Home > Reviews > UNLAWFUL ENTRY – James Horner



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Unlawful Entry was one of a spate of home invasion movies that hit theaters in the early 1990s. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan from a screenplay by Lewis Colick and Ken Friedman, the film starred Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe as Michael and Karen Carr, a happy couple living in an upscale part of Los Angeles. One night an intruder enters their home and attacks Karen before escaping; one of the police officers who responds to their 911 call is Pete Davis (Ray Liotta), who is friendly and helpful and goes out of his way to install a good security system in the house. However, what initially appears to be a kind gesture quickly turns sinister when Pete develops an unhealthy fixation on Karen, and begins to stalk her. The film, which co-starred Roger E. Mosley and Ken Lerner, was a commercial success, and was especially praised for Ray Liotta’s compelling and terrifying performance as the unhinged Pete.

The score for Unlawful Entry was by James Horner, who had previously worked with director Kaplan on Project X in 1987. It was the second of four scores Horner wrote in 1992, and could almost be considered the one last of the ‘low key synth’ action-thriller works that peppered his filmography during the preceding decade or so, and which included titles such as 48 HRS, Commando, Red Heat, and Another 48 HRS, as well as Thunderheart, which had been released a few months previously. Unlawful Entry is probably the darkest of all those works, a suspenseful blend of piano, percussion, and electronic textures that explores the treacherous corners of Pete’s increasingly deranged obsession with Karen, and the lengths he will go to in order to feed that desire.

The ensemble for Unlawful Entry is a small one; there is no live orchestra at all – just a piano – and everything else was performed by Horner himself alongside his collaborators Mike Fisher, Ralph Grierson, Judd Miller, and Ian Underwood. There are a number of interesting textural ideas in the score, though, including the use of the EWI Electronic Wind Instrument, which will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of Trevor Jones’s 1980s music, and which is used in place of a saxophone here. This combo of piano and EWI is at the heart of the score’s main thematic idea, which is presented in the opening “Main Title” cue.

The theme presents an elegant, sultry, but moody central melody that slinks its way between EWI and piano, backed with an electronic bass and wandering keyboard textures; there’s a vague hint of John Carpenter or Brad Fiedel to the piece, which isn’t entirely surprising considering that Fiedel had scored director Kaplan’s two previous films, but it’s nevertheless an intriguing sound for Horner to adopt, and it establishes Michael and Karen as a modern couple in a contemporary suburban locale with a very 1990s vibe.

Unfortunately, this theme is almost entirely absent for the bulk of the underscore proper, which instead sees Horner engaging in some of the most aggressive, abrasive, and occasionally quite unpleasant suspense scoring of his entire career. Many of the electronic textures that Horner uses are grating, jarring sounds that seek to illustrate the murderous chaos in Pete’s mind, and the reactions of Michael and Karen as Pete’s plan to ‘win’ Karen over – and get rid of Michael in the process – unfolds. It’s appropriately edgy in context, but as a standalone listening experience it can quickly test the patience with its relentless dissonance.

Many of the subsequent cues feature several familiar Horner compositional mannerisms. The crashing pianos that would later appear in scores like Sneakers and The Pelican Brief feature prominently in “Intruder,” an effective and sustained assault of fear and panic that captures the intensity of the attack on Michael and Karen’s home. The piano motif that underpins the main theme returns in “Being Watched,” but when the EWI sax melody comes in it lacks any sense of warmth to counterbalance the chilly tone, and the resultant feeling is one of brooding discomfort. Similarly, the abrasive action that often interrupts the cue is a cacophony of clanging, banging chaos, the style of which would go on play a major part in his next score, Patriot Games.

