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Something Wicked This Way Comes - Original Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany May 12, 2009

  • Movies review

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    Something Wicked This Way Comes - Original Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review

    Right, folks ... let's be quick about this, eh? By now, regular readers of these score reviews will know that a lot of the releases I cover tend to be extremely limited and, naturally, the best and most sought-after of them get snapped-up right away and are sold out within a couple of days. Or hours, even. Well, the debut CD release of James Horner's highly cherished and hotly anticipated score for Disney's 1983 horror excursion, a brilliant adaptation of Ray Bradbury's celebrated short story-cum-novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, has finally arrived after having been locked away in the vaults of the House Of Mouse for far too long. With Intrada now gaining access to these hallowed archives, and with the aid of the composer, himself, and his regular album producer/engineer, Simon Rhodes, the score is now available in a run of 3000 copies worldwide. Although Horner has a very vociferous crowd of naysayers, his fans are legion, and for them this release will be a Holy Grail. Whilst many decry his self-plagiarism, what is unquestionable is that his scores are almost always beautifully composed and immensely popular, tapping effortlessly into the emotional core of the drama and the characters therein and providing a texture and dimension to the narrative that mere scripting, direction and performances could not hope to achieve on their own. And this lyrical and atmospheric combination of sinister carnival diabolism and soothing Americana is one of his most highly cherished excursions into his favoured genre of fantasy. Long sought-after, this album now becomes available with fantastically remastered and transferred sound, something that the producers fought long and hard to make happen, due to the lack, nowadays, of 3M Digital Audio Mastering Systems, with which this score needed to be recorded. But, with extreme diligence, boundless optimism and a little bit of good fortune, the search proved fruitful and the score now comes to us in a presentation that is bewitching, frightening and simply glorious to experience. All those bootlegs can now be binned, that's for sure!

    So, before you read any further, I urge to order yourselves a copy before it's too late and those greedy Ebayers slap a King's Ransom on top of it. Directed by Jack Clayton, whose supreme supernatural tale, The Innocents, I have had the pleasure to review for the site already, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of those movies that slides along under the radar and goes overlooked by far too many. Just shy of being a cult favourite, the film tells the story of two young boys in a quaint 1920's Midwestern town and their battle with the evil carnival master, Mr. Dark (an excellent Jonathan Pryce), who has arrived in their sleepy enclave with his travelling circus of freaks, temptations and dubious magical delights. The film was surprisingly dark for Disney - genuinely terrifying in a couple of instances - and bolstered by a sumptuous visual palette, strong performances from heroic curmudgeon Jason Robards and a sense of both the surreal and the marvellously spellbinding to keep audiences on their toes. Disney doing a horror film? Author Ray Bradbury often favoured the mingling of whimsy with the unknown and Something Wicked was, in many ways, the perfect showcase for his study of simple values from simple times pitted against depravity, deceit and darkness. Disney's understanding of good triumphing over evil and of childish innocence being the best weapon in the struggle against cruelty and greed was actually uniquely fitting for the tale.

    Famously, it wasn't even supposed to be James Horner scoring the film. Black Robe's Georges Delerue initially composed for Clayton, but his music was deemed too sombre and didn't quite elicit either enough chills or enough rustic autumnal flavour for the visuals and the mood of the film. The swapping of composers is nothing uncommon and Horner, ever the enthusiast, found the opportunity extremely enervating amidst what was turning out to be a very busy for him. For this album, Horner and Rhodes have re-arranged the score to make it a more rewarding listening experience. There is nothing missing, whatsoever, but the running order is no longer the same as you would hear in the movie.

    “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes ...”

    The Main Title is now justifiably famous and here it is the full sequence of titles and the autumnal introduction to the film, as well, with the other cue added into it to render this something of a double-deal in terms of atmosphere and thematic relevance. As Mr. Dark's hellish locomotive burns ominously through the night towards us during the film's opening credits, Horner creates a wonderful sense of deep down dread ploughing remorselessly through the darkness. The Pandemonium Carnival is coming to town and all hell is about to break loose. Rolling strings denote the approach of the train, spooky piano notes echo in the shadows, high woodwinds soar above and an anguished horn wails dementedly in both warning and lament. A fantastic mock-medieval melody then strikes up - beautifully macabre and jolly at the same time - and there is the distinct impression of demons cackling away at us from the shadows, sprites dancing in the firelight. How he manages to paint such images is beyond me, but this score was composed whilst Horner was at the first of many creative peaks in his career. He had just done the awesome scores for Wolfen, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Krull, Brainstorm and Uncommon Valour, and his ability to match moods with the characters on the screen and craft a musical milieu that could exist beyond the imagery was second only to Jerry Goldsmith. This haunting opener, like the title score for Tobe Hooper's TV adaptation of Salem's Lot, was extremely memorable and has often been cited as a fan-favourite. The composer's hallmark of swirling strings and fluttering woodwinds is used magnificently to evoke the squall of wind and rustling leaves. His instinctual writing conjuring up the image of dust and paper kicked about by an unprovoked tempest. This adherence to the elementalism of sound, as evidenced right across his canon, but with the likes of Wolfen, Willow and The Perfect Storm coming immediately to mind as fine examples, makes his orchestra literally come to life with a tangible presence of sinuous flexiblity.

