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Bear McCreary on KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM, Heavy Metal, and ANIMAL HOUSE

When it came to scoring his latest project, the funny and charming Knights of Badassdom, composer Bear McCreary took the earnest approach. In a film marked by succubi, magic enchantments gone awry, a weekend-long LARP, some shocking deaths, and a heavy metal-singing leading man, it’s an interesting juxtaposition — but that’s exactly what makes it work. The horror-comedy film, recently out on VOD, works best when the genuine spirit of its lead characters are matched by McCreary’s serious yet indulgent score.

That’s likely because, like the film’s director Joe Lynch, McCreary “grew up in the John Landis comedy era,” which honed the juxtaposition between serious and comedy, as in Animal House. McCreary explained that the film’s music took itself very seriously, something he admired. “It was probably the first film in history to do this, and without question the most successful, creatively.” The composer took the same approach when creating the musical landscape in which Knights of Badassdom would live.

“The score is very genuine, there’s nothing funny in the music,” McCreary explained. “It’s about people who believe in this fantasy world and want to escape into it. They believe in heroism and adventure and danger and magic. That was the real thrill of it: the film and the score are not making fun of it; they have very genuine feelings and end up in very genuine danger. So it was important that the music not be winking or smirking, but to be very serious.”

His mentor Elmer Bernstein’s influence is felt particularly during these moments, as McCreary managed a feat rather Bernsteinian in nature: elevating the seriousness of the comedy with the emotional punch of its music. “He did this with Ghostbusters, too, which was a very different approach.”

In Knights, the film unites two popular geek loves — LARPing and heavy metal music — and finds them to be particularly well-matched bedfellows. By tapping into these subcultures, the film’s message is complemented by the escapist heroism found in both. “This is a heavy metal fantasy orchestral record,” said McCreary, explaining that the film’s heart “was compounded by the use of heavy metal” and the music’s ability “to still keep it serious [when] there are so many different layers to the comedy and adventure. … It’s not a parody and it’s not a comedy score.”

In order to keep all those plates spinning at once, McCreary worked thematically between the different factions represented (the LARPers, the hero’s crew, the paintballers) while still maintaining interplay between the genres he used. Throughout the score you’ll experience not only heavy metal but Renaissance-flecked tunes, and some blues and country music to boot. “The trick with that film was breaking down the very factions, not so much the individual characters.”

And while that might seem a bit at-odds on paper, McCreary’s able to not only make it work, but bring them all together for one final, epic battle scene. “[Everyone] needed their own world musically, [but] the beauty of it is at the end of the film all of these threads and different factions get mashed together into the culminating final song, and musically I’d just been keeping them all going. You just hear little threads of everything thrown together and tangled up.”

Ultimately — and like so much of nerd culture — the success comes from having a genuinely good time and making that enthusiasm known. “It’s a really fun place for me to work because I always enjoy narrative music and music that has a story to tell. So to write music that has to tell a story is what I enjoy doing the most. The soundtrack is really one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

Have you seen Knights of Badassdom? Let us know in the comments.

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