Tag Archives: Jaws

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 #741: John Williams – ‘Superman: The Movie (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#741“All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn’t even save him.”

With this line, delivered by a grieving Clark Kent near the end of the film’s weighty first act, the writers of Superman: The Movie clearly identify the character’s central flaw: that despite his super-powers, he’s unable to save everybody.

This paradox is echoed at the end of the film (in a scenario later lifted by The Dark Knight), where Superman is forced to decide between saving Lois Lane and saving everybody else. Only by interfering with human history – and thereby breaking his father’s golden rule – can he do both.

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Superman has no weaknesses, except his allergy to that pesky kryptonite, and so his inability to protect all innocent life becomes the character’s true Achilles’ heel. Richard Donner’s Superman makes a big deal out of this; it’s a film about the humanity of the character (with a painfully obvious subtext concerning the American dream). The comic-book superhero stuff is just dressing.

RITA#741aDonner’s film is so much better than recent efforts with the character, it almost seems an insult to compare it to them. After a long break following the woeful Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, we all narrowly escaped the ‘90s Tim Burton version starring Nicolas Cage before the property seemed to fall back into safe hands. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) was all set to be a masterpiece. The storyline (co-written by Singer, himself a huge fan of Donner’s version of Superman) did away with the third and fourth films, placing it directly after the respectable Superman II.

“Interesting,” we all thought. This could be something. The director of 1995’s The Usual Suspects had shown that he could direct comic-book superheroes with 2000’s X-Men (and its 2003 sequel). It was pitched to be a continuation of the Richard Donner / Richard Lester films. The opening credits even took the swooping, swooshing style of those earlier films, set to John Williams’ score. What could go wrong?

Well, sadly, everything.

RITA#741bAside from a forgetful cast, and a lacklustre script, the storyline involving ‘SuperBoy’ – the product of a romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane – was just unbearable. What did Singer expect to happen if the film had been more successful than it ultimately was? Was he thinking that the franchise would continue with ‘SuperBoy’, ‘SuperPrePubescent’, ‘SuperSulkyTeen’, ‘SuperSurreptitiousMasturbator’ and so on?

This storyline, more than anything in Singer’s film, killed the franchise yet again. We would have to wait another seven years for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel to land. Again, it looked hopeful. I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) and so it looked like the franchise was safe in the hands of somebody who could do dark-DC well. Even better, the film was produced by Christopher Nolan who had done marvellous things with DC’s other flagship character, Batman, in the early 2000s. What could go wrong?

Again, sadly, everything.

Man Of Steel takes all the joy out of the character, and replaces it with a migraine. A bastard behind the eyes, as Withnail would put it. The only good thing about watching Man Of Steel is getting to the closing credits without slipping into a coma. The apple has fallen a long, long way from Richard Donner’s tree.

To be fair, I don’t mind 2016’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice – particularly the bit where the delightful Gal Gadot turns up to the Doomsday fight as Wonder Woman – but Superman is the least interesting character in a universe that is doing its best to ape Marvel’s successes.

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The final nail in the coffin – so far – was the return of Superman in 2017’s Justice League. This sludgefest of a film might have been better without Superman appearing, but it was already terrible without him. Moral of the story: if the actor playing Superman refuses to shave his (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) moustache off to complete re-shoots, for WHATEVER REASON, leading to uncanny valley CGI problems, then HE DOESN’T DESERVE TO PLAY SUPERMAN.

Of course, half of the magic from Richard Donner’s Superman comes from John Williams’ epic score. It’s possibly my favourite of his soundtracks – which all depends on which film I saw last: Superman, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, or Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

There are many passages in both the main title theme, and the score overall, that almost bring a tear to my eye. The score is like a direct line to the nostalgia of my childhood; a magic button, composed by a magician himself.

Hit: Theme From Superman (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: The Fortress Of Solitude

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

Rocks In The Attic #687: John Williams – ‘1941 (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#687You can sometimes find out more about a person’s failures as you can from their successes. Wunderkind director Steven Spielberg has had far more hits than misses, but the few occasions where he has missed the mark are very interesting.

His first failure came with 1941, his attempt at screwball comedy and a universally agreed thirty-five million dollar waste of time and effort. It’s difficult to put a finger on why it’s such a bad film – because there’s nothing redeemable about it. A weak link might be easy to spot, but when everything is egregiously bad, from the script to the performances to the music, it makes for a drastically awful film. Of course, all of this is amplified because it follows Spielberg’s huge mainstream successes, first with Jaws in 1975, and followed with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977. If it hadn’t been bundled with such anticipation, and if they hadn’t spent the GDP of a small South American country on it, it might have stood a chance.

Looking back, it seems that Spielberg might be as ashamed of his portrayal of the Japanese in this film, as he is of the film’s critical and commercial failure. It’s widely been surmised that one of Spielberg’s motives for making Schindler’s List (1993) was in reparation for the way in which he had portrayed the Nazis as comedic fodder in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989). In 1941, we see the start of that light-hearted characterisation, with the invading Japanese armed forces played for laughs opposite Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

The musical score for 1941, composed by Spielberg alumni John Williams, is just as forgettable as the rest of the film, which is strange considering how the pairing usually produces gold. Spielberg, ever the amiable collaborator, has repeatedly stated in interviews that The March From 1941 is his favourite of Williams’ marches. This is extremely strange when you realise that the main title themes of Williams’ Superman: The Movie and Indiana Jones scores are both marches, and really there’s nothing better in all of cinema.

