If you have ever grabbed your arm rest in fright while watching the recent Halloween remake or buried your face in your scarf (as I often do during the scary parts of movies) when a particular stanza in the Dawn of the Dead score made you jump, you are already familiar with composer Tyler Bates‘ work. With Halloween upon us, I thought it only appropriate to sit down with Bates to pick his brain about all things horror from his favorite scary movies to what he loves about composing for them to his favorite Halloween memories (and costumes.)
Read on to hear about his experience working with directors Rob Zombie and Neil Marshall, how his early exposure to horror films may have set his current career in motion, and what may happen when you attend a wedding on Halloween.
This is an appropriate time for us to be talking as Halloween is right around the corner and you are kind of the horror film music master with a resume that boats Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (which was recently released), Neil Marshall’s Doomsday and James Gunn’s Slither – are you a big fan of horror films?
I enjoy horror films because they tend to make the audience feel very much alive. As we leave the theater, it feels as though we survived the horrific events depicted on-screen.
On the music side of things, what is your favorite part about creating music for horror films?
I really like the creative possibilities horror films have to offer. You can be very inventive in ways that would be inappropriate for dramas or “feel good” movies, especially with regards to tonal motifs, rhythm, and odd melodies. Musically speaking, you can get away with murder!
You have created music for different types of horror films from those with a more science fiction slant with Doomsday to Rob Zombie’s take on the classic slasher film Halloween – how did your process differ with each of these very directors and tackling these different horror genres?
Both Rob and Neil have distinct aesthetic tastes, yet similarly, they have a deep connection to music. They truly recognize its importance in their films, and also the music of movies that inspired them to become filmmakers.
My approach to the work I have done with Rob Zombie is to create a generally uncomfortable atmosphere that engages your senses on a very primal level. In doing so, I consider ways to expand on his brand as an icon in the modern rock world by creating music that is a natural progression of his ideas as a filmmaker as opposed to creating scores that sound like Rob’s songs as a recording artist. He also happens to be a very talented and intelligent artist that throughout our working relationship has very effectively communicated his aspirations for the music in his films.
Neil Marshall is very economical with words, but he enjoys discussing his favorite movies of all genres. He has very good taste in music, which then makes listening to music together a great way of communicating his sensibilities as an individual as well as a filmmaker. He too is very smart and quite fun to work with!
Do you have a favorite horror movie? Do you have a favorite horror movie score?
This is impossible for me to answer with a single title. The first Halloween movie really freaked me out after seeing it in the theater when I was a kid. It didn’t help that I lived in a creepy house in the woods either! I imagine that had a significant effect on my musical development as it pertains to film. The cold and calculated themes in that movie instantly became the benchmark for demented, scary as hell music. I can easily make a list of twenty horror scores that impacted me, but I would say in short order that Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all had a hand in depriving me of being remotely normal.
What is your favorite thing to do to celebrate Halloween?
Take my kids ‘trick or treating’ and watching football, if it occurs on a Monday, Thursday, or Sunday night.
What has been your favorite Halloween costume? Are you dressing up this year? And if so, can you reveal what you are going to be?
I went to a Halloween wedding at a castle in Hollywood several years ago, which resulted in some pretty serious costumed debauchery for some of the guests – both single and married alike. It was a rock n’ roll wedding so it wasn’t necessarily unexpected, however I found the irony in all of it a bit funny. Lets just say it would have been fitting if Jerry Springer were on hand to sort out the mess that evening!
I went dressed as a mentally insane funeral director. No one recognized me, which made it fun. If I decide to dress for the occasion this year, I’ll probably be a scarecrow that resembles the cast of The Devil’s Rain, which is my favorite John Travolta movie!
To get into the spirit of the season, check out Bates’ recently released score for Dawn of the Dead, now available for download!