INTERVIEW: Composer Devin Burrows Creates Terrifying Tones For THE WRETCHED

The Wretched is a supernatural horror movie featuring failed marriages, angsty teenagers, and witches. To bring the world to life through the score is composer Devin Burrows.

In The Wretched, John-Paul Howard (Midnight, Texas) is Ben, a teenager living with his father while his parents get a divorce. Ben starts meeting locals, including Mallory, played by Piper Curda (I Didn’t Do It). Soon, things go from weird to spooky to terrifying as Ben must stop the evil actions of a child-stealing witch.

PopAxiom and Devin Burrows spoke about his life of making music, the unique get togethers he’s had with directors Brett and Drew Pierce, and making music for the horror film The Wretched.

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Devin’s musical training started early. “I took up the guitar at about age 12. I had a great teacher who was into everything from classical to jazz to fusion. At that age, you’re a sponge, and he got me excited about lots of musical possibilities.”

Music was a vital part of Devin’s life, but so were movies. “I used to go over to hang out with friends. We’d watch movies. My friends Brett and Drew (aka directors of The Wretched, the Pierce Bros.), their dad worked on the practical FX for Evil Dead. He had this amazing collection of movies at his place. That’s where we got our education in film. That helped establish my appreciation for film music.”

Devin continued his musical education through high school and well beyond. “In my 20s, I got really into classical music and studied the greats. In 2011, I got to score a film called Deadheads. I loved it.”

About The Wretched

The Wretched is receiving strong reviews, including an RT score of 74 percent. In limited release, playing mostly at drive-in cinemas, it’s become the first movie since Black Panther to win the box office five weekends in a row. “The cast and crew went to see it at the drive-in. There were a lot of people there.”

Devin’s involvement with The Wretched is via a longtime friendship. “I worked with Brett and Drew on Deadheads. We have a lot of similar interests and work great together.”

About the directing siblings, Devin says, “It’s always a treat to work with them. They have high expectations and challenge me. I always find a way to do something new and interesting with them.”

More often than not, composers read a script and watch a mostly-finished movie by the time they start their work. However, Devin’s relationship with the Pierce Brothers made The Wretched a much more intimate project. “We started working together very early during the script writing phase. They would send me drafts, and I would create themes or ideas and send those back. We went back and forth like that for a while. It was this good, creative energy … feedback loop.”

What did the directors want from the score? “I remember them saying they wanted the tone of the film to be varied. A lot of horror films can be dark and dour in tone. But for this film, they wanted a lot of character development. They wanted to be more Spielberg-like, varied in tone … like Jaws.”

For the creators, the varied tones make viewers “… more invested by the time the crazy, scary stuff happens.”

For cinephiles, Devin says, “Music-wise, the film is influenced by Poltergeist, Psycho, The Others … to name a few.”

Strange Instruments

During that close-knit early process, the directors visited their composer for an unusual meeting. “Brett and Drew came over to my place pretty early on. We did a sort of musical instrument casting. I spread out a bunch of instruments. Among them was the Indian Sarangi and Bowed Psaltery.”

Several instruments made the final cut. But one, in particular, stood out. “As soon as they heard the Sarangi, they were like ‘We want that!’”

By Devin’s admission, “I’m no Sarangi virtuoso. I was able to play it enough to get the types of effects that I wanted.”

Playing the instrument required dusting off some old skills. “I played violin at a very young age, so I have a very rusty bowing technique. It required a little experimentation and practice. It’s used in kind of an experimental way in the film too to give these woods … a specific sonic signature.”

After knocking off the rust, technology played its part. “Digitally … I made some changes to it so that it has a dry, throaty sound.”

Devin’s Sarangi isn’t merely an exotic instrument. It’s also a little spooky. “It’s covered in goatskin. It has this sort of animal-like quality when you play it. Deer play a sort of role in The Wretched, and this had that quality that worked well with the film.”

Wrapping Up

Devin shares a few composers who make up his creative DNA. “Ravel … writes such beautiful music. Stravinsky … The Rite of Spring … it’s a ballet about ritual sacrifice. It’s ideal for horror.”

Devin believes influences come from all over the place. “I listen to a lot of contemporary classical music, jazz fusion … all of that influences, and you put your musical stamp on things.”

That spark of inspiration can come anywhere and anytime. “I use my voice memo app all the time to record sounds when I have an idea. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night or be at the grocery store and be like, ‘Oh, I need to try this idea.’”

What remake would Devin love to compose? “The Others is one. I would be highly interested in getting the gig for The Others. Poltergeist too.”

The Wretched is available on your favorite streaming platforms and is also playing around the United States at local drive-ins. As productions have slowed to a crawl due to the pandemic, Devin’s shifted focus. “I’m focused on creative projects of my own and will probably release some music that way. I have a few collaborations in the works.”

Is The Wretched on your watch list?

Thanks to Devin Burrows and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.