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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The thing in October (part IX).

It seems that, in his short career, Douglas Pipes is being typecast as the Halloween/horror guy. (I probably should've mentioned that in my Monster House review.) Maybe he doesn't mind it and maybe he does, but I hope that his next job is something different. Typecasting can doom many an up-and-comer. Elia Cmiral never saw coming the typecasting bus that smashed into him, but it's not too late for Mr. Pipes. For now, though, let's look at Trick 'r Treat.

It's the last night in October in a small Ohio town, and with it brings many secrets, from a school principal (Dylan Baker) to a young woman (Anna Paquin) awaiting her first time and a miserly old man (Brian Cox). And then there's the weird little figure with the burlap sack on its head. Completed two years ago, the film sat on the shelf (Warner Bros. couldn't sack up and release it against Saw IV). This is usually a sign of the film's inferiority, but not in this case. An amusing, scary and constantly surprising anthology. Not the best thing ever, but very entertaining.

There are two main motifs that weave in and out of the score. One is a tune of wavering strings counterpointed by Psychoesque stabbing strings, representing the excitement and danger, respectively, of Halloween. The other is a haunting (and effective) variation of the public domain taunt 'Nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah'. (This theme dominates "Meet Sam", the renditions of it becoming more powerful and threatening.)

Pipes throws in some slurring brass effects (which don't get used often enough in film music) in "Father and Son" and "It's Halloween, Not Hanukkah". While we (the audience) find out how hard it is to bury a body, "Father and Son" lurks with muted horns, quavering strings and thoughtful piano before bursting forth with orchestral might and creepy vocals.

"Meet Rhonda" starts with wavering strings, then adds nervous flutes and a lovely lullaby and cooing female voices. "Charlie Bites It", however, is surprisingly playful, especially given the onscreen actions.

In spite of my misgivings about typecasting, Pipes does prove himself skilled at horror music. Tracks like "Halloween Prank", "Not a Trick" and "Old Mr. Kreeg" are far more melodic than what one usually hears these days in the genre.

"The Halloween School Bus Massacre" introduces another melody, a mournful repeating piano figure underlining the disturbing urban legend. Pipes throws in strings and a heartbreaking version of the 'nyah-nyah' motif. The theme is reprised in "The Bus Driver", underscoring, for me, the film's biggest surprise.

La La Land Records released the CD. Don't hesitate to get it...or to rent the film.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The thing in October (part VIII).

Every once in a great while, a composer comes along from out of nowhere and just amazes with what they have to offer. It is hoped that the composer will have a long, successful career showing off their abilities. Such a composer got his start on Monster House.

We all know that creepy-looking house on the block and the crotchety old man who lives there, always screaming at kids to get off his lawn. What if there was a good reason to keep people away? Three kids soon find out. Of the roughly four thousand animated movies released in 2006, this is one of the best, exciting and slyly subversive.

The film marked the feature scoring debut of Douglas Pipes. The "Opening Titles" get right into the spirit of the film, with a theme of horns and racing strings that seems to suggest a dark version of Mancini's bounding and leaping Great Mouse Detective theme. The end of the "Opening Titles" features an ascending four-note notif for horns that gets reprised in tracks like "Construction" and "Dummy Feed".

The other major theme comes in "Eliza's Song", a bustling, wistful five-note tune for the neighborhood. Interestingly, this track features dialogue as little Eliza rides her tricycle. The track ends amusingly as the orchestra mickey-mouses her sudden tumble. "Tricycle" reprises the theme in a peppy arrangement.

There's also a recurring motif of loud, menacing horns when something or someone gets eaten ("Cops Get Eaten", "House Comes Alive!", "Cop Car Gets Eaten"). Racing strings and snare drums highlight "The Plan" (which introduces a heroic-sounding submotif for horns that figures later in the score in "Chowder to the Rescue").

To augment the creepy vibe, Pipes utilized the theremin along with the orchestra, and in tracks like "Awesome Kite", "Cops Get Eaten" and "Ding Dong", it's quite effective. The score also has a surprising amount of heart, as in the meditative "Elegy", "The Flashback" and "The Dance" (a lovely, piano-based take on the main theme).

The latter tracks give themselves over to action, but it's very exciting action. "The Battle", in particular, builds in intensity, interpolating everything from a march-like version of the main theme to the 'Plan' sub-motif at it's most noble.

