Tag Archives: horror

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten original scores from Tangerine Dream

The 80’s are coming back in a big way within film and television and with them comes the always awesome sonic synth sounds of that era. One of the pioneering musical influences and inspirations in this movement is German electronic group Tangerine Dream, consisting of group members Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and a whole host of others who contributed over the years. They literally have hundreds of albums due to the simple fact that they loved to experiment with sound and release all sorts of eclectic material, first on tactile vinyl and these days strewn across the internet like hidden treasure. They also worked heavily in film, lending their pulsating, ethereal, gorgeous and incomparable aesthetic to many genre cult films throughout the 80’s. They are my favourite film composers of all time and it’s hard to pick but I narrowed their work down to ten of my favourite original compositions for film! Enjoy:

10. Rainbow Drive (1990)

This is admittedly an unspectacular film, an L.A. noir starring Robocop’s Peter Weller as one tough cop caught up in your garden variety political conspiracy complete with extortion and murder. The score here is driving, grungy while still airy with just the right hints of menace and murky danger. Favourite track: the moody, slow crawling opening theme.

9. Flashpoint (1984)

Another noirish conspiracy flick, this is set in the New Mexico desert and sees two opportunistic border guards (Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams) run afoul of dark forces headed by a cynically corrupt federal agent (Kurtwood Smith) and apparent ties to the Kennedy assassination. The work here is arid, dusty and atmospheric, accenting the remote, lonely locations well and swelling up portentously when danger looms over the sun n’ sand drenched horizon. Favourite track: Highway Patrol, a clap of rolling backroad thunder that suggests the danger to come.

8. Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985)

This old school fantasy is mostly remembered for a young Tom Cruise as the hero and Tim Curry as evil itself with a demon getup that puts the Devil from Tenacious D to shame. Dream composes a lyrical, melodic playlist here that holds the beautiful imagery and special effects onscreen nicely. Favourite track: ‘Loved By The Sun’, a particularly lovely passage of ambience.

7. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)

This fierce, arresting adventure film sees several lowlifes and hard-cases from around the world transporting giant trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. You can imagine the fun that Dream would have composing this score and they don’t disappoint, their score doesn’t properly kick in until we first see the trucks nearly halfway through the film, but when it does you feel it like a sonic boom. Favourite track: ‘Betrayal’, an intensely affecting, dark hued composition.

6. Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)

The elemental group goes decidedly more urban in Mann’s early career crime masterpiece about an expert safecracker (James Caan) taking one one last heist. The music is moody, dark and nocturnal to suit Mann’s blooming aesthetic we know so well today. Favourite track: ‘Final Confrontation’, a sweeping piece that plays overtop a blisteringly cathartic slow motion shootout and carries over into the end credits with epic grit and grace.

5. Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore and David Keith battle nefarious government forces in this thrilling Stephen King adaptation, made more so by Dream’s rhapsodic score, which suits the supernatural, trippy tone of this story so perfectly. Favourite track: ‘Charley The Kid’, a layered, star speckled composition that has a forceful edge appropriate for the character but also a playful curiosity that reflects her childlike mind.

4. Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988)

A film about a potential nuclear attack on Los Angeles seems like it would have a traditional Hollywood-esque score but this is the brilliant, unconventional cult classic that is Miracle Mile and it greatly benefits from the talents of Dream to make it so. Their proverbial surname fits like a glove here because there is an overall dreamy aura to this nocturnal neon nightmare, I’ve had a few dreams myself about impending, inevitable nuclear or otherwise inflicted disaster, probably why I connect so well with this material. The score may seem counterintuitive but there’s a momentous drive to it and lighter, brisk areas to underscore the very sweet romance at its core. Favourite track: ‘Running Out Of Time, which sets the ‘anything can happen’, pins and needles apprehensive mood just amazingly.

3. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)

Any hardcore GTA fan knows that the main musical component that everyone looks forward to and remembers are the car radio soundtrack choices, but there’s also original scores deftly layered into the action, missions and cutscenes. Everything from heists to shootouts to plane rides to car chases to boat derby’s and every spectacle in between is outlined here in a California-lite series of compositions that see Dream slightly evolve out of their 80’s synth sensibilities yet still retain the essential soul that says ‘this is our work.’ Favourite track: ‘North Yankton Memories’… because I couldn’t count the amount of times this brilliant piece kicks in the minute I do something naughty, that two star wanted level pops up and the LSPD come careening down the highway after me.

2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987)

Atmosphere haunts this cult vampire western about a young cowboy (Adrian Pasdar) seduced by a gorgeous waif (Jenny Wright) and swept you in the brutal nomadic lifestyle of her roving clan. Desert sunsets, blood on chrome, choking smoke, hurtling police vehicles and the occasional moment of nocturnal solitude, it’s a rigorous, ravishing aesthetic and Dream gives it their all with an intermittently droning and ariose work. Favourite track: ‘Mae’s Theme’, a low key, hovering piece that accents the tragic nature of her character.

1. Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983)

This film is something of an artifact, hacked to pieces in the editing process by the dipshits at Paramount, causing Mann to disown the film and yank any distribution rights. One day he’ll cool off and we’ll get a decent Blu Ray. It’s a stunning piece of pseudo Lovecraft WWII supernatural horror and one of my favourite films. Dream’s score echoes throughout the halls of this Romanian structure as German soldiers, metaphysical warriors and Jewish historians try and piece together the meaning behind this ancient place. Favourite track: ‘Gloria’, a synth laden piece with orchestral strains and beautiful vocal work, full of mystery and reverence.

-Nate Hill

TNT’s Salem’s Lot

I have not read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot nor have I seen the 70’s film adaptions but damn I have to say this 2004 TNT miniseries version is one lazy pile of garbage. It’s one of those shows that they released onto DVD as one movie and as such it has a runtime of like three hours not separated by episodes. That length of time seemed empty and devoid of story, they could have just as easily told this in a 90 minute slot, but that’s the least of its issues, really.

Rob Lowe is a weird choice to play an introspective, lone wolf writer who returns back home to a small town under threat from a malevolent force. That’s not to say he’s incapable of more intense work that shirks his pretty boy image, it’s just that someone less flashy and obvious would have made more sense here. He also narrates the thing like he’s casually reading a teleprompter over coffee, I didn’t think anyone would be able to make Stephen King’s rich prose sound like stereo instructions but his inner delivery is flat and soulless. He plays Ben Mears, a disgraced journalist researching domestic trauma in his childhood burg, but discovers something way worse. A spooky old antiques dealer (Donald Sutherland) has some backhanded deal with ancient vampire Kurt Barlow (Rutger Hauer) and is flooding the area with unspeakable evil. This is in amongst a tangled cobweb of stupid subplots, atrocious acting from the no name supporting characters and just an overall murky, lazy, drab feel.

I mainly tracked this down for Hauer, who is reliably fine as the supernatural villain but isn’t given nearly enough screen time and just somehow feels like a cameo, as does Sutherland who hams it up a bit but still can’t raise a pulse for this thing. James Cromwell has enough grit to play vampire slaying preacher Callahan who I fondly remember from the Dark Tower novels. Andre Braugher and Samantha Mathis are not bad as other townsfolk swept up into the incomprehensible threat but the acting pedigree stops right there, they hired some seriously deplorable people for the rest of the roles and at times it’s hard to watch. I will give the music some props though, it’s an atmospheric composition with beautifully eerie lyrics from Lisa Gerrard (Man On Fire, Gladiator) that honestly deserves a way better outlet than this mess. One of the only good things I can say about it is that it has the mid 2000’s cozy late night cable TV feel to it, and I have some mad nostalgia for that but even then it’s kind of my bias and that compliment can’t be accredited to the success of the project itself, which is largely nonexistent. Boring, mumbly, not even remotely scary, overcast and rainy but not even in the cool ambient way, awkward, shitty bargain basement CGI, clunky, about an hour and a half too long, man the list of shit just goes on. Avoid.

-Nate Hill

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria

I’m not usually too lenient on remakes of my favourite films and 1977’s Suspiria would have been a deal breaker, but holy goddamn if they didn’t do it justice and then some with 2018’s fierce, austere, unrelentingly gruesome update. It shouldn’t even be called a remake anyways as besides title and general premise, it’s an entirely different beast possessing of its own unique aesthetic and themes far removed from Dario Argento’s vision. Italian director Luca Guadagnino is not a voice I’m familiar with, I haven’t seen a single other film he’s done and looking at his credits it seems this is his first venture into the horror genre, a winning first stroke for sure.

The visual atmosphere here is decidedly different and that’s part of what makes this such a piece all its own. Argento’s neon bathed, opulently saturated colour and lighting is traded in for bleak greys, browns, sickly beiges and suffocated hues that breed uncomfortably onscreen for something less attractive yet far more unsettling than the bejewelled beauty of its predecessor. It also fits the late 70’s Berlin setting which as history reminds us was pretty fucking grim. Young Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) journeys from an Ohio Mennonite community to the prestigious Markos dance academy, which as fans of this story know, is front for a nasty coven of ancient witches. Things go awry almost from the second she arrives but the film plays deftly with who and what it means to be a protagonist here and we see a dynamic shift from other girls (played solidly by Mia Goth and Chloë Grace Moretz) who get suspicious and then wish they hadn’t. The school is run by angular, mercurial shryke Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton in one of three roles, because apparently she can do anything.

