Tag Archives: horror

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten Original Scores by James Horner

James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!

10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs

He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.

9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.

8. James Cameron’s Aliens

His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.

7. Ron Howard’s Willow

Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.

6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall

Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.

5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.

4. James Cameron’s Titanic

This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.

3. James Cameron’s Avatar

Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.

2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.

1. Ron Howard’s The Missing

This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.

Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate

For a film about some book written by the Devil, old Satan is curiously absent from Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a gorgeous looking but frustratingly muddled and ultimately incomprehensible pseudo religious mumbo jumbo thriller starring Johnny Depp and his trusty librarian’s man purse. Depp is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer known to be ‘thoroughly unscrupulous’ by his peers for his cunning habit of ripping off clueless clients. He’s a decent-ish guy though and is moral enough to be kind of shook when millionaire manuscript collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, never hammier) and his hilarious pinstripe suit commission him to track down an ancient volume said to be written by Lucifer himself. This leads him on a Europe trotting spot of intrigue to compare Balkan’s copy to two others and look for clues that might help this collective bunch of spooky book nerds summon the devil… or something like that. This is either one complex film that was just beyond my tired ass or one confused film that Polanski didn’t really know what to do with other than give it the slow burn Rosemary’s Baby effort. The problem is, there’s nothing in the kerosene lamp *to* slow burn here, it’s just an undercooked series of chases, extended discussions on theology and satanism and one very silly, very cliched summoning ceremony complete with baroque robes and hundreds candlelit stone chambers as only rural Europe can provide. What works about it? The supporting cast is nicely placed. Langella has a lot of fun as the maniacal zealot and I was thinking the whole time that they just should have casted *him* as the Devil to amp up the proceedings, he already has the look. Lena Olin is appropriately savage as a vicious cultist bitch who fornicates with Depp and runs off into the night. The underrated James Russo has a nice bit as Dean’s rare book dealer buddy. Impossibly sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is some supernatural siren who follows Depp around like a vulture and uses her snazzy powers to assist him when necessary, for purposes the film never feels the need to even tell us. There’s a terrifically unconventional score by Wojciech Kilar, who also put his talents towards eccentrically spooky work in Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is perfectly suited for oddly eerie compositions. Depp is strangely ineffective here and is either stressed, smoking, slamming cocktails or wandering about in a trench coat daze while nondescript forces of muddy menace muster around him. And the ending? Fuck if I know, man. I mean it works as a neat tour guide of some really pretty Europeans cities and towns, the atmosphere is very evocative, the supporting actors all give wonderful work but it’s like somehow the lynchpin of it all, and I suspect it’s the script, is just… absent. It’s sad because this premise with all the talent involved should have been something truly frightening and memorable and instead it’s just kind of.. meh.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Lee Performances

Christopher Lee was the kind of guy that came to mind whenever you heard the term ‘commanding presence.’ He had a legendary career that bridged the gap from 70’s Hammer horror fare all the way to being a regular in Tim Burton films as well as memorable voiceover work and a handful of instantly recognizable roles in iconic Sci-Fi/fantasy franchises. The one aspect to this wonderful actor was his strikingly deep voice, like molasses poured over mahogany and put to use in countless treasured performances. These are my personal ten favourite!

10. Victor in Disney’s Return From Witch Mountain

This is an admittedly lacklustre sequel to a magical Disney classic but it’s on here for a reason. I grew up with Escape To Witch Mountain, I’ve seen it a trillion times and I waited forever for Disney to release this one from the vault. It’s enjoyable if not as amazing as the first but I really loved seeing Lee as the darkly charismatic mad scientist who wants to harvest the hero’s supernatural powers, stepping in for Ray Milland’s maniacal billionaire antagonist from the first film.

9. Rochefort in The Three Musketeers

This is a totemic role for me because many actors I adore have played it including Michael Wincott in the 90’s as well as Tim Roth and Mads Mikkelsen more recently. This 1973 musketeers film is admittedly a silly version but Lee makes an imposing incarnation of the one eyed anti-musketeer.

