Scoring Horror with Composer Jacquie Joy

Scoring Horror with Composer Jacquie Joy

The Haunted Cinema (THC) – Welcome to The Haunted Cinema. Ghastly and I are thrilled to have such a talented person as yourself join us for a chat. Your music is amazing. Was music always a part of your life?

Jacquie Joy (JJ) –Thank you so much for inviting me to chat with you/the Haunted Cinema and thank you also for your kind words.

Music wasn’t always a part of my life – opportunities were limited and not encouraged at school for me.

So, early on, playing sport and being a physiotherapist was where I started out.  Then I took singing lessons, taught myself how to play guitar…and then music became an active part of my life in my 20s!

THC – So a career in music wasn’t always in your plans? Tell us when you realized that this was the path you wanted to pursue.

JJ – A career in music is something I dreamed of and I started out as a singer/guitarist in a successful music duo. After that I began to write and produce corporate music. However, a career in film music only started about 3-4 years ago when after close friends suggested that I try it out.

THC – Looking at your Bio, you’ve done just about everything in music, from instruments, to vocal, and many styles of music, at some point you set your talents on composing. How did that come to be?

JJ – Performing/playing guitar and singing cover music 4-5 times a week really opened my eyes to the many genres of songs and music out there.  Then composing a lot of music for Expedia Travel Guides educated me in world music and instrumentation.

THC – One of the things that impressed us about you is that you don’t seem to be pigeonholed into one style of music or genre of film score. How did you develop such eclectic tastes?

JJ – I think I have just been given eclectic opportunities in life and have always taken on the challenge!!

THC – Even though we talked about the diversity in your work, do you have a favorite type of music?

JJ- Being a female vocalist I’ve always loved rock and electronica with female singers – i.e. Joan Jett, Suzi Q, Lana Del Ray, Miley Cyrus.  Then there’s The Doors…!

THC – Moving into your film work, do you have any current composers that inspire you? If so, what are some of their compositions that you particularly admire?

JJ – Marco Beltrami – A Quiet Place 2

Hildur Guonadottir – Joker

The Newton Brothers- The Haunting of Hill House

Ronit Kirchman- Evil Eye

Ludwig Goransson – Book of Boba Fett (Themes)

THC – Being that this is The Haunted Cinema, we must dive into your genre work. Before we get specific, are you a fan of horror films? Do you have any favorites?

JJ- My favorite horror films at the moment are: The Shining, A Quiet Place, Silence of the Lambs and Alien.  I also listen to horror soundtracks as inspiration for soundtracks I’m writing- and currently listening to The VVitch, Hereditary and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

THC – When scoring music for a horror or thriller, are there any unique challenges that those stories present versus a normal drama or comedy?

JJ – Yes, there are unique features of a horror/thriller soundtrack and I feel very comfortable writing for these film genres.  It is important to have a good understanding of sound design techniques as they often get incorporated into a music cue. 

It’s also important to find the right ‘sound’ of a horror film (there are soooo many sub genres of horror!), whereas drama/comedy films often have that ‘same/generic’ style of instrumentation and sound.  

And often a horror film spans different eras too (i.e. where the witch or scary character keeps returning) so that is also something to consider as it may affect the way you use effects/how you master the music. 

Sometimes there is a poem/song/theme that needs to be written for a creepy character as well.

And of course, writing terrifying jump scares is a unique aspect of horror films.

THC – I am very interested in the creative process. When approached by a filmmaker about scoring their movie, how do you begin the process. Does budget have a large impact on your approach?

JJ – I’ll listen to what the director has to say first up and study any inspiration/reference tracks that they suggest.  Then I’ll do up a demo music piece (to some vision if it is available) and send to the filmmaker- then I can see if my music style/vision is a match for the project.  Budget is not so much of a consideration for indie projects, and I’ve learnt to produce ‘expensive’ sounding soundtracks on a shoestring.

THC – What has been your favorite score you have created? Which one was the largest challenge?

JJ – I don’t have a favorite score as such -they are all like different ‘children’ to me – all special!

But the first really exciting ‘break’ I got early on was being giving the opportunity to be able to score a 20min cult style horror film Reformation.  It started my love affair with horror scoring! The largest challenges were actually two projects.  One was a dystopian thriller Gardenia (set in the empty streets of LA during the very early days of the pandemic). When I received the cut of the film there was NO audio at all (except for a little dialog).  I had to build the sound stage fully from the ground up and in the end got a best sound design award for it from the very cool Boobs and Blood International Film Festival!