Surprisingly, this was also discontinued by its manufacturer (Varese Sarabande, in this case), but copies are available, dirt cheap, at

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The thing in October (part VII).

One thing I've never really minded about the music of Richard Band is his tendency to, shall we say, borrow from other scores to augment his own work. Tourist Trap made appearances in Puppet Master and The Day Time Ended. First Blood popped up late in Ghost Warrior, as did Star Trek: The Motion Picture in Metalstorm. Also, there was The Amityville Horror's theme reborn as the music box theme of The House on Sorority Row, and (my favorite) "The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back utilized in Zone Troopers. Perhaps his most (in)famous borrowing occurred in his score to Re-Animator.

Med student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) has hit upon a way to re-animate dead tissue. However, there are some...complications. Easily the best film produced by Empire Pictures, this is a gross, distasteful (and quite funny) movie, enlivened by Combs's wonderfully deadpan performance.

Band got into a lot of hot water when he appropriated Bernard Herrmann's music from Psycho for this. I don't see the big deal. a) While Psycho is a classic score, it's also one of the most parodied in the history of ever; AC/DC used the string motif from "The Murder" in Maximum Overdrive and no one said jack shit about it and b) Band did try to have Herrmann credited, but missed the deadline to have the credits altered, so it's not like he didn't try*.

Still, independent of the pop-augmented Psycho borrowings, this is an exceptional Band original. The main Psycho theme recurs throughout the score (sounding its most Bandian towards the end of "Parts, Whole Parts"), but Band does work in an amusing electronic take on "The Murder" in "Halsey Alive", "Corpses Re-Animated" and "First Corpse to Be Re-Animated".

As ever, Band proves a master of atmosphere apart from the effects-laden set-pieces. "The Cellar" pulses with creepy strings and a synth backbeat, while "Body and Soul" is characterized by a hypnotic string arpeggio. A wavering melody for chimes pops up in "Searching for a Body in the Morgue", "The Lab", "Where's the Cat?" and "Stinger - Version 2".

As West's formula gets loose, a descending, chaotic motif for piano, winds and strings (likely underscoring the re-animated) makes itself known. The theme enters the score in "The Cat Experiment", returns in "First Corpse..." and dominates "Corpses Run Amok".

There's also a lovely flute melody underscoring the relationship between West's unwilling associate, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and his girlfriend, Meg (Barbara Crampton) that figures into "Halsey Grabs Meg" and "Meg Re-Animated".

This is the fourth release of the score (following a Varese LP, and CDs on Silva Screen - paired with the electronic Bride of Re-Animator - and LaLaLand). The now out-of-print Intrada release saw this paired with Band's lush and exciting score for easily one of Empire's worst, Ghoulies. However you get this score, it's worth it.

* - Perhaps my all-time favorite film music anecdote involves this film, when Band recalled the experience of recording the score with the Rome Philharmonic to the now-defunct Music from the Movies, he likened it to Fellini's Orchestra Rehearsal: "When I say that chairs flew across the stage and fights broke out, I'm not kidding! It was Orchestra Rehearsal. The only thing missing was the wrecking ball crashing through the studio."

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Vic Mizzy (1922-2009)

It has been written that it's impossible to listen to the music of Vic Mizzy without laughing or, at least, cracking a smile. Given the CDs of his that I've collected over the years (and that journey is nowhere near over), I have to agree. Mizzy had a way with a melody like few others. Listening to his film and TV music (best represented on Percepto's invaluable "Suites and Themes" CD) reveals so much about his distinct composing style and personality (as the notes of his CDs could attest, he was quite the wit).

The world is a bit less amusing following Mizzy's unfortunate passing over the weekend. He will be greatly missed.

(I just wanted to be one of the few rememberances that didn't mention him as the guy who wrote the "Addams Family" and "Green Acres" themes within the first ten words like I'm sure so many others will. Those are classic themes, but he was so much more, folks.)


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The thing in October (part VI).

The thing about sequels is that, more often than not, they can't live up to the original. Yeah. Big surprise. People keep soldiering on, hoping for the next Empire Strikes Back, Godfather Part II or Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. It doesn't always happen, folks. Take, for example, Poltergeist II: the Other Side.

