Mr. Cellophane

In a location adjacent to a place in a city of some significance, what comes out of my head is plastered on the walls of this blog.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 13

As this series of mine draws to a close, I can't help but lament the scores I neglected to cover, like Williams's The Fury or Elfman's Sleepy Hollow, much as I enjoy them. For today's score, we turn to a horror film produced for $300,000, ended up a smash hit and inspired scores of films and well as a bunch of weak sequels (then again, name a horror franchise where every film was a classic). John Carpenter's Halloween.

It's the last day of October in Haddonfield, Illinois and high-schooler Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has to babysit. However, an unexpected visitor seeks to make the night a memorable one. This film has deservedly earned its reputation as a classic horror film, thanks to Carpenter's atmospheric direction (abetted by Dean Cundey's fine camerawork) and many startling moments.

In a surprising (and budget-conscious) move, director Carpenter composed the score for the film. The catchy-as-hell main theme is a piano and synth-driven piece, featured in "Shape Escapes", "Loomis and Shape's Car" and the "Main Titles".

The theme for Laurie starts off with two piano notes, before drawing them out on moody synths, as in "Meyers' House" and "Laurie's Theme".

Piano backing and four descending notes signal Michael Myers' childhood, as heard in "'The Haunted House'" and "Meyers' House". Acting as an offshoot of this is a melody throughout "Michael Kills Judith" that sounds like the same theme, but seems to run out of gas; like Michael going down for the count.

"The Shape Lurks" and "The Shape Stalks" utilize a fantastic, minimalist theme for low-end piano and synth droning as Michael pursues Laurie.

Granted, the score comes off as repetitive on the Varese Sarabande CD (it's pretty much the same music, over and over, with little thematic variation), but make no mistake; this is some effectively creepy music.

Thanks for reading, whoever you are, and Happy Halloween!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 12

Getting back to a composer I talked about earlier in the series, Brian Tyler has worked on a number of features in the last few years. Some have been good, but others...not so much. Exhibit a: Darkness Falls.

The small town of Darkness Falls has been visited by the spirit of a vengeful woman who was long ago accused of killing a child and hanged. The spirit goes by 'The Tooth Fairy' for reasons I could not be bothered to remember. The rest dissolves into a blur of incredibly unlikable secondary characters and lame attempts at fright. Seriously, folks, you could do much better.

Tyler's score doesn't really make the film watchable, but it is damn good. The main theme is a four note melody that represents the town of Darkness Falls and the ever-present threat of...The Tooth Fairy. (Oy.) It recurs throughout the score; a brilliant transistional version in "Overhead", a beautifully tense string take in "We Are Safe in Here" and a violent sounding horn rendition in "A Bit Crispy".

An eleven-note (!) melody on horns, high strings and bells figures into cues like "Evil Rises" and "Der Zylinder", a perfect match for the constant running the characters are doing to survive.

There is also a very touching love theme on piano and oboe that tries to sell a romance between the film's only remotely interesting characters, Kyle and Caitlin, appearing in "One Kiss" and "Blood Red Herring".

Varese Sarabande released this score, thereby sparing grateful fans of the music the dreadful film for which it was written. (Clips from the score can be found at Tyler's website. I'd have linked them, but they're 'javascripted'.)

Tomorrow: Oh, take a freakin' guess!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 11

As the 1980s went on, Jerry Goldsmith utilized electronics in his scores, almost as a part of the orchestra. More often than not, this experimentation resulted in interesting and enjoyable scores, such as his work on Warlock.

The time is 1691. The place is Massachusetts. A warlock (Julian Sands) has been captured, but manages to escape. Sent after him is witch hunter Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant, who gets many of the best lines in David Twohy's script), and the two end up in Los Angeles, circa 1988. The warlock plans to collect the pages of the Satanic Bible and destroy the world. This is an entertaining genre piece; certainly the best to come from director Steve Miner. Though Redferne's unwilling modern assistant, Kassandra (Lori Singer), is a bit abrasive and the effects (even considering the time and budget) are lacking, this film deserves better than to be forgotten.

Speaking of the budget (New World Pictures went belly up as this film was completed, leaving it shelved for three years) - and I suppose, the B-movie nature of the film - it's quite a shock that Goldsmith agreed to score the film. He recorded it with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (though, given how the electronics take precedence here, it's sometimes impossible to believe that any acoustic instruments were used).

Still, Goldsmith provided two terrific themes: a six-note motif for the warlock that occurs throughout the score (in its predominantly synth guise and in a mock-triumphant orchestral rendition near the end of "Salt Water Attack") and a quietly noble string theme for Redferne (a brooding cello version a minute into "Growing Pains", a heartbreaking synth and orchestral take in "The Salt Flats").

Kassandra seems to get a pair of melodies: one of chirping strings (toward the end of "The Trance" and throughout "Old Age") and, later, one of synth chimes (the end of "Nails"). The orchestra seems to really get a workout with the staccato horns in cues like "The Weather Vane" and "Salt Water Attack".

I'm pretty much with the majority that it's not one of the Goldsmith masterpieces, but that's not to say it should be written off completely. It is a dynamic work that merits rediscovery. It was released by Intrada Records, but they ran out of the CD years ago. If you have a friend willing to burn you a copy of theirs (or, perhaps, give it to you), do take the chance.

Tomorrow: The importance of brushing your teeth.

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My Favorite Themes - Part XXV

Score: Inside Man by Terence Blanchard (Malcolm X)

About the film: New York detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) gets embroiled in a bank robbery/hostage situation, though he feels that there's more to the heist than its mastermind, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), is willing to let on. It genuinely throws me that Hollywood is producing a remake of the superb 70s thriller, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (with Washington in the lead, yet!). As far as I'm concerned, this film is (however unofficially) as perfect a remake as anyone could ask for; well-directed by Spike Lee, slyly scripted (by Russell Gewirtz) and filled with moments of cynical humor. It's the best film I saw last year and an exciting piece of filmmaking.

Title: "The Law". The theme for Det. Frazier is, at one, jazzy and serious, the best example of this occuring in "357". The bookending variations in "Good and Ready" are terrific, but the piano take on the theme in "Press Here to Play" is simply gorgeous.

Other themes of interest: Dalton receives a forceful, three-note theme (usually on horns) that appears throughout the score, but its almost triumphant rendition in "Follow the Ring" is especially noteworthy. There is a lighter, wafting theme that seems to represent Dalton's true intentions, treated to woodwinds in "392". However, the softer versions are fantastic, like the lullaby in "Defend Brooklyn", the string quartet in the amusingly-titled "Nazis Pay Too Well" and the reflective piano in "Dalton's Cell" The heist, itself, gets its own melody: a five-note motif that sounds best in the conclusive-sounding "Hostage Takedown".

Availability: Varese Sarabande rides to the rescue yet again.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 10

One of my personal favorite composers is Jerry Goldsmith. He worked in every genre one could think of and was certainly no stranger to horror films. Though none of these fright fests could ever be considered masterpieces, he lent each of them his usual professionalism and skill. One of the most surprising scores in his career (and the genre) was for the third chapter of the Omen trilogy: The Final Conflict.

Ambassador Damien Thorn (Sam Neill) fears that the Nazarene may threaten his rise to power. Oh, and a group of monks try to kill him. I managed to find that post I referenced last year: "I love 'Omen III'...just for the Wile E. Coyote monks and their constant running off cliffs and pressing the Acme Anti-Christ killing machine button, getting no reaction as Damien races past, and then looking into barrel of said machine and BOOM! OK, maybe I am confused, but it isn't far off." He isn't, and, except for people who like that sort of thing and die-hard fans of the star and composer, I see no reason for people to bother with this.

Of course, fans of the composer know better, for they already possess the soundtrack. The score is comprised of two main themes, both of which are introduced in the "Main Titles": a driving melody for Damien on horns and choir (and I still say that The Vanishing utilized it for its theme) and a more noble theme for the Second Coming on low horns.

"Trial Run" showcases a haunting melody on voices, strings and flute that, for all the world, resembles the opening of Goldsmith's equally fantastic Secret of N.I.M.H. score. "The Monastery" presents a beautifully subtle take on the Second Coming theme, leading to an equally understated read of Damien's theme.

