<I>Hellraiser</I>: Composer Ben Lovett on scoring Hulu's reimagined classic
October 13, 2022

Hellraiser: Composer Ben Lovett on scoring Hulu's reimagined classic

Hulu’s Hellraiser is a reinvention of Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic. Directed by David Bruckner, the film is centered around a young woman, struggling with addiction, who comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon a group of sadistic supernatural beings. The feature stars Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds and Jason Liles, among others. Composer Ben Lovett created the original score, and recently shared his experience with Post.

How did you first get involved with Hellraiser?

“I’ve been making films with the director for a long time. We met in college in the late ’90s and came up together cutting our teeth on experimental films and music videos. I scored David’s first feature The Ritual, which came out in 2018, and we collaborated together again on The Night House, which came out in 2021. When he got the call for Hellraiser, we talked about the challenges of taking on something so iconic and revered, and specifically, about how the music in those original films were such a big part of their identity. I read the script and then Clive Barker’s novel “The Hellbound Heart,” which was the original inspiration for the first Hellraiser film in 1987, and then studied the music in the original movies.”

Having done your research, what did you identify as the needs for this film?

“Well, I knew right away we needed an orchestra. The scores to those original films are pretty epic in scope and scale, and the orchestral sound that Christopher Young established for them has become a very signature part of the identity for Hellraiser as a franchise. But the goal was also to take it in a new direction, so I knew that we’d also need to explore a range of instrumentation not traditionally associated with these films. My favorite part of making film music is the collaborative nature of it, and so beyond needing to get a firm understanding of the director’s vision, I also knew I would want to bring in some creative musicians to experiment with to find those new sounds that would help give our film it’s sonic fingerprint.”

Photo: Composer Ben Lovett; credit: Lucy Plato Clark

Can you talk about the themes you created and how you came up with them?

“Knowing that we were going to incorporate some of the themes from the original film, I didn’t want to write too many new melodic ideas that would have to compete with those narratively. So there’s a lot material in the score that’s very textural and meant to support our reinterpretations of the original themes and melodies.  

“Beyond that, there’s certainly a theme for the main character Riley, which contrasts the more traditional style of a lot of the score by employing layers of modular synths and guitars, and various bell pianos and keyboards, along with a harp and smaller sized string section to give her a specific identity within the music.  

“There’s also a theme for the antagonist in the story - Roland Voight - which needed to feel like it was centered more in a traditional Hellraiser sound. He’s sort of a baroque archetype; an educated rich guy obsessed with cult mythology, so his theme is always employed in piano and accompanied by cello and the brass section of the orchestra, primarily the trombones and French horns. Voight’s theme was representative of an aspect of composing this score that called more for channeling the spirit and style of the original films more than reinterpreting music from those films.”

What gear did you use to record?

“Pro Tools and Source Connect mostly. Everything was recorded separately and remotely. We did our strings in Bratislava; brass and choir in London; harp, woodwinds and guitars in Los Angeles; and then I recorded all the piano and percussion and synths at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, which has become a regular recording spot for me over the past several years. Keeping everything separate allowed Bruckner and I to continue adapting and evolving the score all the way through the final sound mix.”

You mentioned some of the instrumentation. What was the thinking behind it?

“This score really has a bit of everything in terms of instrumentation. There’s the usual suspects from the orchestra I mentioned, all the way down to the timpani and tubular bells, which are another signature instrument in those Christopher Young scores from the ’80s. But there was a lot of experimentation with less traditional sources as well, which is something I’m generally always up to in my film scores. 

“We took a stroh violin and stuck a giant gramophone horn onto end of it, which gave it a really unique sound. I layered a lot of experimental bowed percussion sounds from musician Bobak Lotfipour, who created a palette of textures that sounded like ghostly vocals using frame drums, gongs, and sheets of metal and copper. And of course there’s the prepared ‘bondage piano’ we created where we dressed up a Yamaha grand in all manner of metal chains and wires and screws and had ping pong balls taped to the piano strings, and I think there was cow bell sitting on the strings at one point. It was something inspired by the visuals, particular after Voight has received his ‘gift’ from the Cenobites, and it gave us a really wide range of strange harmonic sounds to employ throughout the score which were, in the spirit of Hellraiser, simultaneously horrible and beautiful.”