The Dark Discussions News Network continues our Women in Horror month interviews. It seems February at one time was designated as Women in Horror month to spotlight the female gender and those who contribute to genre cinema, books, and anything else horror related. We reached out to some important contributors that happen to be on social media. Rather than just focus on an actress, or a writer, or a director, an interesting case popped up. What about music? And not just music, but film score composition for some pretty solid horror movies including a Dark Discussions Podcast top 10 movie from 2020 – Open 24 Hours. So in our series of February Frights, Horror and High Heels, we bring you our latest interview with a talent that so many would die for (no pun intended) but so few have.
Philip From Dark Discussions (P): Thanks for your interest in being interviewed. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Holly Amber Church (Holly): Thanks for the interview! My name is Holly Amber Church and I am a composer for media. I mostly write music for films and I am most known for my work in the horror genre.
P: I know a lot of folks aren’t able to do their passion as a full time job. Many have to work a day job to pay the bills. So to put this into two questions, how long have you been composing? And are you able to do it full time?
Holly: I have been composing for films for about 20 years now but you are right that it is tough to do your passion as a full time job. For the first 10 years of doing this I had to have a separate full-time job to make ends meet. I was still trying to get as many composing gigs as I could and I would often finish up my day job, get home and then stay up all night working on a film until I saw the sun come up and then I knew it was time to head back to my day job. I didn’t get much sleep that decade. It makes me tired just thinking of that now. I do still have to pull some all-nighters sometimes but it’s not as bad as it was back then.
P: What made you focus on genre cinema? Were you always into horror movies and thrillers?
You know, I always liked scary things but I wasn’t allowed to watch any of the very scary horror movies as a kid. But the ones I was allowed to see like Jaws, Ghostbusters and Gremlins were some of my favorite movies as a kid and I LOVED Halloween (and still do). When I first set out to be a film composer I thought I would be doing epic dramas like “Braveheart” or “Apollo 13” but I did one horror feature and really just clicked with it and loved it and loved writing that kind of music and the rest is history. You can just have so much fun writing music in the horror genre!
P. we notice you work a lot with director Padraig Reynolds? Why is that?
Holly: Padraig hired me on my very first horror feature (“Rites of Spring”) and we worked together really well on that film. It was just one of those things where we immediately were able to be on the same level creatively. I know how he likes to tell his stories musically and he knows what I can bring to the table to do that. My husband does the sound design and mixing on most of his movies as well and Ed Marx is Padraig’s editor, and so I like to think of us all as a team and well-oiled machine of a post production team. We all get along really well and are so excited every time we get to work together again on one of Padraig’s films. Plus, if you’ve seen any of Padraig’s films, he is just so talented and they are insanely fun to write music for!
P: You have a funny story about editing your work and a few police officers. What is that about?
Holly: Ha ha – yes! That was probably one of the most “only in Hollywood” moments of my life. A few years ago I was finishing up the score to the horror film “The Toybox” and I had been working on a scene that day that happened to have a lot of screaming and yelling in it. I was also working on the mix of the music for that particular scene so in order to hear everything properly I had my speakers turned up a bit louder than normal and it happened to be a nice day so I had the windows open.
Suddenly I heard a loud knock on my front door and I froze. Then I heard another even louder knock (basically pounding on my door) so I quietly tip-toed over to it to look through the peephole and there were two police officers standing outside. At that point I panicked a little. What on earth was going on?! I opened the door for them and they told me there had been reports of screaming coming from my house and asked who else was in the house with me. My husband was at work and I explained it was just me but they repeatedly asked me then said they had to come in to look around.
I obliged and they searched around and then after realizing I was indeed there alone they started asking me more questions. They mentioned that the neighbor who called reported hearing screaming and then – they quoted an exact line from the scene I had been working on. Suddenly everything made sense and then I was REALLY embarrassed! Lol.
I could feel my face turning bright red as I said “I think I know what happened” and explained to them that I was a composer working on a horror movie and that was a line from the scene I was working on. They were still very serious and stone-faced and said that they needed to see the movie so I took them into my studio and played the scene for them. They heard all the screaming and they heard the exact line that was reported to them in the call they got and then their demeanors changed immediately. They lost it. They were laughing so hard. We then had a nice chat about what our favorite horror movies were, they told me to have a nice day and they were on their way!