However, the pace quickens with cues like "A TV First" and "Parted Hair" that feature a sort-of 'killing' motif that (in spite of some admittedly silly-sounding electronics) manages to pack a punch with its frantic chanting. "The Hunt" takes Damien's theme and adds chimes, racing strings and tympani to the horn section, transforming it into an adventurous, almost heroic fanfare.

The quavering strings rendition of Damien's theme in "Electric Storm" is quite unnerving, while the choir sets off their own fireworks with the other major theme in "The Second Coming".

"The Final Conflict" throws in everything from the 'killing' motif to a quick quote of the Dies Irae before leading to an incredible climax that...oh, just click the damn link! You'll know what I mean.

Released by Varese Sarabande twice, the more recent Deluxe Edition is your best bet for an unforgettable listening experience.

Tomorrow: The Devil, I dont.

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13 Scores of Halloween - Day 9

Continuing what I said earlier about composers having horror films on their resumes, another person to fall into this category is John Williams. However, the features he worked on were a bit more...upmarket; no masked slashers for him. It was a little hard choosing which of his late 70s efforts to focus on, The Fury or Dracula. I decided to go with the latter.

Count Dracula (Frank Langella) arrives in Carfax Abbey and, not long after, the death of a young woman, Mina. Her father, Dr. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) learns of this and figures out that the Count may be more than anyone knows. This version (directed by John Badham, of all people) plays fast and loose with the classic story, but it's still quite good, bolstered by fine acting all around.

Given how good the music is here, it's surprising that Williams had never seen a vampire film prior to working on this. There is only one theme to speak of, but what is done with it is incredible. It's an exciting and lush piece of music, ably setting the mood in the "Main Title and Storm Sequence".

"The Abduction of Lucy" is noteworthy for its string work; heart-racing at some points, eerily sliding at others. "The Love Scene" turns the haunting main theme into a soaring romantic melody for the entanglement of Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and the Count. "Night Journeys" ups the gothic ante, adding female voices and tinkling piano to the mix.

Even when not directly working with the theme, Williams weaves magic, such as the string and wind scherzo of "To Scarborough", the soulful trumpet solo of "For Mina" and the creepy strings of "The Night Visitor". "Meeting in the Cave" is quite creepy for its continually rising strings, as is "The Bat Attack" with its low end piano and skittering strings representing a flying bat.

The last two tracks are particularly fantastic. "Dracula's Death" plays the main theme as melancholy, as if the hero were being killed, and the orchestra thrashing about is wholly appropriate (if you've seen the film). The beginning of the "End Credits" showcases a fluttering flute (an interesting match for the film's unintentionally amusing final shot) before moving into a beautifully solemn rendition of the main theme.

Unfortunately, the Varese Sarabande soundtrack is out of print and goes for ludicrous prices on the collector's market. Unless a re-issue is in the immediate offing, one must go to the film for this superb score.

Tomorrow: The Devil, you say...

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 8

It is truly surprising the composers that end up scoring horror films. One would think that these people, talented though they may be, wouldn't be equal to the task. Usually, they deliver in a big way. One such example of this is Vic Mizzy. Yes, the guy who wrote the "Green Acres" theme. It was not only his first of three collaborations with William Castle, but his first ever film score: The Night Walker.

The unhappily married Irene Trent (Barbara Stanwyck) has recurring dreams about a lover, but her blind husband, Howard (Hayden Rorke - Dr. Bellows on "I Dream of Jeannie"!) believes her affair to be real. One night, he dies in a fire and she leaves, but her dream lover turns out to be so much more than a dream. I haven't seen it, but from what I've read about the film, it's a lot of opinion shared by even the film's composer.

Still, Mizzy's work is to be cherished. The main theme on detuned piano and bass guitar lends an appropriately unsettling air, no more so than in the "Main Titles"; as Paul Frees pontificates on the power of dreams, the music swirls around, creating a beautiful orchestral cornucopia.

"Imaginary Lover?" introduces the motif for Howard, played on what sounds like a player piano, but is really an altered grand piano. It's this kind of cleverness that makes the score memorable. "Hittin' Mrs." reprises the main theme on flute while the piano floats along underneath.

