Welcome to a big bold, ravenous monster of a horror score, but first, perhaps
an explanation is in order regarding the nature of the beast. In 1958 master
of the exploitation gimmick movie William Castle, made a cheap Vincent Price
feature under the title House on Haunted Hill. The following year
Shirley Jackson published her famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House,
which Robert Wise turned into the outstanding 1963 film, The Haunting.
Earlier this year, Jan De Bont directed a new adaptation of the Jackson novel,
which, for contractual reasons, most specifically was not a remake of the
Robert Wise film, yet strangely, kept its simplified title. Hollywood seems
to have a fondest for doing things in twos, and now just a few months later,
comes the remake of House on Haunted Hill, which, just to confuse
matters, bears marked similarities to the plot of The Haunting. The
new version of The Haunting was executively-produced by Steven Spielberg,
while this new House on Haunted Hill lists as one of the co-producers,
Spielberg protégé, Robert Zemeckis. How such top directors
could have been behind two such apparently awful movies must remain a mystery:
still haunted by the headache-inducing horror that was Speed 2, I
avoided De Bont's The Haunting, while the American reception of House
on Haunted Hill suggests a badly made, suspense free bloodbath of sickening
After the functional, all electronic, Universal Soldier: The Return,
House on Haunted Hill happily sees Don Davis equipped with a budget
once more, sufficient to pull out all the stops for a display of magnificently
full-blooded thunder. Here we have orchestra, chorus, plus extra credits
for guitar and percussion, and Mr Davis himself on synthesisers. Several
cues feature an organ, but this is not listed in the credits, so is presumably
The Main Title is simply splendid, a doom-laden Gothic organ motif over
foreboding strings sets the scene for epic events, for horror with a grandeur
not heard since Patrick Doyle's score for Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein. 'Pencil Neck' is a ferocious display of presumably Latin
voices, thoroughly unnerving and absolutely relentless in a way which would
have been unimaginable before Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen.
The sound is extraordinarily dynamic and confrontational, designed simply
to terrify. It works so well that it is not an enjoyable listening experience.
The voices, and the organ (notably on the arppegiated sequence of 'Sorry,
Tulip'), return on a selection of tracks, but Davis has other devices up
his musical sleeve, mixing orchestral and electronic atmospheres to imaginative
effect on a range of cues, several of which, without being openly derivative,
suggest that he would be an excellent choice to score any future addition
to the Alien series. Just listen to 'No Exit', 'Gun Control' or
Being a horror score, Davis inevitably has to mix all-out assault, with
something-nasty-is-about-to-happen suspense music, but he does so with a
degree of nasty invention which makes this a superior work. An Arab inflected
melody runs through 'Price Pestiferous', overlaid with uncanny voice, while
elsewhere treated voices and processed electronic samples create wild nightmarish
soundscapes. 'Struggling to Escape' delivers a jolt of a different kind,
a polished rock beat develops into the sort of Goth instrumental that might
have appeared on an album by The Cure. Much needed light relief comes from
an accomplished 1920's pastiche dance, 'Misty Misogamy', and an arrangement
of an excerpt from Brahms Piano Quartet in G Minor - though unfortunately
this is spoilt somewhat by the rather obvious nasal breathing of one of the
musicians. Meanwhile, Davis offers his own romantic melody, first introduced
in 'Hans Vervosemann', a sinuous and appealing theme which offsets such
malevolent set-pieces as 'Melissa in Wonderland'.
'The Price Petard' is a moving choral anthem which sounds like part of a
20th century requiem, and makes one wish Mr Davis would write
such a work. The final tracks make heavy use of 'demonic' voices, atonal
brass, wild piano figures, explosive percussion, and all sorts of unleashed
musical fury. The result is exhausting, nerve wracking, and strangely thrilling.
Superbly crafted, this is film music at the outer edge, as challenging as
virtually any avant garde concert work, but rather more fun than most.
This is one horror score that goes all the way up to 11.
Full marks also to Varese for putting a decent amount of music on the disc.
At 54 minutes, presumably this is the full score. An end title cue to provide
some sense of final musical resolution would have been nice, but presumably
the film doesn't have one, no doubt offering horror of a different kind as
the credits roll.
Gary S. Dalkin