Evil Dead – Joseph LoDuca
Discordant, mischievous, intense, and often very, very creepy, LoDuca’s score really captures the spirit of Raimi’s classic ‘nasty.’
Published on May 1, 2013 | Filed under Audiodrome: Music in Film
Evil Dead

Hugely controversial upon release in 1981, Sam Raimi’s low budget, splattery shocker Evil Dead, is now hailed as a cult classic, showcasing the innovation and determination of the director and his crew, who battled against the elements as much as they did the minimal budget to complete the film. Just as innovative is the atmospheric score courtesy of Joseph LoDuca. Before making a name for himself as a television and horror film composer, LoDuca had formal training in jazz and classical music at the University of Michigan, later performing at international jazz festivals. He soon moved into composing for cinema when Raimi approached him to score Evil Dead.

The creepy tale of a group of friends who, while staying at a remote cabin in the woods, unwittingly release a demonic force when they listen to the recording of an incantation from a mysterious book – bound in human flesh no less – discovered in the cellar. Watching in horror as his friends are gradually possessed by demons, Ash (cult icon Bruce Campbell) must battle with the evil force if he is to survive until dawn. Boasting a riotous, slapstick sense of humour, inventive camerawork and more gory make-up effects than you can shake a chainsaw at, Evil Dead was misunderstood by mainstream critics, demonised and relegated to the Video Nasty list in the UK. The likes of Stephen King however, who called it ‘the most ferociously original horror film of the year’, sang its bloody praises, igniting enough morbid curiosity in viewers to eventually ensure its cult status.

Evil Dead

Back in the eighties, many low budget horror films usually featured synthesizer scores because they were cheap to produce and, if done right, could sound as effective as an orchestrated score. LoDuca sidesteps an exclusively electronic soundtrack and utilises both analog synthesizers and more traditional instrumentation such as piano, string quartet, percussion, and even acoustic guitar. Violent, Herrmannesque strings enhance the increasingly deranged tone and help create tension on the likes of Cabin/Wounded Melody, while Rape of the Vines aptly conveys the frenzied panic of Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) as she dashes through the fog-draped forest before becoming ensnared and sexually assaulted by demonic tree roots in grimly graphic detail. While many of the tracks are quite brief, they still pack a sizable punch; Pencil It In is all trickling, discordant string arrangements, and Dawn of the Evil Dead boasts tribalistic percussion and bizarre animalistic noises. The grotesque violence throughout the film is offset by the ludicrous, absurd humour, and this is evident in the score, too. There’s an almost mischievous quality to some of it, though LoDuca knows when to keep it serious. The way in which Dawn/Incantation segues from a sense of relief – peaceful string arrangements – into electronic drones and feverish intensity, perfectly matches the scene where Ash emerges from the cabin, blinking into the light of morning, just as some terrible unseen force races through the forest, falling trees as it goes, unstoppable and malignant, and rushes up behind him…

The soundtrack is not without its more peaceful, tender moments. As beautiful as it is eerie, the introductory piano piece possesses a cautious, haunting refrain, deceptively masking the splashy atrocities yet to unfold in the cabin. The lullaby-like Eye Games/Charm – heard when Ash presents Shelly with a gift and pretends to be asleep while she opens it, sneaking glances at her, and she at him – serves as the film’s love theme, with its entwining strings and acoustic guitar serenades. Similarly, Love Never Dies begins as a mournful melody for strings before gradually bleeding into synthesised drones in the same vein as Wendy Carlos’s Rocky Mountains from The Shining.

Atmospheric, intense and often very creepy, this score is best enjoyed alone in the dark. You’ve been warned though. I’ll leave you with Rape of the Vines, one of the creepiest, most unhinged moments from the soundtrack. Join us…

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James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series). He currently contributes to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique, and has also written for Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.
James Gracey

  • Christine

    Your use of “Herrmannesque” made me squeal.