I recently saw the excellent HBO documentary Spielberg (2017) – a two and a half hour journey through the life and career of the director. Unsurprisingly, the film focuses on his successes and merely brushes over his failures. Of the latter, 1941 gets the most airtime for being his first disappointment, but later failures are mainly ignored.

RITA#687aHis first failure to me, long before I racked up the courage to watch 1941, was Always, an overly-sentimental (even for Spielberg’s standards) romantic drama from 1989 starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman. I saw this film at the cinema with my parents, at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square during our annual family trip to London. Coming straight after Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Empire Of The Sun – both of which I’d also seen at the cinema (I didn’t get to see The Color Purple until much later due to its adult nature), it really came as a shock. Everything I had seen by Spielberg up to that point had been a classic. What the hell was this schlocky mess?

Unsurprisingly, Susan Lacy’s Spielberg documentary doesn’t even mention Always. It also quickly skips over Hook – a later disappointment from 1991, which Spielberg has all but since disowned – and completely ignores The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), the sequel he said he would never make, and 2004’s The Terminal. In fact, The Terminal is such a bad film, that it’s a wonder he didn’t try to take his name off it.

The one interesting exclusion from the documentary is 2011’s The Adventures Of Tintin. While this may not have been the runaway commercial success it should have been, it’s still a great family film and a much stronger piece of work than 2016’s The BFG, itself a box-office disappointment yet referenced many times in Lacy’s film.

Hit: The March From 1941

Hidden Gem: The Invasion

Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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Rocks In The Attic #398: Various Artists – ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds’ (1978)

RITA#398I was listening to a film podcast the other day – the BBC Radio 5 Live radio show with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode – and they were talking about must-see films for kids to watch before they reach the age of 10. Listeners were emailing with their suggestions and the usual suspects came up, leading to a definitive list being drawn up by the end of the show:

1. Karate Kid
2. Spirited Away
3. Finding Nemo
4. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
5. Star Wars
6. The Goonies
7. Watership Down
8. To Kill A Mockingbird
9. The General
10. Big

I’d agree with most of those – it’s bloody hard to pull such a list together with so many choices. Where’s Back To The Future? Where’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark? Ghostbusters? Jaws? What about the James Bond films – a multitude of options?

On the show, they were talking about films with a scary element or an emotional edge to them, which are usually the ones that stick in your mind at that age – hence Spirited Away and Watership Down in the list. I’d put Stand By Me in there also – although I’d probably only show that to a 9 or 10 year old. That Ray Brower kid by the train tracks probably isn’t a good sight for a 6 year old. I’d also put a wildcard in too – Joe Dante’s Explorers, from 1985 – a film that should have received a lot more attention than it ultimately did.

If I had to choose, my top 10 would be:

1. Star Wars
2. Jaws
3. Ghostbusters
4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
5. Stand By Me
6. Explorers
7. Back To The Future
8. The Goonies
9. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

..and my last on the list would be…

10. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds

Okay, so it’s not a film. But what other top 10 list for kids is it going to go on? Top 10 musicals? Surely only effeminate boys with an unhealthy interest in dressing up in Mummy’s clothes would be concerned with such a list. Top 10 prog-rock double albums? I’m not sure you’ve ever asked an 8-year old to listen to The Wall, but the nightmares inside the mind of Roger Waters aren’t for developing minds. Top 10 spoken word recordings by Richard Burton? The horror!

No, I put War Of The Worlds in there because it’s so good at drawing a visual picture of what’s going on (assisted by the great drawings in the booklet) that it might as well be a film. A great story (courtesy of H.G. Wells of course), great music, great narration by Burton and appearances by the likes of Justin Hayward, David Essex and Phil Lynott – what more could you want? Except a pair of huge headphones so you can really immerse yourself in the story). Jeff Wayne really pulled together something magical.

And for Bond films, I’d expect any 10 year old to have seen them all by that age anyway!

Hit: The Eve Of The War – The Black Smoke Band, Justin Hayward & Richard Burton (narration)

Hidden Gem: Horsell Common And The Heat Ray – The Black Smoke Band & Richard Burton (narration)

Rocks In The Attic #98: John Williams – ‘Jaws (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

Rocks In The Attic #98: John Williams - ‘Jaws (O.S.T.)’ (1975)One of my top five favourite films, and probably one of my top five favourite film soundtracks, I was so pleased to find this on vinyl in the soundtrack section of Real Groovy when I first came to New Zealand on holiday.

People assume that Williams is merely aping Bernard Herrman on this soundtrack, with the tuba on the soundtrack’s Main Title (Theme From Jaws) being as simple and effective as the strings in Herrman’s score for the shower scene in Psycho; but as Williams himself admits, his score is just some jaunty pirate music, bookended by a simple touch of horror music in the opening Main Title and a touch of calm in the closing End Title.

The repetitive motif that is introduced in Sea Attack Number One and opens One Barrel Chase and Preparing The Cage continually goes round and round in my head, probably more than any other piece of film soundtrack. If I start humming that theme, I will start off on one instrument and then follow this with another instrument, just like Williams’ arrangement. There’s only so many instruments I can mimic so it soon gets tired, until I start humming it again. And again. And again.

I’ve never been diving in a shark cage, but I can guarantee that when I eventually do, it won’t be the Main Title (Theme From Jaws) that will be going round in my head, it’ll be that tune that permeates through the second side of this album, and the latter half of the film.

Hit: Main Title (Theme From Jaws)

Hidden Gem: Preparing The Cage