The Horror movie is probably one of the most popular types of film, we all love to be scared I think, and what better way than to sit in front of a cinema screen or the TV and be frightened to hell and back by the likes of Ghosts, Poltergeists and other such malevolent entities Amongst the genre of the Horror film there are a number of sub-genres that exist, an example that is explored on a regular basis is that of the Haunted House, and with movies such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE SENTINEL, BURNT OFFERINGS, THE HAUNTING, LETS SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH etc coming to mind without really thinking about it, well seems rude not to step into the overgrown garden, walk up to the front door which is ajar and enter the mysterious and harrowing world of entities, ghosts, poltergeists and other such malevolent things.
In 1928, First National Pictures released THE HAUNTED HOUSE, the movie which is not to be confused with a 1921 Buster Keaton movie was directed by Benjamin Christensen, starred Larry Kent and Thelma Todd, and was released initially as a silent feature which was later re-released with various sound additions. It contains a fairly standard plot which involves the various heirs to a family fortune gathering at an old house. They have been summoned to attend the meeting to hear the reading of a will. It does not take too long before strange things begin to happen, which leads the family and friends that have attended to believe that maybe the house is haunted. Its typical haunted house fare, with sliding panels, hidden rooms and passages, odd mannered servants, and even mad scientists. But it is soon revealed that there are no spirits or ghosts involved, as it is a gang of criminals who are attempting to scare of the beneficiaries of the will. So pretty tame material, but this was probably one of the earliest examples of Haunted House horror, and as we all know many more were to follow, which would be shocking, gruesome, gory, scary and even at times played for laughs.
So, I am going to start with a movie that was played for a few laughs, or at least was supposed to have been. HIGH SPIRITS is often frowned upon by many, but to be honest I found it not to be too bad. What initially attracted me to the movie was the musical score, which I had noticed was by British composer George Fenton, it was at a time when Fenton was particularly busy and it seemed like he was scoring hundreds of movies, which of course was not true, but the movies he was working on were getting more exposure. I did not see the movie at the cinema but managed to rent it on video, (which shows my age).
Released in 1988, HIGH SPIRITS had an impressive cast, with the likes of Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenburg, Liz Smith, Liam Nessom, Beverly D’Angelo and Darryl Hannah. Directed by Neil Jordan, the film was the story of an American couple (Guttenburg and D’Angelo) who are going through a rough patch in their marriage, so decide to have a break in Ireland and stay at a Hotel/Stately home which is the ancestral home of Peter O’Toole and a band of long suffering under paid servants. O’Toole’s character is desperate for tourists to come to the stately home so advertises it saying, COME TO IRELAND CHECK OUT A CASTLE AND SEE SOME GHOSTS, he thinks that by doing this he will able to raise much needed cash. To assist in his deception, he recruits his already long-suffering household staff, who masquerade badly as ghosts and spirits in a bid to convince what he thinks are gullible Americans into believing that the place is really haunted. But as the deception begins to take shape, the real phantoms of the home begin to stir and one of them portrayed by Darryl Hannah who has been murdered by her mad man of a husband on their wedding night two hundred plus years before, becomes romantically involved with Steve Guttenburg’s character, whilst her husband (Liam Neeson) who is still angry and even more unstable mentally falls for Guttenburg’s on screen wife Beverly D’Angelo. Amongst all these shenanigans O’Toole’s Father played by Ray McAnally decides to pay his son a visit to have a little chat and offer him some advice.
The movie could have been better, but it was I think a fair light hearted romp, which was aided and abetted greatly by George Fenton’s energetic and at times lilting score, which included rousing Irish jig interludes and the use of traditional Irish tunes. Performed wonderfully by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra, it is one of the composers most heart-warming, lively and entertaining works for the cinema. I do have to comment however and say that the score is probably more memorable than the movie. Jordan went onto make better movies, but for his first larger budget film, HIGH SPIRITS was for many a disappointment.
Staying in the same year as HIGH SPIRITS we go to an Italian horror movie entitled GHOST HOUSE, written, and directed by Umberto Lenzi, the movie starred Lara Wendal and Donald O’Brien. It is a simple plot, that focuses upon a deserted old house, where there have been reports of sightings of ghosts. A vision of a mysterious looking girl is reported and the girl who has a ghostly looking doll with her wreaks carnage and scares anyone who enters to the edge of madness. A serviceable storyline and fair effects make the movie entertaining in a warped kind of way. The music by Italian composer and musician Piero Montanari, is for the most part synthesised but has to it a supportive and affecting style.