The bubbly love theme for Irene and her dream lover (which features in such tracks as "Candlelight and Champagne" and..."Dream Lover") is quite pretty. The love theme - introduced in "High-Powered Howard" - comes from a tentative melody on piano, tympani and flute, representing Irene's dreams. In stark contrast, there's also a gothic wedding march on organ and horns for the film's odd nuptials ("Marriage Mirage", "Weird Wedding" and a subtler take in "Ring of Truth").

Parts of the score feel like they burst in from Mizzy's lighter works, such as the piano rag near the end of "Bang-Up Night" and the tweeting flutes in "Blade for Barry". This is not, by any means, a complaint; these bits add a layer of amusement to the film. It's almost like the composer's having a laugh at the film's expense.

Percepto Records released the CD years ago. If you can find it, do take advantage of the opportunity. It is a rich and enjoyable work.

Tomorrow: Count on excitement.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 7

In the wake of Halloween, several filmmakers produced their own horror features about unstoppable killers, usually falling on some day of the calendar. David Schmoeller, however, well aware of other fine horror films produced in the '70s, wrote (with Larry Carroll) and directed Tourist Trap, a sort-of pastiche of slightly older horror (Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), as well as a completely original work.

While searching for their friend who went to get gas for their car, a group of young adults stumble onto a wax museum run by the kindly Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). However, it's not long before the terrifying secret of the museum is uncovered and they end up running for their lives. No doubt about it: this is an odd bird of a movie. It's amazing what was accomplished on such a low-budget (check out the flying items in the opening scene). The film is creepy and peculiar, often in the same scene, making it worth seeing, if only once.

Given the limited budget, it's something of a miracle that the producers (among them, Charles Band - but let's not hold that against the film - and Halloween's Irwin Yablans) were able to get Pino Donaggio to write the music, but it paid off. Donaggio's score ably matched the mood of the film and is one of its strongest elements.

The main titles introduces a theme on strings and...honestly, it's pretty hard to describe, but it seems to be sort of backwoods-type percussion. This odd melody seems to be for the wax museum.

The opening scene features a harpsichord-based theme which, when notated, seems to (appropriately) state 'What the (fudge) is going on?' As you might imagine, this theme gets a lot of play. Sustained strings and the fudge theme accompany the introduction of Mr. Slausen as the girls are taking a swim.

Surprisingly, Donaggio works in a love theme for Slausen and his late wife. It's a touching piece of music that occurs in a number of guises, such as the lullaby-like treatment for her shrine, a solo piano and Carrie-like strings take and a waltz version toward the end.

Other themes include a chase theme on strings as the characters try to escape Slausen's demented brother Davey and a super-eerie melody for the realistic mannequins performed variously by strings and on-the-verge-of-orgasm female voices (this sounds like a derogatory description, I know, but wait till you hear them!).

Honestly, I could've done a whole week of Donaggio scores (maybe next year...), but this one stands out for, more than any score I've heard, his orchestrational inventivity. The score was released on Varese Sarabande (yay!) on LP (boo!). There's always the chance of a re-release by this or some other label, but, for now, the film is a reasonable substitute.

Tomorrow: The strange power of dreams.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 6

In the early 90s, Orion Pictures was forced to file for bankruptcy, leaving a number of the films they had produced unreleased until a few years later. They ranged from the fairly ambitious (Love Field, RoboCop 3) to the rather unbelievable (Cifford). Among these shelved projects was The Dark Half, George Romero's adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) has written several books under his own name, as well as a few books utilizing a psuedonym (sound like anyone we know?) - George Stark. When a man comes forward making the connection between Stark's writing and his own, Beaumont seeks to put Stark to rest. But this touches off a series of murders, and Beaumont's the prime suspect. I've not seen this film, but it is, by some accounts, very faithful to the book.

Christopher Young started out scoring horror films, but, since then, he has dabbled in other genres, as well. However, just when he thinks he's out (the Grudge films)... His main theme is an incredibly haunting piece performed by strings and female voices that starts and ends the film on an appealing note.

