WHY RE-SCORE PUMPKINHEAD?
Continuing with creating complete alternate film scores to my favored past horror films, I bring you “Horror Re-Scored: Vol. 3”. The film chosen was “Pumpkinhead”. While it is one of the best modern-day creepy & atmospheric old fashioned supernatural revenge stories to date, it had one of the worst scores I have ever heard.
The original score was composed by Richard Stone. I do not know much about his style of music, if he was aspiring to be a film composer or just a friend of the production who was hired cheap and on the fly. So, Before I discuss why I dislike this score greatly, I cannot criticize his efforts here as I do not know the situation at that time that resulted in the creation of the music that is heard in the film. Plenty of gifted composers can be handicapped by lack of budget which leads to lack of resources such as a large ensemble or even quality of synths available. I can only comment on why I don’t like the score and what drove me to select this as my next entry into my ongoing Horror Re-Score series of concept soundtrack abums.
Before I get into the stylistic approach, the score overall seems heavily edited and tracked all over the place during inappropriate moments and no music where scenes might have benefitted greatly if there was music present. This does not help in liking the music more. I have tried to appreciate the effort by the composer by listening to the soundtrack album that was released of the score, I just simply cannot get into it.
The stylistic choices made for the score (whoever made them as it could be the composer or the filmmakers) were typical of low-budget horror movies of the time. In addition to overemphasizing the country bumpkin hickville locale with twangy, bluesy sounding music, there was lots of stingers, long endless dissonant drones, synth choirs, and percussion instruments. Neither worked well for the film in lifting it up from a production value standpoint. The composer may have had no budget and worked with a small ensemble of players to achieve what could.
Also, due to what may have been a limited or no budget for the composer, moments that should have a big musical moment, don’t due to the small-scale ensemble of acoustic instruments and synths. Much of the music plays in the background and based on which mix of the movie you have, the score sounds dialed down significantly in many scenes and at times sounds recycled (temp-tracked) throughout the film.
Now that said, the film does something few horror movies did, avoided music during many key on-screen moments with Pumpkinhead on full display. When Pumpkin head appears, there was an emphasis on the use of sound effects such as thunder clashing, high winds and the sound of cicadas. However, when the characters are subsequently chased, are running for their lives, or captured, we are hit with ear-piercing stingers & dissonant drones as though a child walked up to a synth and clash their hands down randomly on the keys and hold them there.
I did appreciate how the composer tried to make an attempt to develop the score and fuse the twangy / bluesy music with the horror elements (synth strings and choir). However,, the small scale of the ensemble limited the music to playing over dialogue scenes and jump scares. If given more resources and budget, the composer may have been able to expand the sonic sound and ensemble size of instruments to give the bigger moments such as the kills and chase scenes the scale they desperately needed.
Ultimately, the original score by Richard Stone score lacked any real focus on the emotional trauma experienced by a father losing his son due to the actions of complete strangers. There were moments where the music was soft and emotive, but they were few and far between and were dialed down. Mostly, the movie seemed to favor the scares and subtle (if almost inaudible) soundscape the original composer tried to establish.
WHAT I DID DIFFERENTLY
I wanted to focus more on the dramatic and emotional aspect of the characters while still serving up scares and chases where necessary. Overall, the music would be from the perspective of the characters, not necessarily the onscreen action. People from two different worlds and lifestyles come crashing together and the music would reflect this. I created an architecture that would support this emotional journey.
The obsession by the father is what drives him to have Pumpkinhead summoned and take revenge upon those who were involved with his son’s death. The music should reflect the father’s descent into darkness. His love, his heartbreak, his turmoil, his anger were all fueling his thirst for vengeance and justice.
Beyond the emotional elements, I wanted to also equally emphasize the scary elements of the story that make it more of a horror movie than a family drama. So, I created several other motifs and a dark soundscape to help emphasize the primal side of the story, the legend of Pumpkinhead itself and of course – the kills.
In this age of virtual orchestral instruments, which were not available outside of late 80s synthesizers and synclaviers, Pumpkinhead can get a more appropriate score. I was able make the score bigger in scope and more dynamic with pounding tribal drums, whaling and trilling brass, atonal string effects, and a variety of ambient and processed sounds to create a true emotive and larger scale score.
The spotting is done differently. The original score is pretty much like non-descript wallpaper, dialed down in places where it should be more prominent, and choice of placement of cues and type pf music does not have the impact it should have when not being used as stingers. There is an impressive use of no music in many scenes that do work but the overall balance of music and no music is uneven. My attempt was to strike an evenness of music vs no music.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
In all my albums I strive to create a sonic palette within which to formulate my ideas. This palette keeps a necessary cohesiveness to the soundscape and helps to create an overall unique signature soundscape that is specific to the story the music is supporting. Also, I try to create and maintain a musical architecture to which the musical development must adhere to in order to properly evolve.
For this re-score album, I wanted to return to an era when Main Titles and opening sequences were the chance for a composer to introduce the overall roadmap for the score to come. It is designed to set the stage of events to come both narratively and musically. All the major thematic material - motifs, themes and signature sounds - would get introduced during the Main Title cue.
In my Main Titles, I introduce several of the primary musical ideas. The theme for the father’s obsession for revenge is heard first out of the gate on piano and is usually intermingled with the pounding drums before exploding into 2 competing motifs over the Main Title Card – one for the legend & resurrections of Pumpkinhead on high range synth strings and piano and the other is the monster’s rage with more drums and whaling brass trills.
When all the chaos dies down, the music returns to the obsession theme with intermittent statements of material that will become the atmospheric sounds representing dark woods realm and hunting grounds used by Pumpkinhead. As this material builds in layers and textures, the monster’s rage motif rips through it all and ends in a second and final statement of the “legend and resurrection” motif.