The Freeling family is forced to stay with Diane's mother while they get back on their feet. Unfortunately, as noted by the youngest member of the clan, "They're back!". Richard Edlund's gimmicky effects are the real star of this follow-up, which scared me as a kid, but looks pretty silly today.

Jerry Goldsmith was asked back for this sequel. In Film Score Monthly's invaluable Buyer's Guide, Jeff Bond noted that some people preferred this score to Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated original. It didn't fully register at the time, but now, I totally get where he's coming from. Poltergeist has many good moments, but, overall, I get kind of a 'meh' feeling from it. As I've said elsewhere, it's not even the best score Goldsmith wrote in 1982. Bear in mind, he also did The Challenge, First Blood and the score I honestly believe deserved the Oscar nomination, The Secret of N.I.M.H..

As shaman Taylor (Will Sampson) visits the site of the Freeling's former home, "The Power" plays out over the opening credits, with some beautifully evocative Native American stylings leading into the character's noble motif. Towards the end of the track, though, we get a hint of the score's darker material and a brief reprise of Carol Anne's theme.

Speaking of the lullaby-like melody, it figures into tracks like "Things", "Late Call" (which, halfway through, features a clever electronic ringing phone noise) and the end credits.

"They're Back" is a pretty good encapsulation of the score, as churning electronics augmented with piercing stings, the chanting of a martial choir, Rambo-esque snares and horn hits and an electronic take on Taylor's theme unite.

The film's menace is Reverend Kane (Julian Beck). For a few minutes, the film forgets about killer braces, vomit creatures and flying chainsaws and gives us its most unsettling scene, as Kane gets inside Steven's head and beckons him to let him in. Goldsmith's music for the character, an electronic perversion of the hymnal "God is in His Holy Temple" (introduced in "The Mall") is creepy enough, but "The Visitor" turns the Kane music into a weird sort of death march, with churning electronics, tense strings, winds and the occasional intrusion from the choir. (Be on the listen for a string rendition of Kane's theme in "The Smoke".)

Even though the electronics can get to be a little much at times (this was the mid-80s, after all), Goldsmith still delivers in hair-raising cues like "Wild Braces", "Back to Cuesta Verde" and "The Worm" (the latter marking a return of the ominous, whispering voices of The Final Conflict).

It all builds to an exciting, Secret of N.I.M.H.-like climax ("Reaching Out"), where nervous, searching strings, rising horns and progressively heroic performances of Taylor's theme butt against creepy, piercing electronics, leading to a serene musical resolution for the film's surprisingly comical final moments. (The last few notes sound like they escaped from a Joe Dante movie. Really!)

Varese Sarabande's Deluxe Edition CD is still available at ('discontinued by the manufacturer', if you can believe it) and is worth having.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The thing in October (part V).

Something I really wish would come back are the days of Roger Corman. In addition to making movies in a variety of genres, he'd give a start to an actor or director looking to get into the business. It's astounding how many names started under his aegis. (The Academy seems to recognize his contribution, as he is to receive an Honorary Oscar next year.) Among the projects he produced was Piranha.

Private eye Maggie (Heather Menzies) enlists the help of hermit Paul (Bradford Dillman) in locating a young girl. Unfortunately, draining a pool at a test facility unleashes a voracious strain of piranha that make their way to a summer camp and a resort. This is an amusing, exciting (and, at times, affecting) piss-take of Jaws, well-directed by Joe Dante and scripted by John Sayles.

After the somewhat higher-profile horror films Don't Look Now and Carrie, it must've been a surprise to see Pino Donaggio working on this film. Still, his music is quite lush and intense.

About halfway through "Lost River Theme", we get one of, to me, the composer's loveliest (and most durable) themes, representing the beauty and danger of the water, based in solo piano and strings. Sometimes, Donaggio will change it up and give the theme an arrangement for flute and electronics ("Fatal Rescue") or eerie strings ("Empty Tubes").

In "Summer Dreams", Donaggio takes the Lost River theme and, with flute and acoustic guitar, turns it into a laid-back soft rock melody; a song cue for which someone clearly neglected the vocal track. (If I may..."Piranhas are in the lake"/"Piranhas eat flesh like steak"...I never fancied myself a Sondheim, okay?)

