
The homage approach is built-in to this story. You would be crazy to ignore it. Embrace it and have fun! It still has to work dramatically. An example of nice mix of horror and comedy is in the scene when Evelyn confronts Max as a zombie for the first time. He is terrified; she is horny. Never had to write THAT cue before!
What do you think is the biggest challenge of scoring a horror-comedy, and how “funny” did you want the score to be?
The biggest challenge is making the samples palatable. I don’t find comedy all that difficult. Most of the time, comedies in general rely on musical parody of well-known tropes to top off the jokes. Funny can be playing the music as the straight man. That is generally the approach in the “Evil Dead” films, until it becomes untenable and the Three Stooges rule the day.
There are also some unexpected, fun detours in your score for “Burying the Ex” like using a tango or Indian Sitar music. I take it that you could throw just about any element into this?
The tango seemed like the right choice for a comedy-of-errors cat and mouse dance, and the sitar went with an awkward yoga scene. There is always a reason.
Conversely, was it important for the score to have moments that were actually scary?
Given the premise of the story, it was not in the agenda to create any lingering dread. But there are quite a few popcorn jump scares.
Why do you think the violin is particularly effective in horror comedy soundtracks? And how did you want to use that instrument here?
I don’t know why. Name two soundtracks. Here the violin has more of an “Elephant Man” purpose. It plays as a doomed love theme, the wounded beast of the zombie, as well as a vague reference to the curse of the devil “genie” that brings Evelyn back to life.
How difficult was it for you to find the right tone for Evelyn’s first death scene that could play Max’s genuine grief and guilt with the over-the-top quality of her getting smashed by a bus?
That’s where the doomed violin “love theme” for Max and Evelyn comes into play.
How did you want your “Burying” score to live in the worlds of both horror comedy and alt. youth romance? Could you talk about the “rock-pop” approach of the score?
I did not feel that this aspect of the score had to be super-hip. It was intended to be a bit generic, like a score to a YA television series.
How did you want to differentiate the characters of Evelyn and Olivia?
Evelyn is needy and a shrew, the score generally plays Max trying to avoid her when she gets like that. Olivia is Max’s true love, and they have a dreamy, lush neo-80’s-ish synthesizer theme.
Given your own rock background, was it particularly fun to get back into that realm?
I always love to play the guitar, in any context. I also used my bowed guitar-viol to play cello versions of the violin theme.
Was it important for you to make the emotional, and romantic aspect of the score real for both characters?
Yes. There is a love story in the middle of the silliness. It is my job to portray the characters’ emotions honestly.
Before “Burying the Ex,” I was particularly impressed by your score for “Curse of Chucky,” which for me was the best film in the series next to the original. What was it like to get a shot at that iconic character?
It was a great experience! I was honored to be the guy who finally wrote a theme for Chucky. Don Mancini has another installment up his sleeve, and I hope to get asked back.
In the far more serious arena, your run for Showtime’s “Spartacus” and its spin-offs ended just a few years ago. It’s not the first time you’ve been the musical voice for an entire, “sword and sandal” series. How is it to have that kind of responsibility?
I love having those epic resources at my disposal. Full orchestra, choir, world musicians with sound design, rocking out; any musical genre or combination of genres I can imagine. There’s nothing better.
You have the ongoing pleasure of scoring the “Librarian” telefilms and the series. What’s that experience been like?
Dean Devlin and I have developed a great working relationship over the last several years. The “Librarians “series uses the same orchestral conventions as the telefilms. With John Rogers as the show runner, the difference is that the pace of the show and the dialogue is quite brisk. For me that usually translates to more quavers per minute.
For features, you’ll be scoring the Nicholas Cage film “Pay the Ghost,” where his character’s son gets kidnapped at a Halloween parade. How do you think the score will cross the “Halloween” element with a suspense film?
Without getting into spoilers, the Halloween element is not a big concern of the score. My main objectives are to play the power of the parental bonds, their devastating loss, and to create an atmosphere that is truly dreadful and frightening. That aspect of the score is primarily electronic, and I am very happy how it turned out.
You’re next set to score “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” What’s it like to return to the world that gave you birth as a genre favorite composer, and how do you want to update your approach for it?
We are getting the band back together! I am sure there will be references to what made these movies so memorable. Beyond that we’ll see. Stay tuned.
How do you view your importance at energizing classic genre directors, and horror films for a new generation, especially with “Burying the Ex?”
I have noticed we speak the same language going in. Oddly enough, the directors and my colleagues who score genre films tend to be the nicest people. But I don’t view myself as important. I do find every day that my experience and my desire to keep it fresh are my greatest assets to a filmmaker.
Have you ever had your own girlfriend from hell, and did this movie make you flash back to her?
Ha! Who hasn’t had Evelyns and Olivias in their lives, even embodied in the same person? For that reason, is “Burying the Ex” not the best date night movie ever?
“Burying the Ex” is exhumed for VOD on June 19th HERE, with Joseph LoDuca’s score available on Lakeshore Records HERE. Then open Joseph’s score for “The Librarians” available on Varese Sarabande Records June 23 HERE. And flash back to the most devilish Chucky score of all HERE
Visit Joseph LoDuca’s website HERE
In Los Angeles on Thursday, June 11th? Then come to the American Cinematheque Theater to see Joe Dante present “Burying the Ex” with Joseph LoDuca and the film’s stars in attendance. Buy your tickets HERE as part of the Cinematheque’s Joe Dante festival!