Christmas horror movies are hit-or-miss in the film industry, but captured in director Michael Dougherty's 2015 release Krampus is the dread of European folklore and humor modern storytelling. Teaming with his Trick 'r Treat composer Douglas Pipes, the film's soundtrack is as holiday-centric and terrifying as Krampus itself, which is still in theaters! In an exclusive interview with Music Times, Pipes opened up about creating a sound that stayed true to this monster, this holiday and this movie, which ends up sounding like a score to our nightmares fueled by candy canes and the naughty list.
How did you get involved with Krampus?
I worked with the director Michael Doherty on a previous film and I was the composer on that. He and I spoke the same language when it came to film music. So when Krampus was germinating in his mind, he called me up and told me about it. I had never heard of Krampus before and he told me about the legend and the folklore of Krampus. A little while later he sent me a copy of the script and the script was amazing. It was funny and scary. So I was pretty much on board from the get go.
Creating Krampus must've been pretty daunting for the film's crew, and the same can be said about your score and musical themes surrounding the mythical character. What was your approach? Did you do any research into other music or even the monster?
I did. Once the film started going, I researched more. As far as the score goes, the early conversations Michael had mentioned that it's going to be a Christmas movie and he wants to make sure that we were using a lot of Christmas melodies and Christmas themes and mutating them. Just like in Trick 'r Treat and how we played on that "...give me something good to eat" theme and played on that throughout the score. He liked how the mutation of that worked throughout the score as a cohesive element. He wanted to do that with this film using fragments of Christmas elements and melodies throughout the score and mutating them- using those themes and Christmas instrumentation to keep the entire score rooted in "the spirit of Christmas" and on the other end creating a theme for Krampus because it's an alpine folklore.
I started out from the early stages working on a theme for the Krampus to sound like it could almost be an old European Christmas carol, just the shape of the melody or even like a folk melody. In some iterations of that melody I had even explored pointing it in very traditional folk ways. Those didn't actually end up in the score in that exact format, but it was the beginning of where it came from. So I wrote it and had it played just on a fiddle, just like a European folk melody from the region. Another Christmas carol that used throughout the score is "The Carol of the Bells." which is actually from a Ukrainian folk melody from quite some time ago. It was sort of- created melody that would intertwine and play with that play against each other.
So basically the Christmas melodies are playing and mutating throughout the score, and the Krampus theme can play in its most innocent form during Omi's story, but it also plays in more fantastical and grand appearances when Krampus is first summoned. And at some point they are playing against each other.
You mentioned earlier that Michael laid out the outline, was that the extent of his involvement or was he more involved on this project than others? Did you have full creative freedom?
Yeah Michael is a huge film, music fan and lover and aficionado. He's got a pretty clear idea of where he wants things to go tonally so we spent a lot of time talking about it. Almost daily conversation a we worked through it so it was a very collaborative effort as we worked through the score and what we wanted to do. When it came down to Christmas carols, I'd basically compose things and bounce those off him. We are talking and communicating throughout the whole process and trying things out. In the case of this movie we tried a fair amount of Christmas carol as for use in the underscore. We did use all of them but we went back and forth and narrowed down the ones that would be effective.
Speaking of working with Michael, have you been talking to him about Trick 'r Treat 2?
Quote I know nothing so far about Trick 'r Treat 2, big smile on my face, end quote. I think it's still early. He's going to now start focusing on the script but I don't know any details other than I don't believe there is a script finished.
We had a great time on this film doing the music and on Trick 'r Treat, and Michael and I both have very similar taste in music and what we both like out of film scores which is themes and melodies and not just atmospheres. We like the music to do what music can do in a film.
Will you be scoring Trick 'r Treat 2?
I sure hope to.
Do you have any advice for aspiring film composers?
If you want to get involved in film composing, obviously listen, study composing and film composing. Watch lots of films. Break down what you like what you don't like. Just as important is to actually do it. Find people make short films and score them. Don't worry about making money, build up a reel of films you worked on and get it to a point where you feel comfortable.
Watch a lot of films, and listen. Listen for what you like and think works very well, and just as important, what you think doesn't work so well and how you would approach the scene to improve the use of music, always considering entire arc of the story.