The “prologue” scene following the Main Titles depicts a flashback of when the father was a young boy and experienced events associated with Pumpkinhead. These events will get repeated by the young boy when he becomes a father himself. This sequence was a rather long opening sequence that offered a chance for me to test out the ideas introduced in the Main Titles. I was able to get both emotive and very ferocious at the same time. Basically, it is a mini version suite of sorts representing the whole score in a span of 8 minutes. I use nearly every instrument in my pre-established virtual instrument ensemble.
The obsession theme is heard on a creepy ambient piano, mostly in high register for moments of the father is considering vengeance on the city folk that cause his son’s death. It shifts to low register, muted, and harshly punctuated piano when the obsession and vengeance come to fruition and the city folk are stalked, chased and ultimately killed.
The theme for the father’s rage is mostly presented in a dark brooding mode, however, early on it begins in a major key and represents his love for his son. It is simple and bittersweet in tone. During scenes of their interactions at the local roadside market the father owns and operates, the music develops into a strong uplifting tone to show how much stronger their bond is.
The uplifting father & son theme devolves back into the obsession for revenge theme by simply shifting from a major key to a minor key. It will be heard mostly on a solo, creepy, pseudo-detuned piano, distant sounding steel guitars and synth choral pads.
For the country locals, Pumpkinhead itself is a ghost, a dark secret, something that is known but not spoken about, like the dark sheep of the family. To keep it a secret and stuff of legends, the story of Pumpkinhead is reduced to a poem or nursery rhyme that is meant to scare children like a morality tale, as if it was something ancient, primal and unstoppable. If you do something bad, Pumpkinhead will come get you. To represent this legend, I created a rising 5 note motif within a whole tone scale. It can be heard on the
In the original score, the music during these scenes was very twangy and country bumkin bluesy in its style. While I did not compose this type of music, I did create the sense of the country locale by using many of the standard instruments without being too “on the nose”. The focus more was more on the strong bond and closeness exhibited by the father and son. Also, much like what the original score did, I would pull musical ideas introduced in these early cues and fuse them into the darker cues.
The accident that occurs involving the father’s son and the newly arrived city folk at his store brings about the two worlds crashing together. The music is urgent and foreboding, but more importantly, introduces a small ascending theme for the city folk which will represent their inability to escape what’s coming. It is sort of a bait and switch, or dramatically misleading moment as it supports a character who wants to flee the accident site and then takes everyone hostage but ultimately, they are hostages by Pumpkinhead. For scenes when the group’s ability to escape the wrath of Pumpkinhead occurs, this ascending motivic theme is heard. In the beginning, it is presented in a slow, brooding and sometimes distant tone, but as the action increases the ascension is punctuated harshly on low pianos and low strings.
When the father seeks out the person who is rumored to have the ability to resurrect Pumpkinhead to go commit vengeance on the city folk, the music slowly transitions into a ghostly and primal soundscape. Various acoustic and percussive instruments plucking, slapping, tapping, pounding, clashing and scratching away over synth ambient drones and other atonal string effects. As the father is forced to go retrieve what will be the body of Pumpkinhead in order for the “legend” and “monster’s rage” motifs begin to sneak into the soundscape. As the resurrection ceremony commences and the rebirth of Pumpkinhead is achieved, the father, the motifs for the “legend” and the “monster’s rage” grow to an immense and ferocious level, signally the point of no return for the father and his desire for revenge.
The atmospheric stuff represents the sounds of the dark woods at night and is the domain of Pumpkinhead. The instruments are sort of a representation of all the scary and weird sounds a person would hear when in the woods at night. The plucking and scratchy sounds are the insects of the night. The hollow sounds and cymbals are the wind blowing. The thumps and distant echoey sounds are animal calls from afar. This sound design trickles into cues that support the chases, stalking and deaths of characters in the woods and the reverse happens as well with the tribal drums and whaling brass to signify the king of the land is PH.
One challenge I faced and struggled with was that of the secondary hick family. While they are not significant characters, they are more of a subtle yet convenient plot driving device. It was determined to treat them with a more simplistic version of the obsession motif, indicating that they may have also been victim to the Pumpkinhead legend in the past.
It consists of the first 3 notes of the obsession theme and is performed in fast ascending succession almost like someone strumming a chord (or plucking it rather) intermittently. At times the order of the notes is changed but it is always the same 3 notes.
This plays over scenes involving characters having encounters with the witch and the hick family and put in the wilderness as the family could be viewed as being part of the scary woods like animals and Insects. Ultimately it becomes representative of the hick boy who helps the remaining characters get to safety.
By the end, all the thematic material culminates in a battle between PH and the father. The obsession theme, the legend motif and the monsters rage motif all take their turn intertwining and battling for prominence as it is discovered that Pumpkinhead and the father are both linked on a psychic and physical level. What the father feels, Pumpkinhead feels and physically reacts to it. This is used to help defeat Pumpkinhead. All the material comes crashing together at the very end as the father and Ph have essentially become one.
The score ends on a quasi spiritual and bittersweet tone as it is discovered that the father’s body is being buried in the same spot where Pumpkinheads body was exhumed by the father. This indicates a sort of cycle of abuse, indicating that whoever calls on having Pumpkinhead to be resurrected will ultimately become Pumkinhead themselves.
While the Main Titles was more the birthing of the main musical ideas to come, like the re-birth of Pumpkinhead, the end credits is a culmination suite of the events that occurred. I wanted to expand a little more on the music used for the father and son’s interactions at the shop. Then just as quickly as the son’s ripped away from the father, the music also transitions abruptly to the dark monster’s rage and scary woods music before ending on the legend motif hinting that this will not be the last time Pumpkinhead will be resurrected.