The piranha get their own motif: a wavering string figure leading up to rolling piano and stabbing, Herrmannesque strings ("Piranha Among Us", "No Trespassing"). The harp prelude in "Fatal Rescue" is particularly noteworthy. A tense sub-motif for strings characterizes "Dr. Hoak" and "Homoncules".

Independent of his themes, Donaggio creates some engaging moments, like the tongue-in-cheek militarism of "Operation Razorteeth", the jubilant classicism of "Aquarena", the twinkling electronics/strings combo of "Nightmare in the Sun" and the nervous flute work in "Escape in the Night".

As Paul hits upon the idea to "pollute the bastards to death!", "Beyond the Darkness" plays out with a strange melancholy that, combined with the visuals and the squealing of the piranha (more on that in a bit) actually made me feel genuinely sad the last time I saw the movie.

As a weird sort of bonus (or a way to pad the soundtrack past the half-hour mark), "Yes, We Have No Piranha" finishes the album off with sound effects from the laboratory scene before jumping into a sound sample of the titular menace. It's a strange touch, but an interesting one.

Varese's LP was reissued on the label's CD Club some years ago and is impossible to find. Best of luck, though. It's worth the search.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Hey, Marty! Where's the beef?"

(This review is for Final Girl's Film Club. Hey, if it gets more visitors to this place...)

To be frank, I'm not much for horror movies. I'm one of those, whatchacallit, wimps. I mean, I've seen the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but the harder-edged, blood-and-guts stuff skeeves me out. Like I said before, I jumped at Sorority Row. Still, there are times I get curious enough to check something out from the rental place (can't really call them video stores anymore, can I?) or on YouTube. Back when there was a Blockbuster within walking distance (and back when they had video tapes), I ran across a box jacket of a smiling skeleton in a graduation cap holding up an apple with a sparkling fuse. I never checked it out, but it was silly/seductive enough to linger in the memory. That film was Slaughter High.

Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) can't catch a break. The kids that pick on him aren't content with spitballs and name-calling and taking his books and hiding them in some other part of the school (the way they were with me). They have to zap his scrawny ass with a cattle prod. Shit, were they loose with the rules back in '86.

Of course, the perpetrators get caught and...are forced to do push-ups. Okay, isn't this akin to having Bernie Madoff perform a hundred hours of community service or something? Really, what the hell? Despite this hardly-a-slap-to-the-wrist, the kids want revenge. One joint and a science lab explosion later, Marty is sent to the hospital.

Five years go by and the people responsible end up invited to a the deserted school...with a rather scant party set up. Of course, a couple of them start joking about poor old Marty, who went insane and was institutionalized. Some even say that he still haunts the halls. MUWHAHAHAHAHAHA! If you can't guess what happens next, it's possible you've never seen a movie before. Not that this one is any reasonable place to start.

If I knew nothing about Slaughter High before watching it and someone told me that it took three people to write and direct it, I'd have likely laughed myself into a coma. None of the three guys (I hesitate to call them writer-directors; I could've done a better job, the craft displayed here is so slipshod) bothered to think the project through? I mean, look at the dumbshit actions the characters perform: some girl takes a bath which turns out to be acidic even after seeing a former classmate's guts spill out because of a spiked brew. A couple has sex in a bed (See what I said about thinking shit through? Bathtubs and beds in a school, even an abandoned one?) and they end up electrocuted. (For some reason, this bit reminds me of a paraphrased bit from the late, great George Carlin: "The kids that have sex on a bed in an abandoned school don't grow up to have kids of their own. Nature knows best.")

And what of continuity and consistency? Casualties. Marty's in his underwear in the opening scene, then he's clad only in God's own armor (Where's the beef, indeed.) before his underwear magically re-appears. And later on, a character gets a knife plunged through them...but not a drop of blood appears on the blade.

I keep mentioning the 'kids', which is subjective. This film is from back in the days where films about high schoolers who actually looked like kids were in the minority. Even more, the actors exercise the bare minimum in disguising their British accents. Dear Lord, it's a mess.

In this film's defense, there is a catchy flute melody derived from the opening title song. I often find myself humming it unconsciously. Sadly, the rest of Harry Manfredini's score isn't quite so memorable.

Overall, I get the feeling that this was slapped together with little regard to anything, least of all quality, and that the makers hoped that the people checking this out would a) rent just about anything on the shelf and b) mistake this for something good. In the latter regard, I think this'd be made by the Asylum if it came out in 2009.

