Home > Reviews > THE HAUNTING – Jerry Goldsmith

THE HAUNTING – Jerry Goldsmith

thehauntingOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Although I personally enjoyed it immensely, Jan De Bont’s modern reworking of Robert Wise’s 1963 classic The Haunting was one of the more high-profile casualties in the summer of 1999’s blockbuster stakes. Despite a headline cast including Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and boasting some truly marvelous special effects, audiences complained that the film concentrated far too much on the visual side of the film and less on actually scaring the audience. To be fair, both visually and aurally, the film was absolutely magnificent, with Eugenio Zanetti’s Gaudi-inspired architecture teeming with cherubic faces and Gothic opulence, and Gary Rydstrom’s resonant sound design echoing majestically through the cinema’s surround sound stereo system. In terms of plot and acting, however, the film performed pretty badly, with several unrealistic contrivances and unconvincing performances from all the leads sealing its critical fate.

Sitting in with all these stimuli is Jerry Goldsmith’s creepy score which, while conforming to many a genre cliché, still retains a certain something that is unequivocally Jerry. The score opens, somewhat unusually, with the light hearted Wurlitzer-style of ‘The Carousel’, a piece of original source music used to accompany the scenes set in the old house’s hall-of-mirrors merry-go-round room. The recapitulation in ‘Return to the Carousel’ is a much less straightforward performance, with skewed bass trombone notes and jagged atonalities punctuating the joviality, making it somewhat akin to Chris Young’s similar “carnival in hell” from Hellraiser II.

The fun quickly stops, though, and gives way to the meat of the score – icy, prickly string and harp scales with a chilling beauty not too far removed from the sound of Goldsmith’s 1992 tour de force shocker Basic Instinct. Many cues, especially ‘Curly Hair’ and ‘The Picture Album’, embrace this style of writing, and elicit equal amounts of creeping chills and smiles of delight from the listener, who can never be sure whether Goldsmith’s eerie tones are supposed be to scary or soothing.

As was the case with Poltergeist, another famous horror score, Goldsmith’s main melodic content is a quiet, soft, lullaby-like theme for the main female protagonist. First heard in ‘A Place For Everything’, the melody bears a superficial likeness to Carol Anne’s Theme, and is afforded several lovely renditions, firstly on xylophone and harp, and then on flutes, notably in ‘The Curtains’ where it is accompanied by a bed of spooky, undulating violins, and the finale ‘Home Safe’, where it is raised to another level by the excellent performance of the entire string section.

The only minor drawback, if there is one, is Goldsmith’s rather peculiar action music, something for which he usually has a great gift. Although highly structured in its make up, and containing great elements for booming horns and scratchy dissonant strings, it somehow comes across as being just a little too chaotic for its own good, ultimately jarring and annoying rather than stirring the listener. The first action cue, ‘Terror In Bed’, is one to be endured rather than enjoyed, although Jerry more than makes up for the former’s shortcomings in the superb 6-minute ‘Finally Home’, into which he injects an absolutely magnificent synth element to accompany the terrifying scene of the ghost of Hill House finally emerging from the shadows. The immense echoing synth motif, combined with the staccato string work and bold brass blasts, make the cue by far the best cut on the album.

Contrary to popular consensus, the 35 minutes of score on Varése’s album is just about right. Any more would have resulted in cues becoming obsolete, while at this length the score remains interesting right through to the last note of the final cue. Although The Haunting may not match Goldsmith’s earlier horror classics The Omen and Poltergeist, it is still an entertaining and enjoyable piece of music in its own right, and will surely go on to be regarded far more highly than the film for which it was written.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Carousel (2:54)
  • Terror In Bed (5:34)
  • A Place For Everything (3:17)
  • The Curtains (2:37)
  • Curly Hair (3:09)
  • The Picture Album (4:48)
  • Return to the Carousel (3:09)
  • Finally Home (6:16)
  • Home Safe (3:16)

Running Time: 35 minutes 14 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6054 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick and Robert Fernandez. Edited by Ken Hall. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Jerry Goldsmith.

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