The first of John Frizzell's Dark Castle diptych (followed by Ghost Ship, in 2002) is also one of the most boisterous horror scores in recent years, with a marvelous fusion of symphonic and modern electronic sounds.
Written with a strong sense of humour for the ridiculous tale of psychics-gone-bad who lure a silly family to a puzzle house and use them as bait for thirteen ghosts (get it?), Frizzell's opening cue - "The Juggernaut" - starts the album on a grand scale, with a brassy, lumbering phrase for the first ghost to be captured in a jagged metal scrapyard. The repeated motif is beautifully contrasted by short, delicate breaks with gentle flutes and worrisome woodwinds, and a hastened tempo for the rapid bodycount and bloody sprays from the Juggernaut's carnage. Frizzell's employs his brassy, organized chaos like a flagellating cat o' nine tails, emphasizing metal tonalities and shimmering dissonance.
The composer's unique fusion of electronics and orchestral samples are heavily at work in the score's middle section, particularly in early intro cues, like "Cyrus' Will." As early as Alien Resurrection, Frizzell has comfortably enhanced his orchestral writing with electronic effects that feel a bit techno, but often mature into angry sound clusters that effectively enliven both action and elongated sequences.
A pulsing electronic drone, flittering digital pulses, panning acoustic scuffs, and organic strings form the gentle furrow that guides Frizzell's theme, written for the malevolent and greedy uber-psychic (Uncle Cyrus), who plots the egomaniacal power trip that traumatizes the family. The theme is a clever, lilting series of 11-notes, creating an unending pattern that Frizzell transfers to the strings, boosted by a deepening bass pulse.
"Rafkin Struck Down" uses a scaled-down version of Cyrus' theme, and like the assaultive passage in "The Jackal Attacks," Frizzell layers techno beats with a weird marriage of electrified string and guitar screeching. Brief, silent pauses break up the full orchestral clashes in the final section of "Jackal Attacks," and the effect recalls the creature attacks in Alien Resurrection that were considered a bit too coarse for some listeners.
Cyrus' theme gets a Herrmannesque spin in "Junkyard," with Frizzell evoking the former's Cape Fear theme, and some lovely vibrato that ripples over the lower brass. The cue also illustrates one of Frizzell's best skills - the confident balance between sustained tones, and percussive puchlines that are carefully orchestrated for a gauged sonic menace.
A blunder among over-zealous composers is to keep repeating the same level of bombast; robbing all subsequent booms of their power and vital resonance between brief respites. The end result is a monotony of thunderous clashes that render an action or suspense scene aurally dull, or has subtleties disappear amid a cacophony of surround sound effects. The structure of "Junkyard" is straightforward, but its power lines in Frizzell's organization of the main hits, and tricking the listener into moments of false safety via tonal modifications among specific instruments - falsely anointing one crescendo as the final word, but through a subsequent chord shift, hitting a scene with an even greater sense of looming danger.
"Entering the House" introduces the home's wavering, disconcerting main theme - a sixteen-note ascension that favorably allows the composer to reposition, stretch, compress, and vary the pattern, as the characters enter and poke around the home, unaware that an elaborate, internal cuckoo clock is blocking off all exits, and releasing the collected ghosts at key moments. "Entering" gives the score another colour variation, with a greater emphasis on strings, cautious brass, and a certain silky quality that reflects the home's stylish design - the perfect trick to ensnare the wide-eyed family.
There's also a great deal of unexpected diversity among the score's suspense cues. A good example is "Opening of the Chambers," which, after an intro of tonal shifts, gets nasty through simple Asian-styled percussion. Electronic pulses follow the sets of metallic taps that signal the unleashing of more ghosts, and the motif is further exploited in the brief cue, "The Hammer."
As the house becomes a tight death trap and builds towards a goofy climax, Frizzell's cues often contain dynamic shifts in low-level electronic textures, or have explosions of sometimes shrill combinations of large orchestra and electronic dissonance - something fans of more traditional, melodic horror scores might not fancy - but listeners already attuned to textural experimentation in recent scores (namely Tyler Bates' The Devil's Rejects , and tomandandy's The Hills Have Eyes ) will find Thirt3en Ghosts a welcome addition to their collection of modern horror music.
For an interview with John Frizzell, click HERE.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan