Category Archives: REVIEWS IN BRIEF.

FILLED WITH GRACE.

So many composers so many soundtracks, its hardly surprising that a handful of composers and their scores do get somewhat overlooked, Jeff Grace is a composer I have always thought of as being talented, simply because of the wide range of genres he has written for. I think his score for STAKE LAND was the one that alerted me to his music, which I followed up with THE INNKEEPERS. But I thought a look at his scores might also bring him to your attention if you have not already discovered his musical prowess.

 I am going to begin with a 2009 release, I SELL THE DEAD, which was a comedy horror. The movie I thought was a fantastic attempt at combining horror with comedy, which at times we have to admit does kind of fall flat. In this case I think it was successful, mainly due to Ron Perlman and Domnic Monogham who were supported well by the likes of, Angus Scrimm and Larry Fessenden.

The film which was written and directed by Glen McQuaid is set in the 18th century the film relates the tale of a pair of grave robbers, who have been caught by the law and are incarcerated. With only a few hours to go before his date with the guillotine, Arthur Blake (Monogham) tells his life story to Father Francis Duffy (Ron Perlman) an Irish Priest. Before long, Blake has told the listening holy man how he got started in the grim corpse peddling business working for seasoned ghoul Willie Grimes (Fessenden). The story is filled with Blakes experiences whilst engaged in grave robbing combining elements from other such tales as BURKE AND HARE, THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS and THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVIL’s, and adding its own comedic twist in places, there are Zombies, Vampires and other such creatures which he helped to dig up in this entertaining romp. The central characters Blake and Grimes like a comedy duo who managed to get themselves into all sorts of scrapes, the film is more like a comedy version of a Hammer horror film, the sets etc being atmospheric and very well done. The story was accompanied by an energetic and quirky sounding musical score by Jeff Grace, the composer providing the movie and its various horrific/comedic scenarios with a balanced and vibrant work.  It is a soundtrack that maybe a few collectors missed when it was released, but the same can be said for the movie, although it is a brilliant film, and one that entertains on so many levels, it is probably something that even horror fans would not instantly think of.

The music is symphonic, which is something I am pleased about, Grace, inventing edgy sounds and adding a romantic atmosphere to these at times, giving the soundtrack a rich and robust style. In fact, I would go as far as to say that maybe the composer had listened to some Hammer scores and took his lead from these. Tremolo strings feature on numerous occasions, with mournful and apprehensive woods creating an eerie and dark mood. There is also an abundance of short sharp shocking passages performed by driving strings that are punctuated by either brass and percussion or laced further by other string instruments. If this is a score you have not yet heard, then I urge you to check it out. It was released by Movie Score Media but is still available on all digital platforms.

Another interesting Horror/thriller is THE LAST WINTER, like I SELL THE DEAD the movie was produced by Glass Eye Pix, and it also starred Ron Perlman, the music is a collaboration or at least it is credited to both Jeff Grace and Anton Sanko, the latter was responsible for the scores for OUIJA, FRACTURED and RABBIT HOLE amongst others, and the cues that he is credited with on THE LAST WINTER are quite complex and atonal in there sound and style, whereas the cues that are credited to Jeff Grace have within them melodic content that is quite rich and even grandiose in places, such as the opening cue NORTH.  Grace employing strings and piano to fashion thematic material. Again, released by Movie Score Media, its well worth checking out.  Jeff Grace is at times thought of as a composer of horror scores, but this is not entirely true, although he has scored his fair share of films within this genre, what I do like about his music is that it does have to it positive thematic qualities, even if the cue either begins or leads into something that is more atonal. Also each of his scores has their own identity, I do not think that there is a uniform sound or a set pattern to the style of this composers music, which for me is a positive, because with each project one gets a score that is right for the project,

COLD IN JULY (2014) is one such example of the composer writing in a non-uniform way, within this score he utilises electronics, which are highly effective. In fact, the score is all synthetic apart from piano, but the composer still manages to bring to fruition compositions that not only serve the movie well but are listenable away from the picture. The movie which was a tense crime thriller, is a fraught edge of your seat movie, and the soundtrack reflects this atmosphere and mood, Grace building the tension and adding depth and greater impact to certain scenes, with his subtle but dramatic score.  