8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Jinnah

I’ve admittedly only seen part of this on TV in Europe but it’s one of Lee’s personal favourite roles that he himself cherishes and an important piece of acting/filmmaking. Jinnah was the political founder of Pakistan and a man who believed that all human beings everywhere have the right to worship whichever god they choose and can coexist and be free. It’s a stunning performance from the man and if you YouTube any interviews where he is asked what roles he cherishes most in his career he always brings it up and you can feel how important it is and how much it meant to him playing that historical figure.

7. Dr. Catheter in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch

If there’s one thing Lee was great at it was keeping a straight face in the midst of sheer lunacy. He’s a maniacal scientist hellbent on weird experiments here as the huge high rise building he works in becomes infested with nasty Mogwai, and he plays it pricelessly deadpan.

6. Burgomaster in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

He’s only in this for like two minutes right at the beginning but he basically singlehandedly sets the mood with a couple lines. I’m not sure what a ‘burgomaster’ is but he appears to be some kind of austere judge who dispatches Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow and is the first character in the film to actually say the town’s name in that iconic voice.

5. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

The legacy of this awesome British cult horror film is obviously now scarred by the obnoxious Nic Cage remake but seek it out anyways, Lee plays the deeply philosophical and extremely unnerving head of a pagan cult with supernatural proclivities and a hostile attitude towards puritans. He embodies this charismatic fiend with affability that swiftly turns into menace, a very fascinating antagonist.

4. Dracula in a bunch of Dracula films

Lee in the Vampire getup is such totemic symbol of 60’s/70’s horror, what can I say. I haven’t seen all the Dracula stuff he did but the image of him as the character is imprinted in my pop culture subconscious as I imagine it is for many.

3. Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun

One of the classiest, most dangerous and cool Bond villains, an assassin for hire with a literal golden gun and a… uh… third nipple. Lee is calm, sociopathic and deadly as the guy, who enjoys killing people a lot and is good at it too.

2. Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

My second favourite Star Wars antagonist after Darth Maul, Dooku is a no good scheming arch-baddie who incites a war, pits intergalactic factions against each other and masterminds one of the most memorable gladiator arena matches in cinema history. He gives the guy an ever so slight air of aristocracy and swings around a cool curve handled lightsaber like nobody’s business.

1. Saruman The White in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings

This was the first film I ever saw him in and will always be the character I remember him for. He’s unbelievably intense, measured in line delivery and incredibly malevolent in an implosive portrait of power hungry mania. Saruman is the wizard gone bad, and Christopher takes full advantage of that arc, not to mention nailing the stark look of the character wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train

More like The Midnight Mess Train. Man this was a royal disaster. I get that there was a Clive Barker short behind it and yeah it’s probably a cool one as he’s a great storyteller but man if you’re going to adapt something that scant you at least have to give it more than just a vague blueprint and an endless, grinding parade of gratuitous, painfully CGI gore that serves no other purpose other than to perpetuate itself in scene after scene of disgusting, unsatisfying carnage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gore-hound and a horror nut but there’s something called pacing, context and artistic style and the violence in this has none of that, it’s as flat, drab and unpleasant as I’d imagine the meat slaughterhouse we see multiple times is.

Bradley Cooper used to do a ton of cool genre stuff before he went Oscar titan on us and he’s engaging enough as an NYC art world photographer who is searching for those perfect, edgy shots of the city’s underworld, a vocation that pushes him into nocturnal escapades where he inevitably sees something he shouldn’t. That something here is well dressed, mute, homicidal bulldozer Mahogany, a spectacularly violent serial killer who rides the late subway train and literally butchers people like cattle for some unseen, hidden purpose. Of course he starts to notice Cooper tailing him and isn’t too stoked. His life begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with finding out Mahogany’s deal to the point that it affects his relationship to his girlfriend, played by the lovely Leslie Bibb in one of the rare times they actually give her a role deserving of her untapped talent.

The problem with this is it makes not a goddamn lick of sense. Why is Mahogany killing people on the train? Does he have an employer or is he just a wild card loner? The film makes a half assed attempt to answer those questions but unfortunately it’s way too preoccupied with torture porn to tell it’s story clearly, succinctly or even remotely in a way that grabs us. There’s only so many shots of Jones bashing people’s heads in with a giant meat tenderizing hammer before our brains turn to the same mush it inflicts and we just. Don’t. Care. And the gore is often done in this really weird, closeup/slo-mo/lame way like the film was meant to be seen in 3D or something but they never bothered to even finish the process and we’re left with video game cutscene gore. It’s a shame because there are aspects that shine. Jones is incredibly menacing, he’s always had a terrific presence as an actor and the Mahogany character on his own terms is pretty frightening, until the film does his shtick to death. Bibb is terrific and I really felt for her as the poor girlfriend dragged into a nightmare, it’s also not one of those horror flicks where the significant other doesn’t believe the protagonist’s wild predicament to the point of abandoning them, she actually tries to help and I liked that character choice. I really liked Brooke Shields as an art world shark who talent scouts Cooper’s work, there’s a directness and genuine intelligence to her acting that turns a quick cameo into something very memorable. But holy shit man, most of the film is just ridiculous, poorly lit bloodshed and I get they’re on a dark subway train underground but even then dude… find your angles, set up your lighting, set aside time to colour grade… have some fucking pride in your craft. And for god’s sake know when enough gore is enough and your audience just wants to tap out and go watch Candyman again, another film based on Barker lore that knows when to use violence to shock or frighten, not to beat us over the head with it like Mahogany and his hammer until we’re in a vegetative state and just want to turn the tv off. A midnight meat train wreck if I ever saw one.

-Nate Hill

Basketball porcupines from outer space: Nate takes a look at the Critters franchise

This one kind of demands to be observed and reviewed as a quadrilogy instead of four separate films because they flow into one another and so do many horror franchises that spawned a ton of sequels, but each of the Critters films are under ninety minutes and therefore easy to binge. Add to that the fact that there’s a handy DVD four pack floating around out there for extra convenience and you’ve got one cool little package. It would be easy to dismiss these films as a giant ripoff of Gremlins and indeed there are discernible parallels but there is both enough anatomical and characteristically different features to these creatures as well as narrative originality in the films themselves to make them a franchise worthy of distinction. Plus, ya know, Leonardo DiCaprio in his first movie, like, ever.

So what are Critters? They’re an extremely troublesome, destructive race of outlaw aliens that kind of resemble a hybrid between porcupines, gorillas and… basketballs. They arrive on earth and quite literally roll around like basketballs with no real plan other than to evade a couple shape shifting cosmic bounty hunters dispatched to exterminate them as well as bite, chew, maim and terrify every human being they come across. The first film would kind of have an Amblin/Spielberg vibe if the critters weren’t so savage and R rated in nature, which is a perfect example of why this isn’t simply a Gremlins rehash. The evolved Mogwai were nasty little shits, no doubt, but these things are positively murderous and inflict the kind of gore that Romero would be proud of. The first two films take place in wistful Grover’s Bend, one of those sleepy little American towns where nothing bad ever happens until it does and then the town is never known for anything else *except* that incident. An apple pie rural family headed up by the great Dee Wallace must confront them and defend their farmhouse from critter advances in super gory, chaotic fashion. Oh and Billy Zane shows up with a painfully 80’s ponytail too, before being quickly dispatched in a barn. The second film is more of the same although they thought they could sneakily recast the great M. Emmett Walsh with decidedly less iconic Barry Corbin as the town Sheriff, nice try. The third film is the most effective and not just for Leo Dicaprio but also because the setting change from rural county to dilapidated big city tenement building is way more spookily atmospheric, and allows for some hilarious hijinks with a laundry chute. The fourth film should be great because it’s that obligatory horror entry that’s set in space (like Jason X or Leprechaun In Space or.. wasn’t there even a Hellraiser in space?) but it kind of plods along in humdrum territory, the critters don’t even show up until like over halfway through and the only really memorable work comes from the ever awesome Brad Dourif and the luminous Angela Bassett.

