Harry Manfredini: Horror Films' Bloody Musical Genius by Brian Kirst

Musical master Harry Manfredini will go down in film history as the man who scored many of the 'Friday the 13' films and as the one who gave the world it's impossible to forget theme. But the eclectic Manfredini has scored films of all varieties and intensities. As far as the visitors to this site are concerned, Manfredini has also helped create the mood and textures for many of our favorite horror outings. If the names 'Wishmaster' , 'The Horror Show', 'House IV' and 'Deep Star Six' mean anything to you then you are in the right place! The generous Manfredini recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for me.



Brian: Who were your first musical influences - Trying to answer Pattie Page as she asked 'How Much is that Doggie in the Window?' - Mick Jagger's pomp and swagger? - Ray Conniff's smooth strings easing you into sleep at night? - The eclectic madness of Ennio Morricone?

Harry: My first musical influences were Puccini, Rossini, Stan Kenton, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini.

Brian: You wrote a country song 'Sail Away Tiny Sparrow' for the scenes involving Annie in the original 'Friday the 13th'. Did you take your cues from the Dolly Parton song that was originally being used or is country music something that has always influenced you?

Harry: I simply needed to write a song for the diner scenes. The Dolly Parton song was used for a temporary piece. So I took the cue from that. Her song I think was "fly away little bluebird" or something like that. I just made it "Sail away tiny sparrow" and made it about a young girl whose marriage was supposed to be perfect and now she had to leave, just like in a country song. I have to say I enjoy country music, but I would not say that it has been a real influence on me.

Brian: You have talked about using an Irish tin whistle to make screeching sounds when creating the original 'Friday' soundtrack. What is the most unusual sound you've been able to create using an instrument?

Harry: Well, the tin whistle worked well there. I really try to find sounds or create them on my own. I try to give the particular project its own personal audio identity, be it an instrument, or a synthetic sound. For example, on a film I did about past life experience as an Indian in the old west, I created a rattle sound. I took a clothes hanger and started adding all sorts of things on it. A sleigh bell, a couple of metal disks, a few different seed pods from various trees, and any thing that sounded earthy... and then created a rattle sound that was totally unique. I also tend to experiment with any sound that I have. I will extend up and down the keyboard. I tend to go to the extreme ends to see what happens to the sound in the extreme ranges. Something that is sampled on middle C has a completely different sound when played up or down four or five octaves.

Brian: You acted, briefly, in 'Manny's Orphans'. Is acting something that you'd like to do again - or is it just better to leave that particular field to the grownups?

Harry: Wow that was the worst! I am not cut out to be on camera. I also played a musician in a children's film I did. It was better since I did not have to speak. But the answer is NO... I don't want to act. I am lousy. I did do the voiceover for the pizza in House 4, but again that was easy since I was not on camera.

Brian: Did you research particular aquatic themes when scoring 'Deep Star Six'?

Harry: Not really research, but I did spend a little time revisiting Debussy's La Mer, and some Ravel for some orchestration techniques, but not really for thematic material. I used some of those, but the score was more involved with techniques that are more of the aleatoric style.

Brian: Did you have a particular thought process when working out the score for 'Wishmaster'?

Harry: As I remember, the thought process was to power the Djinn both in a dramatic sense, and also in the sense that the Djinn could be a tempting and psychological power on you as well. Also, I tried to capture the concept of "Stillness" that the main character used to eventually defeat the Djinn. I think those were the two objectives of the music in the drama.

Brian: What places did you go to in creating the spooky themes for 'The Horror Show'?

Harry: Well, I drove on the freeway a couple of times!!! Sorry, I could not resist that answer. Just the way you phrased the question. The story of 'The Horror Show' led me to create something of an internal madness in the mind of the main character. It also had a "technical, electric" bend to it and so I tried to incorporate that in the score.

Brian: Can you please tell me about the creation process behind being a "talking pizza" in 'House IV'?

Harry: Aha, the crown jewel of my acting career. Well it all took place at the mix, when the pizza box opened and the pizza was to finish singing the pizza song. Lewis Abernathy wrote the lyrics and we were at the mix and when the box opened. I just started singing, and making a sort of funny voice for the pizza. And everyone said... go in the booth and do the voice... So off I went. I not only sang the song, but then provided the action voice for the ensuing fight between Terri Treas and me, the pizza. And the rest is history.

Brian: What are the differences in creating music for something like 'Aces: Iron Eagle III' and something like 'A Gun, A Car and a Blonde'?

Harry: Well, let's see what would be the difference between an action adventure, with World War II pilots and planes on a mission to capture a Nazi drug lord in South America., and a jazzy film noir supernatural romance? Well, the first film needed to have a military/South American mix of melodic material. Big battle scenes with airplane fights so it was a full orchestra blasting away for most of the film. It was fun to be able to write heroic marches and epic like battles and some Latin inspired action sequences. The second film allowed me to get back to my early Mancini influences. The score is basically a jazz quartet, piano, bass, drums and tenor sax, with strings and some voices. I played the sax parts, so that made it more fun. I got to write some cool jazzy stuff and play underscore to a very wonderful story of humanity and the wonder of life.

Brian: Lastly, any words of advice (IE: Don't try to woo a guy with a molten lava face and an axe with an Old World ditty) or future projects that you'd like to talk about?

Harry: Words of advice? I am not sure what you mean. Here are some words of advice, be kind, and sympathetic to each other. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we were talking about film scores, I would say to pay more attention to the scores of films. Try watching a film with no sound for a while, and then turn up the music, and you will see the power of the music. As far as projects in the future, I have a number of them but I am not sure what is going to happen first. Here is a sampling - Just finished 'The Anna Nicole Smith Story' , and waiting on 'IMurders' , 'Amore' , 'Black Friday' , 'The One Eyed Horse' , 'Black Waters of Echo Pond' , 'JOB' , '2000 Degrees' , and who knows maybe 'Friday the 13th'!!!