So is this a better film than Argento’s original? There is of course no right answer to that and I don’t even think they should be compared alongside one another, they may as well be from different galaxies, let alone genres. There’s a sense of diseased malfeasance to these witches, who go out on the town, drink and party just like anyone else but are anything but human. I loved the decision to change Susie’s character from doe eyed heroine to an eerily intuitive avatar with a seemingly dark destiny already written in blood years before. The film wanders about in draft filled hallways, echoey dance studios and chilly, depressing Berlin streets for much of the runtime until the climax arrives, and holy fuck I was not expecting this to go the whole nine yards into outright wanton, surrealistic chaos horror mode. There’s a crazily violent collective piece of mania that happens deep within the bowels of the school building that might be one of my new favourite set pieces in any horror film ever. It tells this story through image, impression, carnage, lighting and fantastic performances from all involved including a terrifying cameo from the grim reaper itself. All set to a hauntingly unconventional score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, it’s not a sequence I’ll soon forget and propels the overall film into classic territory. What an experience.

-Nate Hill

Ari Aster’s Midsommar

I didn’t expect to be saying this but Ari Aster’s Midsommar is, for the most part, a colossal waste of time and talent. It sucks to have to bash this given my level of anticipation for a follow up to Hereditary which is one of the most effectively terrifying films I’ve ever seen, but this thing not only pales in comparison but just kind of cavorts about in broad daylight for an excessively bloated runtime, provides *no* effective scares and then just… ends.

The most successful and engaging scenes show up in the first ten minutes of the film: after a harrowing tragedy that wipes out the family of Dani (Florence Pugh), the camera swoops through an open window to observe a snowy winter landscape while the minimalist opening credits appear, accented by an eerie score. It’s a haunting prologue that sets atmosphere and tone like nobody’s business… and then the resulting film falls flat on its inbred face. This thing was marketed more aggressively than the super bowl so by now you know the drill: Dani is accompanying her neglectful boyfriend (Jack Reynor) to a remote Swedish commune where one of their friends has ancestral roots. They aim to study these amiable pagan bumpkins for an anthropological thesis but it soon turns out they’re anything but amiable and in fact they’ve wandered into a freaky occult ritual as unwilling participants.

So, what works here? The beautifully off kilter score, for one. The cinematography, fascinating production design and undeniably striking artistry in costumes are all wonderful on their own terms. Pugh’s performance is deeply felt when the script allows for it to develop properly, but see that brings me to the fucking many things that don’t work. The film is two and a half hours long which it just absolutely doesn’t need to be, and for most of that time we’re forced to watch this ridiculous group of insane loonies and their absurd customs play out for so long that any semblance of story gets lost in maypole dancing, sustained singing and all manner of ritualistic bullshit. Here’s the thing with Hereditary versus this film: in the former, real life trauma was used to gild and intertwine with the esoteric external threat for an oppressive, unbearably down to earth yet somehow also otherworldly experience, both sides of the coin proving effective as all hell. With this film the grounded trauma is shown early on and then cheerfully abandoned for a flower adorned theme park ride of empty, hollow Wicker Man shenanigans that don’t address, conjure up or call back to our protagonist’s trauma in any way whatsoever, and that is key in this film’s resounding failure. Dani has been through the kind of event (I won’t spoil it) that is so horrific and traumatic that it either drives a person mad, to suicide or in some cases births the kind of resilience so that they may rise above it, gain strength and unlock a new facet of their being. This film allows her none of that, betraying a real, tangible story for something lost up in the clouds doing its own dumb dumb thing for goddamn forever until you just want to call in an air strike on the whole commune and firebomb this dreary set of non-events from existence. What. A. Mess.

In closing I’d like to recommend a far better pagan folk horror tale that has more torque under its hood than this turd: Gareth Evans’s Apostle, a frightening tale of another outsider finding madness in a small occult community, you’ll be glad you chose that over Midsommar’s ingratiating lack of focus or vision.

