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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. X

A group of thieves has pulled off a daring robbery, but they are betrayed and robbed by one of their own. Whilst seeking him in farm country, they run across some scarecrows. Of course, those scarecrows are harmless, right? Not a bad hook for an 80s horror movie and there's atmosphere to spare, but the film gets more ridiculous as it goes along, refusing to explain its leaps of nonsense.

This was the first score to be composed by Terry Plumeri under his own name (and, apparently, he'd ghostwritten 20 scores for other composers up to that point; anyone know of these titles?). The film's low budget and an interest in the sparse scoring of "The Twilight Zone" led to the use of a mere 13-piece orchestra. The "Main Titles" introduce two melodies: a creepy, repeating piano figure with pounding two-note statements in the foreground and a wavering string motif that effectively convey the isolation the characters face.

Chirping string runs and a contra bass clarinet reading of the wavering motif distinguish "Running for the Plane", while "The Clearing of Bert's Head" features a lonely flute and hypnotic plucked strings.

Even with the occasional hooting of the contra bass clarinet, "Waking Up" is a beautifully placid cue, string and harp figures setting a peaceful mood. "You Want the Money?" bounds along with chopping strings and the wavering motif.

"The Man Stuffed with Money" introduces a foreboding tympani to its collection of orchestral effects. Creepier still is the slowed-down wavering motif that makes its way through "The Conference" and "The Truck with No Engine".

"The Return" marks a return of sorts to the opening title, with the piano and wavering motifs reunited once again. There's also a sort of danger motif for squealing clarinet, chopping strings and rolling piano, figuring into "Through the Woods", "Barbed Wire Daddy" and "The Last Phone Call".

The amusingly-titled "How Are We Gonna Live in Mexico...if We're Dead?" strips away the foreground effects from the piano motif, leaving a wonderfully minimalist (and unnerving) piece of scoring. "The Getaway" tosses in snare drums and low-end piano as the characters make their escape. However, "Death on a Plane", with its forlorn strings and pounding tympani, shows that all will not be flowers and sunshine.

At the time of this writing, there are less than 50 copies left at Intrada. Don't hesitate to pick this up.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. IX

I've never seen this film (which carries the cumbersome alternate title Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn), but here's a helpful plot summary from the IMDB: "Two campers in the New Jersey woods have their outdoor fun interrupted by the arrival of a meteorite crashing nearby. They go to investigate the crater, but are suddenly attacked and devoured by alien parasites who have hitched a ride to Earth. After finishing off the campers, the hungry space monsters head for a nearby town, where they make their domain in the basement of an old house soon begin polishing off one hapless inhabitant after another. Four young teenagers, plus one pre-teen boy, try to find a way to stop the angry space monsters before they reproduce and literally eat humanity."

Yet, here I am reviewing the soundtrack. Why? Remember what I said last year about the power of simple themes? Well, there you go. For a film that cost all of 25 grand, one would expect the music to sound cheap and ridiculous. The opening track "The Landing of the Meteorite", with its cheesy sound design, would certainly bear that out...

...but then Michael Perilstein throws out a glorious sucker-punch with the second track, "Afternoon of a Spawn": a wafting, dreamlike flute melody backed by ethereal synth work.

The attack motif would fall into the category of silly 80s electronics or would it? "Creeping Right Along" introduces this melody, a descending melody with a bouncing synth backbeat. It's really quite fun when you get into it.

"All That Slithers is Not Good" slows down the main theme while adding drum hits. "Let's Spawn", while hinting at the pop backbeat of the "End Credits", is also content to riff on the main theme.

This is not to say that the CD is entirely free of harsh electronics. "Spawn Lake" and the latter portion of "The Spawn Who Came in From the Cold" may turn some people off. ("The Spawn Who..." - before its ending - features one of the more evocative renditions of the main theme, played on piano.)

"Spawn with the Wind" makes for yet another surprise: a laid-back, longuey piece for guitar and keyboards. Continuing in this vein, yet based more on the main theme, is "Here Today, Spawn Tomorrow", which adds a noodling drum kit to the prior orchestrations.

"Spawn, But Not Forgotten" reworks the themes as if the film were being scored today. "Spawn with the Wind" (a love theme, if one can believe it) comes off better than the main theme, while "Spawn of the Dead" introduces new material for a potential follow-up.

