Blu-ray release brings new attention to Hehmsoth film score from 1991
A decade before Keenen Ivory Wayans spoofed horror films with "Scary Movie," Academy Award-nominee John Hawkes made his film debut in 1991's "Scary Movie," a low-budget fright-fest filmed entirely around Austin.
Texas State University's Hank Hehmsoth, associate professor in the School of Music, composed the film score for the film, received a Blu-Ray special edition release from American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) on Oct. 15, nearly three decades after it played limited runs in Europe and Asia. To coincide with the release, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin hosted a screening of "Scary Movie" on Oct. 8 as a part of its "Terror Tuesday" series, and the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, Canada, will screen it as part of "Up All Night Fest 2" on Oct. 19.
"The director Daniel Erickson and I worked very closely on the score. He'd already finished the film — it was extremely low budget, and yet he wanted a high-quality orchestral soundtrack," Hehmsoth said. "Much of the movie has scary action scenes with no dialogue. I had an Akai S1000 sampler with a library of orchestral instruments.
"Much of the score I wrote had strings, like Bernard Herrmann's score for "Psycho," he said. "I had a Video Toaster and a high-end VHS deck and I'd get dailies on Betamax video. I'd write music so it matched and synchronized to the action in the film."
Because of the low-budget nature of the film, Hehmsoth often had to improvise to achieve the sound effects he wanted.
"I also invented scary sounds for the film. I remember one effect was an old SuperBall rubbed up and down the low strings on a grand piano," Hehmsoth said. "I used Tibetan gongs to sound like random wind chimes, and lots of percussion toys. I am really pleased that this Austin-made movie is getting accolades and attention from movie critics and horror festivals. Almost 30 years later, it is now a major U.S. release."
Hehmsoth's score received praise from film reviewer James Jay Edwards earlier this year.
"The most genuinely high-quality aspect of the film (next to possibly John Hawkes' freak-out performance) is the musical score," Edwards wrote for FilmFracture.com. "Scary Movie was made at the tail end of the golden age of the slasher and the synthesized electronic score, composed by Hank Hehmsoth reflects the era.
"The simplistic, spooky analog keyboard sounds are probably a product of the no-budget production schedule, but the eerie melodies and ominous chord beds sound like a precursor to the eighties soundtrack renaissance that horror fans are experiencing now," Edwards wrote. "By being just after his time, Hehmsoth was about 20 years ahead of it."