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For Those Dark Days Before Christmas…

December 12, 2022

It’s that time of the year again – I’m referring to All Hallow’s Eve. (Say what?) It’s a time for remembering the dead; though for many a movie villain it’s about causing death rather than remembrance. (Hang on a second, Syncho-man…) Horror movies, of course, are very popular around Halloween. STOP! Okay, Halloween was ages ago and I forgot to post this. So, here you go.

Hocus Pocus 2 (John Debney) – Our favourite witches are back and so is John Debney. After nearly twenty years, we finally get a Hocus Pocus 2. The original from 1993 is more or less responsible for launching Debney’s career; and a very quick rough glance at his IMDB page suggests he’s scored over 200 movies and television shows since then. HP2 is pretty much note-perfect; and a delightful orchestral work that feels like a throwback to the 90s. And yes, of course Debney re-uses his original main theme. Although I sometimes complain about Debney’s lack of a unique voice, the absolutely quality of his work is undeniable; and HP2 is a frightful delight.

Halloween Ends (John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies) – John Carpenter’s original Halloween score is a genre classic. A simple tune for piano, augmented with eerie synths sounds. It was as simple as it was effective. Over the last few years Carpenter has been revisiting and re-inventing his music with the use of modern equipment. It certainly sounds updated and it’s still pretty effective. Carpenter and co have done well not too overcomplicate the music and stick to its roots, with plenty of nods to the original themes, with some neat variations and also some new material. I’m not sure Ends really offers anything spectacularly new to the franchise, but fans of these scores should find at least a few tracks worthwhile.

Hellraiser (Ben Lovett) – following in the bloody footsteps of Christopher Young is not easy. Many have tried, not so many succeeded. Hellraiser is back, properly re-invented and with original creator Clive Barker’s approval. Lovett’s score combines some very effective and interesting modern ideas with fragments of Young’s original themes. And whilst hearing Young’s original themes is the most exciting and pleasantly surprising element of the score, make no mistake that the whole score packs a good punch. I’d say Lovett’s score sits just behind Young’s and Randy Miller’s, but is way ahead of all the others.

The School for Good and Evil (Theodore Shapiro) – This is a big and bold score for orchestra and choir, yet with a modern twist through its snappy melodies and electronic percussion. It reminds me a lot of James Newton Howard, actually. At times I find the sampled percussion and other electronic elements a little too intrusive, but I put that down to my personal preferences. Shapiro’s score is varied, colourful, lush, incredibly lively, perhaps a bit too loud sometimes, undeniably cool quite often (especially the darker material), and overall a great example of a ‘hybrid’ score that can pull off both the gentle orchestral moments and the thunderous modern ones.

Pearl (Tyler Bates, Timothy Williams) – The main theme for Pearl is one of the lushest of the year, with sweeping strings and woodwinds (which does remind me of something, but I can’t place my finger on it). This lushness, playfulness and sheer romantic beauty continues through several tracks; but gradually it dies down and transform into a full-bloodied suspense score. Even then, it’s an orchestral delight with sinister strings and snarling brass. A fantastic work!

Prey (Sarah Schachner) – Created for the streaming service Hulu, Prey tells the story of the first predators, yes the predators, coming to Earth some 300 years ago and battling it out with the Comanche Nation. Schachner’s score is raw and visceral. I don’t know how much of it is acoustic and how much is sampled, but you can hear the scraping of the strings, you can feel the rattling wooden percussion. Schachner makes clever reference to Alan Silvestri’s music for original two Predator movies by occasionally quoting that 6-note rhythmic ostinato, but no more than that. There are some beautiful thematic/harmonic moments in this score, but it truly stands out for its exciting and aggressive action music. The orchestrations/instrumentation are sublime and really drive home this sort-of native/ancient/long forgotten/other worldly setting. Production values are top notch so you can hear everything that’s going on crystal clearly. It’s not particularly hummable, but it sure is one of the most impressive scores I’ve heard this year.

Death Count (Scott Glasgow) – Like to live… I’ve not seen this film, but the synopsis seems a bit Saw-like, with victims held in individual cells, needing to obtain enough online likes to avoid being slaughtered. I suspect that Glasgow’s score is entirely electronic and sampled. It has a strong emphasis on electronic pulses and employs sound effects that sound suspiciously like drills and other tools. It’s very ominous; and Glasgow has a tendency to really hang on to one note and centre a whole cue around it, as in the opening track. The approach reminds me of Zimmer’s ever-evolving-one-note Joker theme; and it’s quite hypnotic. There are recurring ideas in Death Count, but nothing that’s memorable; and I think that’s not really the point of the score. Its point is to make you nervous as hell and it does that very well. Fans of synths will hear lots of wicked (and some beautiful) sounds and effects (kudos to Glasgow, there’s a lot to listen out for), but overall it is of course purposely unpleasant.

Nope (Michael Abels) – Michael Abel’s Nope combines wistful and suspense. It’s particularly heavy on the strings (lots of different playing techniques), but incorporates lighter plucked sounds and brass during a few ‘wild west’ moments. There’s a lot to enjoy here, though at 82 minutes the album runs a bit long and I struggled to pinpoint any central ideas. Yet, there’s lot of variations and some really clever stuff going on.

The Invitation (Dara Taylor) – Taylor treads a fine line between music and sound design resulting in a unnerving score. There are harmonic and rhythmic elements (mainly strings), but it’s the sound effects (for lack of a better word) that draws most of the attention. There are lots of distorted noises, some vaguely recognisable as vocals or woodwinds, others are beyond such recognition. Taylor tinkers with pitches, play directions, overdrive, gates and a myriad of other effects to increase the unease. The composer also makes sure there’s enough purely musical stuff here to counterbalance the aleatoric effects. After a while I do get a little tired of all the distorted sounds, and the musical elements aren’t really interesting enough on their own. All in all, there’s lots to discover here, but it’s mostly from a sound design point of view.

Article by Pete Simons (c) 2022 Synchrotones

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