One of my favourite scores by Jeff Grace is from the movie HELLBENDERS (2012), (no not the Italian western), but a movie that focuses upon  The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hell bound Saints, which is a team made up of blasphemous ministers who live in a constant state of debauchery, working to drag the worst of demons that are on earth back to Hell. The composers score is superb, with a driving opening theme, that sets the scene for much of the score, it is dramatic, dark and foreboding. Every cue of the soundtrack is entertaining, filled with a robust and vibrant air, each being entertaining and at times harrowing and exciting. Another for your collection, again on most digital platforms thanks to Movie Score Media.

I think the score that many collectors recall when Jeff Grace is mentioned, must be STAKE LAND, this is a horror and a half with a score that is superb. Horror movies in general I feel do not have the power if that is the right word to hold ones attention for the duration, often the plot evaporates or dips, and this is when one starts looking around and your mind wanders a little, but STAKE LAND I thought was an excellent post-apocalyptic movie, well directed and also extremely well portrayed by a not very well known cast. It is a film that has a real story that is alluring and interesting, Think, of the film THE ROAD and add vampires to the equation. Jeff Grace’s affecting score, supports and enhances each moment of the storyline, it not only punctuates and gives a greater impact to the proceedings but is becomes an integral component of the movie.   The music of Jeff Grace is something that  all of us should experience, he has worked on many motion pictures and television projects, his music has been performed by several well known orchestras and he has worked alongside the likes of Howard Shore as an assistant on THE LORD OF THE RINGS, GANGS OF NEW YORK and PHILIDELPHIA. Several his soundtracks are available from the likes of Movie Score Media and Milan records, as well as being available to stream on digital platforms. The composer has been the recipient of many awards for his work in film.

Other scores by Grace that are certainly worth checking out include, TRIGGER MAN, I CAN SEE YOU, ROOST, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, MEEKS CUTOFF, NIGHT MOVES, to mention but a few.

TWO SHADES OF SCARLET.

SCARLETT AND THE SCARLET LETTER BY JOHN MORRIS.

We often associate the late composer John Morris with the films of Mel Brooks, and why not he did after all score BLAZING SADDLES, THE PRODUCERS, SPACEBALLS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and SILENT MOVIE, as well as the Brooks films production of the David Lynch directed, THE ELEPHANT MAN. There is little doubt that Morris was an exceptionally talented composer, but sadly was at times underatted by both critics and film music collectors alike. Morris scored several movies and TV productions that often do not get mentioned, maybe this is because the said productions were not that popular with audiences of both the big and small screens. However, the music that the composer penned for them was as always excellent. Take THE SCARLET LETTER for example and also SCARLETT, both I am sure were TV movies, but both contained highly thematic scores and had a luxurious and dramatic musical persona.

The latter starred Timothy Dalton who took on the role of Rhett Butler, which of course is a role we all associate with Clark Gable in the epic drama and romance movie GONE WITH THE WIND. Morris certainly took his cue from composer Max Steiner for this sequel to the classic tale of the American civil war, with lush and melodious themes adorning the production, Morris utilising to maximum effect strings and brass that are supported by delicate and subtle woods, which come into their own conveying a sense of melancholy and romance. The composer also includes proud sounding brass at times that gives the score a golden age sound. The cue THIS WAS TARA being particularly poignant and inspiring.  The compact disc was a round for quite a while in many retail outlets but has since become a little more difficult to obtain. However, I would recommend that you attempt to take a listen to the score, which is available on various digital platforms.

THE SCARLET LETTER is another lush sounding work from the composer, again an American TV movie, it is not to be confused with the Demi Moore, Gary Oldman feature film of the same name, which was eventually scored by John Barry. Morris fashioned a lilting and thematic work for the production, again as in SCARLETT the composer created highly melodic sounding compositions written for woods, brass, percussion and led by the string section. The core theme is a sombre but at the same time rich one, and the composer reinvents this as he utilises it throughout the score, this central thematic property becoming the foundation or backbone of the work. So two John Morris scores both for TV movies, that are filled with an abundance of themes and purvey a sense of the romantic, check them both out.

ENOLA HOLMES.