In between, there isn't much in the way of thematic development, but there is a wonderfully eerie mood upheld by the music. Unsettling fiddle playing in "Green to Green", off-key piano in "Mr. Machine" and bird calls in "Omnibus Death" add some wonderful variety.

"Sparrows" is, for me, a real stand-out track (used to brilliant effect in the film's trailer), as racing strings and tense horn hits build toward a violent climax as (SPOILER; okay, so I did see this part) George Stark is torn apart by a flock of sparrows.

This was released (as was yesterday's score) by Varese Sarabande and should be available in the usual place. Fans of suspense scoring will love it.

Tomorrow: A trip into madness.

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13 Scores of Halloween - Day 5

Stephen King is arguably one of the most prolific authors of our time, and one certainly should take into account the number of cinematic adaptations that have been produced based on his work. But not all of them are masterpieces: for every Misery or Shawshank Redemption, there is, however disproportionately, a Mangler or Silver Bullet. Falling somewhere in the middle is a work based on a book from his 'Richard Bachman' period, Thinner.

Obese lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is...distracted on the road one night and he runs down an old gypsy woman. He gets off with a slap on the wrist, so the woman's even older father (Michael Constantine) places a curse on him, making him...well, thinner. It's a blessing at first, but soon, Halleck literally starts wasting away. It's watchable, but never really enjoyable. The cinematography is nice, as are the make-up effects, and Joe Mantegna makes the most of his mob enforcer role.

Daniel Licht started out as an associate of Christopher Young, and while there are some 'Youngisms' here and there, his score is a dynamic and original work. The main theme is a soulful, exotic piece of music that, in the "Main Titles", starts off on solo violin and is augmented by tambourine and cymbalom.

Derived from the main theme is a melody that seems to represent the threat of the gypsy magic as it takes hold of Halleck and his friends who got him off. The melody dominates the first half of "Duncan's Curse", while the latter half introduces a harmonica melody reminiscent of Goldsmith's Magic (if you really wanted to be a jerk about it, you could call it the same damn motif).

Much of the score moves along with wavering strings and occasional visits from the cymbalom, but then, along comes something like "Time to Move On", which is marked by an amusing, carnivalesque take on the main theme.

This is yet another one of those scores that is only available used at, but they do good work. Definitely if you like peculiarity in your music.

Tomorrow: Two sides of the same coin.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 4

There's a saying credited to Andre Previn that states something to the effect of more bad movies have been saved by their music than people have been saved by paramedics. A number of composers have made bad films watchable with their music (the late, great Jerry Goldsmith is one example), and, with a few exceptions, some have had careers full of bad movies blessed with fine scores. Richard Band is one such composer. His scores are consistently exciting and engaging, even when the films are not.

Mutant (or, Night Shadows) chronicles two brothers who end up stranded in a small town. Unfortunately, a toxic waste plant lies on the outskirts of town and the dumping has turned the residents blue. Not sad blue, but blue blue; toilet bowl blue. Oh, and they also crave human flesh. I've never seen it, but one of the film's producers was Edward L. Montoro, the name in quality horror (Beyond the Door, The Dark, The Great White).

Band's score is appropriately eerie, utilizing a creepy piano motif that pops up throughout. In addition to the piano, electronics bubble under the surface, augmenting the 'what the hell is going on?' feel of the film. Much of the scoring for the affected townspeople is based around quick strings and pounding horns, as in "Escape", "The Missing Blood" and "Mutant Attack". Another melody on descending strings, which seems to represent a glimmer of hope in the situation, appears in "Josh and Holly" and the "End Credits".

"At the Clinic" starts off with a heroic, militaristic (albeit painfully brief) theme of staccato strings and snare drums that is just fantastic. "Billy Gets It"/"Josh and Holly Escape", as one can hear in this clip (doesn't the film look great?), the piano motif gives way to warm strings and the hope melody, before the pounding 'mutant' music takes over.

Intrada released the soundtrack a long time ago. Some copies might still be available at They could be a little pricey, but it beats sitting through the film, right?

