The “I Spit On Your Grave” film series made its presence known by beginning life as a reboot of the notorious 1978 exploitation film of the same name. Since then, the succeeding sequels have taken darker turns, accelerating the hyper-violence near the realm of torture-porn and are typically enjoyed (using the term loosely) by those with iron constitutions.
Interestingly, however, the latest entry, “I Spit On Your Grave III: Vengeance Is Mine” offers much more than the formula set by its predecessors. It behaves as a psychological morality play in the guise of horror, with the film’s protagonist victim transcending to the hero before unwittingly falling into the villain role.
Scoring the music to a genre film that dares to rise above its station is never an easy task. Yet, Austrian-born composer Edwin Wendler proved to be more than capable. Having spent years honing his abilities through short films, television and documentary work, Wendler has also offered his attention to detail and nuance to major motion pictures like “Turistas,” “Unknown,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and “Non-Stop.”
Read on, as we spend time with Edwin Wendler to discuss the depth and musicality of “I Spit On Your Grave III: Vengeance Is Mine.”
“I Spit On Your Grave” has become renowned for being a queasy, exploitation franchise. Did you feel uneasy at all taking on the newest entry?
I was shown an almost-completed cut of the movie, early in the process. Of course, it delivers on the gory aspects of the franchise but I thought it was also an interesting character study of one person’s very extreme way of dealing with abuse, rape, neglect, and injustice. It’s a story about wish fulfillment, and there is even a certain nobility about the main character’s objectives. It all turns out to be pretty twisted, of course, but it strikes a chord on a very basic level for anybody who feels a need for justice, I think. So, we all can relate to Jennifer Hills, to a point, and it’s interesting to explore where exactly that point is.
Having been attached to some pretty big motion pictures, do you find a sense of intimacy or a form of ownership attached to smaller, indie films like this?
As a composer, I need to make sure that the music always supports the main characters’ emotions, no matter what the scale of the story is. Indie horror movies tend to be less polished than their big-budget counterparts, and that can be a wonderful thing. In the case of “I Spit On Your Grave III,” the urban setting and the grittiness helped shape the music into something interesting, I hope.
Do you prefer one genre over another, or find one more fun to compose for than another?
I enjoy painting on pretty much any musical canvas I am given, so I don’t really have a preference, in terms of genre. I grew up loving fantasy and sci-fi movies, so I particularly love that genre as an audience member but I can find immense joy in all forms of composing, regardless of genre.
Minimalism seemed to be the order of the day for “I Spit On Your Grave III”. How did you come to discover the sound base for this film?
Producer Lisa Hansen and co-producer Adam Driscoll had listened to some music I had composed for a movie called, “Broken Angel.” They responded to the emotional-yet-restrained nature of the music and found it to be a great starting point for ISOYG3, in terms of what the music needed to accomplish.
In addition to this, it was important to me to have vocals in the score, something that sounded mournful but also strange and cold at the same time. Aeralie Brighton’s voice is always presented through electronic filters and weird effects, yet you instantly get that human connection that I wanted to bring to the music. Aeralie was a great joy to work with, and really open to the idea of sounding rough and almost dirty in her vocal performances.
How does one find the perfect music to accompany penile mutilation? And how does a male, in particular, mentally prepare himself to score it? I suppose I could ask the same of the “piping” scene. (I would assume you watched that scene more than once.)
Of course, when you work to picture, you watch a scene repeatedly, in little chunks, as you slowly progress and work your way through a scene, measure by measure. In the case of the violent scenes, I just took musical elements that I had established earlier in the scenes, and amped them up, always being mindful of the sound effects which add so much to how the gore works on an audience, psychologically. Of course, those scenes are uncomfortable to watch but they are also an inseparable part of the appeal, aren’t they?
Did you feel any responsibility to acknowledge the work of Corey Allan Jackson, since this is a continuation of the 2010 film?
Corey Allen Jackson did great work on the music for the first two movies. Given that, I asked early on how important it was to have musical continuity. My directive ultimately was to create something new. The environment and the circumstances in this new movie are very different from the 2010 movie. Our main character even creates a new identity for herself, doing her best to find a fresh start, so those changes needed to find a musical counterpart.
Was it difficult to reconcile the fact that portions of the film take place in Jennifer Hills’ mind, between flashbacks and her “what-if” scenarios?
Depending on the situation, the music either plays through those moments, or changes with them, so I approached each of those segments slightly differently. From a composing/arranging point of view, it was pretty cool to have sounds cut off abruptly. By now, that has become a pretty common device in film music but it’s still fun to do.
Amid all the horror and base human cruelty, I was surprised to see that the film touches on some real social issues. Did that surprise you, as well? And did you feel obligated to give them a bit of a musical spotlight?
Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, the dialog, the nuances in the performances, and the ambivalence in the storytelling. The movie is more of a mind trip than it is a gore fest, and that definitely drew me to it. The whole story is just really tragic. It shows how violence breeds more violence, and it addresses the issue of domestic violence and rape. I think no music can adequately express the trauma and complexity of what that does to a human being, so I tried to not even think about that but simply focus on the characters’ emotions, scene by scene.
There are some “heavy metal” music moments in the score. What is the significance of that?
It’s just a sound that felt organic to the environment and the story. It’s aggressive but also cool, and it feels grounded. The temp track had a few moments of orchestral bombast in it, and to me, those orchestral elements changed the nature of the movie by making it more fantastical, similar to something like “Hellraiser.” This is a story about real monsters, not fantastical ones. So, I felt that even in moments, when we see Jennifer’s imagination unfold, the music needed to feel real and not get too out of hand and become almost a caricature of fantastical horror action music. Heavy metal seemed to help keep it real and rough.
This is a strange movie, in that although Jennifer is the hero, she is also the villain, and ultimately, returns to being a bit of a victim. Was that a challenge to transition through music?
It was important to the film makers to have the audience genuinely feel sympathy for Jennifer, to a certain degree, and I did my best to support that objective, musically. The idea of what she wants feels right, even virtuous and just. It’s her execution of that idea that makes the whole thing kinda messy, but also kinda fun to watch because she is going places that we would never dare to go.
My favorite scene in the whole movie is when Detective Bolton questions Jennifer at the police station. As an audience member, you find yourself siding with both of them, which is pretty amazing. Sarah Butler and Michelle Hurd really pulled it off brilliantly.
It seems like you make an effort to either have official soundtracks released for your work, or you share what you can on your website. Will we see a soundtrack release for “I Spit On Your Grave III: Vengeance Is Mine”?
At this point, things are looking very promising for a soundtrack album release but I don’t want to jump the gun, and I’m very cautious to make announcements for things that may not end up happening. I’ll leave it up to the label to make that announcement when the time comes. Until then, we’re just hopeful and optimistic.
Keep up with Edwin Wendler on Facebook, Twitter, and at his official website.
“I Spit On Your Grave III: Vengeance Is Mine” is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, and Amazon Video.