Jason Arnopp talks a load of baloney with veteran
I'LL ADMIT to having reservations about approaching Harry Manfredini, creator of the iconic Friday The 13th score and so much more besides. Not because of fan-based awe - you have to suppress that, if you're going to interview anyone efficiently - but because of the stereotype of composers being somewhat stuffy and pretentious. I really wasn't sure of how much I'd get out of Harry Manfredini. Would he even deign to do an interview with the lowly Slasherama.com, here at LA's wonderful Screamfest event, with various colleagues and fans vying for his attention?
Friday The 13th composer Harry Manfredini...
I couldn't have been more wrong. Forget the stereotypes: Harry's the man to smash 'em. Loud, lively, talkative and above all supremely personable, Harry readily let me position a tape recorder under his bearded chin, while displaying an affinity for goofy humour. For reasons best known to both of us, we started off with me pretending to be a German interviewer. I'll spare you that segment and slide right into the action. Let's talk Friday The 13th, the theory of film-scoring, why Harry didn't work on certain Friday sequels - most notably Freddy Vs Jason - and of course, baloney sandwiches...
Slasherama: How do you explain a 25-year-old movie, Friday The 13th, still packing out a movie theater today at Screamfest?
Harry Manfredini: "It's a film that's a legend. It wasn't the first one out - Halloween was out beforehand - but in my opinion Friday The 13th had a lot of special things about it. It was unlike any of the other films. To me, it's myopic. It doesn't try to be anything other than exactly what it is. Victor Miller's script is a straight line. When I first saw it, I knew that the movie was so intense and focused. If you pay attention to where the music is in the picture, you'll see that it represents the stalker. In any other horror film you might see, you'll see music all over the place, just to try and manipulate the audience, for whatever reason. But we made a direct choice on Friday The 13th, to make the music represent the stalker. That's one of the reasons why we have the 'Jason sound' that I came up with, the 'ki ki ki'."
Slasherama: And that was you saying the 'ki ki ki', wasn't it? What were you actually saying?
Manfredini: "Well, this may turn out to be a longer interview than you thought! In the film, as you well know (KILLER IDENTITY SPOILER RIGHT AHEAD!) Mrs Voorhees doesn't pop up until the last reel. So we have an entire film with a killer who you never see: it's almost like Jaws. So the killer had to have an identity, throughout the picture. In his wisdom, Sean asked if we could have a chorus. I told him we couldn't afford one: we could barely afford what we were doing! This was shoestring, crazy film-making. So I was listening to a piece by Krzysztof Penderecki, who's a very famous contemporary Polish composer: I study a lot of classical music, because you get a lot of great ideas. Anyway, the piece had a huge chorus, which were singing very striking pronounciations. Consequently, all of the consonant sounds were quite sharp, almost like a 'ki ki ki!'. I obviously knew I wasn't gonna get 100 people, so I had to find some way of affecting this vocal sound.
"So if you remember the movie, there's a scene towards the end where there's a close-up on Mrs Voorhees' mouth. It goes between the sound of Jason saying, 'Kill her mommy!', then the mother's voice, and back and forth. So I got the idea of taking the 'ki' from 'kill' and the 'ma' from 'mommy', but spoke them very harshly, distinctly and rhythmically into a microphone and run them through this '70s echo thing. It came up as you hear it today! So every time there was the perspective of the stalker, I put that into the score."
Slasherama: It belongs to an exclusive club of horror film scores that you can verbally quote, doesn't it?
Manfredini (laughing): "It does! I never thought of that - it's a great point. Now, I'll give you examples of a place when you'd normally have music, but which we avoided. There's a scene where one of the girls - I don't remember all the characters' names - is setting up the archery area of the film. One of the guys shoots an arrow into the target and just misses her. It's a huge scare, but if you notice, there's no music. That was a choice."
At this point, Sean Cunningham's lovely wife Susan comes up to tell Harry she's leaving. He introduces Susan - who edited Friday The 13th - to Slasherama. "I couldn't believe it tonight," she tells Harry, "seeing that negative scratch through that one shot". In unison, they cry, "It's still there!". Turns out they're talking about Marcie's axe-in-the-face bathroom scene. Harry and Susan say their goodbyes and she heads off with Mr Cunningham. Back to business, after that nice diversion...