On a final note, the liner notes of this release, while including the obligatory look back at the movie, are insane. I don't want to spoil anything, but someone clearly had a fun time putting this package together. At this writing, Perseverance Records still has 217 copies of this soundtrack left. One could do far worse than giving this score a chance.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Random thoughts - horror movies edition.

- "You have to have faith for that to work, Mr. Vincent!" from Fright Night might well be one of my favorite line deliveries in all of film.

- I caught My Soul to Take the other day. First of all, it didn't need the 3-D. Second, I'd sum it up as a) not great, b) not terrible and c) too dull to count as a proper guilty pleasure (kind of like The Last Airbender, now that I think about it). The strange thing is some of the comments I read at Shock Til' You Drop stating that "Wes Craven shouldn't be allowed in Hollywood" and that he should "stop making movies". Okay, how fucking old are the people making those comments? 15? 16? Isn't there a "Jersey Shore" marathon that merits their attention?! Granted, this was only a step or two above Cursed, but you'd think that horror fans would be grateful for something that isn't a remake, torture porn or, say, Fakeboring Nightvisioncrap 2.

- No matter what happens, I will never cease to be amazed at how many cinematographers got their start doing horror films: Peter Deming, Russell Carpenter, Robbie Greenberg, Peter Levy, Tim Suhrstedt, Dean Cundey, Peter Collister, Steven Poster, Mark Irwin, John Lindley, Robert Elswit...

- It's always a kick to read comment threads that talk about watching movies on television, particularly if they mention the likes of USA in the 80s. Just one more reason that I believe I was born too late to really enjoy this stuff.

- As I've mentioned a bit too much, Critters used to scare me as a kid (and still does, however fleetingly)...but seeing a clip of Critters 2 in watercooler's review on YouTube puts me in mind of that episode of "Doug" where he was too chicken to sit through a horror movie...then a further watercooler review of Critters 3, featuring a clip of the Krites eating dish detergent, farting and throwing pastries, put me in mind of the end of the "South Park" episode, "Passion of the Jew": that something that once filled me with fear had flown so completely off the rails.

- I saw The Exorcist on TV a couple of years back. Maybe it's because I hadn't been to church in a while, but I wasn't anywhere near as creeped out by it as I probably should've been. It was certainly well-made, but, in me, it didn't inspire the desired reaction.

- For some reason, I really think that The Nightmare Before Christmas ought to be screened every year on November 28th. Think about it.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's the dearth of Halloween specials, Charlie Brown!

Ah, late October. The air gets colder, the days gets shorter, the Christmas decorations go up en masse. And, then, of course, there's the Halloween specials on TV...or lack thereof.

The root of this gripefest is the fact that I won't be catching the "Malcolm in the Middle" episode "Halloween" this year. The show doesn't air in syndication anymore, music rights issues have kept all but the first season off of DVD, Nick-at-Nite doesn't care about it and, thanks to the moronic dick-measuring contest between News Corp. and Cablevision, I, as a Dish Network subscriber, won't be seeing it on FX. But, as long as I'm here...

The local channels have only started airing the "The Simpsons" Halloween episodes. Best of luck packing twenty of them into four days! Really, how the crap does that happen?! Also, one of the local channels is playing some of the "Roseanne" an oh-so-fashionable 6 AM timeslot.

Given that these two shows are, to my mind, the gold standard for Halloween episodes, the pickings are mighty slim for me (show-wise, anyway; you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a network playing a marathon of scary movies).

Now, I watch a lot of cartoons (as if you didn't know), so I've run across a lot of Halloween episodes over the years. Some of the lowlights from the last few years:
Kim Possible, "October 31st" - Christmas excepted, this show seems to have bad luck with holidays, like this outing, where a decent plot falls completely apart with its heavy-handed moralizing (Duff Killigan's last line will make you cringe).
The Mighty B, "Catatonic" - Just plain stupid, stupid, stupid. The episode that convinced me that this show was a big, fat mistake.
The Penguins of Madagascar, "I Was a Penguin Zombie" - I still maintain that if you have to resort to a non-ironic use of the overheard misunderstanding in this century, you have failed as a writer.
Danny Phantom, "Fright Knight" - Given the basic premise of the show, you'd honestly think that a Halloween episode would be a slam-dunk. Uh-uh. A dull story leading up to one of the most idiotic endings I've seen in the last decade of cartoon watching.
All Grown Up, "T.P + K.F." - This show was smart enough to navigate the minefield of forced shipping...except for here.
The Fairly Oddparents, "Scary Godparents" - I've spoken my piece about how this show and half-hour episodes don't hang. Maybe, you're better off watching the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episode, "Halloween", instead (I say maybe, because I've never seen it).

