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VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE – Marco Beltrami

October 19, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A slightly belated sequel to the fun but curiously overlooked original, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe family – although this is likely to be change as the characters are absorbed into the mainstream MCU going forward. The film picks up the story immediately after the events of the first film, and sees San Francisco journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) living his new life in the company of the wisecracking brain-munching alien symbiote Venom, who now shares Eddie’s body – and occasionally takes over control of it, giving Eddie super-human powers. The plot of the film revolves around Eddie’s relationship with the incarcerated serial killer Cletus Kasady, played by Woody Harrelson, who appeared in the first film’s post-credits scene. After some exposition backstory involving Kasady’s adolescence in a home for unwanted children, and his relationship with Frances (Naomi Harris) – a young girl who has the power to generate a ‘sonic scream’ – the main crux of the story involves Kasady being infected by a second symbiote, named Carnage, breaking out of prison during his execution, and rampaging across the city – with only Eddie and Venom able to stop him. The film co-stars Michelle Williams and Stephen Graham, and is directed by actor and motion capture pioneer Andy Serkis.

The film is a big, violent action-adventure that offsets its dazzling special effects with some excellent humor from its leads. Eddie and Venom have a bickering, odd-couple relationship that is so much fun to watch; Venom has all the best lines, commenting on the absurdities in Eddie’s life, complaining that he has to eat chickens and chocolate instead of the human brains he craves, and essentially making Eddie’s life a misery – except for when they are called upon to save the city, at which point they join forces and become all-action anti-heroes. I loved the scene where Venom, after having an argument with Eddie, un-bonds with his host and hits the nightclubs of San Francisco, where nobody bats an eyelid at his bizarre appearance. The image of Venom in a rave nightclub, covered in glow hoops and dancing to trance music, is something I will not forget!

Speaking of music, the score for Venom: Let There Be Carnage is by Marco Beltrami, who is taking over from Ludwig Göransson, who scored the first movie. Beltrami is having a superb 2021; not only did he revisit his classic horror sound in his three Fear Street movies, he also scored the horror sequel A Quiet Place Part II, the sci-fi epic Chaos Walking, and the cult TV drama series Nine Perfect Strangers. Continuing this trend, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is yet another hit; in true Marvel fashion he has ignored everything that Göransson did and created a brand new soundscape and musical approach for the characters but, in this instance, this is absolutely a good thing. Beltrami’s sequel score is much more focused on the orchestra, much more instrumentally colorful, and much more thematically dense than Göransson’s score was, while the action music is fun and exciting and full of Beltrami compositional stylistics that date all the way back to 1990s scores like Scream, Mimic, and Hellboy.

The score is anchored by at least half a dozen themes – one for Venom, one for Eddie, a ‘buddy theme’ for both of them, one for Cletus, and one for Shriek – with the Cletus/Shriek themes often coming together to capture the twisted love story that drives the film’s events. There’s also a specific textural idea related to the Carnage symbiote, the sound of which came from Beltrami’s experiments with feedback loops and aggressive electroacoustic dissonance. However, by far the two most prominent ones are the Cletus-Shriek Love Theme, and the theme for Venom himself.

For the Cletus love story, Beltrami takes what would in other circumstances be a quite pleasant romantic theme and warps it, making use of a de-tuned piano, unusual woodwind instruments, and eerie-sounding glass harmonicas that feel askew. It’s an interesting way of conveying that their relationship is entirely damaged and built on the most unhealthy toxicity. You can hear it prominently in the first cue “St. Estes Reform School,” the film’s opening flashback to when both Cletus and Shriek first met as children, where it drips with tragedy and, eventually, earsplitting melodrama. It subsequently appears prominently in both “Postcard From the Edge” and “No Touching,” the latter of which is one of the final moments of relative calm before it all descends into bombastic chaos after Eddie inadvertently infects Cletus with the symbiote virus and allows Carnage to bind with him. Later, “Get Shriek” is darkly romantic at times, and features a big statement of the theme in its conclusion.

