Samuel Goldwyn Films is revitalizing the masked-killer-whodunit trope with their latest horror offering, Dreamcatcher (written and directed by Jacob Johnston)!
Dylan, known to his fans as DJ Dreamcatcher, is on the brink of global stardom. Everything changes the night of Cataclysm, an underground music festival, where two estranged sisters and their friends meet Dylan. After a drug-fueled gruesome event, things begin to spiral into a 48-hour whirlwind of violence and mayhem.
Since music plays a big part in the film, we sat down with Dreamcatcher composer, Alexander Taylor and discussed many topics, including his love of the horror genre and his other recent project Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street. He also goes in-depth about how the textured and layered score, which is also sprinkled with EDM music, was created. Dreamcatcher is being released this Friday On Demand and Digital. Alexander’s score is also being digitally released tomorrow by 1984 Publishing.
Dread Central: Can you talk about how you first got involved with Dreamcatcher?
Alexander Taylor: Absolutely! I actually met Jacob Johnston (director) at the Idyllwild Film Festival back in 2016. A snowy, film festival on a mountain top in January. I absolutely love it. He had a short film there called Ticket Like a Man. It was super fun, charming, and easily one of the best flicks of the festival, so I made sure to stalk him after. That’s what we are supposed to do at these things, right? God, I miss networking without a Zoom link.
Anyway, I think we met up at the main theater of the festival, and grabbed whatever beer they had on tap. I was up for best score for my buddy John Zanardelli’s short horror film called Reaching Out. Naturally, our conversation landed on the horror genre at large. We immediately discovered that we both had a profound love of the genre, so we stayed in touch. Fast forward to 2018, and he sends me a draft of Dreamcatcher. I immediately knew I had to do this film.
DC: How would you describe your score for the film?
AT: I always describe this score as slick, stylish, and indulgent. Jacob gave me a ton of room to play and have fun, and I really took advantage of that. It was one of those scores where I got to go back to my “wannabe rockstar” roots, so there’s a ton of guitar, bass, drums, and synth in it.
Yeah, at its core, it’s a horror score, but I really think people will have fun listening to it. I had to basically take a crash course in Electronic Dance Music with my older sister Amanda. It’s a genre I wasn’t too familiar with, but her quick masterclass was enough since I only really wanted to use flavors of it in the score.
I’ve never actually talked about this till now, but I really focused on getting a haunting, unique tone with my guitar. It initially started with me attempting to mimic Joe Perry’s tone in “Dream On”, and evolved from there with a combo of effects pedals. It’s a really textured and layered score, and something I’m really proud of.
DC: Do you think there is any extra pressure when scoring horror projects? Because the score tends to act like another main character, telling the audience when they should jump or when danger is lurking.
AT: I think that’s the fun part about scoring horror! And conversely, it’s the only genre where you try to mislead or trick the audience. Like, you don’t want to immediately tell someone “this person is going to get killed” or “this character is the killer”, so you have to be deceptive with the music.
But scoring horror is my favorite, actually. You have a much longer leash to experiment, and director’s in the genre seem more open to wild ideas. They want something different most times, and that’s where I like to live sonically and creatively.
DC: Can you talk about working with director Jacob Johnston? Did he have a very specific idea of how he wanted the score to sound? Or did you have more freedom to experiment?
AT: Jacob was awesome to work with. He knew he wanted something electronic, considering the setting of Dreamcatcher, which is where I’m comfortable. But he didn’t want a “throwback” score, which people tend to think of when they go down this road. He wanted something contemporary, but unique, and with some attitude. So we shot music back and forth, pulling different sounds and ideas from various bands and artists.
He also wanted every cue to sound different. I know that sounds obvious, but in horror, if you go through a score, a lot of cues can tend to sound a little homogenous after a while. He called me out on that after I delivered the 4th cue. From that point on, I never reused a template. Each cue session started blank, which was honestly really liberating. That can be time-consuming to build each cue from ground zero, but the team gave me a lot of time.
DC: Dreamcatcher centers around a DJ at Cataclysm, an underground music festival. Because the plot centers around music, did you provide more music than other films you have worked on?
