House of Wax / 2005 Composed

House of Wax / 2005
Suite from House of Wax
# Title Duration
Opening / Tantrum* 3:29
Ritual / Escape From Church 1:29
Story of the Town 1:46
Up In Flames 3:41
They Look So Real 2:16
Sealed Lips 3:57
Brotherly Love 2:28
Hanging With Baby Jane 3:36
Paris Gets it 3:07
Curiosity Kills 23:34
Bringing Down the House 5:08
Three Sons 2:28
Endless Service 2:45

John's Thoughts

"I want the music big and gothic," said Joel Silver.  That was the mission statement for House of Wax, my third venture with Joel.  The first thing to come to mind, of course, was organ, choir, and a large orchestra.   Essentially a teen slasher, House of Wax would feel bigger with a grander musical approach, while still delivering the visceral scares.  Large scale orchestra music is the most fun to write for me, and there would be a lot of it.  I'm used to that, but always wonder if I'll ever get one of those Father of the Bride type gigs where they only need 20 minutes of score instead of 85.  I wouldn't know what to do with myself!

House of Wax has basically two main themes.  The overriding theme is adapted in a variety of ways and is essentially "Trudy's Theme."  There are many scenes where our protagonists explore the forgotten town of Trudy and her boys, so I knew music harkening the opening flashback between her and her sons would work best to continually remind us of the past and make us feel some history in the environment.  The result was a simple, screwy melody on an out-of-tune celesta with piano and solo violin surrounded by two repeating 8th note child "la la's" as a counterpoint.  These la la's would be used as a motif throughout the film reminding us of the opening where Trudy is making candles in the kitchen while her two sons eat cereal.  One son throws a tantrum, and things get quite violent as Trudy and her husband strap him into his highchair.  I wanted the music to be suspiciously innocent and get progressively twisted.  It not only represented Trudy, but her sons as well.  Musically going against the grain of a scene is always fun to do if possible. It's a way to make the violence more disturbing rather than just using typically tense music.  For the tantrum, the childish theme repeats with gradually intensified orchestration as the tempo races faster and faster.  Not having the largest budget in the world to work with, the choir in the opening cue was sung by none other than me and Deborah Lurie on multi tracks done in her apartment.  There's one particularly embarrassing moment where my voice sticks out just a little too much as Trudy mixes wax in the kitchen.  Eee gads.  This was also one of the last cues recorded with the orchestra, so we did it in two takes.  It was crazy to risk rushing the opening cue, but we were almost out of time.  Fortunately it went relatively smoothly.  All in all, that's how nuts the recording sessions were – recording 85 minutes in three days.

The other major theme is the "gothic" one, providing the ominous feel to the darker moments and death sequences in the film.  Largely chordal supported by arpeggios, it's characterized by swelling organ and brooding choir.  My favorite use of this theme is when Vincent (one of Trudy's sons) waxes up a victim.  It's a slower sequence I thought would be even more enthralling if it felt like a ritual.   So I wrote a simple brutal rhythm on celli, basses, bones, choir, timpani and snare that relentlessly repeats under the swelling violins, horns, trumpet, higher voices and organ playing the thematic chords.  The result sounded terrific and really juiced up the sequence.  This cue (The Ritual) also ended up being mixed prominently in the scene.  This huge theme was also used in tender ways, my favorite being a delicate moment when Vincent lights a candle in his brother's house later in the film. (In the cue, Brotherly Love.)  Even evil people have feelings.  Awe.

Another of my favorite cues is a little one called Story of the Town.  In the film, it was virtually drowned out by production sound.  Bo and his visitors walk along a gravel road as he tells the history of the town.  They were unable to ADR (dialog replace) the scene, so the gravel and dialog were linked to each other.  For this cue I had an idea to make the staccato woodwinds perform as if they were treated with a delay reverb – like echoing the past.  Within each woodwind section I wrote the parts so that their notes were staggered to answer each other.  By layering and marking every note with a differing dynamic, the effect worked great, and is completely natural.  When the musicians played, it really did sound like a post effect, but wasn't. On top of this woodwind technique, I performed a lightly shimmering organ-esque sound which also linked the cue into the gothic musical world.

There's another motif early in the film using gritty guitar strums weighted by bass drum, string and brass hits.  Used to establish a hick character and mysterious truck, these cues where mixed in a rather subliminal way in the film.  The longest iteration of this material was in a truck ride to town.  Unfortunately, once again the scene had to use the loud production track for the dialog.  The rattling of the truck, etc. drowned out the score.  The musical idea in the truck was to make the sequence feel even more "Deliverance-like."

All in all it was a fun experience providing an over-kill score to a slasher film.  Just being able to name a cue Paris Gets It was well worth the effort!