In many ways the style employed is evocative of the sounds that Goblin created for the Argento movies that they scored, and also reminds one of the work of Claudio Simonetti, but is seldom allowed to develop, remaining sounds for the majority of the time rather than becoming a substantial or thematic musical score, which maybe would have made the movie a little more palatable. There are a handful of cues which are jazz or pop orientated, but these too amount to a sound that is to be brutal instantly forgettable.
From a rather low budget and forgettable movie to one that is in my opinion one of the most frightening haunted house movies of all time, I still get a shiver every so often when thinking of it. Released in 1973, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of British cinemas most terrifying additions to the horror genre. It is a harrowing and disturbing film and one that I must admit to having problems with watching alone.
“THIS HOUSE,,,,IT KNOWS WE’RE HERE”, is just one sentence from the movie. Directed by film maker John Hough, it was originally destined to be an American International Pictures release, but producer James H Nicholson had a parting of the ways with AIP and thus it was released through 20th Century Fox. Alas although Nicholson is credited as a producer on the movie he died before the film was finished. For a movie released in the early 1970’s it certainly broke new ground within the horror genre, some saying it went too far but others agreeing that it was and still is a film that effectively set the scene and influenced many horror pictures that followed. For example, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE SHINING and THE CHANGELING. Many horror fans labelled THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE as a re-working and even a rip off of Robert Wise’s masterpiece THE HAUNTING which was released a decade before. But, although there are certain similarities, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE has a clear identity of its own, and in many ways can be considered a more polished and even more realistic take upon THE HAUNTING.
Filmed in colour and starring Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicut, this was in my humble opinion a classy and thought-provoking motion picture that contained some fine performances from the cast members. It was also awash with special effects that did in no way look as if they were effects, but more as if they were actual phenonium, it also contained an atmospheric and disturbing score. The four main protagonists of the story are asked to investigate the possibility of survival after death. What follows is a terrifying and unrelenting horror fest of occurrences that shock and make one’s heart jump and pound uncontrollable. Physicist Dr Lionel Barrett heads the team and is accompanied by his wife (Gayle Hunnicut). Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) who is a medium and a spiritualist minister Ben Fischer (Roddy Mc Dowell) are also enlisted.
Fischer has been to the house before and was the only surviving member of a team that was sent there to investigate it twenty years previous. Dr, Barrett, says “THIS IS BELASCO HOUSE the MOUNT EVEREST OF HAUNTED HOUSES”. The house was owned by a perverted giant of a man Emeric Belasco, who indulged in all sorts of gruesome and sadistic acts. He was supposedly murdered after a massacre took place at the house and it is said that it is haunted by numerous spirits who were the victims of the twisted and perverse millionaire. The investigation commences a week before Christmas and straight away Barrett is sceptical of anything that Tanner has to say, he is more interested in proving that the house has a strong electro-magnetic energy rather than it being haunted by spirits, and installs a machine in the house that he believes will rid it of this force. The medium and the Doctor clash and an argument follows that ends in a terrifying attack on the doctor by forces unseen, but even after this he is not convinced it is haunted, he concludes that it is the medium Tanner using the electromagnetic fields present within the property against him. Roddy Mc Dowell’s character remains above all of this and tries to close his mind to the influences present in the house, so he can collect a pay-check at the end of the investigation. Ann Barrett (Gayle Hunnicut) begins to have erotic visions late into the night, going from her room to the downstairs sitting room to undress and demand sex from Fischer. Fischer slaps her and brings her out of the trance she is under, but it happens again after she has been drinking and is caught making advances to Fischer by her husband, after which Fischer drops his psychic guard and straight away is set upon by the entity within the house. Meanwhile Tanner is attacked by a possessed cat and raped by the entity who brutally attacks her and possesses her body. Eventually Tanner is killed, crushed by a falling crucifix in the chapel and Barrett too dies after saying that he and his machine have cleared the house of the evil.