“Leon’s Death” underscores the scene where Pete ruthlessly arranges for the on-the-job assassination of his longtime partner, who has come close to discovering the truth about Pete’s intentions towards Karen. The cue is an intense jackhammer of more synth-based action music, hammering percussion and relentless keyboard patterns, metallic textures and sinister piano tinkles, as well as what sounds like a synthesized police siren to give the cue an unusual timbre. It’s all angry, sharp, stabbing unpleasantness, and this style bleeds through into the subsequent “Drug Bust” too, which presents a relentless percussion tattoo, a bleak variation on the main title theme, and even a guest appearance from the four note ‘danger motif’ at its darkest and most ominous.

“Pete’s Passion” is the score’s longest sequence at more than eleven minutes, and it underscores the film’s intense finale as Pete – having manipulated circumstances such that Michael has been arrested and sits languishing in jail – makes his move on Karen. When she rebuffs him, he finally snaps and goes berserk, first attempting to rape her, and then kill her, all while Michael desperately tries to get out of prison and return home to save her before it’s too late. The cue is essentially an exploration of all Horner’s ideas for the score: the main theme piano figure, the danger motif carried by synth strings, the needling percussion tempos, and the growling synth textures all swirl around each other, creating an atmosphere thick with dread. Dream-like echoes of the main theme begin to coalesce during the second half of the cue, as Horner gradually dials up the tension, and the finale is a frenzy of agitated electronic pulses and layers of sound, culminating in a low, droning hum of shock, and a horror stinger. Thankfully, the “End Credits” piece comes with a full reprise of the main theme, and has a sense of exhausted relief that is quite palpable – a darkly satisfying conclusion acknowledging the violent end to Pete’s madness.

The original album for Unlawful Entry was released by Intrada Records at the time the film came out, and presented most of the score’s important material in a concise 35 minute package. In 2017, to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary, La-La Land Records released a 50-minute 2000-unit limited edition expanded album, remastered by Mike Matessino, produced by Matessino and Nick Redman, and featuring in-depth liner notes by Jeff Bond. Three cues are extended (“Pete’s Passion” is now 14 minutes long!), and the new music is essentially ‘more of the same,’ although both “Protect & Serve” and “I Can Kill You” both feature deeply unsettling versions of the main theme bolstered by big synth chords that are worth hearing.

As a Horner fan, there are lots of little touches and compositional ideas I appreciate, but for the layman Unlawful Entry is unlikely to place anywhere near the top of a list of his most beloved scores. It’s an angry, belligerent, and at times deeply unappealing score, which is enormously effective in context, but offers little of note as an album to anyone except devoted Horner connoisseurs. It remains unclear why Horner decided to score this as an all-synth affair; much like earlier works such as The Name of the Rose, as well as parts of Thunderheart, an orchestral presence in key scenes could have had an enormous emotional impact on the film itself, but for whatever reason – budgetary, directorial decree – the score remains firmly attached to its synth palette. There are highlights, to be sure, but in the end this is one of Horner’s least interesting works of the 1990s.

Buy the Unlawful Entry soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:14)
  • Intruder (2:08)
  • Being Watched (5:42)
  • Leon’s Death (3:01)
  • Drug Bust (3:06)
  • Bail Denied (2:26)
  • Pete’s Passion (11:15)
  • End Credits (4:22)
  • Main Title (3:15)
  • Intruder (2:07)
  • Protect & Serve (4:28)
  • Being Watched (5:43)
  • Leon’s Death (Extended Version) (4:00)
  • Drug Bust (Extended Version) (3:24)
  • Bail Denied (2:29)
  • I Can Kill You (1:55)
  • Bye Penny/Mike Phones (3:10)
  • Pete’s Passion (Extended Version) (14:25)
  • End Credits (4:31)

Running Time: 35 minutes 14 seconds — Original
Running Time: 49 minutes 27 seconds — Expanded

Intrada MAF-7031D (1992) — Original
La-La Land Records LLLCD-1424 (1992/2017) — Expanded

Music composed by James Horner. Performed by James Horner, Mike Fisher, Ralph Grierson, Judd Miller and Ian Underwood. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Original album produced by James Horner and Douglass Fake. Expanded album produced by Nick Redman and Mike Matessino.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: