Tag Archives: Bernard Herrmann

Rocks In The Attic #762: Harry Manfredini – ‘Friday The 13th (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

tp0009c_SP_Gate_CoverAs well as watching all of the James Bond films in the run-up to next year’s Bond 25 , I’m also in the middle of watching the Friday The 13th films in order. I’ve seen them all before, multiple times, but it’s good to rewatch them as I’ve been listening to the great In Voorhees We Trust podcast, hosted by the very funny Matt Gourley and Paul Rust.

Friday The 13th has always been my favourite horror franchise. There’s just something more lovable about the series than the lame comedy-horror of the Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, or the dull-as-dishwater Halloween films after the brilliant third installment.

Jason Voorhees is just a lovable guy. He might be disfigured, wander around in the dark, and kill campers with a machete, but what a guy! He doesn’t limit the terror with wisecracks like Freddy Kreuger, and he’s far more animated than the passive Michael Myers. Although I don’t like the superpower qualities he adopts in the later sequels, it’s great to see Jason’s character develop through the first four films.

RITA#762aOf course, as every trivia expert knows, Jason isn’t the killer in the original Friday The 13th film. It’s his Mom. The matriarch of the Voorhees family, Pamela wears fisherman’s sweaters and looks a little like a menopausal Steven Tyler. The film opens on Camp Crystal Lake in the late 1950s, with Momma Voorhees as an unseen killer, in POV. She kills a pair of camp counselors who allowed her son Jason to drown while they had sex.

Enter plucky young hitchhiker Annie, on her way to Camp Crystal Lake. A intertitle informs us it is now the present day, AKA 1980. The camp is being re-opened for the summer, but Annie doesn’t get there. First, she meets Crazy Ralph, who warns her against going to the camp (“It’s got a death curse!”), and then she gets a lift from the POV killer who dispatches her in the woods.

Cut to camp, and we find the enterprising Steve Christy, who’s rushing to refurbish the camp before its first guests of the season arrive. He’s employed a team of young counsellors, including Bing Crosby’s son Harry, and Kevin Bacon, to fix up the place. Interspersed with these establishing scenes are shots of the killer, hiding behind trees, watching the counsellors in POV. It’s far less scary when you know it’s an old lady watching them. At this point, it’s important to note that Kevin Bacon cannot dive very well. Before he meets Mrs. Voohees, he almost kills himself with a belly-flop.

The killings start almost immediately without a chance for any character progression. Day turns into night and the counsellors get picked off one by one during a rainstorm. The murder scenes are great, aided by special-effects maestro Tom Savini, and do for campsites what Jaws did for beach-swimming five years earlier.

Harry Manfredini’s score has just enough innovation in it to sidestep any accusations that it takes a little too liberally from John Williams’ Jaws and Bernard Herrmann’s shower scene in Psycho. The repeated ‘Ki-ki-ki, Ma-ma-ma’ sound-effects, representing Jason’s pleas of ‘Kill her, Mommy’, are just brilliant and effortlessly lift the film’s sound-design above its contemporaries.

It’s a simple film; over as soon as it’s set up. And of course, the location is superb. I’m not sure if sequels were considered before its runaway success – it made $40 million in the U.S. alone, from a $500,000 budget – but the location easily allows for subsequent films, as new, unknowing victims turn up at the camp each summer.

In the episode of the In Voorhees We Trust podcast which covers this film, Matt Gourley and Paul Rust debate whether or not the title card, at the top of the film, flies into view and breaks the camera lens or the viewer’s screen – or whether it’s supposed to be a mirror breaking, as per the film title’s link to superstition. Rewatching it, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the lens of the camera, although it’s a missed opportunity for the film not to reference the theme of superstition a little more:

Final Girl: Oh, Mrs. Voorhees, what a pretty black cat you’re holding.

Pamela Voorhees: Oh yes, dear, I’ve just come from my Amateur Dramatics class where we’re rehearsing the Scottish Play…or should I say…Macbeth!

Final Girl ducks out of the way, under an open ladder, as Stevie Wonder’s Superstition plays over the soundtrack.

And speaking of Mrs. Voorhees, I fully agree with Gourley and Rust that she would have been soliloquising with each character, refining her back-story down to a tight-five, before murdering them.

Pamela’s head rolls, as do the credits, and the only thing missing is a post-credit sequence with Crazy Ralph grinning at the camera, joyfully exclaiming “Called it!”

Hit: Overlay Of Evil / Main Title

Hidden Gem: Banjo Travelin’

Body Count: 10

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Rocks In The Attic #709: John Williams – ‘Jurassic Park (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#709What does William’s score to 1993’s Jurassic Park have to do with Dies Irae, a latin hymn from the thirteenth century?

After watching the latest disappointing Jurassic Park sequel, it’s refreshing to wash my brain out with the score to Spielberg’s original film. At this point in his career, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Williams would be washed-up. Surely the composer of Jaws, Superman, the Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones trilogy – and many, many more – would have nothing left. Somebody that prolific can’t keep on being prolific, can they?

The answer seems to be a resounding Yes. Not only does Jurassic Park contain two distinctly memorable main themes – Theme From Jurassic Park and Journey To The Island – but the rest of the score is just as strong as his ‘70s and ‘80s output. But what’s all this about Gregorian Chant?

The answer is in a descending motif in the ancient hymn. For centuries, this doom-laden melody has been used as short-hand for evil or foreboding – Dies Irae itself translates to Day Of Wrath. A host of great composers have used the motif in their works – Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Holst, Liszt, Mahler and Rachmaninoff, to name but a few – but it’s its use in modern film soundtracks that interests me the most.

The tune is easiest to spot in the first few notes of The Shining’s opening Main Title, played by Wendy Carlos on the Moog Synthesiser. Here, the melody isn’t even disguised, it’s as clear as the day in which it’s used to soundtrack, as the Torrances drive up the mountain approaching the Overlook Hotel.

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Williams uses it to great effect in Jurassic Park, throughout the cues entitled Incident At Isla Nublar (from 3:32), and High Wire Stunts (from 0:00). But this isn’t the first time he’s referenced it. It can be found a couple of times in his iconic score to 1977’s Star Wars. Here it plays as the accompaniment immediately before Luke’s Force Theme rises up in The Burning Homestead (from 1:28), and is echoed in the doom-laden brass line (from 1:43) as Luke’s fate realigns.

And it’s not just John Williams sliding it into his scores, the musical equivalent of directors inserting the Wilhelm Scream into their sound mix. Other famous composers have “borrowed” the melody too. In 2001’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, Howard Shore uses it as the bassline thoughout the cue entitled Weathertop (from 0:18), as the Ringwraiths attack the Hobbits. Jerry Goldsmith utilises it in his 1982 score for Poltergeist, Hans Zimmer uses it briefly in 1994’s The Lion King, and Bernard Herrmann used it back in 1963 for Jason And The Argonauts. Unsurprisingly the tune also makes for good horror music fodder.

RITA#709aEven back in 1927, Gottfried Huppertz inserted the motif into his Dance Of Death cue for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (from 1:17) – confirming that the appropriation of Dies Irae in cinema is as old as cinema itself.

Interestingly, John Williams does something sneaky with Dies Irae in Jurassic Park. Usually the sequence of the first four notes in the motif is enough to suggest doom and despair, but Williams takes just the first three notes and does something unexpected with them. They serve as the starting point for the Jurassic Park’s main theme – as positive and upbeat a film theme as could be, even when played on a Melodica.

Hit: Theme From Jurassic Park

Hidden Gem: Dennis Steals The Embryo