Tomorrow: The ultimate weight-loss plan.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 3

David Newman is one of my favorite composers working today. For a little over two decades, he's been providing exceptional music for a number of films. To my chagrin, most of them have been comedies. His comedy scores aren't weak (far from it), but he's capable of much more. Early in his career, he scored a variety of genres: comedy, drama, action, animation and horror. He has, to date, scored three horror movies: Critters, which is still scary after all these years; The Runestone, which seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth and today's entry: The Kindred.

As she lays dying, a geneticist makes her son promise to destroy her notes. Upon arriving at the house, the young man and his associates find that mother's experiments have gotten a little...out of control. Somehow, this B-picture rated the talents of Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano as well as Oscar winners Kim Hunter and Rod Steiger (who, by all accounts, made a feast of the scenery). The trailer (the opening of which features some of Newman's score) may or may not endear you to the film.

Now, the notion of a lullaby to calm the creatures that appear in this film (no kidding) is a risible one, but the melody that Newman wrote is a beautiful one, proving quite malleable throughout the score. The "Main Titles" place the theme over a bed of chimes, strings and electronics, making for a creepy yet evocative piece of music. The other major theme is a five-note melody that, I imagine, figures in as a sort-of all-purpose theme for John, the hero of the story. A terrific version on atonal piano appears in "Melissa and Dr. Lloyd".

The majority of it is horror scoring, but what scoring! "Epilogue" and "Transformation" make for a pair of exciting tracks, the former with its strings, horns and winds building toward a huge climax, and the latter with its tense orchestral playing and cleverly distended synth reads of the 'lullaby' theme. "Nell's Death" is particularly unnerving and should not be listened to in the dark and "Harry's Van" skitters about with its strings and jumpy electronics.

The quieter cues are also worth mentioning: "John Goes Home" is a fantastic piece of traveling music, while "John's Revelation" is a gently unsettling cue, alerting that something is not right. "Amanda Dies" and "Amanda and John" could very well be the closest the film comes to heartfelt emotion and Newman's music reflects this beautifully.

Personally, "Hart Attack" (ha ha) is my favorite cue because it combines the best of both worlds: a bucolic start on woodwinds and piano gives way to a fiercely exciting piece of music.

This was originally released on LP in 1987, then re-released on CD in 2005. Both versions are impossible to find, and the film has yet to make the leap to DVD. Hopefully, the trailer can satisfy on both counts for now.

Tomorrow: My blue hell.

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13 Scores of Halloween - Day 2

Now, I've never seen Terror Tract, and from the sounds of it, it seems like an interesting feature: A real estate agent (John Ritter) is showing a house to a couple. The house's history includes three twisted tales: a young man trying to dispose of his girlfriend's corpse, a father (Bryan Cranston) facing off against a monkey and a granny-mask wearing killer.

According to the liner notes of the La La Land Records soundtrack (guess I spoiled the surprise of its availability, huh?), the direct-to-video release premiered on USA. It doesn't seem to be available in video stores, so why doesn't the network air it? I'm sure they can bump at least one "Law and Order" marathon for the month, right? Or how about the Sci-Fi Channel? Like the film could possibly be worse than the warmed-over crap that shows up every weekend!

Anyway, Terror Tract was one of the first film scores composed by then-unknown Brian Tyler. His voice is loud and clear in this effort and he continues to prove himself one of today's most promising new voices in film music.

The seven-note main theme receives a delightfully thunderous treatment in the opening and closing credits, but it's the softer variations that stand out to me, such as in the heartwarming "Animal Farm", the rapturous "Father and Daughter" and the unbearably tense "Vision".

"Tragedy" is noteworthy for its swirling strings which give way to a cruel, yet melancholy psuedo-waltz. The ascending 'B' section from the "Main Titles" appears in a slightly distended and percussive form at the beginning of "Revenge", while "Searching" is earmarked by weird (in a good way) orchestral effects.

"The Lake" features folksy, almost romantic acoustic guitar music, while "Psycho Suburbia" is (from what I've read online) the finale track, which goes batshit in the great tradition of Pino Donaggio (more on him next week). Haunting male voices are to be found amongst the orchestral rumblings in "Wrong Guy".

And then there's "Bobo", the circus-like theme for the aforementioned monkey on piano and chimes. (Listen for the subtle rendition in "Whirlwind of Chaos".)

