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Comments about the soundtrack for House on Haunted Hill (Don Davis)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
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• Posted by: Mike Dougherty   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Monday, August 4, 2008, at 7:06 p.m.
• IP Address: donated.filmtracks.com

(The following donated review by Mike Dougherty was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in August, 2008)


House on Haunted Hill: (Don Davis) It's always a difficult task to summarize a Don Davis score. Davis is a very eclectic composer in his genius at blending orchestral, choral, and electronic sounds into one complex and multi-leveled score. For his third and final score of the year, Davis makes another successful composition of these different scoring styles into House on Haunted Hill. Haunted Hill affirms Davis as the master orchestrator and master of the atonal.

The horror sequences are on the same level as Davis' House of Frankenstein. There are elements that are reminiscent of his score to The Matrix; Davis relies on orchestral crashes when it comes to emphasizing the film's mounting suspense. The bizarre use of chorus is the one feature that really stands out in this score. Usually, Davis harmonizes his chorus to create an exhilarating and magical sound. In tracks 2 and 19, the male and female members of the choir seem to be screaming chants. These sequences are similar to some of the choral work in Wojciech Kilar's Dracula score, and just as haunting as the devilish voices in Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen. Though the sound is sure to catch the average listener off guard at first, it is still an interesting and effective choral experiment from Davis. The frequent use of a pipe organ is appropriate and effective for a horror/suspense score such as this. It is also the perfect opener for this score, setting the mood for what follows. Haunted Hill is full of surprises; Davis' score might suddenly "rock" the listener at any given moment. There are dark and quiet moments in low key, suddenly broken by a blast from the orchestra. It's moments like these when the listener should be aware of the volume level on his/her stereo.

The score isn't completely gothic; it is not a horror/suspense score track after track, nor is it a totally dark and oppressive listening experience. Surprisingly, Haunted Hill does have its lighter moments. In tracks 3, 5, and 11, Davis arranges some elegant waltzes and three-steps, giving the score balance and an extra level of complexity. These cues give the score its character, setting it apart from others of this genre. Not only does Davis seamlessly blend the different musical media, but also two completely different motifs. Obviously, creating a successful marriage between horror and elegance is a real tightrope walk. The approach works because Davis' score evokes the sense that he doesn't take the subject matter too seriously. Davis' sense of humor is evident in the track titles and the music itself. He knows the film is fun trite, and he creates an amusingly bizarre score. In Track 5, Davis' diversity as an orchestrator is clear as he re-arranges a piano quartet by Johannes Brahms into ... a tango. Track 11 is a beautiful, classy, and somber piece of light jazz, and it's a pleasure to listen to in the midst of Davis' horror/suspense music.

Davis adds a flair of the contemporary in track 15, featuring a strong drum beat and a whaling electric guitar. Davis' verve for experimentation is obvious, and the listener gets the sense that he is having fun with the score. Though Haunted Hill is another great effort from Davis, the only weak link is track 16. Davis' atonality reaches an all time high; the track is a random series of sound effects and synthesized noises. (Keep in mind that the electronic buzzing is part of the track; it doesn't indicate a busted stereo speaker.) After track 15, the score goes into a prolonged, dark funk. The light, elegant moments that gave the score its "edge" sadly disappear. The suspense tracks aren't ground-breaking material; they are very Matrix-like. The score's conclusion is a far cry from the rousing finale in The Matrix. Aside from Haunted Hill's few shortcomings, there is a fiendishly entertaining score.

Varèse Sarabande does Davis' score justice with an unusually lengthy release -- the score is 54 minutes and 25 tracks long. Though not as grand as Davis' scores to Warriors of Virtue or The Matrix, Haunted Hill is definitely more diverse and unique a listening experience. House on Haunted Hill will not disappoint those who enjoy the scores of Don Davis. ***






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