Reviews - The Frighteners

Review #1 by Ian Davis

Written in the same year as Mars Attacks!, the score for The Frighteners may come as a bit of a disappointment to Elfman fans. Thematically it lacks a tune that cuts through the noise of both sound effects and dialogue in the film, and the orchestral noise of the score itself. And it is noisy at times. If you like dissonance without too much sense of rhythmic direction behind it then tracks 4 and 8 especially are for you.
The biggest problem I found in this score is really its inaccessibility, aggravated by a lack of emotional (rather than dynamic/volume) contrast and paucity of extended fast cues. Perhaps this is in part a bungle in the editing of the CD.
It is a pity, then, that I discovered (after many, many hearings) that the music for The Frighteners is actually rather good, certainly imaginative in places. The overall mood hovers between menace and goofiness (the latter didn't really help the film's intensity—I think it should have been a serious action adventure type) and both are illustrated well in the score.
The use of harpsichord, often with unaccustomed dissonance (see The Addams Family etc), hints back to the score's ancestor, Scrooged. Both films were given added demonic character by Elfman, though of questionable benefit in the case of the former. The sheer variety of instrumentation is a hindrance to the cohesion of the score, and by the time you reach the introduction of piano (track 9), solo violin (track 10), various percussion instruments (track 11) and so on, astounding imagination in terms of colour and harmony begins to confuse rather than entertain. Elfman, it seems, cannot stop himself from overloading the score, where a more linear approach (ie. tidy orchestration with melodic and fast cues, unified especially with the admirable idea of the malignant sound of the harpsichord) would have been far more effective. The tendency to over-complicate has been rather too much in evidence of late. Sometimes, as in Mission Impossible, Mars Attacks! and Flubber, it has been met with success; at other times (Frighteners, some of MIB) the result is a relentless assault on the senses.
The Frighteners music seems to have an unerring capacity to alienate all in sundry, but its density hides the intellect behind it (" can't see the wood for the trees..."). There are discernible themes holding cues together despite the distractions of over-egged orchestration, even in the generically unavoidable "slow/mysterious" tracks (eg. 5,6,7...), full of rumblings, pluckings, string harmonics and the odd crash-bang-wallop. Over all, the thematic material itself is not distinguished enough for the score to survive transfer to CD in = such a way that Batman did. Batman had such catchy themes that the merciless pounding of full orchestra for much of the disc (and unending repetition of those themes) did it no harm—indeed one might claim they are a big part of its appeal today.
The Frighteners' lack of a good love theme and heroic music makes it by default a breath of fresh air in big-budget movies, but Elfman does not quite pull his gamble off. One track which shows how it could have been done (and the track that made the disc worth buying) is the first: A dark mysterious opening (with harpsichord of course, plus bass drum etc) leads into a thrilling archaic pounding allegro, complete with glissando harp an rugged strings. At 2'17 the section ends with the massive thump of a harpsichord cluster chord, and a more sedate section (reminiscent of slower instrumental sections in The Nightmare and Batman Returns, though with less flare and humor) ensues.
SOME THOUGHTS: [1] The main theme (eg. E...F#...G,E,F#..etc) reminds me a bit of the Penguin on Batman Returns, but I confess this has more potential. [2] The theme in track 13 (arguably the only other one singable) always reminds me of the verse of "Mary, Mary, quite contrary.."—set in about the most contrary fashion imaginable. (For interest, a UK series of Poirot, with music composed by Christopher Gunning, had similar ideas for many of its spooky secondary themes.) [3] The Mutton Birds ending track is just too contemptible to describe in all its hideous detail. Needless to say, it is a tacked-on song rather than a carefully chosen/integrated one (see Mars Attacks! and Batman Returns for examples of how to do it properly). [4] The playing time of 41'14 isn't perfect, but, rather like Extreme Measures, I think it comes as a blessing in disguise for the ears.
Violently depressed? Suicidal? Murderous? Forget Dolores or any other introverted murky score—The Frighteners is written just for you. Thematically dubious in development, it does however wrap itself in an atmosphere you have to cut with a knife. Elfman is famed for writing music which darkens the tone of movies (Mars Attacks!? Scrooged? I rest my case.) and here, despite some comedy characters in the film, Elfman attempts to keep his eye on the ball. This is a scary, murderous romp with fantastically goulish special effects and a camera-man on acid. Elfman throws accessibility and pathos to the wind in favour of the thankless task of providing added counterpoint to the film's desperate rampage.
I felt the film had its weaknesses, and the score is testament to them. But both have strengths which, if isolated, can be appreciated. It's just a pity that some of their aims didn't hold together or build up enough necessary tension. But that's not to say nobody tried.
As it is I can recommend only a few options for this score. [1] Tracks 1 (Intro / titles), 3 (Poltergeists), 13 (Doom) and at a stretch, 14 (Heaven) could be included in a decent suite for a Music of a Darkened Theatre compilation. [2] Buy the CD if it's cheap or you want the collection (in which case you needn't have bothered reading this review). [3] If you are prepared to listen to it many times like I have until the surface complexity of the score ceases to overwhelm the sense of thematicism hidden beneath (if you haven't found it yet, keep looking!).
This score just isn't for the faint hearted and needs lots of time to become accustomed to. But the reward is there if you're prepared to search hard enough. Happy hunting.
Rating: * * 1/2

Review #2 by Stephen Hoskins

This is probably one of his worst written scores of all time. I was very disappointed. I wasn't so much as disappointed with his music though as I was with the movie. The movie itself sucks and the characters were all horribly chosen. I don't think that this movie had anything for Danny Elfman to work off of and it shows. Throughout the whole movie I'm left with the sense that Danny Elfman himself doesn't think the movie was going anywhere so he didn't have much aspiration to work off of. I think that if I was Danny Elfman composing music for this song I would have had a difficult time too. The fact is however that instead of helping make the movie better his music made the movie even worse. He established all the wrong moods in all the wrong places. And I think the moods were so messed up because the melodies weren't worth anything to begin with for this movie. There is nothing inspiring about this movie. If you haven't seen the movie don't waste your time. The movie needs major editing and you'll be praying to God to make it stop. In plain simple words- it's horrible. I wouldn't even give a half of a star. Danny Elfman just didn't put any effort into this one and I'm sorry to say that but there just isn't any nice way of saying it.

Review #3 by malevolence

I'm sorry, but I am going to have to disagree with Stephen Hopkins. No matter what anyone thinks of the movie, they're going to have to listen to the music seperatly, and decide by the music, not by how bad a movie was. I'm not saying he was doing that, but only just in case that's what he meant.
The Frighteners was not so much as a disapointment, only that there weren't as many action tracks as many of his other scores. To stephen: how can you say Frighteners was bad when you gave Beetlejuice a Good review. Beetlejuice is a good cd, but is boring. With only good action cues in the beginning and the end. Just like Frighteners. Frighteners starts off very, very good. And then after all of the action in the first track, the music still holds your interests. Track two starts off very very good, and the harpsichord stuff gives it a ghostbuster, Addams Family type feel. Near the end of track two, it gets a little boring. But that's okay since track three is as fun. Track three starts off slow, then it gets louder, and with the same familiar Elfman style we have seen in many of his HIT soundtracks. Number four is mysterious in the beginning and gets very cool in the middle. And when listening to the chorus in the middle of the score, we can all picture Heaven, or the venture to it. that was his intent, as well as in the movie, and it worked fine. Not wanting to get into the score a little more, I'd like to point out that Tracks 6, 9, 11, 13, and 14 are worth listening to and are good. The only really annoying track on this soundtrack is the song on the end. but who wants to listen to that anyways????

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