I guess I should take solace in the fact that I'll, at least, get to see both "That 70s Show" Halloween episodes (now those episodes can stand shoulder to shoulder with your average "Treehouse of Horror").

(Wow. A post not about film music and longer than a couple of sentences. I'm as shocked as you.)

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to check my death date online. Apparently, I can look forward to dying at least twice: March 7, 2035 and December 29, 2048.

Also, in my next life, I'm going to be a sparrow. Just as I was hoping for!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. VIII

Returning home from a football game, a group of high-schoolers get detoured in a small town. Things seem normal enough, but who's the masked figure chasing the kids? And why will none of the locals help out? I mean, the town's full of them, right? Don't let the title fool you: this is really a remake of Tourist Trap. It's watchable enough, but you're better off checking out the original; same story, but far less conventional.

Though showing no signs whatsoever of what I consider to be Pino Donaggio's career best work, John Ottman's score works well on its own. In "Opening/Tantrum", the composer wastes no time, jumping right into things with a creepy organ melody. The cue proceeds with a dreamlike motif (representative of what the small town once was) of strings, voices, chimes and Ottman's trademark woodwind hits underscoring the flashback of a pair of baby boys.

"Ritual/Escape from Church" brings in strings, chanting male voices and bells, creating a lurching march, while "Sealed Lips" features some peculiar electronic effects amongst the orchestra.

"Story of the Town" and "They Look So Real" make for a nice respite to the terror, strings and winds bounding about. The latter cue, in particular, is marked by delicate statements of the dreamlike motif.

What was likely the main draw for the target audience was the casting of Paris Hilton as one of the victims. "Paris Gets It" (!) is one of the busier cues, utilizing aleatoric effects en route to the inevitable impaling.

As the film's literal house of wax goes a-melting down, "Bringing Down the House", in its building frenzy, features some sliding string effects for the collapsing house; a fine bit of mickey-mousing on Ottman's part.

With Ottman on the organ, "Endless Service" caps the album, its performance making a pretty nice bookend to the score...and, perhaps, the one real connection to the original source (save for the wax figures, of course).

The Varese Sarabande score album is available at for cheap.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. VII

Skating on the edge of bankruptcy (yet able to afford a sassy Black housekeeper...did I mention this was made in 2001?), widower Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub, deserving much better) receives an inheritance from his late uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham, ditto): a glass house that's like a constantly shifting hedge maze. Soon, Arthur, his comely daughter, his murderously irritating son, the housekeeper and others find themselves prey to Cyrus' unusual hobby: 12 murderous ghosts. Chaotic, gory, nonsensical...and yet, surprisingly fun; a fine guilty pleasure from Dark Castle. Matthew Lillard steals the film as a troubled psychic.

Dark Castle likes to switch between composers for its genre projects: John Ottman (who I'll be talking about in the next review) and John Frizzell. Frizzell's score is just as disjointed and busy as the film, but it makes for an interesting listen.

A number of motivic ideas are thrown around for the various ghosts roaming about. The Angry Princess (known as "The Princess" in the track listings, for some reason) is represented with eerie voices. The Juggernaut receives an appropriate mix of booming horns and rattling xylophone. The Hammer gets (what else?) anvil and percussion. The Jackal's appearances are underscored by dentist drill-sounding electric guitars (a nod to the ghost's resemblance to Rob Zombie or am I just reaching?).

Speaking of those guitars, Frizzell's love of experimenting with electronics may turn some listeners off. Despite some fine string work in "What's in the Basement?" and an appearance by the Hammer's motif in "Opening of the Chambers", the techno noodling won't be to every taste. The bounding synths and glass-crack stingers of "Bobby Gets Lost" could also be considered a liability. Noodling electronics begin "Cyrus' Will", but the track soon branches off into forceful chopping strings.