AT: That’s hard to say. I tend to score wall-to-wall if I have my ways because I can see every moment working with music, so I tend to over-deliver, and a lot of it ends up on the cutting room floor. Scream, Queen for example… I probably have another two albums worth of unused music. I think for Dreamcatcher, I ended up delivering about an hour and twelve minutes of original music for this film, which is more than average, I think.
DC: Composers sometimes talk about using found objects in their scores to get unique sounds. Did you do anything like this with the Dreamcatcher score?
AT: This is my favorite aspect of scoring horror; the search for a new sound. On scores, I always try to find a distinctive musical palette, a new genre to explore, or a new instrument to play with. I’ve even gone as far as building my own instrument before. It was ugly as hell, but it worked.
For Dreamcatcher, I bought my first physical synthesizer, which I was able to explore during the writing process. A Korg Minologue. Beautiful instrument. Dubreq actually sent me a couple synths to use on the score as well; their Stylophone as well as the S2. You can hear a lot of the S2 in the Phantoms cues. Between those synths, software synths, and the guitar tone sculpting, that became the sound of Dreamcatcher.
DC: You also scored the horror documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street. Is there a big difference in scoring a documentary than a scripted film?
AT: Yes and No. At the end of the day, whether it’s a narrative film or a doc, you are helping tell the story. So that writing process remains the same.
However, with Scream, Queen, I started writing probably a bit too early; long before Roman and Tyler (directors) had a final cut. Scenes were changing, moving, or outright being cut, so I scored at least 5 different versions of the documentary, which is why I have so much unused music from it lying around. This was my fault, to be clear. They always wanted me to wait until they were closer to a fine cut, but I was just so pumped to be on that project. Plus, I just liked talking with them, so it was my excuse to get their attention.
DC: Because Nightmare On Elm Street 2 was released in 1985, it obviously had a very 80s sounding score. Did you feel the need to bring back this vibe to the documentary? Or did you approach it in a different way?
AT: Oh yeah, I definitely wanted to harken back to music of that decade. One because the documentary called for it, and two because I’m just a huge fan of scores from the 80’s. Who isn’t? I started scoring Scream, Queen in early 2017, so the whole “80’s throwback” craze was relatively new.
One fun note regarding that score though. I wanted to make a subtle nod to Christopher Young’s work in Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Chris is pretty inventive and used whale-songs throughout his score. I tried to mimic that by bending a certain synth to help recreate that dreamlike quality in Chris’s work. We actually have the same manager now (Peter Hackman).
DC: You are personally a horror fan. What horror films growing up had a big impact on you?
AT: That is a dangerous question to ask a horror fan. Halloween was obviously very influential to tons of people, including me. Carpenter’s entire body of work is something very near and dear to my heart. And his music. You can’t point to it enough when talking about great music influencers in horror. I feel like he practically invested Synth Wave.
Scream is my favorite franchise of all time though. I think it’s just brilliant. A perfect balance of comedy and horror. I know literally everything about that film. Like, if there were a trivia game all about Scream, I honestly think I could beat Neve Campbell.
Actually, I think that’s why I was so into Dreamcatcher after the first read. It has a very similar sensibility to Scream. It may be the first “90’s throwback” film.
DC: Is there a horror writer/director you would like to work with?
AT: Oh, there’s tons of people. That’s the great thing about horror these days; there are so many new and unique voices coming out, and they all have cool ideas and fresh perspectives.
I’d love to work with Jordan Peele, but I understandably don’t see him using anyone but Michael Abels, who I adore. Nia DaCosta would be awesome. Mike Flannigan knows how to perfectly balance heart and horror, so he’d be a good one. Karyn Kusama; her patience and pace in The Invitation is a masterclass in playing the long game. Panos Cosmatos. Ari Aster. Jennifer Kent. Ti West. Jason Lei Howden. Robert Eggers. Julia Ducournau. Ryan Spindell.
Honestly, I could go on. I love horror, and if someone matches my passion for the genre, I want to work with them.
You can meet Alexander Taylor and more of the creatives behind Dreamcatcher at our free virtual “Dissecting Horror” panel on Wednesday, March 10th! Find full details by following the link below.
Are you excited to check out Dreamcatcher? What did you think of our exclusive interview with Alexander Taylor? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.