The one character besides the Critters that holds these four flicks together is a town drunk turned intergalactic warrior played by Don Keith Opper, who is kind of a weird, aloof dude but provides each new film with eccentric gusto while new supporting players surround him. DiCaprio shows signs of his career to come and carries the highlight third entry nicely, while the first two feel very much akin to one another in a sort of Halloween and Halloween 2 kind of way. Low budget slapdash cheese like this is my bread and butter, I’m very fond of 80’s trash horror franchises like this and was beyond stoked to see the DVD at Walmart last second before going through the til and be able to binge all four films in one night. They’re great fare of this shit is your cup of tea, and they have this maniacal, almost Evil Dead style comedic sensibility to them that I greatly appreciated. My favourite scene of the whole thing: Dee Wallace brandishes a giant double barrel shotgun out her front door to ward off two Critters incoming up the driveway. Suddenly they speak to each other in some Furby gibberish with subtitles, one observing “They have weapons!” “So?”, his buddy retorts. Dee fires off a round that obliterates one of the two beasts into a puddle of fur and blood. The other one looks over and exclaims “Fuck!” in their weird little outer space creole dialect. I love that warped sense of humour gifted unto these scrappy little flicks, they’re a ton of fun.

-Nate Hill

Fritz Böhm’s Wildling

It’s always neat when a filmmaker gets to direct a feature for the first time and gain traction with their debut, one can sometimes get a sense of a fascinating career to come from an artist’s initial output. German director Fritz Böhm scores huge points in this arena with his debut feature Wildling, a wonderful concoction of folk horror sensibilities, a coming of age tale, lycanthropic creature effects, moody ethereal atmospheres and odes to Grimm Fairytale lore. It’s a lot to take on but never feels like too much for him or his accomplished cast of actors who all give beautiful performances.

Ana (Bel Powley) is a young girl who is raised alone in a remote cabin by a man she knows only as Daddy (Brad Dourif). He tells her her she cannot go outside for fear of the Wildling, a monster who eats children and hunts for her as she is the last of her kind. When she becomes a teenager things get complicated and through circumstance she finds herself in the outside world, a small town whose Sheriff (Liv Tyler) takes her in. She’s changing though and as the encroaching Northwest wilderness surrounds the town like an elemental spirit, so too does her emerging true nature haunt these people and cause fear and hatred, especially in a few folks who have hunted her race in the nearby mountains for generations while a mysterious, silent woodsman (cult actor James LeGros is right at home in this type of thing) hover around the woods around them.

This is an absolutely gorgeous film and hits hard for a number of reasons. Powell is a great find and turns confused naïveté into fearsome, raw primal power in a very physical performance. Brad Dourif is legendary and pretty much incapable of work that is not astonishing, and here too he provides a tragic, violent, conflicted and very intense portrayal of a man whose actions and decisions follow him like a storm. The film is beautifully shot, fluidly edited, the story is rich, deep yet never over complicated or stuffed with any stale exposition. Paul Haslinger, formerly of Tangerine Dream, composers an earthy, ambient and altogether classic original score full of nature’s essence, the danger of forests at night and the visceral thrill of discovering ones very own identity for the first time. It’s drama, horror, folklore and more in one seamless package and I love it.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: Area 51 for PlayStation 2

It’s always best when the character you play as in a game is voiced by someone super cool with genre ties to the subject matter, whatever it may be. In Area 51 you descend into a top secret military base in response to a nasty viral contamination as Ethan Cole, a covert badass played by David Duchovny who cements the SciFi X Files vibe nicely, although the game is obviously more in shooter territory rather than investigative federal intrigue. Cole must navigate a dangerous subterranean environment as the contamination spreads and mutates the soldiers around him. No soldier game would be complete without dissension in the ranks and another sketchy team moves in headed up by hotshot Major Bridges (Powers Boothe), as well as a pesky doctor (Ian Abercrombie, who was Alfred Pennyworth in the old school Birds Of Prey cable show) who gets in the way. I’ve always thought that Marilyn Manson looks kind of like an extraterrestrial and apparently so do the makers of this game because they cast him as an alien defector named Edgar who has been held captive by the government and is none too pleased about it. I have only hazy memories of this game as I was perpetually stoned when I played it and I can’t remember if I ever made it to the end. I do recall the voice acting, Manson is cool and spacey, Boothe is his classic tough guy persona but it’s just a real treat having Duchovny play the lead, he’s got such a casual affability to his line delivery that feels both comforting and nicely nostalgic for The X Files. Cool game.

-Nate Hill