Interview: Hellraiser Composer Ben Lovett | Pretty Reel

ComingSoon had the opportunity to speak with composer Ben Lovett about his incredible work in David Bruckner’s Hellraiser remake. This is the latest collaboration between the composer and director, who have previously worked together on The Signal in 2007, The Ritual in 2017 and The Night House in 2020, among other projects.

Jeff Ames: What’s it like getting into a project like Hellraiser?

Ben Lovett: It was a new experience for both of us. When you step into something like never before and believe in Hellraiser, you can’t ignore the influence of everything that’s come before you. the question is how much you want to emulate everything you have seen and heard of this world and how much you want to reinvent. We thought the right answer was to find the right balance between those two things. Part of that is a lot of homework, admiration, and attention to detail defining what people consider a Hellraiser movie – what those narrative and stylistic components are. David and I are very focused on the story. For us, it’s about breaking down all these other things so that we can relate to the characters and the story. We’ve known each other for so long that we have a unique history and an ability to have conversations about those themes and those stories that we can go deeper with because we’ve known each other for about 20 years.

What was the key to unlocking your score for Hellraiser?

It would certainly be the influence of the original scores on the original Christopher Young films. These scores are among the most famous pieces of music of the genre. They have such a distinct sound. In 1987, putting this type of very lyrical, gothic and romantic music on these very Corsican and raw images was very inventive and unique. No one had ever seen anything like it. I think it’s in this relationship and this juxtaposition is what gives Hellraiser its unique place and position in this world of cinema.

So going into it, knowing that it’s a very musical franchise and how closely these original Christopher Young scores are associated with what people identify as the world of Hellraiser kind of gives you a sonic roadmap. It gives you a sense of the landscape in how these movies work and where you can go with that. As fans of the original, it wouldn’t have felt like a Hellraiser movie if we had just ignored it. We thought the best thing would be to honor that by capturing some of the spirit and sound and style that he wrote in these pairs with those kind of images, and we really strive to bring those themes and melodies from the original film into our score. It was a new thing for me to be able to do, it was to try to incorporate another composer’s work from 35 years ago and try to change it and adapt it to this I was doing, but in a way that people could still identify it and they could still hear those original themes in the music.

So which do you prefer: adapting someone else’s music or starting from scratch?

I always prefer new challenges. I’m almost more nervous when I try to redo something I’ve done before because I don’t have a lot of stuff (laughs). I only have so many ways to do it. I need the challenge of the unknown to find unique ways to explore my work. With Hellraiser, it’s a bit annoying because whatever you do, someone is going to hate it. You kind of know you’re stepping into something that’s impossible not to compare to. I didn’t even try to convince people that I could compete with Christopher Young – you know, “I can do that too!” Let’s make a love letter to that, but with everything I bring, let’s make it sound completely different to this unique world. We’re bringing in 808s and unique beats and synthesizers and guitars and all that other stuff to try and pair with this simpler orchestral writing with brass and harp and strings.

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I was very lucky that Mr. Young gave us his blessing to come in and tinker with these ideas and themes. But it was also a real gift that he somehow already established such a wide parameter and all you can do in a Hellraiser score. As you’ll find when you watch Hellraiser, it’s about too much and pushing extremes and limits. The music helps reinforce this because it can be so over the top, but it still works because it never feels like too much.

I assume you are brought in very early to look at the script and start tinkering with ideas. Does your score change when you finally see the first rough cut of the film?

It does. The real benefit of starting the script early is that you’re not encumbered by all that stuff and can just let it fly. You can use your imagination. As I said before, your imagination has no budget. So you can imagine anything and then you see and you have to recalibrate some of those ideas into something that will work with what’s on screen. And sometimes that just means you were kind of going in one direction, and then you realize the actors and the camera and the direction were going in another. Then you realize it’s all there to re-inspire you – there’s a lot of stuff you can take inspiration from. It happened to me with the characters. Everything I had thought of or written for the Pinhead character was thrown out the window as soon as I saw what Jamie Clayton had done with the character. It was so unique and different that I decided to go entirely from the standpoint of being influenced by the acting and the performance. She just brings a certain energy to it that is totally unique and new. This was an area where I’m just rejecting everything I imagined from my own reading because I’m too influenced by things I’ve seen before or other versions of the character.

Another way is that our film captures a little more of the magic and wonder of those stories on screen whereas in the original films, that’s what Chris Young’s music brought. I think it was his writing style and that kind of music that really brought the fantasy into the story. It made you feel the supernatural, otherworldly aspect. And with ours, there’s quite a bit of that in the visuals. What Bruckner kept pushing me to do was make it a little meaner and a little uglier. Every time I came in with something prettier, he wanted me to rub it in the dirt and put some slime on it. So we still have these beautiful bits and melodic music in there, but it’s just kind of wrapped up and drowned in dissonance sometimes. He wanted to feel the music. He wanted the stench to pass. So those were new ways that you kind of had to recalibrate once you saw what they were doing on set.

You mentioned Christopher Young, so what was his opinion on your score? Or did he kind of wash his hands of Hellraiser at this point?

I don’t know what its relation to the material is. They made so many movies. He participated in the first two and they set the tone for everything. These are what are most often called the two pillars of it all. It was a bit difficult because I didn’t have access to Chris or the sheet music. Usually you will have access to music and sheet music and we didn’t have any. For a long time they tried to find an arrangement to be able to do this because the studio did not own the rights to the music. For a long time I couldn’t contact him because they were looking for a way to make everything work. So I had to sit in front of Spotify on the piano and understand. It’s one of the many ways the logistics of filmmaking sometimes interfere with the creative part and you just have to work around it. We finally got his blessing, but it was through a much more formal channel. But we worked hard to do justice to his work and I feel very lucky that he allowed us to take those ideas and incorporate them into what we were doing. I hope he feels like we honored him in some way.

Did this experience teach you anything that you are eager to incorporate into your future projects?

In many ways, so much has been learned, but most of it takes time to process. You won’t really know what these things are until you’re onto the next thing and find yourself navigating it differently because of what you instinctively took away from the last one. We learned a lot from this one because of the amount of scars and bruises he gave us. Hellraiser really kicked our asses just because it was so hard in every way imaginable. It was by far the most minutes of any score I had to write, it was the largest scale – 83 musicians, 97 minutes of music. It’s a huge thing to do. And there was the pressure of knowing that we were the first to reopen the box, if you’ll pardon the pun, and go back and reinvent the source material and this world.

As a general rule, for David and me – and this really goes for all the filmmakers I have worked with – there is no film and then there is a film. There aren’t many people sitting around with high expectations of what it’s supposed to be and they have their own ideas of what they want it to be. Generally, you are evaluated on the merit of what you have done. On Hellraiser, you have to deal with people’s expectations and ideas and what they would prefer it to be. There’s no way to hit all the targets in there and so you walk in and approach them like everything else. All of that other stuff is there to inform you, but it doesn’t help you sit still and think about it because you can cripple yourself trying to please everyone. While I’ve spent a lot of time writing music reminiscent of and in the style of Young’s original scores, it’s also been brought to my attention by the people I’m collaborating with on this project that they told me engaged for a reason. “We also want it to look like you! We like what you’re doing, but it’s not like you. We hired you for the job and we want you to do it. I guess if I’ve learned anything, it’s that your being here is no accident. You are here for a reason and people want you to bring what you bring. For me, I had to identify what I think, what it meant, and figure out what was cool to me. What does your taste tell you is the right thing to do?

Is there a moment in the score that you want fans to pay attention to?

There’s a song called Riley’s Choice. It’s at the end of the movie. It’s not the original Hellraiser stuff, it’s just a modest theme for our character. It’s not one of those times when a hundred things make you lose your mind. It’s just kind of a moment where you go, with all the monsters and angels and demons and the torture, it’s still just a journey around a character. It’s a story you can tell without all that. It was really important to get that moment – for all the fun and spectacle of it all – to really connect with human emotion and all that was going on with the main character and the consequences of their choice. He’s the one David really likes. This moment feels like what it’s like to make movies with my buddy Bruckner.

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Interview: Hellraiser Composer Ben Lovett | Pretty Reel

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