SECRETS OF A PSYCHOPATH – Scott Glasgow
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
I apologize in advance for what this review is about to become, because I know many of you will see it as a rant, but it’s something that’s been bothering me for quite a while and I need to get it off my chest. But first, the basics: Secrets of a Psychopath is a low budget horror-thriller starring Kari Wuhrer and Mark Famiglietti as Katherine and Henry, two siblings who lure unsuspecting victims to their house via an online dating site, and then subject the hapless women who respond their ad to increasingly gruesome games of torture and, eventually, murder, all in an apparent attempt to ‘heal’ Henry’s sexual dysfunction. It’s directed by 93-year old Bert Gordon, the man behind such cult shockers as The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, Empire of the Ants, and The Food of the Gods, and has an original score by the super talented Scott Glasgow, who has shown his skill at crafting memorable scores in this genre through previous titles like Lo and Riddle.
Although the financial restraints of the film required Glasgow to perform the score on high quality samples instead of with a live orchestra, the compositional technique and inventiveness Glasgow shows in his writing more than makes up for any sonic limitations the score may have. This is a truly impressive horror/thriller score on all fronts; it’s very easy to score films like this with a few eerie string sustains and a few stingers here and there, but Glasgow goes the extra mile and endows his music with a sense of melancholy elegance, empathizing with both the killers and the victims, and giving both the film and its music an intellectual depth that you would not expect to find. In describing his own music, Glasgow says “There are children’s songs, music box melodies, and many other innocent colors combined with orchestral ‘violence’ to accompany the descent into madness the main character finds himself in”.
As you would expect, with a film of this type, a fair amount of the score is quite unsettling. Glasgow uses skittering, eerie pizzicato effects and groaning bass chords to create an atmosphere of tension and dread, but counterbalances them with much more attractive thematic material, resulting in a score which is appealing and frightening in equal measure. The opening “Prelude” presents the first performance of the score’s pretty music box motif, its innocence shattered by tortured-sounding metallic effects, before emerging into a lovely rendition of the score’s main theme, a child-like melody for woodwinds and pianos, made all the more sinister by it’s off-kilter underbelly. This is a technique that composers like Jerry Goldsmith and Christopher Young have used time and time again; taking something that is superficially pretty, but distorting its innocence to suit the needs of the film.
This musical juxtaposition continues throughout the entire score, and in many ways becomes its defining factor. The woodwinds and rolling timpanis of “Red Room” play against the deconstructed music box theme and abstract, almost Penderecki-esque string textures in the subsequent “Playtime Murder”. The wintry chimes and ghostly choral effects of “Marital Bliss” lead into rampant, occasionally quite brutal orchestral carnage in “Escape”. “Genine” is perhaps the perfect example of the score’s split personality, with Glasgow performing the main theme melody – one which would, if heard on its own, be genuinely lovely, but which is twisted into something quite different through the addition of the bitter orchestral effects behind it. Subsequent cues like “Memories” and “The Photo Album” continue this technique, with the latter upping the ante in the creepiness stakes with the most prominent re-statement of the music box theme.
“Henry’s Deception” again has a Goldsmith influence, with stark, cold-sounding sequences for harp and flute chilling the listener to the bone. “Georgette” has a real atmosphere of encroaching dread, with rattling bass flute trills and fluttering, buzzing brasses. “Abduction” has a sense of almost religious portent as a result of the introduction of tubular bells. The pretty piano motif in “Shocking” is completely destroyed by the string dissonances in the cue’s second half. The score concludes with “Family Tragedy,” another graceful performance of the main theme, this time on solo piano, but which is again turned into something dark and grisly by the slicing, unyielding strings. “Soroicide & Finalis” ends the score on a downbeat note, daring the listener not to wince as Glasgow piles on the layers of uncompromising mayhem, prior to its’ poignant and distressing end.
And, so, here comes the rant part. With all due respect to the people who made Secrets of a Psychopath, it frustrates me beyond belief that a composer with as much intelligence, musical knowledge, compositional skill, and dramatic capability as Scott Glasgow has is forced to work on films like this, simply to continue working. Glasgow himself will tell you that success in the film music industry has little to do with talent: it has to do with contacts, relationships, and no small amount of blind luck, by being in the right place and meeting the right people at the right time. All this is undoubtedly true, but surely there comes a point where actually being a really good composer and knowing how to write a really good film score has to enter the equation and be a deciding factor?
Scott Glasgow isn’t the only composer in this position – I have in my head a list of a dozen or so absolutely superb composers who never get a sniff of an A-list studio project, despite having talent in abundance and the potential to absolutely knock it out of the park – but Glasgow might be the one guy whose level of skill is the most disparate to the number and quality of scores he is asked to write. You can’t listen to scores like Riddle, Lo, Bone Dry, and now Secrets of a Psychopath, and not scratch your head in puzzlement as to why he’s not writing, at the bare minimum, one or two fairly major studio features each year. I don’t have any definitive answer as to why this is, but I sincerely hope this review is seen by someone at a studio who matters, and can play a tiny part in maybe redressing that balance.
Secrets of a Psychopath is an easy score to appreciate. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of creating a dark atmosphere, and capturing the essence of the twisted relationship between the two protagonists, while simultaneously ensuring that the traditional scares and moments of outright horror do not go unaddressed. While some may be put off by the fact that the score is all-synth, Scott Glasgow’s obvious compositional talent and his creative use of the extensive samples at his disposal go a long way to ensuring that the score remains interesting throughout. Fans of horror and thriller scores will certainly find plenty to entertain them here, as will anyone who appreciates scores from a long, long way off the beaten path.
Buy the Secrets of a Psychopath soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Prelude (2:45)
- Red Room (2:27)
- Playtime Murder (2:06)
- Marital Bliss (3:05)
- Escape (2:49)
- Exploring the House (2:00)
- Genine (2:12)
- Henry’s Deception (3:49)
- Photos of the Dead (2:30)
- Georgette (3:35)
- Grace (1:55)
- Abduction (2:02)
- Shocking (2:13)
- Memories (3:00)
- The Photo Album (4:33)
- Fantasy Hallucination (2:20)
- Family Tragedy (5:27)
- Soroicide & Finalis (3:54)
Running Time: 52 minutes 42 seconds
Moviescore Media/Screamworks Records SWR-15006 (2015)
Music composed, arranged and performed by Scott Glasgow. Album produced by Scott Glasgow and Mikael Carlsson.