Yet another thing that impresses in your youth, but, once past the threshold of adulthood, is just crap. Maybe if you're in an MST3K kind of mood...

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Monday, October 12, 2009

After thinking about "Sit Down, Shut Up" (arguably the best new animated show I've seen this year*) and "Drop Dead Diva" (arguably the best new live-action show I've seen this year), I thought about logging in to so I can get news about when they might be coming to DVD. I logged back in, but I couldn't go through with signing up for e-mail notices. Two reasons supported this onset of reluctance:

a) I get enough reminders already from that site (Why do I need ten e-mails about the last season of "Scrubs"? Moreover, who gives a shit about compilation discs for "Futurama"?!).

b) This is one of the greatest tragedies of living in the internet age: no one can be surprised by fucking anything nowadays. Why rob myself of one of the few surprises that life can offer?

* - I'm not being unreasonable here. After all, the competition is "The Goode Family", "Glenn Martin, DDS", "DJ and the Fro" and "The Marvel Super Hero Squad"...but I gotta say, after the whole 'Cleveland Junior' spiel last night, "The Cleveland Show" shot right to #2.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The thing in October (part IV).

One thing you got to love about Christopher Young: even with the various genres he's dabbled in, like slick actioners (Entrapment, Swordfish), romantic dramas (Sweet November, Love Happens) and comic book adaptations (Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider), he always has time for horror. Dating way back to the beginning of his career, Young has provided music for a number of horror films. His most recent is Drag Me to Hell.

Wanting a promotion that may go to a less-experienced co-worker, banker Christine (Alison Lohman) refuses an loan extension to the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver). As a result, Christine is visited by a parade of supernatural events, plaguing and teasing her for three days before she is dragged to hell. (Sorry to spoil it, but as I've read all over the web, 'it's the only ending a film with this title could possibly have'.)

I couldn't help but spoil the narrative for myself. The trailer really repulsed me. I'm an empathetic person, by nature, and as such, I couldn't possibly imagine how I would derive any enjoyment from a film where someone suffers disproportionate punishment for a minor transgression...and, in this instance, the definition of 'transgression' is getting stretched like taffy. (Then again, there are people out there - male and female alike - that pop boners aplenty over the ludicrous humiliations suffered by Meg on "Family Guy", so maybe I'm bitching to the wrong choir.)

One aspect of the film that can't be faulted is Young's score. Young gets right into the spirit with the opening cue, "Drag Me to Hell". Foreboding horns, creepy vocals and a delightfully disturbing solo violin playing the main theme. This music practically reeks of fire and brimstone.

"Tale of a Haunted Banker", the theme for Christine, I surmise, begins with a rolling piano figure familiar to fans of the composer's Untraceable and Urban Legend and adds strings and chimes, creating a lovely melody for the unfortunate lamb. Piano takes precedence in the theme's reprise in "Familiar Familiars" and "Brick Dogs a la Carte".

Much of the score falls into the category of 'we need to remind people that what they're watching is scary, so crank up the volume'. (Note: this is a shot at the film, not the music.) Young handles it with aplomb in tracks like "Auto-Da-Fe", "Loose Teeth", "Mexican Devil Disaster", "Lamia", "Black Rainbows" and "Ordeal by Corpse".

The score is widely available from Lakeshore Records and is worth a purchase.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The thing in October (part III).

Who is the most adapted writer of all time? William Shakespeare or Stephen King? I honestly don't know. It's kind of a rhetorical question (and a rather obvious way to signal that I don't have a better idea for an introductory paragraph). In any event, I'm going to be talking about Misery.

Novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) had hoped to go on a vacation. Unfortunately, he is waylaid by a car accident. He gets rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his number-one fan. Slowly but surely, Paul realizes that Annie is a little...unhinged. This is one of the best King screen adaptations, skillfully directed by Rob Reiner, adapted by William Goldman and acted.

Misery marked the first score composed by Marc Shaiman. Though it's one of his few drama scores, it bears his sound.

"Number One Fan" starts with a melancholy solo piano playing the film's main theme, a three-note motif that Shaiman develops with strings and woodwinds, giving off a chamber-like feeling. About four minutes into the track, there's a brief passage of skittering strings, almost like a swarm of musical locusts.