Slasherama: So the art of real soundtrack composing can be to know when to leave out the music?
Manfredini: "Exactly. Sometimes the fact that there's no music can be stronger than when there is. Two more things about this movie: watch when something is about to happen. The music will always cut out, just before something happens. When the music stops, that's when something's about to happen. Because you want to get the audience to relax, so there's more of a leap when it all happens. Early on in the picture, there's a scene with Steve Christy, who's the camp councillor guy, and Alice. He's fixing a drain and she's talking with him. Obviously they've had some sort of relationship or something: he touches her face and it's sort of cold. That would have been an obvious point to set up some sort of romantic feel between them, but no. Up until the end when we fool you with the boat scene, the music is only the stalker."
Slasherama: How intact did that philosophy remain throughout the Friday films which followed?
Manfredini: "I tried to keep it as much as I could, because I liked the way it worked. But the film changed. You've gotta remember that in the first Friday, there was no Jason until the end. So subsequently, Jason becomes the shark: the killer, out to wreak havoc. So the essence of the pictures changed. They became more about setting 'em up and knocking 'em down, up until nine or ten, when it started to become a little more plot-driven. The subsequent films also had a lot more McGuffins and red-herrings. When you're scoring a red-herring, you have to score harder, because there's not gonna be a pay-off. You've got to work everyone up into a frenzy, only to let them down. So the sequels had a lot more of that stuff. The original had the real myopic approach, and then we had to start thinking of the sequels as more conventional films."
Slasherama: Why didn't you score Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan?
Manfredini: "I was doing other movies, which were made in Canada. They took some of my music, though, and re-scored some things with it. So I guess I do have some music in there, even though I didn't specifically write it."
Slasherama: Which must have been quite nice. Money for old rope?
Manfredini: "Yes. Right. Money for free (laughs)."
Slasherama: Do you have a favourite among the sequels?
Manfredini: "The sixth one, where they exhume Jason from the grave. That was one of my favourite scores and movies. I like the first, the second, the sixth and Jason X. Most people didn't like that last one, but I did. Part of the problem with Jason X was that it sat on the shelf for a year-and-a-half. It would have been a much better movie if they'd released it when it was ready, because some of the CGI things and effects were really quite cool when they were done. A year-and-a-half later, of course, technology moves on, and people were like, 'Oh, I could do that at home on my Mac'. It's like when Michael Jackson did the morphing effect in a music video, then a year-or-so later you could buy that program for your home computer! You could morph your own family."
Slasherama: I won't ask you what you're up to at the moment, as that would probably be a whole other interview: you're always working.
Manfredini: "I'm always working (laughs). Since January I've done four pictures and I've got three more to do before the year's out."
Slasherama: No! There's only a couple of months left!
Manfredini: "Well... I'm busy. I just did a thriller for Lifetime: I've been doing a lot of Lifetime films. You only get two weeks to score them, so that's how you can do so many. I'm doing a thriller now, and I've got a comedy and a horror movie before the year is out."
Slasherama: What's the horror movie?
Manfredini: "It's called Dead & Gone. It's a shooting-by-the-seat-of-your-pants films. It's written by a friend of mine who's the head of music at Carolco Pictures. His name is Harry Shannon and he's an excellent mystery writer who's done a lot of novels. There's another film called The Pumpkin Patch, written and directed by Mary Liz Thompson (see photograph of her and Harry together, back up the page) which I think should be very good."
Slasherama: You seem surprisingly accessible to low-budget film-makers. People would initially think they couldn't afford Harry Manfredini...
Manfredini: "That's sad. Because I like doing movies. There's a movie I'm gonna do next year, that I've read the script for. I met a young man at one of these get-togethers, who's just starting up. He wrote a script for a World War Two horror film, that takes place in a German forest and is literally based on true occurences. It's called The Drowning. It's quite sinister, about Nazi experiments. It's got a group of American soldiers, kinda like Platoon, who encounter this castle where they find millions of dollars of counterfeit American money. It's a great story. Again, it was a young man I just met. I just like doing movies that are fun for me: the budget isn't so important. Obviously it's nice to do a picture with a big budget, but I especially like doing movies with young people who are just starting out."
