Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


John OTTMAN Portrait of Terror OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5986  



Crotchet (UK)

Did you hear the one about Marco Beltrami ? This composer walks into a studio and writes a cracking post-modern horror score. He comes back and writes a sequel soon after. On that one he is asked to emulate the guitar sound of a John Woo / John Travolta picture. He thinks he has done his job, and then discovers the original piece is still in it. Oh well. Then this other composer (Ottman) gets a horror picture; the latest in a long line of Halloween screams. They want a post-modern slant too, so they ask him to emulate the first composer's sound. He thinks he has done his job, and then discovers the original piece is still going to be in it. They bring in the first composer and he works the first two scores into this latest. So what's the punchline ? Answer - this album.

It is every so easy to throw in a phrase like 'post-modern' and get away with not explaining yourself. What it is deemed screenwriter Kevin Williamson has created is an acceptance of in-jokes for cinema and TV (media journalism seems to have forgotten something like Moonlighting). It is OK to be distracted from the flow of a movie by a reference to "Wes Carpenter" or anal trivia swaps. Musically speaking that gives licence to draw from existing sources and styles and not be accused of plagiarism. Seems like an OK deal really ! The most obvious example of this in H20 is the start of "Advice". Jamie Lee Curtis' real-life mum plays a school mistress. She was (of course) Marion in Hitchcock's Psycho. After a couple of obvious lines about mothering and showers she goes to her car (the one she had in Psycho). Accompanying her walk are the strains of Herrmann's main theme. It is reasonably subtle. Is it clever though ? Taken in the context of the rest of Ottman's intelligent score - yes.

For legal reasons stemming from the circumstances described above, this disc lives under the Picture Protection Program, and has been given a new identity as "Portrait of Terror". Since it announces that it contains Carpenter's Halloween Theme, it isn't really much of a disguise though. Two minutes into "Main Title", and you're in no doubt as to what this is. What's great however is that this is the theme as many composers must have been itching to hear it - fully orchestrated and elaborated upon. It functions perfectly through the opening credits, which are basically a montage re-telling of the story to date by way of newspaper clippings etc. (a little reminiscent of Dead Again or To Die For). It underlines each heading as you might expect, but also manages to establish both the suspense and impending sense of resolution that the film will bring.

Overshadowed by the exceedingly familiar cyclic Carpenter theme, is a secondary piece he created for the "Shape" in stalk mode. It is simply a beat carved out on firm piano chords accompanied by a ringing sample. For Portrait it is braided into passages of suspense for the protracted sequence between Laurie and Michael. In "Disposal" it is just about recognisable under some seemingly endless reverberation from harp glissando. It is even better in "Face To Face", which is the album's standout (and longest) cue. It dips in and out of every phrase to create the ideal suite, and even manages to conjure memories of The Usual Suspects at one point.

The best way to demonstrate that Ottman did a fine job is with "Road Trip". This is a by-the-numbers scene of supposedly dead bad guy in back of vehicle waking up. This cue is great - it knows the sounds of screeching tyres and screams will drown it out. Instead, the powers went for a Scream cue and at what becomes an important part of the film, that really drags the sequence down. Maybe one day they'll learn when to leave well enough alone.


Paul Tonks


Paul Tonks

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