Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Sound Editor Peter Albrechtsen on the importance of sound editing and design in horror films

In our latest interview, we spoke with Peter Albrechtsen, supervising sound editor and sound designer for the newest installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead Rise.

Evil Dead Rise follows a twisted tale of two estranged sisters whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable.

With Evil Dead Rise being the first movie in the franchise mixed in Dolby Atmos, Peter had the opportunity to create a sound mix more advanced and elaborate than any of its predecessors by mixing original sounds used in previous Evil Dead movies with newly recorded sounds. While crafting this modern sound, they still paid homage to the first film by opening Evil Dead Rise with the same sound that opened the franchise as a whole. As the director Lee Cronin crafted each scene with sound in mind, Peter worked closely with him for eight months, perfecting every audible aspect of this production to deliver audiences a horrifyingly good theatrical experience.

PH: Hi Peter! Can you share a bit of your background? How did you get into the business of sound design?

Peter Albrechtsen: Hi there! My dad has always been very much into modern classical music and John Lennon’s sonic experiments in The Beatles, so I grew up listening to a lot of adventurous sounds, and when I learned to turn on the TV, I immediately got into movies. As a teenager, I went to the European Film College, which is kind of a film pre-school, and this is where I realized that I could combine my interest in movies and music by making sound for movies. It was a revelation. Film sound felt like a world with so many unexplored opportunities. It still does, actually. I then got into the Danish Film School immediately after this, and since I graduated in 2001, I’ve been working professionally with film sound. That’s more than 20 years ago, but film sound still feels as fresh and exciting as back then.

PH: What have been some of the most impactful sound moments in film/series that stand out to you and why?

Peter Albrechtsen: I’ve actually always had a soft spot for horror sound. My very first favorite film director was Alfred Hitchcock, who is called The Master of Suspense but could also be called The Master of Sound. Psycho was the first film that made me aware of what music and sound can do in a film, and all his work has been a constant inspiration throughout the years - I even had the poster hanging in my studio in Ireland while working on Evil Dead Rise. The way Hitchcock worked with manipulating the mother’s voice in Psycho was one of my personal references for the voice work we did in Evil Dead Rise, which was also inspired by another horror sound classic, The Exorcist. A lot of my favorite directors in film history have been really into sound - Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, and Jacques Tati, to mention just a few - but we live in a great era for film sound as nowadays there are so many wonderful directors who really use sound as an integrated part of their storytelling. Some of my favorite films and series from recent years, like Sound of Metal, Son of Saul, All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), Memoria, You Were Never Really Here, The Quiet Girl, and The Underground Railroad, are all incredible sonic experiences, often because they are more based on atmosphere and emotions than words and dialogue. As Coppola once wisely said: “Remember that the best human moments are expressed without dialogue.”

PH: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Peter Albrechtsen: I’ve been very inspired by the work of sound design gurus like Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Alan Splet, Gary Rydstrom, Randy Thom, and Ren Klyce. Several of these I’ve even had the chance to meet when I’ve been working at Skywalker Ranch now and then. Rydstrom’s work in Jurassic Park and Ren Klyce’s work in Panic Room were actually a couple of the sonic references we kept coming back to when working on Evil Dead Rise. Apart from movies, I’m also very inspired by music. I constantly listen to new and old music in lots of different genres and I draw inspiration from that. There are many weird electrical sounds all over Evil Dead Rise, which are very inspired by my love of electronic music. We also use a lot of distortion of voices, sounds, and music, which was inspired by the last couple of albums by the band Low which have been some of my favorite records from the last few years.

PH: I'd love to learn more about your latest project, Evil Dead Rise. How did you become involved?

Peter Albrechtsen: The director and scriptwriter, Lee Cronin, is from Ireland, and we are both friends with the wonderful Irish sound designer, Steve Fanagan, who recommended me for the job. When Lee and I got in touch, we immediately clicked as we have a lot of the same creative preferences regarding sound. When I read Lee’s script - I was part of the project before they started the shoot - I was blown away by the number of sonic references that Lee had included. Actually, the very first thing in the script was a description of the sound. There are also so many scenes that are about the characters listening - and when the characters are listening, the audience is listening. It means that sound plays a big role, making it much more fun to build the sonic world of the movie.

PH: What did the initial planning process look (and sound) like? Can you give a bit of insight into your planning and creative processes?

