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ABOMINABLE – Lalo Schifrin

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Abominable may have the unique honour of being the first ever film where an established Hollywood composer scored the feature directorial debut of their offspring. Certainly no other filmmaking-children-of-composers spring to mind. The director in question is Ryan Schifrin, the 33 year-old son of Lalo Schifrin, and the film in question is Abominable, a horror-thriller set in the Pacific North-West, where action man Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy) is recovering in an isolated cabin after a climbing accident. His recuperation is put on hold, however, when he sees the legendary Bigfoot – and realises that the supposedly-friendly Sasquatch is in reality a vicious man-eating beast! The only problem is that, after years of hoax sightings, no-one believes Preston’s tale, and it falls on his shoulders to warn everyone before the beast goes on a bloody rampage. The film also stars Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace Stone (from ET), the late Paul Gleason, and newcomer Haley Joel, and will be released straight-to-DVD in October 2006.

In the CD’s liner notes, Ryan Schifrin says of his father, “Having [him] score my first movie is one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced. I’m so proud of the fact that we got to collaborate on it – it’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life”. One can only imagine just what a thrill it must have been for him to have someone as experienced and talented as Lalo Schifrin work on your debut. Schifrin, of course, has a superb pedigree in horror films, despite being more famous for his spy capers and cool ‘60s and ‘70s grooves for films like Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry, Bullitt and of course Mission: Impossible. He was Oscar-nominated for his score The Amityville Horror in 1979, and wrote an original rejected score for The Exorcist. Abominable has been called, and I quote, “one of the most pervasive horror scores in years”, and “among the best horror scores in recent memory”. Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News called it “absolutely inspired”. Perhaps not surprisingly, it doesn’t quite live up to that kind of hype, but there are still a number of things to recommend.

Written for a 90-piece orchestra, recorded in Prague with the The Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and featuring ‘additional electronic music’ by fellow Argentinean composer Ruy Folguera, Abominable has all the credentials to succeed. Throughout the score the orchestra creeps and slithers along, creating a definite sense of menace; the strings are low and sinister, the brass bleats dramatically in aggressive clusters, the piano tinkles away adding to the tension, and the percussion adds kinetic energy. When the music rises to the fore, with themes and variations and rampant action material, it’s like breath of fresh air. Virtually no-one write music like this anymore. Once in a while (and somewhat oddly) it did occasionally make me think of one of James Horner’s earliest scores, Humanoids from the Deep, from 1980, but on the whole Abominable is not derivative of anything else in particular, and does not have especially strong temp-track bleed-through. It’s a Lalo score through-and-through, which is a rarity in itself in this day and age.

There is a rumbling motif for the Sasquatch himself, a see-sawing theme which first appears in the delightfully-named “Animal Mutilations”, before rising to prominence during the unusual, highly effective “Monster Vision”, where it is picked up by the cellos and is offset by all manner of impressionistic string flourishes, woodwind textures and tinkling harps and celestas. One can almost imagine the great hairy beast rampaging through the forest, stalking its prey accompanied by this ominous music. The theme crops up again in the 5-minute “The Cave”, an extended exercise in dissonance, which is also the cue where Folguera’s electronic textures rise to the fore, adding another dimension to Schifrin’s screaming orchestra and pounding pianos.

The four-cue sequence mid-album – from “Squatch Revealed” through to “Rappelling” – is the score’s undoubted high point, beginning with a performance of a more heroic brass-based theme, and monstrous performances of the sasquatch theme, before segueing into an apocalyptic-sounding sequence “Squatch Revealed”, and them some sturm-und-drang action writing in “Rampage”, replete with thrashing percussion and swirling strings. “Setting the Trap” revisits some of Schifrin’s trademark ‘sneaky’ scoring from the Mission Impossible era, with pizzicato strings, dancing pianos and lightly-jazzy trumpets creating tension as the protagonists try to outwit their hirsute nemesis. “Rappelling” is probably the best cue on the album, a surprisingly dense and exciting action piece which sound more like John Williams than Lalo Schifrin, and throws out all preconceptions the younger generation may have about what Argentinean is capable of writing.

The other highlights are more do with instrumental textures and performance techniques than anything else. A hesitantly warm theme, passed around the orchestra for effect but anchored by horns, and embellished by piano, appears during “Preston’s Memories”, giving an emotional aspect to the crippled mountaineer’s solitude. “There is Something Out There” is all squeaky high strings and harp glissandi. “Off-Road Rage/Final Battle”, pits the monster motif against the full might of the orchestra in a thunderous musical mêlée, before emerging into a relieved performance of Preston’s theme in “The Survivors”. But wait! All is not as it seems! “Searching the Woods” sets up the possibility of a sequel…

The bonus tracks are fun; “Otis Leaves” and an alternate cut of “Rampage” offer more of the same, but “Girls Next Door” is almost impossibly sweet and wholesome and sounds like it should have been written for a screwball comedy, while the 1950s ballad “One Blade of Grass” is belted out by songstress Pat Windsor Mitchell and seems more disturbing than it should in context, considering the kind of music that preceded it.

Lalo Schifrin is 74 years old now and, beyond his association with the successful Rush Hour franchise, seems to be allowing his career to wind down, having spent fifty years working in the industry, and having accumulated seven Oscar nominations over the years. Without wanting to tempt fate, Abominable could very well be one of the last great scores of his career: not because it’s for a low-budget film directed by his son, and not because it’s the best score of the year, because it’s not. Instead, it’s because it reminds us what a great talent he remains, and how under-appreciated he is by modern film score collectors, who are only vaguely aware of his work through the usual suspects of Mission Impossible and Dirty Harry. I would hazard a guess that very few ‘new’ film music fans know anything about his music beyond that, let alone that be aware that he is capable of writing something as dark and brutal and inventive as this. Hopefully, Abominable can, and should, inspire people to re-examine the Lalo Schifrin who has successfully written music in every genre. He deserves it.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Pre-Title Sequence (0:49)
  • Main Title (2:05)
  • Animal Mutilations (3:21)
  • Preston’s Memories (3:47)
  • Abduction (3:11)
  • There is Something Out There (4:24)
  • Monster Vision (6:39)
  • Preston and Amanda (2:41)
  • The Cave (5:02)
  • Squatch Revealed (2:31)
  • Rampage (2:48)
  • Setting the Trap (4:33)
  • Rappelling (3:22)
  • Escape Attempt (1:46)
  • Off-Road Rage/Final Battle (3:03)
  • The Survivors (1:58)
  • Searching the Woods (1:30)
  • One Blade of Grass (written by Roy Bennet and Sid Tepper, performed by Pat Windsor Mitchell) (2:27)
  • Girls Next Door – Bonus Track (1:47)
  • Otis Leaves – Bonus Track (0:46)
  • Rampage – Alternate Version (2:30)

Running Time: 61 minutes 28 seconds

Aleph 036 (2006)

Music composed and conducted Lalo Schifrin. Performed by The Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Additional music by Ruy Folguera. Recorded and mixed by Michael Matessino. Edited and mastered by Daniel Herasch and Gustavo Borner. Album produced by Nick Redman.

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