P: That’s easily the best story ever! I’ve already told many of my friends it and they get a kick out of it too. Speaking of movies that may be a bit lighter in tone, do you dabble in other genres too such as drama, comedies, etc.?
Holly: Yes I do! While I absolutely love working in horror I do work in some other genres as well and I think it’s good to flex all kinds of different musical muscles. I have scored dramas, comedy, documentaries, animation and sci-fi. All of which I enjoy.
P: What is the film you are most proud of so far?
Holly: Oh boy – there are so many that I have enjoyed working on. If we’re going with the horror genre I really liked how both “Open 24 Hours” and “Dark Light” turned out. I also really loved working on the score for “The Devil’s Dolls” because we did a big live string recording session for that one and they sounded amazing!
P: Was there any specific thing as a child or teenager (things like a movie, a horror author, a horror monster) that affected you and turned you into focusing on a specific subject?
Holly: Yes – I was obsessed with werewolves for awhile! I also really, really loved the original “Twilight Zone” television series and I still do.
P: What are some of your favorite horror movies and why?
Holly: I tend to really like some of the 80s classics like “The Shining” and “Poltergeist”. I love a good, spooky ghost story! I love the mystery in the stories of those ones too. They’re just so well done and I freak out over how great they are every time that I watch them.
P: And what about books? Do you have a favorite horror book/author?
Holly: Again I would have to say I love some of the classics. I love Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and anything H.G. Wells.
P: Even though you are distinct as a composer with your own techniques and your own visions, were there any individuals in the genre that influenced your work and the path you took to be who you are today as a composer?
Holly: Yes – my main influence when I was growing up and listening to film music was James Horner. I love his music so much and his themes and melodic writing are superb! It was his music that really got me interested in pursuing this career. As far as horror music influence it would have to be Bernard Herrmann. I absolutely love his music! He wrote music for a lot of the classic Twilight Zone episodes as well.
P: How about telling us a little about some of your other past projects that would be of interest to speculative fiction and horror fans?
Holly: “Dark Light” that I worked on with Padraig Reynolds is currently streaming on Netflix and is a very fun sort of sci-fi tinged horror creature feature. I also highly recommend “Ruin Me” which is streaming on Shudder. If people haven’t had a chance to check out “Open 24 Hours” yet I also recommend that one. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi and coming to Shudder on February 22nd.
P: There are all sorts of musicians and composers with various types of style. Are you very much a chameleon in what you do or do you prefer to focus on a specific subject or specific talent you have.
Holly: As a film composer we do have to be chameleons of sorts as we work on so many different things but I do think we tend to have certain strengths. I do enjoy writing music that’s a bit on the “darker” side for horror, thriller or crime types of stories.
On the other side of that though is that I also really enjoy writing heartfelt music for dramas and documentaries and silly music for comedies. In the horror genre I also like trying out different sounds and styles.
Some scores are more on the orchestral side and some are more experimental which I always enjoy doing and it keeps things interesting!
Holly: Yes! The soundtrack for OPEN 24 HOURS is available on a very cool-looking neon red vinyl. The soundtrack label Notefornote Music released the vinyl and they are available through them and also on Mondo’s site which is really cool since I love Mondo’s selection of soundtracks on vinyl and I have also purchased many tiki mugs from them! Lol. If vinyl isn’t your thing, there’s an expanded version of the soundtrack on CD and digital platforms.
P: Do you ever do conventions where folks can meet you in person. If so, any specific examples of how it was to meet fellow genre fans.
Holly: You know, I never have done any conventions but that is something that I would love to do. I did do a signing once of the “ClownTown” DVD with the cast and crew at Dark Delicacies in Burbank and that was really fun.
P: What is your favorite horror villain or monster?
Holly: Oh definitely the Wolfman! I still have an obsession with werewolves. Lol. As a big tiki person I also really love the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
P: Where can folks find you, online, at conventions, social media? Let’s have it.
P: To wrap up, is there any things you would want folks to know that are soon coming out?
Holly: I’ve got a new horror film that I scored coming out on February 19th called “The Sinners”. I also just finished another horror film called “The Unsettling” and a drama called “The Runner” – both of which will be starting their festival runs soon.
P: Fantastic! Thanks again, Holly! I’ll sure be checking out The Sinners now that it is coming out. I appreciate your time and keep safe during the pandemic. Take care.
Holly Amber Church on IMDB