When Frizzell leaves the electronics alone, however, this is a neat little score, as the pounding "The Ghosts Escape" and "The 13th Ghost" can attest. The "Main Titles" start off with gentle harp and flute playing that you'd think was tracked in from another movie, before Frizzell cannily twists the orchestrations to reflect the depression that settles in via the backstory.

"Entering the House" features two of the score's themes: a wavering flute and string melody and an ascending motif of pealing bells, strings and climbing horns. The latter gets a lot of play in the likes of "Junkyard" and "Cyrus Returns" (with booming horns).

"Jean Returns" (spelled "Gene"!) revives the ascending motif and the "Main Title" flute for Arthur's reunion with his wife before the introduction of a new melody of rushing horns and strings. This melody is returned to in "The Machine Destroyed", along with the ascending motif and The Juggernaut's melody (?!), before a calm settles over the cue, with warm strings and woodwinds signalling the end.

The score seems to be out of print, though cheap copies (and audio samples) can be found here.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watched the new "South Park". Ouch for lovers of Inception. Still, I'm listening to the soundtrack.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. VI

Remember that baby from the end of Bride of Chucky? (BTW, spoiler warning) Well, he's all grown up and psychologically disturbed. He decides to seek out his parents, Chucky and Tiffany. He finds them in Hollywood and they seek to paint the town red...yes, literally. For anyone who ever found Chucky scary, this is an insulting piece of crap. For the rest of us, it's a gruesomely funny hoot; an impressive directorial debut for series creator Don Mancini. Featuring appearances by John Waters, makeup artist Tony Gardner (Darkman) and Young Sherlock Holmes himself, Nicholas Rowe. It's that kind of movie, folks.

Though he continues to work steadily, this is, to date, the last film Pino Donaggio scored that has had any kind of profile in the States. Pity. Introduced in the "Main Title" is a hypnotic, circular eight-note theme on electronics. Toward the end of the track, Donaggio brings in strings and voices to give it a haunting feel.

Built on chopping strings that would give Bernard Herrmann pause, "Glen's Escape" weaves a musical web out of which one isn't sure they'll escape. However, electronics and voices seem to light a way out.

True to the film's unusual sense of humor, Donaggio features a pair of noteworthy motifs: an Asian-flavored melody in "Konichiwa" and "Made in Japan" and a synth-based twitching motif for Glen's reaction to the blood-soaked insanity around him, providing a musical exclamation point to cues like "Intestinal Fortitude" and "Ordinary Dolls". The main theme trails off into some saxophone licks upon our first glance at "Our Jennifer".

"Konichiwa" also introduces a longing vocal motif for the concept of family that Glen searches for. Sweeping strings toward the end of "Stark Raving Mad" give the theme a sort of nobility. On the flip side, a sort of stalking motif for pulsing synths and off-key piano asserts itself in "Paparazzo's Delight" and "Acid Trip".

Of course, Donaggio isn't afraid to play up the film's horror aspects, with the violent strings of "Joan Gets Fired" and the rolling piano of "A Nightmare on Nottingham Mews". Donaggio even provides a nod to his own work with the Carrie-esque string and bell combo of "Bad Girls".

Currently available for, perhaps, the lowest price you'll ever see at La La Land Records, this is worth getting, especially if you love Pino Donaggio.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. V

Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) considers himself one of the finest thespians ever to do justice to the works of the Bard. This opinion is not shared by a group of critics, so Lionheart decides to get them more acquainted with Shakespeare's plays than they ever imagined. Think of this as the unofficial third Dr. Phibes movie; a delightful bit of camp, anchored by Price's masterful performance.

Rather than focus on the gruesome killings or the black comedy, Michael J. Lewis's score is a lush, dramatic work. The "Main Title" begins with the main theme: a few chords teased out from a mandolin before strings and flute carry us through the rest of the track.

"Ides of March" starts off innocuously with percussive beats and occasional string hits, before building with twinkling piano, tympani rolls and nervous horns as a seemingly harmless group of dissidents rises up and kills. "Oh, Pardon Me, Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth" begins with strings, harpsichord and a mock-funereal trumpet before the strings take the lead, eulogizing one of the critics.

"The Dragon Wing of the Night" goes from brooding strings and quavering xylophone to a sprightly, fife-led march, while "Sexy Lips and Swinging Hips" is a light piece for flute and trumpet. "Partitia of Blood" recapitulates the main theme for solo harpsichord, effectively summoning a centuries-ago drawing room feel.