Daniel Pemberton is I think one of the most inventive and talented composers working in film nowadays, his adaptability is something that at times I cannot take in, because he is able to tailor his style and the sound he achieves to any genre and any type of project, One of his latest scores is for the Netflix movie ENOLA HOLMES.  Now this is like a breath of fresh air, musically speaking of course. The composer serves up a soundtrack that is literally bursting with a rich and melodic thematic content. Pemberton, has certainly embraced the movie and its storyline, creating something that is instantly likeable and also a soundtrack that one just wants to hear more of from the opening bars. Largely symphonic, the composer fashions an eloquent and romantic sounding work, that is hauntingly beautiful and also bombastically dramatic at the same time. The opening cue, ENOLA HOLMES (WILD CHILD) is straight away something that the listener can latch onto, it begins with an air of mystery, but soon moves into something that is more up-tempo and alluring, with the composer enlisting strings, solo woodwind and a upbeat percussive background, which acts as support to solo violin and a small string section as they lay down the introduction to the movie and also invite us into the score.

This is a score that has numerous attributes and many positives, in fact I don’t think that there is one cue I would say I wanted to skip over whilst listening to the work. Pemberton also makes effective use of female wordless vocals, which become a essential component of the soundtrack as it progresses and develops. The core theme is a pleasant one, and the composer utilises this throughout the score building other themes upon it and also orchestrating it freshly in various guises to give it a new lease of life on its outings. This I would say is probably one of the composers best scores to date, it is inventive, innovative and entertaining, having to it a quintessentially English sound, that also at times bursts into a flourish of something that is more contemporary and interesting. Its grandiose in places, mischievous, jaunty, and filled with melodic excellence.  Do not delay go and add this one to your collection today.     

SEA FEVER.

 

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The movie SEA FEVER is soon to be released in the UK, it’s a thriller/horror, which has a plot that has probably been done so many times in various guises and incarnations, in fact I suppose this type of plot has been explored in hundreds of movies, not exactly in the same way but the basis of the plot is present in a number of movies as far back as the 1940’s. The plot focuses upon a marine biology student, Siobhan played by Hermione Corfield. She goes on a voyage aboard a fishing trawler who crew are shall we say not the politest and the most gentile. The trawler gets to the mid-Atlantic and it is here that they encounter a mysterious creature, which snares the vessel and maroons its crew and Hermione. As the story unfolds the crew members begin to become ill and it is left to Hermione to try and save them. Directed by Neasa Hardiman the movie also stars Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, it has a highly affecting and atmospheric score by composer Christoffer Franzen.

 

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There are some wonderfully lyrical sounding interludes within the score which in the main are performed by solo violin, however for the majority of the work is a fusion of symphonic and electronic, with in my opinion the electronic having the lions share, but saying this the way in which the composer blends the synthetic with elements of the more conventional is well done, and at times it is difficult to tell if the music is being performed by orchestra or samples etc. There is a menacing aura to the work, with sinewy string arrangements, female voice and sinister soundscapes, its one of those scores that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and arms, there is an icy virulence to this score, an unsettling and apprehensive air is prevalent throughout, an atmosphere that is perfect for the movie, but probably does not make for listening to just as music. But, nevertheless an impressive score.

ROMANCE.

 

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Eric Demarsan is a composer I have followed for a fair few year now; his music is always of a high quality and there is always something that manages to become outstanding within his works for cinema. In my opinion he is an important composer, and on a par with French Maestro’s such as Legrand, Sarde and Jarre. It has always amazed me that there have been times when I have mentioned his name in conversation, and no one had heard of him let alone listened to any of his scores. One of the composers most recent scores is ROMANCE for the French TV series entitled WONDERLAND, the composer provided music for all six episodes. This is a classy set of scores, lyrical, romantic, infectious and mysterious are all words that I think describe this work.  Demarsan is masterful at creating delicate and fragile sounding themes and bringing to fruition atmospheric and ingeniously haunting pieces that tantalise and intrigue. The music is no way complex, but instead is rich with melody, filled with inventiveness and oozing with a lavish and luxurious sound. The composer makes effective use of solo piano and underlines this with woods and strings to create this lavish or opulent style, it just seems to purvey a mood that is gracious and melodious.

 

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I love the use of a solitary horn in the opening cue, it sets the scene wonderfully and immediately gains the listeners attention. Track number two L’APPARITON is also a striking piece,  it begins in a slightly jaunty manner, with strident but slightly subdued strings, to which he composer adds wistful sounding woodwind and solo piano, before introducing the string section via a subtle percussion rumble, with the strings then taking on the core thematic part of the composition until the tracks conclusion.  All I can say about this release is that it is an essential purchase, it is a release that you will return to so many times, and one that I think you will also treasure.  Available on compact disc from Music Box records and also on digital platforms such as Spotify and Apple. Recommended.