Tag Archives: Soundtrack

Rocks In The Attic #711: Alan Howarth – ‘Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

11183_JKTOne thing I’ve learnt from my discussions with fans of horror movies and horror soundtracks is that the majority of them have poor, poor taste in films. They might have jobs and families, but it’s like they have the mental age of a 7-year old when it comes to films.

The first Halloween is a stone-cold classic. It’s more than a little responsible for the popularity of the slasher genre of horror films. It was made a shoestring budget, and became one of the most profitable films of all time.

Halloween II gets by mainly because of the same cast, the involvement of John Carpenter (now in the producer’s chair), and its continuity (it takes place immediately after the events of the first film).

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is the outlier – a brilliant side-step away from the threat of murderous kid brother Michael Myers, into something far more terrifying. But there’s no accounting for taste, and its poor box-office performance almost killed the franchise.

John Carpenter walks away, and in steps Syrian-American film producer Moustapha Akkad, attempting to resurrect the series by returning Michael Myers to Haddonfield, Illinois.

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers should have been subtitled The Disappearance Of The Roman Numerals. It is a bad film. The story is bad. The script is bad. The performances are bad – not least the dreadfully hammy acting by Donald Pleasance. The action sequences are bad. Everything is bad.

Probably the most unforgivable aspect of the whole film is the production design. Where Michael Myers once looked terrifying, he now looks comical. His white mask has changed since the earlier films. He now looks like a confused Asian businessman standing at a hotel buffet cart.

The only saving grace is the synth-laden soundtrack, by Carpenter’s musical collaborator, Alan Howarth. The Halloween theme, with its fantastically odd-time signature, makes a welcome return, and feels like the most Carpenterish element of the whole film.

Moustapha Akkad was killed along with his daughter in 2005, by a Al-Qaeda bomb in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Amman, Jordan. The Rob Zombie directed 2007 remake of Halloween was dedicated to his memory.

Hit: Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers

Hidden Gem: Halloween 4 Reprise

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Rocks In The Attic #705: Abigail Mead – ‘Full Metal Jacket (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#705I watched Ken Burns’ excellent documentary series The Vietnam War recently. After being schooled by Hollywood on the conflict for so many years, it was refreshing to find out what really happened. And what a fucking mess. No wonder the United States is in such a bad state in the twenty-first century. There’s probably a straight line between the war and Donald Trump if you look hard enough. In fact, scratch that, you probably don’t even need to look.

Burns’ documentary is heavy-going at times, whether it’s watching the protesting monk committing suicide by self-immolation, the execution of a VC soldier live on TV, or ‘napalm girl’ and her family running away from friendly fire, you really need to watch something a bit lighter straight after. Something with Adam Sandler maybe.

I grew up in the 1980s, the decade which saw a glut of Vietnam films made for the MTV generation – Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Good Morning Vietnam, Born On The Fourth Of July, Casualties Of War – so it’s strange that Kubrick would visit such a popular genre. Oddly he didn’t direct a film between 1980’s The Shining and this, his only film which belongs firmly in that decade.

I’m not sure what Kubrick’s intentions are. Plenty of other films around the same time get across the ‘war is hell’ message loud and clear, and so Full Metal Jacket doesn’t feel as individual as the rest of his work. If anything, it’s the least Kubrickian of his post-1960 films.

Recently rewatching the film after seeing the Ken Burns documentary, one glaring take-out for me is that the US might have fared better in Vietnam if they hadn’t put so much time and effort into giving each other catchy nicknames (a trope excellently lampooned in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump).

Music-wise, the choice of Abigail Mead as composer for the score lends the film an ominous gloom, but it’s the contemporary music that is best remembered. Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ opens the second act of the film, soundtracking an infamous scene with a Vietnamese prostitute bartering with two marines. I remember this playing as a comedic scene – a moment of levity – when the film was first released, but watching now, it’s hard to stomach. A number of racist epithets originated in that scene, and have since become ingrained in popular culture.

RITA#705aOn my way to work, I walk past an Asian fusion restaurant which proudly displays one of these phrases on the pavement outside their building. I like to hope that the owners are just trying to reclaim the saying, but it just feels wrong, and must look terrible to our many Asian residents and tourists.

The one mis-step on the soundtrack is the opening track – Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor), credited to Abigail Mead and Nigel Goulding. A dated jaunt through Lee Ermey’s drill instructor rhymes, put to a hip hop beat, and accompanied by a Fairlight synthesiser, it’s truly as horrific as it sounds.

Hit: These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra

Hidden Gem: Hello Vietnam – Johnny Wright

Rocks In The Attic #699: Thomas Newman – ‘The Shawshank Redemption (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#699“You looking for something, mate?”

“Er, yeah, can you sort me out with season 5 of House Of Cards?”

