Interview: Composer Joseph Bishara on Scoring the Insidious Franchise, Working With John Carpenter, and His Favorite Horror Films of 2017
This past weekend saw the release of Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key (review), the fourth film in the Blumhouse franchise started by James Wan and Leigh Whannell in 2010. Grossing nearly $30 million domestically in its opening weekend (three times its production budget), the film has generated rather favorable reviews from theatergoers and horror critics alike, many of whom are thrilled to see Lin Shaye’s “Elise Rainier” lead yet another film, opening up her storyline in new ways.
The film not only saw the return of writer/star Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Shaye, it also brought about the return of composer Joseph Bishara, who also plays the franchise’s “Lipstick-Face Demon”. One of horror’s most prolific and haunting composers of the past few years, Bishara’s return is a welcome treat for those who adore the terrifying score that shrieks and scratches its way across their spines.
I got the chance to catch up with Bishara to ask him not only about Insidious: The Last Key but also about a few other things that I was curious about, such as his role on John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, his favorite horror movies of 2017, and more! You can read it all for yourself below.
Dread Central: You’ve been a part of the Insidious franchise since the beginning. What’s it like watching some of these characters grow throughout these stories?
Joseph Bishara: It’s been a great perspective, certainly not knowing from the start where things would be headed. It’s always surprising to me when I hear the new stories around the characters, never knowing which direction they will go.
DC: On top of composing this franchise, you’re also the Lipstick-Face Demon. What’s it like becoming a bit of a horror icon yourself?
JB: I’ve always been interested in horror and those that create it in the various mediums, so to get to contribute to that in any way is really an honor. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, to get to explore inside the world of the film in that way, with such a deep level of immersion and having all of the on-set experience and body consciousness to draw on while scoring.
DC: Alright, let’s talk about the music of Insidious: The Last Key! This is the fourth film in the series but the second film when looked at chronologically. I know that some composers will “evolve” their themes as time passes in a series, such as Harry Potter. Did the timeline placement of this film affect the “evolution” of your music?
JB: The story itself contributed more than the timeline, it was mostly about looking into the characters and themes. Wounded past, personal demons and real life trauma, and the layers that create, sustain and perpetuate these patterns. Also an early inspiration came from the rural setting, very different than the cities the other films take place in. Leigh told me the story pretty early in the process and the setting immediately stood out as something that would help define the world of this film.
DC: The trailers, and obviously the title, place a high importance on keys. Were keys utilized in your music at all?
JB: Among other things, there was a mortise lock mechanism that was used a trigger on a prepared piano.
DC: You’ve composed music for a wide range of horror subgenres. What does the supernatural subgenre allow in terms of opportunities that you think a slasher may not offer?
JB: There really are infinite gradations to the colors available within any genre or subgenere. The realm of the supernatural has a particular flavor that speaks of the unknown, of entities and energies from places apart from or perhaps parallel to what we consider to be waking consciousness. Musically that can be filtered any number of ways, and as always comes down to looking into the particular world being opened up.
DC: What’s one of the most important lessons you feel you’ve learned when it comes to composing?
JB: One thing would be that when writing, to just keep at it and be assured that sometimes writing the pieces that drop off along the way are part of the path to the pieces that develop fully.
And not to underestimate the time spent away from the studio, it’s important sometimes to allow a vision to bloom on its own. There is so much to do on a score that if something isn’t totally clear just move onto another area. Breakthroughs can happen at unexpected times.
DC: Right now there’s nothing upcoming listed on your IMDb page. That can’t be true, can it? Please tell me you’ve got something interesting in the works!
JB: Next up will be a New Line film called The Children, produced by James Wan’s company Atomic Monster. A collaboration track I did with the artist Tech N9ne called “Brightfall” will be out in March. Also a few other projects and soundtrack releases at various stages, looking to be a busy year so far.
DC: I want to go back in time because I saw an interesting credit on your IMDb page where you were a sound designer on Ghosts of Mars? Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
JB: What a cool experience, to hole up in an old Hollywood recording studio and work with John Carpenter for a couple of months on the score, taking his tracks and almost remixing them in a way, manipulating and adding programming. I was excited to get the call, came in and met John and the team and pretty much started right away.
DC: I have to know, what were some of your favorite horror movies of 2017?
JB: mother! was one of my favorites of the year, also A Dark Song, and The Devil’s Candy.