While many horror fans came out of this year’s South By Southwest film festival giving Oculus and Exists top honors as far as the Midnighters programming went, there was another movie that I thought stole the show. A horror musical featuring a slasher villain who hates musical theaters and enjoys chopping up characters who could easily be featured on Glee? Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong. Stage Fright is a hilarious horror comedy that blends thrashing metal, gross-out kills, and genre insanity in a way that had me begging for more, and that’s thanks to creators Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion.
After screening the film, I was able to sit down with writer/director/composer Jerome Sable and co-composer Eli Batalion, two very enthusiastic musicians whose personalities injected so much energy into Stage Fright. After talking to the duo, I could see why their film was so much fun based on the random tangents we went off on that didn’t make it into my transcription. These two guys absolutely love killing people on camera and writing songs about it, and for that horror fans can be grateful.
If you read on, you’ll learn where Sable and Batalion developed their love of musical composition, when horror became an influence in their lives, their musical and cinematic inspirations, and the craziness that goes into creating a horror musical. Blending gore and guitar solos – sounds easy, right?
WGTC: So I want to start by asking why you think horror and music go together so well?
Eli Batalion: Do they?
WGTC: When done properly, I like to think they do, no?
Eli Batalion: I think there are a lot of potential answers to that, one very simple answer is that horror and music are two things we greatly appreciate. A general MO of what Jerome and I tend to do is the policy of “shit we like.”
Jerome Sable: One thing we were thinking about in another interview recently was just the concept of something breaking out into song because of an emotional tipping point in a scene with conflict between two people, either it gets to that tipping point and breaks out into a musical number or into a fight scene – they both are expressions of the forbidden fantasy. The impossible situation. You’re in a bank and you might imagine “what would happen if someone came in an started shooting up the place,” or “what if everyone jumped up on the counters and started dancing to a musical number?” Something you really shouldn’t imagine, the dancing or the shooting, but both are, for better or worse, what happens when a scene is pushed to its extreme and plays out in a way that wouldn’t normally in real life.
Eli Batalion: I think horror is rhythmic in nature. I’m thinking about “mumblecore” for example – I don’t know the music…
Jerome Sable: I feel like Leonard Cohen would score that.
WGTC: Tom Waits maybe?
Jerome Sable: Exactly! “We got back together, then we broke up again…”
WGTC: That makes perfect sense though because how would you score “mumblecore” films? There’s no real rhythm.
Eli Batalion: It’s a different experience. Horror specifically, planning out “boo” scares is a more rhythmic process, and I think certainly from a scoring perspective it’s more effective when you’re able to tie scoring into various horror/action beats, which I think we manage to do a couple times.
WGTC: So you have the orchestral/show tunes type scoring going on, but you also balance that with hair metal inspired rocking as well when we meet our villain – how fun was that to mix both musical styles?
Jerome Sable: *Doing his best This Is Spinal Tap impression* “This one’s metal on metal.”
It was loud last night, we made it loud. It was very fun to do that – I’ll give you one nerdy example. One of our big inspirations musically for our horror score parts is obviously Penderecki, the composer that basically did a lot of the music used in The Shining, and he has these ways of making scratchy sounds on violins and string instruments. We would do that with violins, and then we’d do that on the electric guitar, and play around with Penderecki type sounds with guitar feedback, and then mix them together. For us, it was a composer’s wet dream to be able to.
Eli Batalion: Wet dream theater…that would be a Dream Theater cover band…
WGTC: So what type of musical background do you both have? What was your musical upbringing like?
Eli Batalion: We started on a similar path, and then we kind of split apart…
Jerome Sable: Our paths shaped like a woman, we curved. Let’s talk about the hips part of our trajectory…
Eli Batalion: We’re both from Montreal, we both started in Canada – actually, you were a violinist.
Jerome Sable: I don’t know about violin-ist, I dabbled for a couple of years in the string arts – yeah I played for a little bit.
Eli Batalion: Are you drunk, Jerome? [Laughs]
Jerome Sable: I learned how!
Eli Batalion: McGill has a music conservatory and Jerome started very early. Basically, I’m going to embarrass him. Had he chosen to be a concert pianist, he could have.
Jerome Sable: Well that’s embarrassing. I chose unwisely – fuck! [Laughs] I fucked it up! Sorry Dad! Now to embarrass Eli…
Eli Batalion: No, Im not done! He trained in a lot of the theory, which is very important because my theory is weak to nil. It’s a lot more practical. Jerome really brought a lot more of the formality to it, which is very important to the orchestral process. Jerome is entirely schooled in the classical world and graduated the McGill program.
Jerome Sable: On the flip side, Eli is an autodidact, self-taught guitarist, bassist, drummer – everything. We always joked that Eli was Prince.