-Nate Hill

The Glass House

The Glass House is one of those silly, sensationalist, bombastic pieces of melodramatic domestic turmoil branding itself as the slickest thriller on the block. It thinks it’s a lot smarter, more suspenseful and shocking than it actually is and despite the fact that it’s a total riot of bad movie cliches and overcooked hoo-hah, I still had a bit of fun with it. The main reason it kind of works is casting; Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard are just watchable in anything no matter the quality, and here you get to see them play the world’s worst foster parents to two wayward orphans (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan). They at first seem like nice, caring folks: they’re rich, well put together, hospitable and live in a big old house atop a hill that’s just secluded enough to come in handy later when things go wrong. Soon it becomes apparent these two are whackos though. Skarsgard’s Terry is a dangerous manipulator who is hellbent on nabbing the kid’s four million trust fund left by their parents, while Lane’s Erin is an unstable junkie prone to weird outbursts and scary behaviour. It’s tough since no one really believes these kids and the whole thing circles the drain to one of those hilariously over the top forgone thriller conclusions that has a chase, several implausible fights, some cat and mouse stuff and plenty of villainous posturing from the two leads. Sobieski is always solid (see Joyride for a much better thriller starring her), Skarsgard no stranger to playing unhinged psychos and Lane although cast against her sweetheart type rocks the batshit chick aesthetic well. They’re all just stuck in such a formulaic, dull ass, waterlogged script that doesn’t step an inch out of line or do anything different than we’ve seen loads of times before. The only thing that really stands out beyond being adequate is the lighting, which really cracks on blu Ray. Other than that and the game performances it’s a trip through mediocrity town.

-Nate Hill

Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman

There’s no nice way to put this: Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is a fucking embarrassing mess of a film. It frequently looks very beautiful but stunning snowy visuals can only get you so far in a film whose story is so jagged it’s borderline nonexistent. Based on an airport thriller novel, this tries to be a grisly murder mystery in the vein of Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or something and ends up stumbling over its own lopsided narrative, getting lost in a sea of serial killer cliches and providing a host of excellent actors with basically jack shit to do.

Michael Fassbender is Detective Harry Hole (snicker), hard bitten Oslo lawman who comes across a serial murderer who leaves victim’s bloody scarves wrapped around an eerie looking snowman. So begins an impenetrable investigation dating decades back and relating (somehow) to a bunch of characters whose involvement just seems out of nowhere really. There’s a set of twins played by Chloe Sevigny, who always picks edgy, boundary pushing roles but seems listless and lost here. J.K. Simmons shows up briefly with a horrendous Norwegian accent as the police captain overseeing the case. Others meander in and out including Rebecca Ferguson, James D’arcy, Toby Jones, Adrian Dunbar and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Oh yeah and Val Kilmer too, playing a cop in flashbacks who lost his mind trying to find this killer, with godawful dubbing over his voice. At one point he actually steps out his office window and paces out onto a ledge like he wants nothing more than to escape this train wreck of a film. What a cast, just thrown to the winds.

I remember when the trailer for this came out, I couldn’t have been more excited for it. Snowy setting, eerie serial killer mystery, hard boiled cop with his own demons, I mean it’s so much up my alley it was practically knocking on my door. I answered by seeing the thing finally and wish I just stayed inside. The resulting film seems like it was thrown into a snowblower for editing and just launched across a field for release with little thought for character, incident, motivation, suspense or anything remotely engaging. It’s a shame because up until this, Alfredson’s track record was pretty impeccable. A straight up dud.

-Nate Hill

Ready Or Not

You ever have a game night with people who take that shit just a bit too seriously? Well for new bride Samara Weaving, such is most definitely the case. She’s marrying into an impossibly rich, pompous and slightly creepy family, and on the midnight stroke of her wedding night they want to play a game with her, an initiation rite of sorts. Could be Uno, could be checkers or crib, but god help them all if she pulls the hide and seek card. Ready Or Not is a brutal, breathless, hilarious and grisly horror comedy that plays like a big soup mix of Knives Out, The Evil Dead, The Most Dangerous Game, Meet The Parents, The Looney Toons and… well I shouldn’t compare it to all that much because it’s got its own thing going on too, and I fucking loved the dementedly high strung, black comedy saturated aesthetic.

Weaving is a phenomenal talent, who you’ll remember as the sinister but smokin hot Babysitter in the Netflix film of the same name. She bears such a striking resemblance to Margot Robbie that up until now it thought it *was* Margot in this flick, but she’s just as awesome. Basically she’s stuck in a grand old Clue-esque manor while her obnoxious, flippant, asshole in-laws hunt her down with antiquated weapons that look like they’re pilfered off that angry ass colonial hunter from Jumanji. There’s all kinds of hijinks, gory set pieces and an ending that is so off the map of WTF-ness and unexpected pandemonium I had to give it a the ol’ royal slow clap for effort and ingenuity. Scene stealers include the always deadpan Henry Czerny as the clan’s smarmy, perpetually cheesed off patriarch, Adam Brody as his very conflicted son and beloved Andie MacDowell as the two-faced dragon of a matriarch. This is tongue in cheek territory and then some, I mean the concept is right out of a darker version of Saturday Night Live or something. Weaving is just so great, turning white hot panic into exasperated anger and truly getting some exemplary, crowd pleasing moments of extreme violence, especially towards the family’s hapless butler (John Ralston). If you’re a fan of down n’ dirty, super gory and utterly hilarious horror mayhem, this is pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.

-Nate Hill