The theme for Venom, as described by Beltrami, was all about ‘distilling the visceral response that we get watching the character,’ and so he created a simple 5-note theme that is immediately recognizable. It plays throughout much of the score, and is often heard as a heroic fanfare in the moments of action and adventure, but it is also complex enough to carry more thoughtful and introspective emotional weight, especially when it deals with Eddie and Venom’s relationship, or Eddie’s relationship with his ex-fiancée Ann. For example, in “Lucky Slaughterhouse” Venom’s theme is presented as a lightly comedic idea, arranged for woodwinds and horns, but embedded in a whole host of percussive orchestral action writing which showcases some terrific brass clusters and interplay between the different sections. Later, in “Ann’s News,” the theme is filled with rhythmic, prancing string textures, agitated and on-edge, representing Eddie’s nervous reaction to Ann telling him she is engaged to someone else.

Other cues which prominently feature Venom’s theme include “Take the Hit,” which has a slightly wistful version of the theme for searching strings and soft piano, underpinned with electronic textures, and the first appearances of what eventually becomes the Eddie-Venom Buddy Theme; “Eddie Hangs on the Line,” which surrounds the theme with heavy chugging rock guitars; “Venom Needs Food,” which is a little eerie and mysterious; and “Find Venom,” which is bittersweet and is carried by soft strings and ascending harp scales that build to a warm crescendo.

The musical identity specifically associated with Cletus is menacing, a combination of icy strings performed as high, wavering sustains, with low brasses and the glassy textures from the love theme, all of which are intended to portray the character as someone dangerous, and not to be trifled with. You can hear his theme all through cues like “Cletus’ Cell,” the second half of “Postcard From the Edge,” and most of “No Touching”. “Lethal Rejection” and the subsequent “Carnage Unleashed” underscores Cletus’s execution scene where Carnage literally stops the cocktail of drugs from entering Cletus’s bloodstream, and takes over his body. The sequence is scored mostly with variations on Cletus’s theme combined with the Carnage distorted feedback textures, as part of a frenetic, propulsive action sequence for the full orchestra. The dissonant writing for brass and strings, and angry rock-music style electronic pulses and rhythms, are highly effective here.

An interesting one-off cue is “Eddie Draws,” a madcap piece full of metallic and electronic rhythms and scales, which is oddly amusing in context – it accompanies a scene of Venom literally controlling Eddie’s body and making him create a series of art sketches based on his observations of Cletus’s prison cell, which become important plot points later in the film.

Once Cletus and Carnage bond, and their reign of terror begins, Beltrami leans heavily on his action and horror stylistics. Cues like “There is Only Carnage,” “The Great Escape,” and “People Seeing Monsters” are awash in bold string flourishes, brass triplets and fast paced clusters, and lots of electronic percussive ideas including a sound which can only be described as ‘dubstep warbling’. There are statements of Carnage’s theme and Cletus’s theme throughout – but, of course, it’s not long before Eddie and Venom track them down and set the wheels in motion for the climactic battle.

“Turn on the Charm” features the first major heroic statement of the Venom theme, and this leads into “Eddie Escapes,” which features the score’s most prominent statement of Eddie’s theme, which then combines with Venom’s theme in a triumphant heroic major key, and is often underpinned with rock inflection. “You Can Eat Them All” is the prelude to the film’s all-action finale wherein Venom and Carnage come face to face in a cathedral as Cletus and Shriek are about to get married. There is a sense of anticipation in the big electric guitar chords, and some clever interplay between Venom’s theme, the love theme, and Cletus’s theme, all building up to the intense climax as Carnage emerges to fight and Venom goes crazy at the prospect of finally being able to munch on some brains. Oh yeah!

