Mention the name Harry Manfredini to any fan of horror movie music and the chances are they will respond with the classic whispering themes of his iconic music to the Friday the 13th series films. As well as writing the scores to eight of the ten movies in that series Harry has worked with Wes Craven (Swamp Thing, Hills Have Eyes 2 and Wishmaster), written the scores to the successful House series of horror films, and is still extremely busy as we will shortly be finding out. A recent CD boxset of the music to the first six Friday the 13th films sold out pretty much on the day of release, showing that Harry Manfredini’s work is as popular as ever.
What was the first soundtrack or composition that you ever listened to and how did it affect you?
HM: Wow… I cannot begin to think what that might be. I was probably listening to music before I could speak! From an early age, I dreamed of being a film composer. My father was a great fan of Italian Opera, so I heard plenty of Puccini. I think his music definitely influenced how I write, particularly in terms of melody and in expressing the emotions of characters. My more adventurous and creative side was hugely influenced by the work of the progressive jazz musician Stan Kenton, whose work I was introduced to by my brother. At school I was introduced to the Gregorian chant and this influenced me as well. My mother and I would often stay up late and watch films on television, and I have to say the film scores to many of these films greatly affected me. Movie composers like Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, and the other giants were very much an influence on me.
It wasn’t until I was at college that I discovered many of the masters such as Bartok, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, and so on. Other, even more adventurous and avant-garde, twentieth century composers influenced me as well and I am sure all of these are reflected in my work.
What was it that first attracted you to horror?
HM: Well I was never specifically attracted to the horror genre, in fact I am not really that big a fan of horror films. But I can say this – writing the music for a horror film offers the composer a lot of opportunities to be creative, and to be versatile as well. The musical palette loses its boundaries with horror and so writing music for it can be much more fun. The actual writing of a film score is pretty much the same irrespective of which genre you’re working in. What’s special about writing music for a horror film is that often the score is much more important than in other types of film because it’s used more to manipulate the audience. I can remember a lot of horror and thriller-type films from my youth and these films do stay with you. I think I get scared by horror films just as much as anyone and that might be why I’ve been successful at writing genre music – horror films inspire the right response in me and so I am able to connect with the audience musically.
HM: The gig for writing the score for Friday the 13th came from my relationship with Sean Cunningham (producer and director). I had already written the music for two films he had made for children – one on baseball and the other on soccer. I guess Sean trusted me to be able to write music for his horror film as well. As for The Children I think that was shortly after Friday the 13th but I may be wrong. It’s possible The Children got released earlier – it was a long time ago!
John McCarty in his book Splatter Movies said that your score to Friday the 13th was “like Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho but with half the orchestra”. How big was the orchestra for that picture, and as the sequels went on did the music budget stay more or less the same?
HM: Well it’s always a great compliment to be compared to Bernard Herrmann. I do think there are similarities, especially in the use and development of short musical motifs and in the coloring of certain sequences. There are certainly other influences in the Friday the 13th score as well, though, including Bartok, Krzystof Penderecki and Jerry Goldsmith – his score to Coma especially. And of course there’s a lot of original material in there too!
Oddly enough the orchestra for the original Friday the 13th score consisted of thirteen players. We had three brass, nine strings, and myself on percussion, piano, synthesizers and vocal sounds. So it was probably more like “a sixth of the orchestra”! Although of course Psycho was just all strings.
The music budgets did not grow that much as the series went on but eventually I was able to add some more strings and a few extra brass and woodwinds. But usually it was me playing all the other instruments.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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