"The Trojan Trail" introduces amongst its snare drums a galloping, 'here comes the cavalry' melody that will dominate the climactic "Come Fire, Consume this Petty World" (may I just say that I love these Shakespearean track titles?). "Where Are My Doggy-Woggies?" starts with a quirky mix of harpsichord licks and woodwinds, though things get darker with xylophone hits and unsettling piano work.

Another fine piece of music is "Edwina's Theme", an unabashedly romantic melody for Lionheart's daughter (Diana Rigg) and possible partner-in-crime. The theme's juxtaposition for an impromptu decapitation in "Cymbeline" makes for an absurd delight.

"Alive in Triumph" and "Fugato" are a pair of full-bodied action cues. Racing strings, tweeting flutes and noble horns unite as Lionheart engages critic Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) in a most unusual duel.

Even though the La La Land Records release (still readily available) combines some of the tracks, the CD is well worth having, especially since the promo that Lewis put out some years ago is that much harder to find.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just avoiding one of the many projects I promise myself I'll work on every day. It happens...frequently.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. IV

Ben and Kate Powell, along with their son Steve, rent a lovely summer house in New England. Unfortunately, there's the small matter of the love triangle of ghosts haunting the place. Imagine "The Canterville Ghost" re-written as a "Three's Company" episode and you're pretty close. I don't know if Ben Starr (adapting a Nathaniel Benchley story) knew or cared that he was writing for Sid Caesar, but the legendary funnyman doesn't get to do or say anything funny, a problem that spreads to the rest of the talented cast (among them, John Astin, Jesse White and Harvey Lembeck). However, Mary Wickes and especially John McGiver have some good moments. Not an unwatchable film, but there's probably a reason it's never been released on video or DVD.

As with The Night Walker, Vic Mizzy delivered a score far better than the William Castle misfire deserved. Mizzy's "Main Title" is a pleasant sea shanty (with lyrics performed by the composer; available in the film, but not on CD). Harpsichord takes the lead, accompanied by swaying trumpets and a killer player piano solo at 1:27.

As with any Mizzy score, the composer's music reflects the fun he must've had writing it, like in "Bedroom Cares", a circusy cue that throws in everything from harpsichord, playful winds and booming horns to the "Wedding March", showing how the ghosts came to be.

Another theme is introduced, ostensibly for the Powells, in "Peculiar Place"; a bouncy tune passed from bassoons to xylophones to flutes to an organ. "Steve Meets Felicity" concludes with a delightfully slow version of the theme.

For the supposedly 'hilarious' scenes of the ghostly appearances, Mizzy brings in a melody from "Bedroom Cares" and sets it to work on horns, winds, harpsichord and even bells in cues like "Ghost to Ghost" and "Where's She Hiding". Other highlights include the appropriately-named "Swingin' Jenny" and the delightfully sleazy "Fill 'er Up".

"Priscilla's Seance" is just indescribable. It starts innocuously enough with a fluttering flute solo...then an electric guitar butts in. The flute responds, but the guitar shoots back, dominating the cue and shutting the flute out. It's not long before one realizes that, yes, this is supposed to be a musical conversation between two instruments and it's truly hilarious.

Still, even though this is a comedy (or so I'm told), Mizzy does work in moments of suspense ("Tall Tale"), horror ("Kate's Turn") and even melancholy ("Suspected Steve", "The Disappearance", "Lost").

According to Percepto Records, the album (which also features Mizzy's fine score to 1967's other Castle/Caesar joint, The Busy Body) is out of print. Thankfully, reports of this were greatly exaggerated and the CD can be bought for a song (while supplies last) from Screen Archives Entertainment). Audio clips of every track can be found here. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. III

Poor Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen). The salesman (Peter MacNicol) he's made his slave is a bungling idiot, no one can get his orders right and that damn Van Helsing (director/producer/co-writer Mel Brooks) keeps trying to get the last word. This is not one of the Brooks masterpieces, but put it against what passes for horror spoofs nowadays (Stan Helsing, Transylmania, Vampires Suck), and how can it not seem a classic? There's nothing here that 1979's Love at First Bite didn't do better, but it's worth a watch if you catch it on cable.