It is then down to Fischer who taunts the entity within the house until it finally abates all of its activities, Fisher finds the preserved body of Belasco behind a secret door which itself is hidden behind a stained glass window, and discovers he was no giant but was in fact a short and weak man who went as far as to amputate his short legs and replace them with prosthetic limbs which made him look like a giant. Fischer and Ann leave the house and hope that both Barrett and Tanner will then act as guides for Belasco so he can at last enter the afterlife. The film is given a greater atmosphere and depth by the musical score, it is a largely electronic work, which also contains a handful of solo instruments that are introduced in the quieter or opening moments of the movie.
The score is the work of composers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, if you think that you recognise the names you probably do as both were mainstay composers of the early episodes of the hit BBC TV show DR WHO, Derbyshire being responsible for arranging Ron Grainers classic theme for the series. Derbyshire was born on May 5th 1937, and is best known for her ground breaking work with the BBC radiophonic Workshop during the 1960,s and throughout the 1970,s. Derbyshire was a masterful exponent of electronic music, and is said to have influenced musicians such as, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS and ORBITAL. She died on July 3rd, 2001. Although electronic and largely a score of sounds rather than actual music, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE still contains a soundtrack that is innovative and important within the history of film music. It is one that deserves a release onto a recording, so that fans of the movie can hear the sounds of the house, as I always thought that the score was the heartbeat and the sound of the house within the movie, after all it did have a personality all of its own, didn’t it? Composer Brian Hodgson was born in 1938, and like his collaborator on his score was a pioneer in electronic music and worked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, it was Hodgson who created the sound that we still hear to this day when the Tardis comes into or goes out of shot in DR. WHO. He also created the distorted and sinister sounding voices of the Daleks for the series. The score for THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was recorded at Hodgson’s Electrophon studios in London’s Covent Garden. In 1977 Hodgson returned to head the Radiophonic Workshop where he remained until 1994.
Going back a decade to 1963 when director Robert Wise made THE HAUNTING, like THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE this is a terrifying visual and audible experience, made in black and white which I think adds much to the already virulent and malevolent atmosphere, it is from start to finish a harrowing and frightening experience. When you watch the movie one can see why audiences and critics alike sighted THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE as a rip off of this excellent Robert Wise movie. The plot is similar and the house in this movie which was made before HELL HOUSE is called HILL HOUSE. I am really taken aback and surprised that film studios allowed this as nowadays if it happened everyone would be suing everyone, and court cases would be ongoing for infringement of copyright. Located in New England. U.S.A in an isolated location, Hill House is a 90-year-old building that was constructed in the 19th Century it has a long and chequered history, which is filled with death and murder. When an Anthropologist Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) gets an offer to spend time at the house for a month, he sees it as an opportunity to begin to investigate the reports that the house is haunted or at least has strange forces at work within it.
He arrives at the house with others who share an interest in its past, including Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) Eleanor ‘Nell’ Lance(Julie Harris) and a woman called Theodora (Claire Bloom), together they prepare to launch an in-depth investigation into the history of the house. Theodora has extra sensory perception, while Nell is well versed in ghostly apparitions and incidents involving an encounter with a poltergeist and Luke represents the family that now owns the troubled property. It is not long before they begin to experience ordeals and occurrences that they cannot explain and each time these become more intense and terrifying. Nell, seems to be the main focus of the emanations within the house, she has lived a reserved and isolated life, looking after her Mother for the most part, who has recently died. It becomes clear to all that it is Nell that is the subject of the Haunting. She is both terrified and calm as part of her wants to stay there, and it seems that the spirits within the house too want her to remain with them. The movie, to use a cliché was way before its time, the camera angles are bizarre to say the least, but the way that it was shot lends much to creating the atmosphere that is purveyed within the movie. I think it is because we never actually see what is haunting the house that makes it more thought provoking and terrifying. The musical score played a big part in underlining the spooky and harrowing atmosphere that had been created on screen. Composer Humphrey Searle was born in Oxford England on August 26th 1915, He received some musical education whilst attending school in Winchester, he attended college in Oxford and studied the classics, after leaving college he won a scholarship to study at The Royal College of music in London. He also took private tuition at around the same time as attending The Royal College of Music with John Ireland.
