October 19, 2018 — Dario Miranda
The Sound is Coming from…Behind the Screen: A Discussion About Horror Films and Music with Joshua Ruth
Horror films play on our oldest instincts. In nature, dark corners can be home to many sharp teeth and claws that can pull you in. We have tamed our environment, but we still have dark corners and we still fear those places. Our imaginations fill them with terrifying things, as well they should. With all of our knowledge, we still don’t know what hides in the shadows. Sometimes those dark corners are within us. Sometimes within others. Like stories told around fires, horror films are about the world around us, as much as they are about us and they serve to keep sharp wits.
The music of the genre is no different. The world is full of terrifying sounds and sometimes more terrifying silence. A good horror soundtrack triggers those warning bells in the back of our heads. “You don’t know that sound. Don’t go in there.”
But, this also serves to prepare us for a life of horror and the unknown. These movies can take on new meaning, as we learn to experience them in different ways.
I chatted with my old friend, Joshua Ruth about our relationship to the horror film genre. Joshua is a longtime cinephile and well versed in the horror genre. He is a contributor to cultfollowing.co and the Cult Following Podcast. Joshua also hosts the Cult Trivia Night at Valley Bar. He is currently in the middle of a 31 day horror film marathon, ending on Halloween. I caught up with him just as he was leaving a screening of the new Halloween movie.
SW: So, you just left a screening of the new Halloween. Do you have any initial thoughts to share?
JR: I loved it. I’m still very much in the afterglow but I definitely think it’s one of the best horror sequels I’ve ever seen. It makes the bold choice of ignoring every other Halloween film and exists as a direct sequel to the Carpenter’s original. As a direct continuation of that storyline, I think it succeeds spectacularly. It also has a ton of Easter eggs from the entire series so it still shows respect to the franchise. I can’t wait to see it again.
SW: That’s a delicate balance for franchise reboots, isn’t it? Paying homage to the original without leaning too heavily on it.
JR: Definitely. And it’s one that reboots usually fail at. You’re often left asking what the point of it was. And usually the answer is that sadly, some people just don’t respond to older films. So it needs to be updated. Luckily this is actually a sequel and not a reboot. This is very much an old Michael Myers and and a damaged and determined Laurie Strode. The are both inextricably linked and also weary, almost eager to meet their destiny. That dynamic is fascinating.
SW: How long have you been a Horror Film enthusiast?
JR: Is ‘my entire life’ a reasonable answer? My mother was a cinephile and lover of horror and passed that on to me. One of my earliest memories was seeing ‘Poltergeist.’ I clearly remember the part: near the end when the mother is trying to get to her children in their bedroom and this glowing white terrifying ghost with long legs is standing guard. I have this clear memory of peering over the seat in front of me and being scared out of my mind. ‘Poltergeist’ was released in 1982 so I must have been about 4 years old. My mom was awesome that way.
SW: That’s a heck of a site for a 4 year old! It’s common that people who love the horror genre don’t necessarily find it as terrifying as the average movie watcher. Would you agree that it has taken on a different thrill for you? If so, could it be because of your early exposure to it. How do you process the content, now? What do you walk away with?
JR: People and their relationship with horror is always so vastly different. I’ve heard from a lot of people that they were very scared as children and found horror to be a way of coping with fear. I never found myself being too scared by most of the films I saw way too young. I guess I was more attracted to how fun they were. As a little boy I was always into monsters. I don’t think that’s too unusual.
Now I view horror through a more critical lens and I’m always looking for something that uses the medium of film to show me something new or to explain something about who we are as people. I’m a big fan of recent “indie horror” like Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook’ which is largely about the fears of being a parent. But really that’s what ‘Eraserhead’ is about as well. And ‘Eraserhead’ is absolutely a horror film.
SW: Would you say we’ve entered another “golden age” of horror films. I feel like, in the past 5 years or so, I’ve seen new ideas with the genre, as well as redefining what “horror” is.
JR: Absolutely. It’s funny because there is a real backlash to it but I am enamored with the new voices of horror. David Robert Mitchell’s ‘It Follows’ is not just my favorite horror film of the last decade but in my top five films of any type in the last decade. Yet there are many with who decry it as boring and pretentious. I think horror has to keep evolving or die. So I welcome voices like Mitchell’s. Or Ana Lily Amirpour with ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.’
