Interview by Chris Miller. Follow Chris on Twitter at @musiclover_8.
Composer Charlie Clouser is no stranger to horror genre. Clouser is the man responsible for the scores to Dead Silence, The Collection, The Neighbor, The Stepfather as well as darker projects such as Resident Evil: Extinction, Wayward Pines and Childhood’s End to name a few. His most noteworthy contribution to the genre has been through the Saw films, which alongside franchises such as Scream, Final Destination & Insidious have brought a resurgence of interest to the horror world in the last 20 years. With the latest Saw installment, Jigsaw, being released just in time for Halloween we decided to speak with Clouser about his game changing industrial scores.
What can you tell us about your upcoming score for Jigsaw?
My score for JIGSAW, which is the eighth movie in the SAW horror franchise, is a little brighter, harder, and more in-your-face than in some of the previous films. This time around there’s a large component of the storyline that takes place in the outside world, as opposed to spending the entire film trapped in the dungeons and lairs with the victims. For the score, this meant that I could use a lot more conventional film score elements, like strings and brass, and not have the score made up entirely from dark ambiences and strange, tortured metallic sounds. When we’re out in the normal world, the score almost sounds “normal” at times, and it’s like a sigh of relief to have those lighter, more airy moments in those scenes. At the same time, the music for the trap and dungeon scenes became even more insane and industrial sounding than ever before, with more modern synthesizer elements and really hard sounding drum machine stuff than in some of the previous films. This approach kind of accentuates the contrast between the two settings in the film, and helps to make the trap scenes even more intense than ever before. I’m really happy with the end result, and I hope that it will feel familiar yet fresh to our die-hard fans.
How long did you work on the Jigsaw score for?
Unlike in most of the previous films, for JIGSAW I had the luxury of having almost two months to complete the score. This gave me the freedom to spend some time recording a lot of new performances on some of my stranger bowed metal instruments, which is always a time-consuming process and which doesn’t always produce guaranteed or predictable results. Having two months also gave me the time to do some pretty elaborately programmed electronic elements and play a lot of heavy guitar parts. As is typical in the SAW franchise, it’s pretty much covered wall-to-wall with score, so there was a lot of music to squeeze in, and as usual I wound up just barely finishing in time for the final mixing sessions.
There has been a 7 year gap between the last SAW film and the upcoming Jigsaw. Why do you think the filmmakers waited so long to make another?
I think that the big gap between the last SAW film and this latest incarnation was due to a couple of factors. We had been cranking these films out every single year for seven years running, and for a while there we basically owned the Halloween weekend horror film opening slot, but there may have been some combat fatigue on the part of our audience, who had been getting hammered with ever more violent and extreme SAW movies every year. When the latest crop of new horror films started coming onto the scene it felt right to take a break and let our audience exhale for a while, but with the continued success of the horror genre, and the rich SAW universe that our team has built, you just know that this franchise would come back some day. I think that the break has allowed our writers, producers, and directors to sit back and take the long view of how to carry this franchise forward and expand upon the interwoven storylines that they’ve established.
Saw star Tobin Bell recently said he did not believe the murderous John Kramer was a psychopath. What do you think?
There’s a distinct morality to what John Kramer’s mission seems to be, and although his methods are always extreme, his message is essentially one of redemption, even if it’s being forced upon the victims. John Kramer is almost like a modern-day Spanish Inquisitor, forcing a confession under extreme duress, except he usually provides some way for his victims to avoid being burned at the stake. It’s not strictly a Salem Witch Trial, where the victim’s innocence can only be proved by their perishing, but there are some parallels to that as well. My take on what Tobin Bell was saying is that although John Kramer’s method might be that of a psychopath, his message is not.
-Lionsgate debuted the Jigsaw VR ad content within a custom-built experiential ‘Escape Room’ at New York Comic Con and the online launch is scheduled for later this month. It is getting a lot of great buzz and people are calling this type of advertisement the first of its kind. Have you seen it? Did you contribute any music for this?
I think this is a great way for the fans to experience the world of JIGSAW in a much deeper and more terrifying way, but I haven’t experienced the ‘Escape Room’ yet. As for the music, I didn’t create any new pieces especially for that aspect of the campaign, but I’m sure they’ve dipped into our huge reservoir of music from the franchise. In total, there’s well over three hundred separate music cues across all eight of the films, so the variety and amount of material they had to choose from is pretty staggering. I recently completed editing of a “SAW ANTHOLOGY” album, which will be released by Lakeshore Records as a two-CD, four-vinyl-LP collection, and it took me more than a month to go through every single piece of score from the whole franchise and reduce it down to about two and a half hours of running time. I did remix some cues, and do some pretty complex editing to combine various shorter cues into longer “suites”, and I hope that this anthology release will feel like a journey through the whole franchise in chronological order. After weeding through all of that music, I feel sympathy for the VR team if they’ve gone through the same process I just went through!
You have a long history with horror/darker films. When you were with Nine Inch Nails you all scored Natural Born Killers. What was that experience like and what were you particularly in charge of with that score?
For Natural Born Killers, Nine Inch Nails actually didn’t compose the score for the film in the usual fashion; almost all of the music in that film was from pre-existing recordings and it didn’t have a composed score per se. Our involvement was mostly after the fact, combining and compiling the songs used in the film into a chronological journey, and adding bits and pieces of dialog from the film in between the songs so that it felt almost like an audio book of the movie, if that makes sense. Trent Reznor wrote and recorded the song “Burn” specifically for the film, and created new versions of earlier NIN songs like “A Warm Place” and “Something I Can Never Have” for it as well. This all occurred just as I was a new member of the NIN team, but before I actually began playing keyboards in the live band, so my involvement was mostly as a studio programmer and technology expert, helping to deal with the technical challenges of completing this work while the band was on tour. Much of our work on that project was completed in hotel rooms on days off between shows on our European tour, with the song “Burn” being recorded in South Beach, Miami if I remember correctly. It was at times a pretty chaotic process, trying to squeeze in that amount of work during the usual mayhem of a Nine Inch Nails tour, but we all would have moved mountains to be able to collaborate in any way with Oliver Stone, so we did what had to be done.
-The Spierig Brothers, the directors of your upcoming film Jigsaw, recently spoke with EW and called The Thing & The Exorcist perfect Halloween movies. What would you say your top picks are?
My favorite Halloween movies kind of fall into two groups – the seriously scary group, and the campy-but-fun group. In the seriously scary category my favorites are the classics like The Shining, The Omen, and The Exorcist, and I even like some of the sequels in the Omen and Exorcist franchises as much as the originals – but The Shining is my all-time number one horror film for sure. Recently we’ve seen such a surge in interesting horror films, from the Conjuring and Insidious franchises to cool one-offs like Get Out and Split, all of which I liked. In the “campy fun” category it’s hard not to enjoy the Scream series of films, and I thought The Cabin In The Woods was good fun as well. But if I had to pick just one horror movie to watch on Halloween I’d have to give that honor to The Shining. It’s such a classic, and the music is terrifying and a big influence for me.