Searle then was offered an opportunity to study with Anton Von Werbern in 1937 in Vienna, he was the only British composer to study with Von Werbern. Searle enjoyed a good working relationship with director Wise, and this is probably why the music was so effective. It like so many film scores was a last minute thought by the films producers, but Searle still managed to fashion and affecting work that was more than just a film score as in background to the action, but was too an integral piece of the film making process, adding depth atmosphere and more to the point a real sense of foreboding and terror to the proceedings. Sadly when Silva Screen planned a re-recording of a section of the music from the movie, they discovered that there were no manuscripts available so they had to commission Philip Lane to re-construct parts of the score by literally listening to the music on the movie. The score although complex also contained melodic interludes, but even these were tinged with a sense of unease and had to them an unsettling persona, the use of sinewy strings and an array of woodwind was a major component and the composers sporadic but effective utilisation of fleeting piano flourishes at key points is stunning and chilling. A suite of music from the score was included on the Silva Screen HORROR compilation, Searle was predominantly a composer of concert hall music, as opposed to writing for the cinema, but he did make some worthy contributions to the horror genre including Hammer films THE ABOMINIBLE SNOWMAN and also contributed to a handful of DR. WHO TV episodes during the mid-1960’s and scored four episodes of a sci fi TV series entitled THE MONSTERS in 1962.
THE HAUNTING is a classic horror movie and its score too is a ground breaking and iconic one. It is hoped that maybe a complete re-recording will one day find its way onto a compact disc.
To 1976 for our next Haunted House tale, and to a movie that had a strong cast, but sadly fell flat on many of its scenarios. BURNT OFFERINGS starred Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Burgess Merdith and Bette Davis. I know sounds fantastic don’t it? But it’s not, and I mean it’s really not. It is evident that there is something in the house that Reed and his family have rented for a holiday, something that is obviously not of this world and also something that is shall we say not too keen on visitors. So, if this was you and you were aware that the house could potentially be haunted and you and your loved ones were in danger from whatever evil it was, what would you do? Yes, correct head for the hills as soon as you can say Ouija board and evil entities. Well, No actually you stay, after all you have paid for the house so why not stay? Yes, that is the spirit (sorry for the pun). After all it was just 900 dollars for the entire summer, and don’t let Burgess Meredith’s character who is in a wheelchair smiling constantly like a demented Cheshire cat. So, Reed and his family stay and even get to work cleaning the place, sound familiar?
A couple with a son staying in a rundown secluded house (shades of the Shining maybe). There is the bonus however of Bette Davis who portrays Reed’s elderly Aunt and as always is excellent, in fact probably a little too good for this picture. Is the house haunted, or is it just events that are linked to this family needing a holiday? No, it’s haunted, and for nearly one hundred and twenty minutes we walk around the place, find secret rooms, look at old photos, Reed goes off his head and tries to drown his own son and Black marvels at how the house seems to stay tidy all on its own. Strange? Yes very. The score is courtesy of Robert Colbert, who had worked with director Dan Curtis on a number of movies and TV projects, most notably DRACULA which starred Jack Palance and DARK SHADOWS which was popular in the United States more than in the UK. And later they collaborated on WINDS OF WAR which apparently was essential Sunday night viewing. Colbert provided BURNT OFFERINGS with a wonderfully melodic and fragile sounding theme, which was often performed on piano purveying a delicate and emotive air. There are however a number of more harrowing and atonally dark sounding cues within the score. The composer employing sinister sounding strings and icy and chilling interludes that enhance and support what the audience are seeing on screen. Because of the period in which the movie was produced the score also includes an up-beat almost pop sounding cue, which serves as one of the movies secondary themes. It is a score that is entertaining away from the movie but serves the picture well also. The charming and at the same time unsettling music box theme is a touch of brilliance from the composer.
The horror genre seems not to observe borders or nationalities, if it scares you it does that whatever country the film is produced in. Italian cinema horror tales have influenced many film makers with the likes of Mario Bava, Jesus Franco etc all throwing their proverbial directorial hats into the arena from time to time. Mario Bava I have always thought was applauded just a little too much for his horror movies, I could never understand the stares and pauses within his stories, but that is just a personal opinion. Italian productions without a doubt did influence many a horror flick, one in particular being THE HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS, which although has the appearance of an Italian horror from the 1960,s or 1970’s was actualy made in the United States in 2013, the director Todd Sheets is an independent filmmaker and has produced a number of good movies in the horror genre. Many granted went straight to video or were not released in cinema but for fans of the genre these were essential and entertaining viewing.
THE HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS, is probably one of his better pictures and contains a highly atmospheric soundtrack courtesy of Fabio Frizzi. The director makes more than one nod of acknowledgement in the direction of filmmaker Lucio Fulci, and at times like the Italian directors movies this too is somewhat hard to follow and does I have to say make little sense at certain points. The central character gets a job as a night watchman at an office block, when he takes on the job, he is given one specific instruction never fall asleep. After a while he notices a strange crack in the basement wall and very stupidly takes part in a séance. After which all sorts of carnage is let loose, there is a spike in supernatural occurrences, with entities and mysterious apparitions tracking down every member of the séance. Our central character Jacob, teams up with a psychic and together they begin to investigate the buildings past so that they can hopefully save themselves. It’s a film that has everything for any gore loving, horror fan would want. Frizzi’s sparse but effective score is supremely supportive of the movie and its various jumpy, sinister and fearful scenarios. There are I have to point out comparison’s to be made here, with the style of the movies THE BEYOND and also GATES OF HELL figuring within the framework of THE HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS. Worth a watch and also check out the score on the Italian BEAT records label.
POLTERGEIST,(1982) is arguably one of the more prominent Haunted House movies that has been produced over the years, it’s a movie that is suitably terrifying in places and spawned a couple of sequels, the second film being an interesting picture with the third kind of losing the plot a little. The score for the first two movies was by American composer Jerry Goldsmith, who penned a sweet and syrupy sounding central theme for one of the films child characters Carol Anne, the composer including childlike vocals and children laughing within its make-up. This style of scoring added an uncomfortable atmosphere and had to it a chilling persona one not knowing if it was cute or downright evil. Goldsmith was a master at creating mesmerising and affecting music for movies, score that supported and more often than not transcended the normal realms of being just film music. Often Goldsmith’s themes becoming an extension of the action on screen, as in his Award-winning soundtrack for THE OMEN which he composed, six years prior to POLTERGEIST. The composer seemed to have an ingenious knack of creating nuances and leitmotifs and also applying searing musical stabs that quickly established and evil mood or accompanied a moment of terror and horror, straight away grabbing the audience’s attention, this was certainly the case in his first POLTERGEIST soundtrack.
His score also contained an air of the mysterious and a mystical ethnic quality that contained an aura of menace. Directed by Tobe (Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper the film was an Amblin production.
It focuses upon a family who move into a new build that has unknown to them been constructed on a gravesite, the inhabitants of the said gravesite are as one can imagine not too pleased about this, and thus ensues a number of strange goings on that culminate in the kidnapping of the young girl Carol Anne by evil spirits and the fight that the family has with them to get their daughter back. An interesting movie, which being an Amblin (Spielberg) production excelled in all departments. Goldsmith was also responsible for scoring the remake of THE HAUNTING in 1999.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, now that’s a title to strike fear into anyone, based on a true account, it is a striking and foreboding tale, with music by Lalo Schifrin, who provided a serviceable soundtrack, but to be honest this was nothing special considering the amount of brilliant scores that the composer had already produced in Hollywood. The movie was released in 1979 and since the initial movie there have been a further eighteen in the series. Yes eighteen, it’s weird to think people still want to stay in this hell house considering the amount of bad press it’s had. So, supposedly based on a true story, I say supposedly because this scenario and the story have been questioned and even been through the courts to see if they can establish its validity, the author Jay Anson who penned the novel standing fast concerning the claims of it being based on fact. The large house itself is an imposing sight and I for one would have taken one look at it and thought ok, where is the nearest Bates Motel or did you see there was a Premier inn down the road (other hotels are available). But, despite being warned of all the things that have occurred at the Long Island address George and Kathy Lutz, and their three children go ahead and move in (ever had the feeling that they don’t lke their kids). They dismiss the idea that the house is retaining memories or events that have gone on there and somehow making these re-occur in one form or another, they enlist the aid of their Priest, who agrees to perform an exorcism, but after this he becomes gravely ill and goes blind. Do the Lutz family still think it’s a good buy, what do you think? They then have another Priest look into matters who is supported by the police. Together they and the family start to face the vile abominations that the house throws at them, without realising that the powerful and evil forces present are plotting to possess George and then move onto his children.
So traumatic material, it’s a movie that I think you will either love or hate, and also one that you will sit through and not be affected by or maybe walk out mid-way through as many did when it was first released. The movie has sadly not aged well, time was not kind to it, and when watching this horror fest now, I was a little disappointed. The sequels were not as good as the original. Many made on low budgets, and most of these going straight to video or DVD.