    The elegant switch-around that Horner delivers after this infernal opening speeds us ahead to the town in which Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) and Will Halloway (Vidal I. Peterson) wish their lives away in dreams of adventure, the pair unaware, amid lyrical, fairytale glissandi, youthful violins and flute, of the danger that their very innocence is summoning. In actual fact, this joyous pastoral cue dominates the majority of the first track and you could be forgiven for thinking that the menace may just simply pass by the sleepy town.

    Track 2, Dark's Pandemonium Carnival, however, makes sure to return us to the eerie, windswept realm of Pryce's suavely sinister black magician. The two boys have sneaked from their beds in the middle of the night to investigate the weird train that has come rumbling into town. Following the tracks, the boys discover that the circus the train carried has already set up on the outskirts of their community. Horner embellishes the track with a terrifying wordless female choir that shrieks and wails against the backdrop of woodwind, frenzied strings and tortured tuba. An early rendition of the folksy pastoral melody is briskly swept up in a gale of orchestral clamour, chimes sounding, cymbals clashing in the distance and the whole thing rising in tempestuous delight like some witches' riotous Sabbat. The track ends with a slow, receding phrase of Dark's theme, and is capped-off with one of those deliciously lingering note quivers on keyboard and harp, as the air hangs heavy with nervous anticipation.

    There is always something macabre and sinister about carnivals and circuses. Even that supposedly innocent organ music and its boisterous aide of the waltzing calliope conspire to unnerve. Horner taps into this quite emphatically with The Carousel, Track 3, in which Fred Bock, of his orchestra, twists back on the calliope to create a menacingly over-jolly funfair vibe that is swiftly enmeshed with discord and a smothering swarm of warped orchestral effects. Horner's patented stone-on-steel squeal - as heard extensively in Aliens and Star Trek II - jangles the nerves as the boys spy dark doings on the spectral carousel - its reverse spinning peeling back the years from Mr. Dark's assistant, the fabulously named Mr. Cougar. Dark is pleased to make the acquaintance of two such innocent souls and, to the accompaniment of Horner's spiky, yet insinuating oboe and frigid strings, shows them how his tattoos can dance. There is seduction to the music, haunting and deadly ... and a hypnotic quality that is desperately disquieting, yet exquisitely wrought.

    Track 4, Miss Foley In The Mirror, is a tour de force, too. Spinning around the episode that tells of the cantankerous old school-mistress who longs to regain her former beauty, Horner concocts a heady brew of quasi-romance, sudden horror and grim revelation as Dark's magic exacts its toll for granting her wish. Glittering harp and celli elicit a skin-prickling chill. That female choir unleashes a demonic caterwauling that engulfs you with the impression of fingernails scuttling across your face. It should be uncomfortable but, once again, you have to admire how Horner's arrangement manufactures imagery and sensations all of their own, and you can't help but be whisked away in the delirious hullabaloo of it all. Harp and strings are buffeted by waves of bass and the track segues, midway through, into the tense stand-off between Robard's stubbornly valiant Charles, Will's grumpy father, and Mr. Dark from a later scene in the film, added here to heighten the musical flow. Charles understands the danger of Dark's lies and deceptive temptations and is determined to fight back ... to save the town, his son and his friend, and redeem his own self-worth in the process.

    Again breaking with the continuity of the score as heard in the movie, Track 5, The Boys Buy A Lightning Rod, hails from much earlier in the story when they, fortuitously as it transpires, obtain the rod from a travelling salesman. The salesman/tinker is aware of a storm approaching - the very thing that Mr. Dark fears - and the music hinges on a slower, more light-hearted rendition of the boys' pastoral theme. For now, it seems, there is nothing to fear.

    Track 6, The Library, is the precursor to the cue we heard in the tail-end of Track 4. This is where Charles actually confronts Dark and refuses to be taken-in by his charms and those dubious offers to grant him his youth again. The music gradually builds, with ominous low-ends rippling beneath us and a rising wall of threatening vocals from the choir. There is something in this cue that reminds me of how Christopher Young approached his scores for Hellraiser 1 and 2, something that is profoundly evil, yet smoothly organic and irresistible at the same time. The orchestration is sublime, with strings and woodwinds coiling around us ever more tightly, but eerily maintaining that spectral timbre of swirling wind that, somehow, feels so spacious and invigorating. Horner ensures that the music does not go overboard and break out into wild anger, although Mr. Dark does, indeed, vent his fury and demand to know the whereabouts of the two boys, tearing pages from the town's diary that then burst into flames in one of the film's best moments. Sly and remorseless, the cue seethes with anvil-clangs, bells and heavy notes from the piano. After a sustained wail from the female voices, the piano casts a scattering of notes and the woodwinds gently glide across a atmosphere of tense animosity and dread. A rising cymbal shiver eases into a faint stutter from the piano. The Library is certainly another terrific track and, at almost seven minutes, is the longest on the album.