“Sure, boss, you want some season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with that? I’ve just got it from my man at the docks – it’s pretty good. Pretty, pretty, good.”

*

This is a fairly accurate representation of what I’ve had to do to watch quality television whilst living in the cultural backwater of New Zealand in the last ten years. Not only is the country infatuated with one of the dullest sports ever invented, the populace also seems to be content with some of the most mediocre television created. I expect Kazakhstani TV to be more exciting than it is here.

From the endless reality shows and soap operas, to the fact that TVNZ once unwittingly transmitted Thunderball at prime-time on a Saturday night just seven days after it transmitted its 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again­, I imagine the programming schedules are drawn up by work-experience kids, or –worse still – programmers who have never left these shores and aren’t aware of how good other countries can be.

We joined the rest of the planet a few weeks ago, and finally got Netflix. After ten years in the wilderness, I’ve finally returned to the act of channel-surfing (although in a slightly different way to broadcast television).

RITA#699bI’ve been waiting months to see the new Psycho documentary 78/52 – the title referring to the number of camera set-ups and edits in Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene. As I’m pretty sure the documentary is still doing the rounds on the festival circuit, I thought I’d have to contact my dealer hanging out behind the local library. Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking to score the stand-up special, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking forward to the second season of GLOW? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

My dealer’s going to go out of business, and might have to resort to supplying the local kindergarten kids with pirated episodes of Peppa Pig.

One of the unexpected advantages of Netflix has been the joy of stumbling upon something unexpected. I got such a great grounding in film from watching films and documentaries in the middle of the night on the BBC or Channel 4, from curated retrospectives of particular directors, to seminal cult films and forgotten classics. I let the programmers shape my tastes.

A recent Netflix find was one of my favourites to watch in the early hours as a teenager – Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz, his fifth and final collaboration with Clint Eastwood, from 1979.

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It’s still a great film, from Eastwood’s underplayed, optimistic hero, to Patrick MacGoohan’s calculating prison warden, and having not seen it for around twenty-five years, I really enjoyed it.

It is, however, not a patch on The Shawshank Redemption. Before the genre-bending, narrative revolution of 1990’s cinema, prison films were almost a lost art, a masculine relic of bygone times. Escape From Alcatraz, Papillon, and Midnight Express were the genre’s three high watermarks. What could a prison film do that we haven’t seen before?

Enter Frank Darabont. Originally a horror screenwriter (The Fly II, The Blob, A Nightmare On Elm Street III: Dream Warriors), his 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Woman In The Room, led to an ongoing and successful collaboration with the writer. After giving us the greatest prison film of the decade, he followed it up with The Green Mile, the second-best of the genre.

Originally a short story titled Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption from King’s 1982 Different Seasons collection – which also spawned 1986’s Stand By Me and 1998’s Apt Pupil – the premise is simple: an innocent man gets imprisoned for his wife’s murder, and escapes from the prison against all odds.

In fact, it’s a little too simple, isn’t it? But when you consider that this was made in a post Die Hard world, the film’s lack of action is its greatest gamble. If 1996’s The Rock was the prison film made for hopped-up ’90s teen audiences; Shawshank was directed at their nostalgia-hungry parents.

From Morgan Freeman’s career-defining voice-over, to Tim Robbins’ downbeat protagonist, and an ensemble cast of future Darabont regulars, it’s a joy to watch, easily earning its seven Oscar nominations. Ultimately the film went home from the Academy Awards empty-handed, losing against Forrest Gump for its three big nominations – Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The glue that holds Shawshank together is its ethereal score by Thomas Newman, who by this time was well on his way to his 1999 career peak with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Newman’s score fits the 1940s/1950s setting effortlessly, and is enhanced by period songs from the (always fantastic) Ink Spots and Hank Williams.

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A hidden (behind a poster) gem of my collection, this double LP set is on ‘suds on the roof’ yellow vinyl, and includes a replica of Andy’s ‘blank’ postcard to Red.

Hit: Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)

Hidden Gem: Elmo Blatch

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Rocks In The Attic #697: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Alien (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#697Is there a more immersive experience than a video game? Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation on the PS4, and generally shitting myself with fear as a result.

Set fifteen years after the events in the 1979 film – itself based in 2122 – Alien: Isolation follows Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she visits a spaceship to find out what happened to her mother. The game is designed to look like the 1979 film, with the events unfolding on the same class of mining ship as the Nostromo.

I started off playing the game in the middle of the night, wearing my gaming headphones, but this proved too scary – wandering around a dark spaceship full of blinking lights and music akin to Jerry Goldmsith’s original score. Subsequent plays have been made without headphones, and with my trusty Great Dane, Abbey, by my side.

If there’s one thing I love the most about the 1979 film, it’s the production design by concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss. The spaceship looks so grungy and atmospheric, and so far removed from the clean aesthetic of the Star Trek universe. H.R. Giger’s design of the alien itself is one thing, but the ship almost feels like another living and breathing character.