Haunted houses, bedevilled office blocks, terrorised tower buildings, and possessed apartments, there have been many of these plus an abundance of creepy castles and malevolent mansions. And the cinema has explored all of them plus more, some being totally terrifying others leaving audiences confused and also a fair few that just failed altogether. But the horror genre and the sub-genre of the HAUNTED HOUSE movie has also delivered some classic moments of cinematic terror and it is a genre or an area within the horror genre that continues to be popular. And I am pleased to say that composers too continue to create new and refreshing ways to make music work for the genre. Other examples of hauntings include, THE ORPHANAGE, THE DEVILS BACKBONE, THE INNOCENTS, THE OTHERS, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THIRTEEN GHOSTS, THE HAUNTING IN CONNETICUT, THE CONJURING, THE SHINING and also THE LADY IN WHITE, the latter I thought was a very good movie although at times the special effects did let it down. In a film about ghosts, what is scarier? When we see the ghost or when we can’t see the ghost, I think it’s the latter, because we know there is something going on or something is about to happen, but we are not sure when or what it is. I also think that a less gory or violent horror movie is scarier than the slasher type films or even flicks like SAW for example. It’s the mystery and the apprehension or the uncertainty that is lingering that makes an audience sit on the edge of their seats. Director Frank LaLoggia got the mix just right when he made THE LADY IN WHITE back in 1988. When it was released I don’t think that many really took a lot of notice of it, but since the release of this independent production I am of the opinion that the film is a thinking man’s horror picture, it does actualy make one stop and think about what is going on in the story and relies upon the mystery rather than any violence to create a superb atmosphere that is thick with tension. The story focuses upon Frankie a nine-year-old boy who lives in a small-town Willow point Falls, the story unfolds as the now adult Frankie who has become an author is returning to his home town and tells the story of THE LADY IN WHITE.
The nine-year-old is locked in the school cloakroom by two bullies at the school and is left in the dark room on Halloween, it is whilst locked in the room that Frankie witnesses a murder, but the murder victim is a ghost of a young girl who has red hair. The murder is brutal and upsetting for Frankie who tries to get out of the room but is himself attacked and strangled by a shadowy figure who comes from the darkness, Frankie passes out and as he becomes unconscious he sees the young girl again, who speaks to him and asks him for help to find her Mother. Frankie is suddenly awoken by his Father Angelo who has gone looking for him, the boy is taken to hospital and the Police arrest the school janitor thinking that he is responsible for the attack on Frankie. Whilst recovering Frankie is given a newspaper article and via this he learns that there were eleven child murders and one of them was the girl who spoke to him, he learns that her name is Melissa Ann Montgomery. The young girl continues to appear to Frankie with the boy and the phantom becoming friends.
Frankie returns to the cloak room as he has remembered hearing the air vent grille being unscrewed just before he was attacked, he opens the vent up and finds several items, one of them being a hair clip which it transpires belonged to Melissa. Frankie takes the hairclip and a class ring and leaves the cloak room. THE LADY IN WHITE is much more than a tale of a haunting or a ghost story, it is a mystery a murder story and also a tormented tale of love between a Mother and daughter that has extended beyond their time in the world of the living, and that’s all I am saying, I think you should find the movie and watch it, you will be engrossed and intrigued. Produced and directed by LaLoggia it makes for compelling viewing.
LaLoggia also composed the musical score for the movie, and I have to say it has been among my top fifty film scores ever since I got the LP record on Varese Sarabande back in 1988. In later years, the CD version on South West records was released, and is an essential purchase if you have never heard this score, it contains over 70 minutes of music and includes the electronic score that was not used for the film. Both are by LaLoggia, but I am so glad that he decided to utilise the symphonic edition of the work, This a delight to listen to and within the film it creates so many wonderful atmospheric moments, it is dramatic, sinister and also has to it a child-like content that is attractive and enriching, I have to say that the electronic version is somewhat jagged and soulless, but with the compact disc version you can make up your own minds. The CD also contains lots of stills and info on the movie including an interview with the director/composer LaLoggia. Frank LaLoggia is a multi-talented individual, actor, producer, writer, director and composer, the score he wrote for LADY IN WHITE in my opinion is outstanding, it is a theme laden work, and a soundtrack that is not only engrossing but entertaining.
The compact disc is split up into seven cues all of which are suites, each suite has a generous running time of twenty minutes plus, the symphonic score occupying the first six suites and the unused electronic score is represented within track number seven. LaLoggia weaves a motif led score which utilises small orchestra comprising of woods, brass, timpani and percussion which are all acting as support to strings that are embellished by a scattering of synthetic support and further enhanced by the affective utilisation of adult and children’s voices. Right from the start the composer makes wonderful use of the string section and creates haunting and mesmerising tone poems with the woods that are enveloped and engulfed by sweeping string passages that are vibrant and bright in their sound and style.
There is no way of comparing the style employed by the composer in the score as it is fresh and original. LADY IN WHITE is a thought-provoking movie and one that has a wonderfully lyrical sounding soundtrack, I for one can’t ever get enough of both and return to both score and film regularly. Why LaLoggia did not create more music for films I do not know, however I can also recommend his score for FEAR NO EVIL. LADY IN WHITE is an energetic work, the composer fashioning atmospheric and gorgeous sounding pieces throughout, from comedic sounding chase sequences to dark and sombre tracks which melt into exquisite sounding themes that have a melancholic or romantic feel to them.
THE CONJURING,(2013) is a fairly recent addition to the Haunted House or Haunting collective, the movie tells the story of the Perron family, who are put through all sorts of mental and physical terrors by a dark and aggressive presence in their isolated farmhouse home in Harrisville, Rhode Island, USA. Things become so disturbing that the family enlist the aid of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are recognized and respected paranormal investigators to try and help them find out what the presence is and what it is doing in their home and more to the point why is it making their lives a living hell. The film which is a terrifying and fraught viewing experience is based upon true life events, which when one thinks about it makes the jumps, bumps and shocks unfolding on screen become even more frightening because this is something that actually took place in the 1970’s.The Warrens came to the public eye because of their involvement with THE AMITYVILLE case. THE CONJURING tells us a story that up until recently was kept a guarded secret by the Warren’s.
The music is by one of the most in demand composers in Hollywood, Joseph Bishara, who has built a reputation for himself as a composer who more or less specializes in films that have the scare or gore factor. His score for THE CONJURING marked a further collaboration with Director James Wan and underlines perfectly the malicious happenings within the films storyline and enhances and embellishes the traumatic and hostile scenes on screen. Written for a 60 plus orchestra, the majority of which is made up of strings, but also includes a small woodwind section and a scattering of brass with added performances from piano and harp and support from a small choir and synthetic elements, the score also boasts the amazing solo voice performance of Avant-Garde music marvel, Diamanda Galas in parts. Bishara’s music is not shall we say a pleasant listening experience, but it is not supposed to be given the subject matter it has been created for. It is however an inventive and above all original sounding work that I would add should not be listened to in the dark nor through headphones and probably not alone. Or if you are that way inclined maybe you should try it in the dark with headphones when everyone is out and wait for the men in white coats to come and get you? The score is a dark, taught and brooding one, full of tormented, and sinewy sounds that are at times overpowered by shocking and jarring stabs that come from both brass and strings with synthetic assistance, it is in my opinion an unearthly, unsettling work that possess the ability to scare on its own without any images whatsoever. Bishara’s score not only underlines and punctuates this vexing story but succeeds in giving it even more emotional depth and creates numerous atmospheric nuances that assist the movie greatly. In fact, the only respite within the score that gives the listener some sort of melodic interlude or a breather from the fraught-ness is THE FAMILY THEME which comes at the end of the disc and is composed by Mark Isham. But even this composition contains some dark sounding undertones within its make up as it begins with an air of uncertainty and apprehension but builds gradually until it concludes with a sound that is milder, pleasant, and settled purveying a feeling that is hopeful. Isham’s brief piece on the score is worlds away from the style employed by Joseph Bishara, as the main score is a modern and somewhat complex sounding musical exercise which borders on the experimental, a fusion of music and also musical sounds which are themselves underlined or interspersed with brash and crashing crescendos that create unease and a sense of urgency, but let us just say it is an exercise that works marvellously within the context of the movie, it brings to the story another echelon of horror a more heightened stage of terror and in fact a more intense and frenzied feeling of fear. The score is filled to overflowing with foreboding and dread, and is a nerve jangling, gut wrenching rollercoaster ride for any listener.
