Book Review: Scored to Death

Scored to DeathScored to Death: Conversations with some of Horror’s Greatest Composers
Published by Silman-James Press, 2016. 356 pages.
By J. Blake Fichera

There is something to be said about film scores, something that I think most don’t know, don’t recognize, or even worse, don’t even think about. And that is the effect they have on the viewer. Sometimes a very powerful effect. The first time I can remember a film score having an effect on me was John Williams’ score for Jaws (1975), which I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. While it did bring up the tension and scare factor, I don’t think I made the full connection between the music and emotion it caused. That changed when Star Wars (1977) came out. Then it hit me how powerful of an impact a score can make. Star Wars was the first soundtrack I every purchased and I listened to it over and over. Each time, I could visualize the different parts of the film in my head and it would give me the same emotional reaction as if I was watching the film. It was at that point, I started to become more aware of a film score.

Over the years, I’ve collected more than a few soundtracks, mainly from the horror genre, of course, but there are some non-genre ones in there. Every time I am working on my computer, I have a soundtrack playing. Always. Even as I type this. So when I first heard of this new book that the is a collection of interviews with different composers that have worked in the horror genre, to say that I was excited is a slight understatement. I immediately ordered the book when it came out back in 2016. Unfortunately, it took me two years to finally sit down with it and now I wish I would have gotten to it sooner, but it was worth the wait.

Author Fichera interviewed 14 different composers that have all worked more than a few times in the horror genre. Some of the names you’ll recognize, some not, but you will recognize the films they worked on, some of which are classics. The real beauty of this book is that it brings attention to these composers, their work, and the incredible impact it has on the movies that we love. I know in the last decade, with the return of vinyl, many of this talented lot are finally being given the recognition they deserve, which has been a long time coming.

Within these pages, we get to hear the behind-the-scenes information about what these composers go through for their craft. How they take on each project. What inspires them. How they work. Some of the answers are simple while others a little more in depth, but all are fascinating. We learn how they got started in music and the film business. Some of the same questions are asked but it is great to read how many different answers we get. It shows that even though they are all doing the same thing, creating music for a film, they way they get there can be pretty different. I really enjoyed some of questions that Fichera asks, like having to score a film sequel and the different approach to a film that had a particular theme already set. Interesting and very informative. When asked what exactly is the job of the composer, again, we get a variety of answers, but all of them giving a great insight to not only the composers but to film scoring in general.

 Some of my favorite composers are covered here, such as Christopher Young, Simon Boswell, Jeff Grace, Fabio Frizzi, and of course, John Carpenter. It’s so funny to hear Carpenter be so self-deprecating, saying he’s not really a musician and stole ideas from others, but yet has created some of my favorite scores. He is not only one that points out that sometimes that being simple can be just as effective.

Not only do I recommend the hell out of this book, because Fichera brings out the real beauty if what these guys do with the questions he asks, but also the fact that shines the light on this subject that really needs more attention. Christopher Young points out that a horror score never gets the credit when it comes to the Oscars and those types of award shows because of the negativity the genre gets. Of course, this year The Shape of Water proved him wrong. Let’s hope we can continue this trend.

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