"She Can't Be Dead" mixes it up with chimes, brooding strings and tympani, leading to a reprise of the chamber material. "Open House" is interesting that, alongside the Herrmannesque strings, the woodwind writing is somewhat reminiscient of Shaiman's comedy scores. This track also introduces a two-note motif representative of unease and gets passed throughout the orchestra over the rest of the score.

"Go To Your Room" is pretty much an action cue, characterized by swirling and chopping strings, horn hits, rolling piano and nervous winds. "Buster's Last Stand" starts with solo violin and incessant strings, then grows heavier with strings and chimes before returning to the lighthearted origins of the beginning. The end of the track builds to a conglomeration of strings, horns and weird-sounding chimes.

"Misery's Return" (the final fight between Paul and Annie) mixes together strings, piano and winds to create a calming (if tense) air before erupting with shrill horns, stomping piano, chopping strings and the winds of "Open House" (effective if a little distracting in this context). The end of the track revisits the main theme on strings.

Surprisingly, for a CD released by early 90s label Bay Cities, copies of Misery can still be found online, reasonably priced. It's worth the effort.

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For years, whenever my father would pick me up from some place, he would invariably ask, before the car was inches away from his parking spot, "Wanna drive?".

The latter portion of my work day was pretty trying, so I figured, 'what the hell?'. I called his bluff. I drove the two of us home. It was quite an experience. Nothing too remarkable, but for the fact that he finally got to see me drive. Except for wavering from my own lane, I handled things pretty well...and for the first half, I didn't even have my glasses on, so it was a real roll of the dice for a few blocks.

I'm still a little surprised that I went through with it, but I'm glad I did.


Friday, October 09, 2009

"...and it's an ad for fucking pretzels!"

At a message board, the basic content of which I'm a little nervous about mentioning in mixed company, I was linked to a commercial ostensibly selling the Xbox 360. Given the premise and the "South Park"-like execution (cf. "Lil' Crime Stoppers"), I couldn't tell you what the fuck it was selling. Also, it was banned in America. Is it any wonder that we trail so many countries in education?

The ad reminded me, however, of a category I need to try and get posted at TV Tropes if it's not already there. The post title (also the potential name of the trope) comes from "Dennis Miller Live":

"TV commercials nowadays are unrecognizable from what they were twenty years ago. Now, you get these out-of-focus MTV jump-cuts with a throbbing techno soundtrack, writhing supermodels in tankinis simulating lesbian sex in the rain, a nun riding a yellow bike and a little barefoot kid in a Guatemalan village...and it's an ad for fucking pretzels."

This is the Xbox ad in question, by the way:


Sunday, October 04, 2009

The thing in October (part II).

When I'm curious about a potential CD purchase, I listen to the soundclips at the label's website. Sometimes, I'm not interested in the CD, and sometimes, I hear something that forces me to check the CD out, such as with Wrong Turn 2: Dead End.

Six contestants vie for the top prize on the reality show "Ultimate Survivalist". Unfortunately, the backwoods of West Virginia where the show is being shot are crawling with psychotic, deformed and territorial inbred mutants. I'm sure you can figure out the rest. As far as direct-to-DVD sequels go, this isn't half-bad. The gore is impressive and Henry Rollins is terrific as the show's former drill sargeant host.

The music is by Bear McCreary, and given how enjoyable this score is (and how nice he was when I met him), I ought to consider getting more of his work.

As with Crank: High Voltage, there is nothing like a simple main theme to hook in a listener. When I heard the whistled theme with strummed string backing in the "Main Title" at La La Land Records' website, I just had to get this score. Of course, theres two minutes of the theme on atmospheric synths and percussion to get through first. The "'Ultimate Survivalist' Theme Song" is a thumping techno cue that McCreary cannily adapts into a theme for Rollins' Dale that seems to get more drawn out with each successive track ("Dale Vigilante", "Into the Mill", "Dale to the Rescue").

McCreary's orchestrations are something to cherish, such as the furious mandolin playing in "Birth of Baby Splooge" and the bouncing banjos and squealing guitars of "Dale for Dinner". And then, there are cues like "Mutant Cannibal Incest", "Rescuing Nina" and the "End Credits" that mainly want to riff on the main theme. It is a cool theme, so I won't judge.