The best part about our age is access. So now we are seeing so many new films that would have been impossible to find before. There’s something for everyone. If you don’t want the artsy stuff there’s movies like ‘Terrifier’ about a killer clown who saws people in half. I have no interest in seeing that. Torture porn isn’t for me.
But that’s the beauty of horror. It’s a big tent.
SW: I suppose we should talk a little about the music. But, I think it ties into what we’re talking about. I’ve been working at record stores for over 15 years and I don’t think I’ve seen such enthusiasm over soundtracks, like I’ve seen with many new horror film soundtracks, as well as some of the great reissues of older, obscure horror film soundtracks.
JR: I think there are a few factors at work there. A lot of credit has to be given to labels like Waxwork,
Mondo and Death Waltz. They release these beautiful editions of film soundtracks with new artwork and inserts. Some of these presentations are very interesting. I have the soundtrack for Cater Burwell’s score for ‘Anomalisa’ which is a pop up scene of a hotel room. The soundtracks have become an extension of collecting. If you really love a film you have to get the soundtrack. It’s also a quick way to relive the movie. I suppose thirst for vintage releases is just further down that rabbit hole.
SW: Working in a record store, we’ve noticed that horror soundtracks seem to sell much faster than any other film genre soundtracks. If we’re talking about film scores, it’s mostly horror films that sell. Do you think people have a different relationship with horror soundtracks and scores than they do with other genres? What are they getting from the music, listening out of the context of the film.
JR: That’s interesting. I think that may have more to say about the rabid collector nature of horror fans. Horror fans really love supporting the genre. But horror compositions are impacting a lot of modern music as well. John Carpenter is almost single-handedly responsible for the sub genre of horror synth. You of course hear a lot of horror in metal. That’s always been there. There are interesting new artists like Myrkur who blends folk, metal and horror composer sounds. Maybe horror soundtracks are another way for black metal or goth industrial fans to listen to classical music.
SW: Who are some of your favorite horror film score composers, past and present?
JR: For modern stuff: I have endless respect for Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace who composed ‘It Follows.’ But that’s really the only horror score he has done. He is a composer for video games and was a very unusual choice to do a film score. But he knocked it out of the park. He has not done any other films although he scored David Robert Mitchell’s next film called ‘Under the Silver Lake’ which releases in December.
I also loved what Le Matos did with the score to this year’s ‘Summer of ‘84.’ Very synthwave, very 80s, very Carpenter.
And of course there are Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of S U R V I V E who are responsible for the marvelous ‘Stranger Things’ score.
In a different style though I love Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for the ‘It’ remake. It was not synth at all and was sweeping. Almost fantasy-like. It was a throwback to work like James Horner’s score for the 1983 film ‘Something Wicked this way Comes’ which is one of my favorite horror scores. It’s not like Carpenter at all. It sounds like a cousin to the music from Harry Potter. And sometimes that’s a perfect match for horror.
SW: Who is a current artists you would love hear composing horror film scores?
JR: Interestingly we are going to see Thom Yorke score the upcoming ‘Suspiria’ remake which I am excited for. Goblin are some big shoes to fill but I am excited to hear what he comes up with.
I mentioned Myrkur earlier and I bet she would kill a horror score.
It would be incredible to have Fantômas do a horror film. Their album ‘Delerium Cordia’ is already the best horror score for a film that doesn’t exist and Mike Patton has already done a few film scores.
SW: So, you are currently in the middle of your “31 days of Halloween” film watching Marathon. Talk a little bit about your process for this. Did you give yourself any parameters?
JR: Yeah I’m really loving it. I always watch as many horror films as possible in October but this is the first year I’ve made a point to really curate that experience. While there are films I have seen before but maybe not watched in a while, I’m really trying to watch a majority of films I’ve never seen. So far I am doing great with that. I would say 3/4ths of what I’ve watched this month are first time viewings. I’m really trying to go with older stuff as well. I’ve had a really big hole in my film education when it comes to directors like Mario Bava, Lucia Fulci and Dario Argento so I’ve watched a lot of their films. I’m also making my way through Joe Bob Briggs’ ‘The Last Drive In’ movie marathon on Shudder which I can’t recommend highly enough. I’m definitely watching more than one movie a day so I’m on track to watch about 45 movies this October and a lot of them are classics so I’m getting a good education.
You can follow Joshua’s movie marathon on Instagram at danger0us_days.