We were honoured to speak with legendary horror film composer Harry Manfredini about his career in music and film; from creating the iconic score for Friday the 13th and it’s sequels to working on the recent video game.
“……one day in his kitchen, he said to me… I am going to make the scariest film ever, its called Friday the 13th, and you are going to score it…. And the rest I guess is history!”
How did you first become interested in music?
Music has always spoken to me from a very early age. and the more I learned, the more It fascinated me to learn more… But generally speaking, it simply spoke to me in an emotional and physical way. It is hard to put this answer into words. I started taking lessons at 6, on the……. Hmmmm I am Italian…. That’s right… Accordion!
Who are your musical influences?
My influences varied, my father, being from Lucca Italy was an opera lover so I heard a lot of Puccini. It is probably where I get a lot of emotion, and drama.
My brother was into progressive jazz, and so I heard a lot of Stan Kenton, especially the early experimental music like City of Glass. That spoke to me as well. My mother was from Rome. We would watch a lot of Old films on television. I mean the old ones… and the scores definitely spoke to me.
Herrmann, Newman, Rosza, and the old masters. I can tell you that being a film composer was one of my earliest dreams. I dreamed of sitting in front of an amazing magical keyboard that would be able to play any sound I wanted, while the film was projected over my head… and here I sit today… doing just that… be careful what you dream.
How would you describe the role of the film composer?
Composing music for films is an interesting process. It is not just composing music. In film music composition, you are really part Dramatist. Often more so than Composer.
Your job is to capture, create the drama that is written, directed, acted, and edited. It could be a scare, or a laugh, it could be sad, or joyful. Whatever the director and writer have intended; To evoke their work is the job of the composer to aurally convey to the audience those Intentions. Sometimes even writing against the visual to get the point across. To manipulate The emotions and psyche of the audience to the wishes of the films creators.
How one does that is where the composing comes into play. Often it doesn’t take much music to do that, other times it is more intricate. A film composer does not have to dazzle you with great counterpoint, or incredible orchestration, or the harmonic language of a master.
How did you first become involved in the Friday the 13th franchise?
I had previously done two PG13 films for Sean Cunningham. Both were kid oriented.
And one day in his kitchen, he said to me… I am going to make the scariest film ever, its called Friday the 13th, and you are going to score it…. And the rest I guess is history!
You have scored the music for 8 Friday movies (I – VI, Final Friday & X) – Which one is your personal favourite?
Well, each has certain elements that I like. Obviously, the first would have to be at the top of the list… It spawned the others, and it was a very creative and clever use of music, which made the score a Character in the film. It was also somewhat of a whodoneit… whereas the others were Jason as the shark, and you were doomed. I liked part 2 because of the psychological aspect. I love the scene with Amy Steele and Jason in the shed…. I called it Chez Jason. Where she puts on the sweater and psyches Jason.
I liked part three because of the 3D. and the fun that it brought, including the famed disco piece.
In 4, Joseph Zito created some great directing, and Tom Savini came back with amazing efx. Part 5 was a real challenge in that I knew as I was scoring that the killer was not Jason, and so I had to work even harder on the tension, fights and kills to keep the audience unaware that Jason was not in the film.
Part 6 is a favorite too, first time I had a larger ensemble of live players… and loved Tom McLaughlin. Part 9 was crazy, and offered new opportunities to score different aspects of the music… and 10 was a chance to expand even more on the musical palette
Your scores are part of horror culture – are you a horror fan yourself?
Oddly enough, I am not. I love films. I love a good film. If it happens to be horror, then fine. I think the reason I have success in horror is that they scare the heck out of me. I really react to them, and so I guess I am able to translate that into music.
You have scored the soundtracks for over 100 movies – which are you most proud of?
Whichever one I just finished… ha ha… not satisfied with that answer? Ok
Here is a short list, not intended to be complete or accurate. I reserve the right to add to this at any time.
Friday the 13th the original. For Obvious reasons
House 1, and House 2. Fantastically Fun and well done films… when do you get a chance to score a baby pterodactyl, a worm dog, an wacky dingbat, a dead cowboy, an old grandpa, and
Deep Star Six… A big LIVE orchestra
Timemaster… A large orchestra, and a chance to journey through time from prehistoric, to To western, to the present, to the future and beyond.
A Gun, A Car, and a Blonde. A sexy smoky film noir… great cast, and I get to play sax!!!
The Amber Story… a Lifetime Channel film about the tragedy of the young girl for whom The Amber Alert was created. A story of the strength of a mother who created it.
There are numerous children’s films. Including many award-winning ones… i.e. A BOY, A DOG AND A FROG, ANGUS LOST, CORDUROY, THE REMARKABLE RUNAWAY TRICYCLE and others directed by Gary Templeton which are non-verbal films where the music tells the story.
Crestfallen, and The Days God Slept. Two wonderful films by Jeremiah Kipp. These Short films stay with you forever.
Okay… there are more, but I am tired of typing for now.
You created the score for the new Friday the 13th game – how did you find this experience?
Well at this writing I am still creating, I am still finding this experience. Fun, crazy, complicated, challenging, Frustrating, exciting, a learning experience, worthwhile.
Wes, Chuck, and the whole gang of maniacs who put this together are great people and very helpful and make this a joy.
It’s been 38 years since the first Friday the 13th was released – what do you attribute to the longevity of the franchise?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know, maybe it’s a familiar roller coaster ride that many enjoy. It knows what it is… does not try to be anything else. I think people go to see it, and then bring friends for a second time not so much to watch the film but to watch their friends freak out… and then again.
What is your favourite movie of all time?
I have a ton of them… in all genres.
Some. La La Land. Cinema Paradiso, Midnight in Paris, Groundhog Day Godfather’s 1 and 2. Donny Brasco, The King of Hearts, The Queen of Hearts, My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Men, Moonstruck, Immortal Beloved, Bull Durham Dances with Wolves, The Exorcist, And many more.
What is your favourite TV show of all time?
I have a ton of them.. in many genres
Some… Six Feet Under, The Handmaids Tale, Sopranos, So You Think You Can Dance By far the best talent show of all…in my opinion.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Taxi, Newsroom, Peaky Blinders, Last Week Tonight.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Well, I am still working on the game… which I hope will finish around April, but who knows It may never end….
A feature presently titled CATHEDRAL, which is about an exorcism and ghosts.
Two Other feature film remake projects, that I am not supposed to mention!
And a Live music project, that I am not going to mention at this point. But might be A lot of fun..Stand by..
And finally, what scares you?
Just about all the things that scare everyone else. I have a strange fear of moths and bridges, and birds that fly in a home. I think inherited from my sister…. And a blank piece of music paper.
Find out more at HarryManfredini.com