In a nice respite from the more raucous scoring, "Nina's Theme" showcases the piano and synth-driven melody for the film's nominal heroine. "Under Your Bones" is a thrashing rock song adapted from the main theme. I'm not sure what place it has in the film, but it's listenable enough.

It all builds nicely to a frantic, rocking finale ("The Meat Grinder") as the main mutants get turned into dog food. However, in "Baby Splooge Lives", the ironic use of Nina's theme leads to a reprise of the main theme as an ugly little baby is treated to a bottle of sludge.

The score is still available from La La Land Records (a literal steal at $5.98) and is well worth getting.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

The thing in October (part I).

I've decided to post my horror score reviews on the weekends. Having a fixed date for the scores ought to inspire (read: force) me to get them done.

When you're a kid, you get very curious about the world around you. When you're a kid with a television, the same rules apply. In flipping through the channels, you might end up watching something that may leave a lasting impression on you. Usually, it's a bad one. In my childhood, I ran across a number of movies that frightened me and, to some degree, still do: Poltergeist II, The Gate, Child's Play and Class of Nuke 'em High. However, nothing has scarred me (or is likely to ever scar me) quite as deeply as Critters.

It's a quiet night for the Brown family at their Kansas farm. Unfortunately for them, some really nasty intruders want to turn them into a midnight snack. A lot of people look at this as a horror-comedy...but to this day, the second part escapes me. It's a long-held belief of mine that something before your eyes is much scarier and more effective than something created by a computer. I present the titular nasties (designed by the Chiodo brothers) as exhibit A. I'd really hate to meet these creatures in a dark alley...or a movie theater. The cast does well, but Don Opper steals the film as an eccentric farmhand.

Critters is notable as the first major scoring assignment for a scrappy up-and-comer named David Newman. Even in this early work, one can hear the sound that would become Newman's trademark. (Fact: it was this score that inspired Danny DeVito to hire the composer for Throw Momma from the Train.)

The score features a handful of thematic ideas: electronic warbling for the Critters, a warm seven-note theme for the Browns and a descending three-note melody for the destructive bounty hunters.

The first two-thirds of the "Main Title" are completely electronic, setting up the story on the prison space ship and the subsequent escape of the Critters. Upon the film's shift to Earth, we are treated to a lovely bit of Americana, with strings and winds laying out the Browns' melody.

"Jay and Brad Look for the Critters" makes for a fine bit of suspense as the creatures lurk in the shadows, emphasizing low strings and winds. "Looking in the Cellar" is characterized by skittering string work and electronics before bursting out towards the end with frantic strings, percussion and horns. As "The Bounty Hunters" search for their quarry, their theme pulses, backed by strings, leading into "Critters Get Steve". Horns play nervous triplets as April's boyfriend (Billy Zane!) is mauled.

One thing I admire is how Newman twists around the Browns' melody, putting through the wringer for the action scenes (such as in "They're Growing" and "Meanwhile Back at the House") and providing dramatic readings for the quieter moments.

"Critters Hunt for Lunch" and "Brad Burns a Critter" both begin with soft, dramatic strings almost reminiscient of the softer parts of The Kindred, before returning to the orchestral heaviness of the attack music.

"Brad Goes After April" and "The Critters Are Destroyed" make up the climax. The former is a quiet cue made up of everything from the bounty hunters' theme and solo trumpet to chimes (reprised in the following track) and searching strings, while the latter bursts with exploding horns and frantic percussion as the Critters' ship is blown up, but not before taking the Browns' home with them.

With piano backing and reflective strings, "The House Returns" (in, I must admit, a nice bit of pre-CGI effects work), leading back to the peaceful warmth of the "Main Title"...before the last few notes signalling that the horror isn't over (seriously, am I the only one who hates that shit?).

The end credits track, also featured in a scene of the Critters wreaking havoc on a fish tank and an E.T. doll, is "Critter Skitter", a bit of synth-pop nonsense. It's cheesy, yet amazingly catchy.

Even in the shorter tracks, Newman makes an impression. "Charlie's Accident" is a busy and somewhat comic cue, while "Jeff is Dinner" leads to a conclusion of queasy, growling horns as the deputy (a pre-"Star Trek: Voyager" Ethan Phillips) meets an unfortunate end.

Like a lot of the CD's I've written about, this one is prohibitively expensive nowadays. Still, if one knows where to look, one can experience the film.

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