Home > Reviews > DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK – Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK – Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a creepy horror movie co-written produced by Guillermo Del Toro, and directed by Troy Nixey. It’s a remake of a 1973 TV movie of the same name, and stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce as Alex and Kim, a young couple who have just moved into an old, rambling house, Blackwood Manor, which Alex – an architect – is intending to renovate. However, when Alex’s daughter from a previous relationship, Sally (Bailee Madison) comes to stay, things start to happen in the house in the dead of night. Left alone to investigate the macabre history and dark corners of the estate, Sally begins to hear rasping voices whispering from the basement, who promise her understanding and friendship, who are so very hungry and would like to be set free…

Very quietly, Marco Beltrami has been having an excellent 2011, having already written the outstanding drama score Soul Surfer, and the horror sequel score Scream 4, and with yet another storied horror entry, the prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, yet to come. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which Beltrami co-wrote with his long-time collaborator Buck Sanders, is a traditionally creepy Gothic horror score, which mirrors the classic genre stylings that writer/producer Del Toro brings to the table. Beltrami has worked with Del Toro before, of course, on Mimic back in 1997, on Blade II in 2002, and on Hellboy in 2004, and the collaboration clearly brings out the best in the composer.

According to the film’s press notes, del Toro’s specifically requested a lullaby for the Sally character, and also asked that Beltrami take inspiration from not only the original film’s score by Billy Goldenberg but also the classic 60’s and 70’s horror scores of Jerry Goldsmith, Krzysztof Komeda and Bernard Herrmann. As such, Beltrami’s score is very classical, written for a full orchestra but with notable emphasis on the higher register instruments – high strings, harps and woodwinds – and is based around an elegant waltz-like theme which first appears in the opening cue, “Gramophone Lullaby”. Cleverly, Beltrami and his regular engineer John Kurlander use same auditory trickery that Trevor Jones used on his score for From Hell almost a decade ago, taking a faded-sounding mono sound and unleashing it into glorious stereo half way through the cue, to excellent effect. It’s a subliminal mirror of one of the film’s themes: of something old and decrepit being unleashed into the modern world, and sets the album up well.

The waltz theme occurs regularly throughout the score in different guises. It plays in choral counterpoint to the harsh, Herrmannesque strings of the superb “Main Titles”; with music-box eerieness in “Lamb Lamp Lambency” and “Don’t Turn Out the Lights”; as a delicate dance for flute, harp, piano and solo violin in “Sally’s Lullaby” and the latter half of “Treesome”, and many other places besides. While the approach Beltrami takes – using a child-like melody to musically juxtapose the horrors seen through a child’s eyes – is not a new one, its effectiveness is undeniable in context, and it provides the score with a tremendously sinister atmosphere.

There is also a great deal of that creepy-beautiful writing Christopher Young does so well, in cues such as “Sally Arrives at Blackwood Manor”, which presents tinkling harps and ominous string chords to great effect; “Garden Music”, which builds to a series of dark, chorally-enhanced crescendos which really tingle the spine; “Tooth Fairy’s Gift”, in which Beltrami uses vibraphones and a piano to create a very unnerving sense of childlike innocence laced with horror; and the penultimate “Return to Blackwood”, which performs a soaring variation of the main theme which swells with gorgeously rich orchestral textures and major-key crescendos.

As one would expect for a film of this type, Beltrami’s score also plays up the more horrific elements of the story, especially during the score’s more rambunctious second half. “Into the Basement” overlays abstract orchestral textures with a synthesized pulse effect, which sounds almost like the heartbeat of the many creatures that dwell within the depths of the house. Later, “Gardener Gets Snipped” adapts the Herrmann-style string writing from the main title into a bold and angry-sounding action sequence with blood-curdling gusto, while the spine-chilling “Bed Bugs” erupts into a vicious sequence of sound and fury half way through – listener beware!

Several of the cues in the score’s finale, notably “The Library”, “Goblins in the Garage” and the outstanding, extended “Goblin Trouble” again use the Herrmann-style string figures to excellent effect, dashing and dancing through the score with a real sense style. Beltrami’s high, staccato strings and unnerving pizzicato effects give a sense of movement to the film’s little monsters; you can almost feel their razor-sharp claws and razor-sharp teeth nipping at your ankles. “Goblin Trouble” in particular has several sequences of excellent dissonance and impressionism, giving the furthest reaches of the orchestra a comprehensive workout in search of that perfect macabre texture.

Although Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of contemporary orchestral horror scoring, Marco Beltrami is so good at this sort of thing – and has been so good at this sort of thing for going on 15 years – that it’s difficult not to be impressed. With its Goldsmith-style children’s outlook, and its Herrmann-style string-led textures, the score invokes all its great predecessors, and merges them with Beltrami’s personal compositional flair and talent to excellent effect. Fans of modern horror scores, especially those who like them to drip with atmosphere and have a theme-driven and melodic core, will find plenty to enjoy here.

Rating: ****

Buy the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Gramophone Lullaby (1:27)
  • Main Titles (1:22)
  • Sally Arrives at Blackwood Manor (2:42)
  • Lamp Lamb Lambency (1:07)
  • Sally’s Lullaby (2:13)
  • Garden Music (2:24)
  • Into the Basement (3:19)
  • Sneaky Sally (0:50)
  • Silly Sally (2:11)
  • Tooth Fairy’s Gift (1:23)
  • Gardener Gets Snipped (5:32)
  • Treesome (2:46)
  • Don’t Turn Out the Lights (2:04)
  • Bed Bugs (1:42)
  • Shrink Rap (1:22)
  • Sally Leaves (2:51)
  • The Library (4:01)
  • Goblins in the Garage (3:59)
  • Goblin Trouble (7:35)
  • Return to Blackwood (2:38)
  • Voices From the Pit (1:23)

Running Time: 55 minutes 01 seconds

Lakeshore Records (2011)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. Conducted by Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Bill Boston and Rossano Galante. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Craig Beckett, Jason Ruder and Tim Ryan. Album produced by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

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