Second biggest challenge is a current project called Tropos -an action/comedy TV series set on the streets of NY, which needed music for 3 x 45minute episodes, The filmmaker wanted the full soundtrack written before the movie was filmed so he could drop it straight it the edit (like temp music), hence this project was written to the script and directors notes only.  In the end, I managed an awesome composer team and we all made it happen!

THC – When preparing music for a film, is it important to have an overall theme, or do you approach it scene by scene?

JJ – In modern scoring, it’s probably more important to have an overall sound (and approach it scene by scene) rather than an overall theme.  However, in horror films, a character theme/main theme is often required.  For example -in one film I wrote a violin theme for a main ‘killer’ character Lily and a variation of this theme was played every time she was about execute the next kill (which was 11 times!).  Interestingly, her character was based on La Llorona (The Lady in White).

Some other examples of horror style themes I’m currently working on are a Freddy Krueger inspired theme/creepy poem, a theme incorporating an early 1900’s Bulgarian Polka song and I’m also incorporating a Marilyn Monroe influenced ‘poem/spoken word’ into a psychological thriller SD style theme.

THC – How important is input from the filmmaker in the process? Do you occasionally get unrealistic demands? If so, how do you handle them?

JJ – My job is to make the filmmakers vision come to life so input/any thoughts from the filmmaker is the most valuable ‘tool’ in helping me achieve this!!  Some filmmakers have little input and just leave me to it, and others give me a high level of music direction and detail in their briefs.  I’ve found every Indie filmmaker does really want that professional/big budget/Hollywood style sound for their films, so I’ve learnt to cater for that on a limited budget.

THC – Your music is so rich, do you use a traditional orchestra, or is it electronic?

JJ – I find myself using hybrid orchestral/electronic sounds a lot- these are very popular in modern music as they can add interesting textures and movement to the musical palette. Also, I’ve taught myself to be able to reproduce a really full and professional sound by using layers of very high quality sampled orchestras.

As you know most Indie films have little or no composer budgets, so unfortunately hiring a traditional orchestra or even hiring session players is out of the question unless the composer is willing to pay for it out of their own pocket (!).

THC – Moving to your work on Attack of the Cat People. I loved the film but was completely amazed by your score. You managed to capture the sound of 1950’s Atomic Sci-Fi and Horror films. How much research went into creating that music? What were the challenges of reproducing that sound?

JJ Thank-you and so glad you enjoyed the AOTCP score.  It was such a unique film to be involved with and Sarah Stephenson and her cast/crew really produced a special classic horror flick!  Certainly, this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for me and I needed to do a bit of research!  

I had reproduced that Grindhouse ‘sound’ in previous work, so I was familiar with using production techniques of ‘mono’ing’ and EQ’ing audio etc. that would help me achieve this ‘classic’ sound.

I studied The Creature of the Black Lagoon as part of my research. 

Then it was onto the instrumentation- I was lucky enough to already own some amazing Grindhouse style classic horror string/orchestral/timpani/percussion samples.  Then I purchased the Spitfire Audio Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) Composer Toolkit – which gave me an amazing sample palette to work from.

THC – A good score, in my opinion, truly gives the film it’s soul, whether it’s the opening music from Star Wars, to the Indiana Jones March, the music often becomes as important as the story itself. I think you hit that mark with Attack of the Cat People. Did you know, as you were composing it, that you had “hit the mark”?

JJ – To be honest yes- initially I thought I had hit the mark- for me anyway- it just sounded ‘right’ to my ears when I did my first AOTCP demo. But I knew that the music direction was really ‘on point’ when I ran this demo past film director Sarah, and she said she loved it.

However, I wasn’t sure how the music would actually come together as a whole because I never saw the entire movie until the premiere!  The music needed to be completed ASAP, so Sarah had only asked me to score eight separate scenes.  It was a super quick turnaround in the end (1-2 weeks).  Aldergrove studios were able to repurpose the music throughout the film where needed, and it all came together super well.

THC – If you could be the composer for any film either past, present, or future, what would be your dream project?

JJ – A well-made horror feature like A Quiet Place, or a crime/thriller drama series like Gangs of London would be two current dream projects especially as they incorporate both music and sound design.

THC – Moving forward, where do you hope your career will be in five years?

JJ – I have no idea.  Five years ago, I never guessed I’d be composing for films! 

It would be great to manage a composer/sound design team writing for bigger budget film/TV projects.  I’d like to specialize in the horror/thriller genre.

THC – How can people find your music and learn more about you?

JJ – My website is

Facebook page is



Link to a crime/thriller soundtrack of mine:

Thanks so much for interviewing me for the Haunted Cinema!!

A cartoon drawing of a zombie in cinema staff attire