Slasherama: Good for you, sir. Now, if there was a new Friday The 13th movie, what kind of approach do you think you'd take to it?
Manfredini: "I would have to wait and see it first. The problem with Friday movies, and the problem that so many directors have had with it... for instance, Tom over there (points at Tom McLoughlin, director of Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) is a great director and he tried to really make an interesting Friday. As I said, it was one of my favourites. But there weren't enough murders. We had to go out and murder more people, because every eight minutes that bell's gotta ring and somebody's gotta go!"
Slasherama: Didn't you shoot some extra people getting skewered on a motorbike?
Manfredini: "Exactly! Boy, you really know your stuff. What I'm saying is, it's difficult to satisfy what people expect from the film. Another reason Jason X didn't do as well, was that it took us in a different way. We'd have to wait and see. Lately, I've really gotten into ambient, atmospheric music that's not so orchestral. Not new-age, but minimalistic. So it'd be fun to try something like that, but again, the picture's gotta dictate it. You can't just go ambient because that's what you wanna do (laughs). Let's face it: there are people who have to be killed. And viewers have to be scared."
Slasherama: Why didn't you do Freddy Vs Jason?
Manfredini: "That's a very good question, and I don't even really know the answer. I really wish I could have done it."
Slasherama: You were missed.
Manfredini: "Thank you very much for that. I haven't even been able to watch it."
Slasherama: I'm sure you and (former Jason actor, replaced for FvsJ) Kane Hodder could have a good conversation about that movie.
Manfredini: "Oh, Kane. I love Kane! I used to see him in a grocery store all the time. I'd punch him and stuff, just to aggravate him, saying, 'Oh, you're not so tough without that mask on!'. But I don't know what happened with either of us on Freddy Vs Jason. They said they were going in a new direction. I did watch 10 minutes of the movie and I was like, 'Uh... what new direction?'. Because it basically all seemed like the same thing to me. And not really very good. There was an original Freddy Vs Jason script, written years ago, that I thought was the best. And I read 10 scripts. But that one was so clever, so good, that it would've blown this film out of the water."
Slasherama: It seems there was an unnecessary clearing of the boards for Freddy Vs Jason, and you and Kane were bizarrely dispensed with.
Manfredini: "It just doesn't make any sense. Like I said, I haven't seen the movie. I tried watching it a couple of times and after 10 minutes was like, 'This is stupid - it's just the same thing'."
Slasherama: It must be a bit like watching your girlfriend making out with someone else...
Manfredini (laughing uproariously): "It's not quite that bad, but...! I'll give you a perfect example. I do a lot of different types of music: I do cartoons, children's films, all sorts of stuff. There was a cartoon series that I was going to do. I was explicitly told that it was a hispanic-oriented series. They said they didn't want traditional cartoon music - they wanted everything to be very authentic. Very salsa. So I wrote this theme song, with vocals from a friend of mine who's an excellent Latino artist out here. It was a hip salsa thing. Then I wrote a couple of possible cues for scenes and things. I didn't get the job. One day, I just happened to be watching television and up came the show. The music was so traditional cartoon! I was like, 'What happened?!'. I could've done that in my sleep! It's the equivalent of someone saying, 'We want a banana', then the next thing you know, it's roast turkey!"
Slasherama: The audio equivalent to roast turkey!
Manfredini: "That's right. It was a baloney sandwich! They wanted some nice tacos and salsa, and they ended up with a baloney sandwich!"
Slasherama: What is baloney? I've never managed to pluck up the courage to order one. It sounds terrible.
Manfredini: "Well... baloney's okay. It's like a big hot dog, sliced. It's about the size of a piece of bread, so it works nice."
Slasherama: Thanks for putting up with Slasherama's baloney, sir.
Manfredini: "Thank you so much!"
Check out Harry Manfredini's website here.
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© Copyright Slasherama 2005. No part of this interview, or the photographs of Harry Manfredini/Harry and Mary Liz Thompson, may be reproduced without permission.