The two “Unholy Matrimony” cues comprise a 10-minute action sequence which underscores the film’s fierce final confrontation in the church. It’s a huge chaotic battle in which all the elements of the score come together – orchestra, electronics, electric guitar and rock elements, even some choir – amid prominent statements of Venom’s theme in full hero mode, the love theme, and some superb interplay between the Venom/Carnage and Eddie/Cletus themes, each representing the various inter-personal fights. The action is powerful, and initially seems un-focused, but it is actually hyper-focused almost to the point of mickey mousing as Beltrami switches between thematic statements constantly; there are deconstructed allusions to one theme, then another, then another, as the focus constantly shifts to different characters, and the music follows suit. There are echoes here of several great early Beltrami scores in the orchestrations and chord progressions – the aforementioned Hellboy, Scream, and Mimic – and some especially fabulous outbursts of screaming brass that is viscerally satisfying .

“He Did Not Taste Good” is the aftermath of the battle (where Venom literally eats Carnage) and is full of fun and exciting rhythmic ideas, as well as a heroic statement of Venom’s theme with ‘uplifting’ orchestrations and adornments. The coda, in “Panza and Quixote,” is the score proper’s most prominent statement of the Buddy theme, and sounds wistful, perhaps a little comedic, as Eddie and Venom contemplate their future.

The final three cues are all ‘bonus suite’ arrangements of one or more of the main themes. “Venom and Blues” is a version of the Buddy theme arranged like a blues piece, smooth and groovy, full of muted horns, a honkytonk piano, brushed cymbals, a slow hand electric guitar, and woodwind embellishments; tonally it reminds me very much of the final “BPRD” cue from Hellboy, which is a very good thing indeed. “Venom’s Suite Tooth” presents the Venom theme in its most prominent hero-mode, before turning into a huge thrash metal variation with heavy guitars, rock percussion, and screaming electronics. Finally, “Brock and Roll” is a dance-like electronica EDM version of the Venom theme, upbeat and energetic, and a ton of fun.

Whoever made the decision to ask Marco Beltrami to start from scratch on Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and abandon everything that Ludwig Göransson did on the original film, should be given a pat on the back, and maybe even a big box of chicken and chocolate, because it’s an improvement on every front. The themes are strong and memorable, the creepy drama inherent in the love theme gives the relationship between Cletus and Shriek a sense of doomed tragedy, and the action music is vibrant and intense and intricate, especially in the church-set finale. Furthermore, the stylistic throwbacks to Beltrami’s late 1990s heyday remind us why many of us fell in love with his music in the first place.

Buy the Venom: Let There Be Carnage soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • St. Estes Reform School (3:27)
  • Cletus’ Cell (2:45)
  • Eddie Draws (1:31)
  • Brock’s Revival (1:00)
  • Lucky Slaughterhouse (1:46)
  • Ann’s News (1:07)
  • Take the Hit (1:30)
  • Postcard From the Edge (1:53)
  • No Touching! (3:32)
  • Eddie Hangs on the Line (1:04)
  • Lethal Rejection (2:05)
  • Carnage Unleashed (2:05)
  • Mulligan Visits Eddie (2:46)
  • There is Only Carnage (1:41)
  • Get Shriek (2:40)
  • The Great Escape (2:20)
  • Venom Needs Food (1:16)
  • People Seeing Monsters (1:31)
  • Find Venom (1:57)
  • Turn on the Charm (1:41)
  • Eddie Escapes (2:26)
  • Shriek Comes Home (2:24)
  • You Can Eat Them All (1:39)
  • Unholy Matrimony Pt. 1 (6:17)
  • Unholy Matrimony Pt. 2 (4:03)
  • He Did Not Taste Good (2:18)
  • Panza and Quixote (1:01)
  • Venom and Blues (2:34)
  • Venom’s Suite Tooth (3:13)
  • Brock and Roll (2:45)

Running Time: 68 minutes 01 seconds

Sony Classical (2021)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jonathan Beard, Richard Bronskill, Rossano Galante, Mark Graham, Edward Trybek, Henri Wilkinson, Sean Barrett and Benjamin Hoff. Additional music by Marcus Trumpp, Miles Hankins and Gary Robinson. Recorded and mixed by Tyson Lozensky. Edited by Jim Schultz. Album produced by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

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