I consider the composer/director pairing of John Morris and Mel Brooks on a par with Williams/Spielberg, Herrmann/Hitchcock, Elfman/Burton, Newman/DeVito and Goldsmith/Dante, but I really appreciate the music that Hummie Mann wrote for Robin Hood: Men in Tights and this film. Mann's main theme is an appropriately Gothic descending four-note melody, effectively conveying Dracula's menace (musically, anyway; he's a goofball in the movie).

Around the 1:11 mark of the "Main Titles", a slowly building sub-theme on strings and winds emerges, representing the danger Dracula poses and how it affects the characters. The danger motif can be heard throughout the score, like in the melancholy "Van Helsing Sees Mina's Bite" and given a sweeping, resolutive rendition in the succinctly-titled "Romantic Moment".

Mann gets a lot of mileage out of a full choir, such as at the conclusion of the "Main Titles" and the seductive female voices in "Dracula's Women", accompanying one of my favorite gags. "Hypnotizing Renfield" and "Dracula Hypnotizes Mina and Essie" feature a repeating string figure, while "Faster Horses" pulses with wavering strings and horns.

A number of cues float along with strings, winds and the occasional choral intrusion as Dracula stalks his prey, such as "Dracula in the Garden" and "Bat Flies to Window". However, cues like "Dracula Attacks Lucy" and "Lucy Reacts to the Cross" burst, albeit briefly, with pounding horns and nervous strings.

Though encouraged by the director to play it straight, Mann can't help himself in "Limping Shadows", where wind-based mickey-mousing accompanies Dracula's shadow as it tries to walk off a painful fall. A soulful violin solo earmarks "Gypsy Woman", as an old woman (the late Anne Bancroft, Mrs. Mel Brooks) tries to warn Renfield away from Dracula's castle (would that he listened...).

The climatic cues "Escape", "Fight!" and "Attempted Escape" provide an exciting conclusion to the score with chopping strings, pounding horns and ghostly choral accompaniment.

Mann also provides spirited arrangements of classical pieces, with pipe organ taking the lead in the tango of "El Choclo" and the all-too-briefly-heard "Hungarian Rhapsody #5" heavily featuring tambourine in the mix. "The Kaminsky Two-Step" isn't classical music, though not for lack of trying; the source music fits in quite nicely in the ballroom scene.

The score was released on a promotional CD, which is hard to find these days. It pops up on Ebay from time to time, but be ready to part with at least $40. (Samples of every track can be found here.) If you're unwilling to take that chance, the music can be heard in the film.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Well, I'm not fired. Yay or boo; I don't know how to respond.

My computer is running short of space...or has been the last few months. I cleared some space out Wednesday...only to get cluttered within hours. I might have to get a new laptop. Of course, that takes money I don't currently have. Crap.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Well, I was short counting my drawer yesterday. By itself, this wouldn't be too big of a deal, but factor in that it's already happened twice in the last couple weeks and the odds are good that I might not have a job by the end of today.

Honest to God, I'm still torn as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. As much as I complain about the job and the stupid people I have to deal with, I'm uncertain if I can find a new job and if my parents will let me stay during the (sure to be lengthy) time I don't have one. I don't know what to do about this.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. II

A family has just moved into a San Francisco brownstone. Unfortunately, a troll (No! Really?) kidnaps the clan's daughter and takes her place, spurring her brother, Harry Potter (no jokes, please), into action. With its DIY effects and eclectic supporting cast (including Sonny of 'Sonny and Cher', Elaine Benes, her real-life husband and the mom from "Lost in Space"), this drips of cheese, but it's actually an okay fantasy-thriller, one of the most benign of Empire Pictures releases.

As with a number of Empire features, the music was composed by the ever-underrated Richard Band. The score is earmarked by two themes: a mischievious yet malevolent motif of strings and winds for the titular troll and a warm, wafting melody that wouldn't be out of place in a fairy tale. Both melodies figure into the main titles.

(As the album was assembled in suites instead of individual cues, I'm going to talk about the music by tracks.)

Following the main titles, "Cantos I" introduces an unsettling contrabassoon solo that leads to twinkly statements of the fairy tale motif. The cue also features a galloping woodwind melody (at 5:41) and a brief, worried-sounding choral tune (6:11). Toward the end of the cue, Band whips up a hypnotic string run playing like a musical tornado, tossing about many little musical statements, before strings and chimes wind down in a decelerando (I don't care if it's not a word; I'm using it) reminiscient of, of all things, Herrmann's Sisters.

"Cantos II" begins with hypnotic synths and voices leading to a return of the last track's galloping melody and an Alchemist-like melody (3:12) of chimes and strings. The trumpet rendition of the fairy tale theme (4:15) is a particular highlight.

The showstopper of the score (and the film, I suppose) is "Cantos Profanae", where a boy soprano (ostensibly representing good) butts up against the troll theme with lyrics chanted by a group of male voices. Good tries, but in the end, evil overwhelms it in an impressive composition.

Taking up the mantle of the previous track, "Cantos IV" starts with a harsh string reading of the troll theme. The descending chimes and choir from "I" returns, as well (0:56). Band introduces a mystical harp and synth melody (2:37), which leads to a sweeping passage for strings and horns before stopping on an abbreviated string take on the troll theme (3:44).

As galloping string statements and trotting horns unite, "Cantos V" signals the big finale. A tympani backbeat develops halfway through as Harry finds himself in the land of trolls (listen for the quote from Mutant at 5:23-5:29!). Improvised piano and a falling choir build to an orchestral tutti, ultimately leading back to the real world and a sweeping, conclusive statement of the fairy tale theme (which, curiously, almost sounds like the House on Sorority Row finale).

The CD was released by Intrada in 2006 and is now hard to find, but it is well worth the search.

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Don't make me call it Shocktober: vol. I

So, it's like this: a curator falls prey to the whisperings of an ancient runestone, turning him into a monster. Charged with bringing an end to his reign of terror are his ex-girlfriend, her new beau, a hard-boiled cop and keepers of ancient lore. More or less reworked as The Relic years later, this is a watchable if unremarkable thriller, helped along by an interesting cast.

This marks the last horror film that David Newman has ever scored...unless one wishes to count How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days or Norbit or Jingle All the Way or Monster-in-Law. I could go on forever, but I won't. One can think of this score in two different ways: a) a darker version of DuckTales: the Movie or b) a 70-minute expansion of Newman's Hell music from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.

Binding the score together is a theme starting with three ascending notes and continuing with four descending notes, a nicely off-kilter melody interwoven throughout the score, a constant reminder of the monster wreaking havoc in the character's lives.

The quieter, appropriately whispery synthesized cues earlier in the score depicting Martin falling under the runestone's sway ("The Voices First Appear", "Martin Possessed") give way to frantic, horn-based cues like "Second Killing" and "Martin Grabs Marla". "Marla Escapes Fenrir" slows the main theme down and sets it against a lurching march.

Another melody - a sort of electronic racing motif - figures into "Marla Visits Hagstrom", "Supernatural Romance" and "Jakomin". "Fenrir vs. Officer Newman" expands on what has come before with nervous strings, quaking horns and the main theme. (The main reason I'm singling out this cue is that it plays during the scene of the composer's all-too brief cameo as a cop named Graves, despite the track title.)

In between the moments of orchestral rampaging, Newman has time for lighter material, as in the soft "Heavy Petting", the reflective "That's Enough" (somewhat reminscient of The Kindred) and the pop-influenced "The Party".

The last few cues for the film's climax (from "Fenrir Reigns Terror" to "They Kill Fenrir") are delightfully chaotic from blasting horns to the "Dies Irae" as the beast is finally slain.

Perhaps my favorite melody is associated with Alexander Godunov's Sigvaldson. In an ingenious nod to the clockmaker character, Newman provides a ticking clock motif. The theme appears in an electronic guise in cues like "Sigvaldson to the Rescue", "Battle: Round One" and "Tyr", but "Sigvaldson Offers Assistance" presents the theme with a lovely, almost hypnotic flute solo.

After its initial announcement in 2007, the soundtrack was finally released this year by Perseverance Records...and, at this writing, there are less than 30 copies left, so I implore you to give it a chance.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Okay, I'm burnt out on obituary posts.

What can I say about Tony Curtis that hasn't been said? 'Oh, Some Like it Hot and Sweet Smell of Success were classics, but you know what never gets talked about? The Manitou*!' Yeah, I'm leaving it to the professionals.

Also, while I knew of Stephen J. Cannell's work, I don't think I'm the right person to provide a eulogy. I'm nowhere near this guy, for example.

* - I really do like that movie, BTW.