The throwback horror movie It Follows, which expands to over 1,200 screens this weekend after a hugely successful limited release, is one of the more truly terrifying films in recent memory. The dread created by the premise—that a sexually-transmitted curse will (very slowly) chase star Maika Monroe until it kills her—gets a healthy boost from the film’s score, which was crafted by Disasterpeace (also known as electronic music mastermind Rich Vreeland).
Appropriately, the music sounds a lot like a vintage score crafted by John Carpenter—there’s a particular penchant for the sinister synths that haunt Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13. But it turns out that the score used to be an even better match for Carpenter: When Vreeland first sat down with writer-director David Robert Mitchell, they were going to have six months to put the music together. But when the film got into Cannes, Vreeland tells EW, “we had to compress our deadline into three weeks. In order to accomplish that, we tried to use every tool we could. As time rolled on and we needed to get things done quickly, David and his team decided to create a temp score, referencing material from musicians like John Carpenter, John Cage, Krzysztof Penderecki, and even music of mine from [the video game] FEZ.”
When the time came to create the actual score for It Follows, that temporary score was both a blessing and a curse. “David definitely developed a case of ‘temp love,’ as they call it, and I had to work with him to create something new but also in a similar fashion to those pieces,” Vreeland says. “The temp score as reference material because it laid down a solid foundation of ideas about tone and placement. I often worked straight from those references pieces, but it was mostly about tone—getting a sense of what sort of approach works, what style and level of energy. I tried to boil those references down to adjectives and simple ideas and then rebuild the music back up from the ground as something new and different.”
The results are both creepy and engrossing, particularly during the film’s climax. “The big finale scene took a while to nail down,” he explains. “There’s a lot happening and there are already a few scenes by that point that have pretty high highs. The difficulty was in trying to make an even higher high to tie everything up in a nice bow. We threw the kitchen sink at that scene, musically speaking.”
Vreeland, who is currently working in New Zealand on an interactive toy called Mini Metro, is not much of a horror fan and isn’t even particularly familiar with Carpenter’s music work. Still, he believes in the power of the synth. “I think because synths can create sounds that are not always analogous to real life sounds, they do a good job of being strange and harder to pinpoint,” he says. “I think that tendency can ignite the imagination. It’s perfect fodder for writing scary music.”