Peter Albrechtsen: The great thing about being part of the process early is that there’s time to experiment, record, and create lots of unique and special sounds. When I read a script, I almost treat it as a kind of grocery list of sounds I need to get hold of - and there was a lot of stuff we needed to record for this film. So not only did we do a lot of early sound effects recordings, but we actually kept on recording until the very end - I’ve never done a film with so many unique and specialized sound effects. I worked on Evil Dead Rise for eight months and did my work in parallel with the picture editing so the sound got fully integrated within the scenes. I had a wonderful collaboration with Lee, picture editor Bryan Shaw, and composer Stephen McKeon. Incredible teamwork with ideas constantly going back and forth between the four of us.

PH: Collaboration is such a critical part of the work you do. What was collaborating with Lee Cronin like?

Peter Albrechtsen: Lee is really into sound and is an amazing collaborator. He has a strong and clear vision but is also very open to ideas and input. He’s a terrific listener in every sense of the word. And he’s got wonderful, dry humor which is always great when you’re working on a big project like this one for months and months. We had so much fun when we made this crazy, blood-soaked movie.

PH: How did using Dolby Atmos give you the opportunity to create a sound mix more advanced and elaborate than any of its predecessors by mixing original sounds?

Peter Albrechtsen: From the very beginning, we wanted to mix the film in Dolby Atmos to create a really enveloping experience. Most of the film takes place in a small apartment, by mixing the sounds the way it was all around the audience meant the audience really felt like they were in this claustrophobic space with the characters. There’s a lot of surround activity going on, and sounds are constantly moving around our ears. Even for the scenes where we look at the action through a tiny peephole, we mix the sounds like you’re actually placed inside the peephole and feel the sounds and reverbs all around you. Then, of course, there are all these big sound effects moments where the clarity and bass in the Atmos surround system were incredibly important. I hope a lot of people get the chance to experience this movie in Atmos in the cinema.

PH: Can you share some of the challenges you faced (and how you achieved those)?

Peter Albrechtsen: It’s amazing to do sound for a movie where sound is such an essential part of the storytelling, but it also puts a lot of pressure on you as the sound really has to tell the right story and be very, very precise. For instance, creating the sounds for the ancient records, integral to the story, took a lot of work from me, my effects editors, and the incredible dialogue editor and mixer, Garret Farrell. We also wanted to build on the amazing sonic foundation of the old movies, and finding the right balance between referencing, refining, and updating also took a lot of work and experimentation. I actually got a hard drive with digitized versions of the old sound effects from the first two Evil Dead movies, so for the sound nerds out there, there are many old sonic references in the new movie. For example, one of the very first sounds you hear in Evil Dead Rise is the very first sound you hear in Evil Dead - a fly - the exact same fly sound!

PH: Sound is critical to horror - how are you able to treat sound almost like a character itself? Is there a balance between silence and sound for horror?

Peter Albrechtsen: Sound is absolutely essential in horror movies for sure. For Lee, it was crucial that Evil Dead Rise didn’t just turn into a wall of sound. He had this philosophy with the sound that every little event in the film should have a very specific sound but that we didn’t have a lot of noise in between those moments. Those moments could be just seconds apart, but it still meant that the sound design becomes incredibly dynamic because it shifts back and forth between very powerful sounds and very powerful silences. And we made sure to embrace any chance we had to really take away all sound. This was simply a necessity for a movie like Evil Dead Rise, which is totally packed with constant intense action; otherwise a film like this would have been unbearable. I’m really proud of the extreme dynamics and shifts we managed to create in the mix.

PH: How has the previous work you've done as a professional shaped your work, and who you are as a professional, today?

Peter Albrechtsen: Throughout my career, I’ve been going back and forth between doing fiction films and documentaries, and that kind of variety has been incredible. For example, when Evil Dead Rise had its world premiere at the wonderful South by Southwest festival in Austin recently, I came there directly from Los Angeles as I had been part of the Oscar show because I did the sound design for A House Made of Splinters which was nominated for best documentary. I really can’t think of two more different movies than Splinters and Evil Dead Rise, but this is exactly what I love: It’s very important for me to keep developing my approach, and by working with lots of very different projects I constantly get inspired to try new things and work with sounds in new ways. I’m based in Copenhagen, Denmark, but I work on international projects all the time, and I feel enormously privileged to work with so many sonically ambitious filmmakers from all around the world.

PH: Can you talk about any upcoming projects?

Peter Albrechtsen: I can’t say much about my future projects, but I’ve got a couple of features and a couple of documentaries lined up, all super exciting projects. At the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, my latest movie, Rule of Two Walls, will premiere in the documentary competition - it’s a really powerful film from Ukraine directed by the very talented David Gutnik, based in New York. He’s another filmmaker who wants to explore what sound can do, and this is our second film together. I like to work with the same filmmakers again and again as you develop a special language together. It’s hard to talk about sound, but this makes it easier.