Composer Kevin Riepl is one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets. Let me rattle off a few of the titles he’s composed for, okay? Let’s start with games: Gears of War, Alien: Colonial Marines, Twisted Metal: Black, and Unreal Tournament, as well as others. When it comes to film, he’s done The Aggression Scale, Contracted, Silent Night, Lost Boys: The Tribe, and two Batman Unlimited titles. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Coming to today, we’re here to talk about the recently released remake of Cabin Fever, which was produced by Eli Roth, who directed the original film. Riepl, who composed the 2014 prequel Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, is the man who composed the score for this remake, effectively creating a large portion of the tension and fear that is felt. I won’t speak for the whole BD family but I know that I’m a big fan of Riepl’s, so when the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the score presented itself, I couldn’t turn it down.
Below are six questions for Riepl about Cabin Fever, what inspired and influenced his pieces, what his thoughts were when approached for the film, and what he’s got coming up for us next.
Make sure to read Luiz’s review.
You scored the 2014 prequel Patient Zero. Did any themes and motifs make a comeback for this new film or did you start with a brand new slate?
I approached this one with a new vision. As much as the director Travis Z and I liked what was done for Patient Zero, since the film itself was being completely reimagined we thought it best to start afresh and create something new, specifically designed for his version of the film.
When you were first approached with the offer to score a near exact remake of the original 2002 film, what thoughts went through your head?
When Evan Astrowsky the producer contacted me about coming on board, my knee jerk reaction was…“They’re remaking Cabin Fever? It’s a beloved cult classic. How can they do this?” But that alone piqued my interest. Travis and Evan asked me to come in for a viewing of a rough cut of the film before I gave them a definite answer about working on the film. The fact that I had a great experience working with Evan on Patient Zero, and I was interested in seeing how they reimagined this classic, I accepted and went in to watch the footage. It was like watching an entirely different film. Yeah, the same plot was there, the same characters, etc. But the film had a whole new life to it. It was shot completely different, there was no dark humor aspect, all the characters played their roles seriously and to me it was a totally different film. After seeing the footage and getting inspired by Travis’ passion for the project, I agreed to score the film. Reboots or re-imaginings of films are sometimes frowned upon and not well received. If they are done well with a new vision, I think they can work and survive on their own. It’s a common practice in theater. There are constant new productions and new visions of classic plays all the time. I think we are a bit too harsh on the whole reboot phenomenon in film.
What kind of mental space do you have to put yourself in to compose for something so intense?
It’s definitely a different space than the one I use when scoring Batman animated features. In all honesty I usually don’t sit there and over-analyze where my mind needs to be or where I need to be emotionally in order to score a film like this. I don’t take time before approaching a cue to get into a certain ‘mental mode’ like an actor would do to get into character. I look at a scene and think, what’s the best way to support what’s happening here? What I look at in a film like this though is, “What’s driving all the action? What’s pushing this film forward?” In this film it’s straight up fear. Fear is such a primal emotion. It’s so rooted in our psyche and our DNA. It runs deep in all of us. To help tie the music to that primal aspect of the film, I approached it with the idea of rhythm, another primal part of our being. We breathe in rhythm, we walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, our heart beats in rhythm. It’s a part of everyone. So in most of the score throughout the film there is a heavy sense of rhythm. Not necessarily percussive rhythm, but a sense of movement. Even with simple synth or ambient cues there is a repetitive movement of oscillation or something similar.
The original Cabin Fever mixed humor with gore and paranoia. Do those themes show up in the remake and, if so, how do you convey them musically?
There is no humor in this one, but yes, there is definitely gore and paranoia. Plenty of it!
I’m always fascinated by composers and the interesting ways they find different tones and sounds out of the oddest kinds of instruments or tools. Did this movie provide any such opportunities?
When first approaching the film I set out to use a Double Wind Wand Bull Roarer. Something I’ve had in my studio and have wanted to use on a film for a while. The instrument is made up of two thick rubber bands stretched across dowels of wood with a handle attached. The handle allows you to switch it around to create this low gutteral rhythmic drone sound. I thought it would be perfect to help convey the rhythmic aspect I was going for. It worked its way into many cues but usually never in its raw form.
What’s next on the plate for you? Any fun projects that you can tell us about?
I just finished scoring my third Batman animated feature for Warner Bros. that should have a release sometime this fall. Two other films I scored last year, The Night Crew and Get the Girl should be having releases this year with coinciding soundtrack releases. Something interesting is happening this year having to do with the sci-fi Atropa short I scored. A lot of good things happening that I am excited about.