The score's still available at La La Land Records for an affordable (almost insultingly so) price, so do check it out.

Tomorrow: The price of playing God.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

13 Scores of Halloween - Day 1

Now, a few days ago, I got a wild hair up my ass: 'Wouldn't be interesting if I spent the thirteen days leading up to Halloween talking about scores to scary movies?' Well, this is the first day of the thirteen, so let's get to it.

The year was 2003. A movie was released in the spring. It was a remake of a hit thriller from 1971. The trailer had appealed to me, so I decided to see it. The film was Willard. Box-office wise, history failed to repeat itself, but, in a weird way, the film appealed to me. A large part of that was due to the main character (Crispin Glover in an amazing performance). I don't care how this makes me sound: with the exception of Ron Stoppable ("Kim Possible"), Willard Stiles, with his loneliness, the way he feels helpless and his bursts of anger, reminds me of myself more than anyone that has ever existed.

Beyond the ultra-freaky empathy, there were other fine elements, such as the cinematography by Robert McLachlan, some amusing touches (check out the picture of Willard's father) and the score by the late, great Shirley Walker.

As with her seminal work on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Walker created a score rich in melodies, though, unlike Batman, they're not immediately noticeable.

Mild spoilers!

Willard is represented by an enjoyable, accordion-based theme (introduced in the excellent title sequence). The same sequence introduces a five-note theme on horns, signifying his relationship with the white rat, Socrates (this melody is reprised, to touching effect, on recorder). There's also a skittering, almost cacaphonous woodwind and string theme for the rats that appears throughout. A very subtle, three-note motif for Ben can also be heard (the scene where Willard finds his mother in the basement).

Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey, who's fantastic), Willard's cruel boss gets a motif of descending horns. Its build-up at the end of the scene where he chastises Willard for falling behind in his work is particularly exceptional. In an interesting twist, it's used for Willard during the climatic barricade inside his home. Also of note is a descending string figure for Willard's sadness. I especially like its use late in the film, right before Willard takes his ultimate revenge.

Other highlights: the bouncy wind scherzo when Willard takes his rats out for the first time and some harsh string playing for the rampaging rodents. Coupled with Walker's distinct orchestrations late in the film, it makes for an exciting piece of music.

The score isn't available, at least, not through the usual channels. I suggest taking a chance on the film. The marketing pushed this as a horror movie, when, if anything, it's a chamber drama with intermittent rat attacks (making it something of a cheat in talking about scores from horror movies, but I don't care). You may well end up pleasantly surprised.

Tomorrow: Terror in suburbia.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The mysteries of life.

I'd often thought that the purpose of going to school was to learn everything one would need to know in life. On top of that, I finished high school and went to two colleges straight after that over five years. One of the main reasons I went through all that was so I wouldn't have to take any more tests.

But when you earn that final degree, no one tells you (I mean, right out; usually, they just imply it) that the tests have only begun: looking for work, making friends, finding companionship, getting a driver's license. Everything's a motherfucking test! If I had known this ahead of time, I'd have surely pulled a Van Wilder and would've been on my...ninth year of college.

I'm not looking for things to be easy (but damned if that's not a benefit). I'm just looking for them to be rational. That's not asking a whole lot, is it?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

"I saw it in a John Hughes movie, once."

Yet another favorite show arrives on DVD the first of the new year.

One half of USA's 'weirdest hour on television' (long before their Emmy prestige/"Law and Order" reruns days), I watched it constantly. The chance to see it again is so wonderful.

Now, about that other half...


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Two down, eight to go.

Update on the 6teen on DVD situation:

Interviews with the voice actors would be a welcome feature, but, for now, I'm just glad that it's coming out.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007


An obvious pun and my feelings on the fact that a remake of The Heartbreak Kid is soon to be released. Oh, yeah. Versatility.

Anyway, I'd heard about 1972's The Heartbreak Kid for a while. I desired to rent it, but the video store (apparently) didn't carry it. Thankfully, my library had a VHS copy.