As I have said the music is at times complex and it oozes a virulent persona which is hard to describe, in fact the best way in which to describe the score as a whole is to say that it is formidable, at times dissonant and certainly an unrelenting musical assault upon ones nerves and senses. Wonderfully orchestrated meticulously performed and written by a composer that is most certainly talented, highly original and ingenious. THE CONJURING is a well thought out and produced horror film, it draws from past movies within the genre but, never becomes clichéd or predictable and the score too manages to break new ground in an area of music and sound design that is constantly evolving.
ANNABELLE-CREATION (2017) is another newer entry into the haunting arena of movies, the horror movie as a whole has increased in popularity year upon year and the musical scores for films within this category have also become the objects of fascination from collectors of film music and fans of the horror genre as a whole. By this I mean if a collector buys the score to a horror movie and a sequel appears they will invariably buy the score from the sequel even if they have not seen the movie, it also goes without saying that film music collectors buy when they know what composer has scored the film, again in most cases without seeing the movie, they will buy a score because it is by a certain composer. When I heard that Benjamin Wallfisch was onboard for ANNABELLE-CREATION, I was I must say surprised because the original movie had been scored by Joseph Bishara, and I naturally assumed he would be providing the chills and starts and musical jumps for this instalment. For some reason, I associated Wallfisch with films that had a more lush or romantic soundtrack, such as BITTER HARVEST. Which is of course so wrong of me, as we all know that Wallfisch has worked on numerous movies all varying genres. CONQUEST 1453, HAMMER OF THE GODS, A CURE FOR LIFE and PRESSURE among them, plus he scored the TV mini-series THE ENFIELD HAUNTING. The score for ANNABELLE CREATION is a commanding one and a soundtrack that at times is fully atonal but then shifts a gear and alters direction becoming somewhat melancholy and warm with an almost childlike air about it. But, and with horror scores and films there is always a but isn’t there, BUT, underneath the safe and secure sounding interludes there is percolating a seething and ominously foreboding sound that is filled to the brim with terrifying stabs and laced with virulent and guttural passages that infiltrate the work and overwhelm any signs of calm and traces of serenity.
The opening track, THE CREATION is at first a low-key affair, with Barry-esque strings and woods intertwining to create a melodic and delicate sounding piece, the strings become more prominent but then the composer moves the composition into a more sinister sounding persona, with a slightly off kilter piano adding a touch of menace and apprehension to the proceedings. The cue turns darker towards the end of its duration, with the appearance of swirling strings that purvey an atmosphere of tension and anxiety bringing it to a close. Track number two, THE MULLINS FAMILY, is a brief but pleasant and effecting piece for piano, the fragile sounding piano being underlined by delicate use of the string section. Track number three, A NEW HOME is slightly less edgy and foreboding initially, with a warm yet melancholy sounding cello solo giving depth to the composition, but all the time there is a somewhat uneasy background or underlying sound which although in the background seems to prevail above the cello and alerts the listener that maybe not all is quite right.
Track number four, BEE’S ROOM is where the score really begins to get into the deep and evil sounding material, the composer effectively employing the string section to conjure up an atmosphere that is uncomfortable and chilling, but saying this mid-way through piano begins to intervene and adds a calming quality. There are no calm or subdued nuances within track number five however, ANNABELLE AWAKENED, opens with strings again, which effectively hiss and swirl in a maelstrom of sounds which are bolstered using brass stabs, electronics and muffled percussive elements. ANNABELLE-CREATION is a score that is at times delicate and even fragile, but along the way there are many surprises musically speaking, which literally jump out at the listener and grab their attention. It is a classy horror score, with something for everyone within it, it is inventive, commanding, perplexing and above all, down-right scary, with an almost unrelenting aura of menace being dominant throughout, until track number, twenty one, THE HOUSE IS BLESSED when the composer adds a little bit of hope in the form of melodic strings, and also in ADOPTION with a piano solo which I would say puts one at ease, but with this score one never knows whether it’s safe to let your guard down, and this certainly applies as we go to the last cue from the score CONDUIT which is a filled with a terrifying and chaotic sound as if the evil is returning after a brief respite.
So concludes our look at just a few Haunted House movies, there are so many, it would as you know be impossible to mention all. Just remember if you are thinking of renting a holiday home or even buying a new house and the estate agent tells you this place is haunted, walk away, or better still RUN!.