Duncan Jones’ Moon got close to a similar look, and other sci-fi films have tread a similar path since, but Alien feels like the first mainstream film to do this. Comparisons can be drawn with the production design of John Carpenter’s 1974 Dark Star – itself starring future Alien creator/writer Dan O’Bannon.

RITA#697aJerry Goldsmith’s score, presented here on acid-blood green vinyl, courtesy of Mondo Records, is a wonderfully creepy soundtrack. Although the score ends up sounding more like a traditional horror soundtrack towards the end – tense strings and booming brass, complimented by high-register plucked violins – it starts off a different beast altogether. Main Title, Hyper Sleep and the rest of the music throughout the first act just sounds otherworldly. Not particularly scary, just lonely and isolated; grim and despondent.

I have a very clear memory of being faced with my first images from the Alien film. I couldn’t have been older than a toddler, and I remember bring walked into a living room to say goodnight to people, and the film was playing on the television. For whatever reason, the film wasn’t turned off, probably because it looked like quite a benign, harmless scene – and I was probably only in the room for less than a minute. But I distinctly remember looking at the screen as the face-hugger emerged from the egg and launched itself at John Hurt’s face. Obviously at that age – three or four – I didn’t know what it was. For some reason I thought it was rope – perhaps the uncoiling of the face-hugger looked like a length of rope – and I presume the film was swiftly turned off and I was rushed to bed.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Hyper Sleep

Rocks In The Attic #693: John Barry – ‘A View To A Kill (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#693.jpgJames Bond, 007, British Secret Service, licensed to kill, fifty-seven years old.

Roger Moore is so old in this, his seventh and final outing as James Bond, that he was only prompted to give up the role due to an off-screen discussion with Bond girl Tanya Roberts. Moore discovered that he was the same age as the actress’ mother, and so finally realised that it was time to hang up his tuxedo for good. It’s was fortunate he did, as things were starting to get a little creepy. Before Bond finally seduces Stacy Sutton in the – ahem – climax of this film, he tucks her into bed during the film’s bloated second act. Ugh.

By the time of this, the fourteenth official Bond film, it had become very hard to take 007 seriously. Not only do we see Bond parading around with a girl old enough to be his daughter, but the writers take the character further and further away from Ian Fleming’s original secret agent. Prior to Bond tucking Sutton into bed, he bakes her a quiche. I swear I’m not making this up.

Christopher Walken does a nice turn as the villainous Max Zorin – a role originally turned down by both David Bowie and Sting. It’s actually a shame that Walken took the role, as it looks like the producers were offering it to every 1980s British rock star. Personally, I would have liked to see Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel battle Bond for world domination. Sledgehammer, in particular, would have made a great Bond theme – and a great film title.

Hit: A View To A Kill – Duran Duran

Hidden Gem: Snow Job

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Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #665: Fastway – ‘Trick Or Treat’ (1986)

RITA#665Watching this film the other night, I was reminded of the decision I made somewhere in my teens that heavy metal was in a really bad place in the mid- to late-1980s.  At school, I was very much like the protagonist of this film – I’d wear double-denim, scrawl things like the AC/DC logo on my schoolbooks, and spend more time laughing than studying. Who knows where that might have ended in a parallel universe?

Thankfully, the appeal of heavy metal stopped where hair metal / glam metal started. I have no interest in listening to music played by musicians who have better hair than the girl next door. I can just about handle Def Leppard and early Ozzy Osbourne, but I avoid pretty everything else from that period. It’s generally very weak-sounding rock and roll, played by men wearing eyeliner and rouge.

When I see people on Facebook posting photos of Mötley Crüe or Poison records, I simply can’t understand the appeal. The cover image of Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In should be enough to deter anybody, yet is bandied around as a classic of the period.

I used to work with a guy who liked that sort of music. He was an old-school metalhead, and used to go to Donington’s Monsters Of Rock festival every year in the late ‘80s. I was speaking to him once and the conversation turned to the subject of Nirvana. He couldn’t hide his hatred for the band, seeing them as the reason why hair metal / glam metal had died. I just couldn’t understand this. The logic was that he felt that like he was onto a really good thing with that type of music, and when grunge kicked off, it killed all those bands.

Good riddance.

RITA#665bAs a film, Trick Or Treat owes more than a little to the plots of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Christine. The highlight is the appearance of Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons in small cameos, but even this novelty doesn’t save what is ultimately a wishful revenge fantasy with poor dialogue and a weak storyline. Backmasking should never be a plot-device.

The soundtrack features a bunch of dated heavy metal songs from the period by the band Fastway, formed by ex-Motörhead guitarist, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. As with anything from the period, it’s very much hard-rock-by-numbers, and probably does sound better played backwards.

Hit: Trick Or Treat

Hidden Gem: After Midnight