The basic story concerns young newlyweds Leonard (Charles Grodin) and Lila (Jeannie Berlin) and how, en route to their honeymoon in Miami, Leonard can't help but notice some...quirks about his new wife: she's a messy eater and her singing voice is less than melodious. When a nasty sunburn on the first day of the vacation sequesters Lila in their hotel room, Leonard ends up meeting Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), a cute blonde on vacation from Minnesota. Leonard is determined to win her over, but her father (Eddie Albert) doesn't trust this guy...especially after learning that he's married.

I suppose that a remake of this film was inevitable; an update for today would make for an engaging night at the movies. (As a matter of fact, Jason Bateman and Amy Poehler were once named as stars with Barry Sonnenfeld attached to direct.)

Unfortunately, it ended up in the hands of Peter and Bobby Farrelly. It's not that I'm calling them terrible directors. From the previews of their last film, Fever Pitch, they proved capable of making a sweet romantic comedy. Did I mention that Ben Stiller is starring? So, let's see: Farrelly Brothers + Ben Stiller = There's Something About Mary, perhaps the most overrated comedy of the last twenty years. A collection of tasteless and pointless shock gags, most of them directed toward Stiller's character.

Maybe it's because I'm one of those people who feels empathy for characters when I watch movies, but, to be perfectly honest, I am really goddamned sick of these 'comedies of embarrassment'. As far as I'm concerned, they are to comedies what 'torture porn' is to horror films: projects that make people uncomfortable instead of going for the reaction that the genre demands.

For some reason that I fear I'll never understand, a good portion of Stiller's films in the last decade (Mary, Duplex, Along Came Polly and the Meet the... films) have been like this. He seems to be one of several people unaware that this put-upon schlubs (Greg Focker, Ted Stroehmann, Reuben Feffer) are way, way less amusing than his over-the-top nitwits (Tony Perkis, Derek Zoolander, White Goodman...I swear to Jesus, there has not been a better comic performance this century than the one he gave in Dodgeball).

Alas, this year's Heartbreak Kid looks to be firmly in the 'comedy of embarrassment' mould (For those of you thinking of the original, it does not fit this category, no matter what Leonard Maltin's review least, the definition as it is, today.). Judging from the previews, The Farrellys are completely unconcerned with what made the original worth revisiting in the first place. The original was a well-crafted character piece with some fine performances.

The biggest difference seems to be how Lila is treated. Berlin's sympathetic portrayal in the original (which earned her an Oscar nomination) sticks out. She's a sweet young woman who just wants her husband by her side as she recuperates. In the remake, however, Lila (Malin Akerman) seems to be a cartoon: she sings along to every song on the radio, no matter how awful; she snorts liquid out of her nose (executed with some unnecessary CGI); she makes...a lot of noise in the bathroom (if you ever encounter anyone who finds a gag like this hilarious, you have my full permission to kill them) and she's not above setting the quote-unquote 'hero's' passport ablaze upon learning of his canoodling with the other woman. In other words, Lila is now Sack Lodge with tits.

Speaking of the other woman, now named Miranda (and played by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's Michelle Monaghan), she seems, from what little I've seen of her, like she belongs in a Heartbreak Kid remake: down-to-earth, cute and curious about this unusual man she just met. (I just imagined a couple of scenes from the original with Monaghan and Jason Bateman...oh, what could've been.)

Sadly, there's no 'other woman's father' character here...which may be for the best. I don't think anyone could've played the part remotely as well as Eddie Albert did. For me (a "Green Acres" fan, I must admit), he was the highlight of the original. His slow burns were incredible...and, thankfully, he was Oscar-nominated.

What this remake does have is Carlos Mencia. (Full disclosure: I'm well aware of the joke-stealing rumors and, while he's certainly no Carlin or Oswalt, he makes me laugh. I guess I can take some comfort in the fact that his scenes will end up in a montage on YouTube in a few months; watching the HBO behind-the-scenes special on the film, I laughed more at Mencia - doing his interviews in character - than at any other moment.)

What more can I say but...

"If it's a remake of a classic, rent the classic!"
Jay Prescott Sherman (voice of Jon Lovitz) on "The Critic" - "Eyes on the Prize"

There are copies on Don't make yet another 'comedy of embarrassment' into a hit. The cycle of (moviegoer) abuse must end now.

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