    Horner experiments with mock Middle Eastern flair in Track 7, Side Show. When one of the town's inhabitants first investigates the Carnival, he finds his dream of female company in the guise of a tent filled with exotic dancers. Jim and Will peer into this sensuous hideaway and the music, suffused with tambourine, bells, hand-drums and other ethnic percussion instruments bounces along with an erotic charade of Arabic promise. But Dark's promises are never what they seem, and the choir rear up from out of nowhere, like a shark, their sudden litany swift and inescapable as another soul is snatched. This cue is a fine mood swing that, like Dark's Carnival, itself, is a trick to lull you before the mask is dropped and the real danger revealed, for the next two tracks will be real heart-stoppers.

    Discovered and The Spiders, tracks 8 and 9 respectively, are tremendous set-pieces of musical mayhem. Jim Nightshade and Will Halloran have poked their noses too far into Dark's diabolical business and the soul-snatching ringmaster is on to them. Commencing with a splendidly ethereal cue that floats alongside the lilting flute, glistening timpani and soaring vocals that seem literally to penetrate the clouds above, “Discovered” then climbs to a fever-pitch of tormented strings, claw-plucked harp and that metallic hiss that Horner so loves. Backed by clattering triangle and chimes, the track then rolls into a churning chase sequence that is an intense variation of the main theme. Percussion and piano seem to bound together in one lurching locomotive mass, their headlong flight aided by woodwind and brass that billow out around it like steam. There is a faint hint of Star Trek II's Kahn theme in here that adds a primal severity to the mix, too.

    When the Dust Witch unleashes a horde of demonic “Spiders” upon the boys as they cower in Jim's bedroom, trapped as much by Horner's intense barrage of jangling percussion, slashing strings and wild, discordant woodwinds as by the fearsome arachnids, the score takes on another, more ferocious element. Horner's raucous percussion and squealing jabs of clarinet, flute and oboe make this a considerably jarring composition. He would pursue this type of musical bombardment throughout his whole career, with the uniquely aggressive sound making Aliens, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Krull and action/thrillers such as Red Heat and 48 Hrs come to such shocking intensity that you actually flinch from each orchestral slice and grasp, but Something Wicked was one of the first and most original occasions he would incorporate such harsh flourish. When a bolt of lightning, the herald of the storm that Dark is trying to outrun, hits the boys' lightning rod, the Dust Witch and her army of magical tarantulas are dispersed, and the track ebbs away.

    Again, out of film-order, comes Track 10, Magic Window. Another eclectic cue filled with a sense of dark wonder and trembling trepidation. This is actually for a scene set a long way before most of the action takes place. The travelling salesman, Tom Fury (played by Royal Dano) spies the Dust Witch encased in ice in a store-front window and is at once bewitched and enticed into her trap so that her master may glean from him when the storm will hit town. There is a snatch of the main theme, a sinister whirling dervish of woodwinds and strings and a marvellously sustained high note from the choir. This demonic-infused score then returns to the beautiful autumnal whimsy of the town and its innocent apple-pie demeanour for the final track, entitled simply End Titles, that helps to reassure us that the evil has not only passed, but been defeated by honesty and bravery. A simple harmonica adds that syrupy rustic appeal to the folksy send-off and Horner's score slides away into the distance of a forgotten era, with a leisurely, Copeland-esque grace.

    As is typical of Intrada's releases, this album comes with a lavishly illustrated 12-page booklet of notes on the film and the score from Intrada's Roger Feigelson. Whilst not as comprehensive as FSM's typical releases, this is still a brilliant little accompaniment to the score - and I love that picture of Pam Grier's Dust Witch in her civvies ... awesome legs!

    Full Track Listing

    1. Main Title (6.46)

    2. Dark's Pandemonium Carnival (4.27)

    3. The Carousel (4.34)

    4. Miss Foley In The Mirror (4.51)

    5. The Boys Buy A Lightning Rod (3.25)

    6. The Library (6.51)

    7. Side Show (1.58)

    8. Discovered (3.45)

    9. The Spiders (3.24)

    10. Magic Window (2.15)

    11. End Titles (2.45)

    Total Time 45.05


    Verdict

    After the recent release of the long-awaited Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, this is yet more gold for Horner fans.

    The combination of Bradbury, Clayton, a sinister Jonathan Pryce and a host of creepy spiders had a supreme effect on the composer and enabled him to produce some of his best work. With menace, mystery and mayhem aplenty, it is marvellous that he found the time to create such wistful Americana, as well. The two ends of the spectrum shouldn't normally fit so snugly together, but Horner meshes the sweetly mundane with the wondrously magical with consummate ease. His music for the film lifts it to another level, although I would still love to hear what Delerue came up with in the first place.

    Much of the typical Horner sound is present in this score, but you can hear the evolution of a couple of his favourite motifs and, possibly, the beginnings of a warmer approach to his composing. Intrada's relationship with him seems to be growing stronger too, which is reflected in the time and effort that went into producing this album - and this can only mean bigger and better things to come.

    Although there is plenty of mischief and malevolence in this score, don't be put off by the title, folks - for ordering this ensures that Something wonderful, your way comes.


    The Rundown

    Movie

    9

    Overall

    9

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