James Iha is the co-founder and hard-driving guitarist of alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins, and he enjoyed the big rock star life before he left the group to pursue his own endeavors. Lately he’s been sequestered in his studio alone, creating the score for the latest Lifetime Channel movie. Who would’ve guessed?
But this isn’t your mother’s Lifetime movie of the week. Well, it is… sort of. Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? is a revamp of an 80s Tori Spelling cheese-fest your mom probably did see when it aired back in the day. The original spilled the story of a mother who discovers her daughter (Spelling) is dating a murderer (Ivan Sergei). Now. in 2016, Spelling takes the role of the mother, who, after the shock of her daughter (Leila George) coming out as a lesbian, discovers the girlfriend (Emily Meade) is a blood-guzzling vampire. So you see, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? has been revamped – with the emphasis on “vamp.”
James Franco acts in the redux and serves as executive producer, and Melanie Aitkenhead directs from a script written by Amber Coney. The DP is Christina Voros. They decided not to go the traditional TV-movie route with the remake, so Iha was brought on board to do his thing.
We caught up with James Iha a few days ago and asked him about the unlikely project. He explained his involvement, “Well, I didn’t really think of the network necessarily when I took the composer job. I liked the movie and I liked the idea of the movie and [as an afterthought] I think it’s kind of cool that it’s a Lifetime movie as well.”
Talk about counter-programming! “It’s a little edgy for Lifetime, I guess,” he said. “I haven’t watched Lifetime before” – Oh, really? It wasn’t in The Smashing Pumpkins rider that the channel be playing on all TVs in dressing rooms and hotels? – “but I guess I’m aware of what their regular programming is like. But I thought it was a cool idea and I like the movie and the concept and I like the idea of what the music could be.”
I wondered if he’d ever seen the first Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?. You know, for research purposes. “I did. I watched like five minutes of it,” said Iha.
Seems that Iha is definitely putting his own spin on things here, though he did check out a few classic vampire movies with great scores, like Interview with the Vampire. But a lot of those are period pieces, with orchestral and choir music, so he didn’t reference those. This new movie is, well, new, so there’s not even a nod to the totally 80s synthesizer sound. “It’s not that kind of vibe. It’s not an 80’s dance soundtrack.” He said those touchstone film scores are “great, [but] I think the way this came across to me, it was younger, raw, more rock and more electronic.”
As for Iha’s own twist, he says he used lots of different instruments and sounds available to him in his private recording studio. “There are three types of music I made in it, and there’s sort of like a guitar-driven, ominous kind of score. I try to use a lot of real instruments, drums, guitars… I have this instrument like a violin that’s played like a guitar – a GuitarViol – it has the same notes as a guitar, same amount of strings as a guitar. It’s made by this guy, Jonathan Wilson. I used a combination of synths, electric guitars, this violin, a dulcimer, and again, drums. This was to create a heavy, ominous guitar-driven score. And then, there’s also lighter moments where I created a lot of like glitchy electronic beats, chaotic electronic beats, and put softer Moog kind of sounding songs or paths. And then throw in the classic element, too.”
Franco, who is a very hands-on producer and filmmaker, trusted Iha to create his own aural feel for Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?, but he did pop in a bit in the beginning. “I talked to James at the beginning of it, and he had a couple of ideas as far as that sound I was talking about: that modern electronic feel, but not crazy heavy. There are some slightly romantic, ethereal kind of cues. That was one of his suggestions, to go for something like that. Also, the editor, Sheridan Williams, had a voice about what she thought about what kind of music worked. So it was very collaborative in a good way.”
I figured he must have seen the movie about a billion times now, going over and over it to get the music hitting all the right emotional beats. He describes the plot like this: “When I tell my friends, if they ask me what I’m working on, I tell them; and they’re like, ‘What?’ They ask, ‘Is it a horror movie, or is it campy?’ So I say it’s not really campy. It’s played more or less sincere, but you know there are some elements in there that are just not like a regular horror movie. It’s not like a Saw movie. But it’s an earnest young vampire movie. With lesbian vampires.”
He had me at “lesbian vampires.” I guess that really all anyone needs to know. Iha jokingly agrees, “Yeah, that’s it in a phrase, in a hashtag. Yes.”
Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? will premiere on Lifetime on Sunday, June 18th, at 8 pm ET/PT. The retelling stars James Franco and reunites Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei from the original film and also features Leila George, Emily Meade, and Nick Eversman.
When theater major Leah (George) brings home the special someone in her life to meet her mom, Julie (Spelling), the family is met with a surprise when Pearl (Meade) comes to the door. Julie tries to embrace the idea of Leah’s new love interest, but she can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong. Julie’s suspicions lead to a startling discovery about Pearl that puts Leah in serious danger. Will Julie be able to save her daughter from an eternity of heartache before it’s too late?