CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Countless miles of online text have been spent on the hotly-contested merits and/or faults of Rob Zombie's remake of the John Carpenter classic... and to be totally honest with you I haven't paid a damn bit of attention to any of that. Admittedly, it probably was not Rob's best career choice, but he did it on his own terms, and I thought it was a fascinating and disturbing film ? not on par with his finest achievement to date, The Devil's Rejects, but a valiant effort at exploring some of his favorite themes while borrowing the basic form from one of horror cinema's immortal icons.
But that's all I care to mention about that, as I prefer to leave any analysis of the film to the appropriate reviews on these pages. I'm here to talk about the music, which is indisputably a critical element in any project by the hard rocker-turned-horror-director. In addition, I'll always step up when presented with something new from Tyler Bates, one of the key figures in the 21st-century ?New Wave? of film composers. Bates is probably best known at the moment for his score for Zack Snyder's 300, but for my money I think he's yet to top his amazing, heart-pounding score for Rejects. No doubt it made him a shoo-in for this gig, despite the impossible task of addressing John Carpenter's monolithic score from the 1978 original ? that instantly recognizable minimalist 5/4 time piano pattern that is indelibly carved into the brain of everyone who ever came near that film. Even those who haven't seen a single frame of the movie can probably name that tune in less than five notes.
Though debate continues about the value of retelling the Michael Myers story, most would agree that tampering with Carpenter's theme would be a fool's errand. After all, the effectiveness of that theme ? and the entire score, for that matter ? stems from its simple, repeated patterns, which build layer upon layer, creeping forward with slow, implacable fatality that reflects the simplistic menace of that film's faceless, unkillable killer. So it's something of a relief to hear that Bates has changed very little of the theme in his own version.
The main riff this time is executed by a tinkling, slightly detuned child's toy piano, which reflects the seeds of rage and psychosis planted within the young Michael. The theme is first employed just before the boy's first act of onscreen homicide, and the layers of bass synthesizer which build beneath the piano riff are the musical equivalent of black clouds looming on the horizon, signaling the ?perfect storm? within Michael's psyche, as twisted DNA and abusive upbringing combine to create an almost inhuman predator. At its peak, however, it becomes a touch too ?epic?-sounding for my taste, but it's a reverential treatment overall.
Bates used nearly all of Carpenter's cues in the film, wisely changing very little aside from some slight instrumental variations ? mostly substituting the warm analog tones of the original with some colder, digital-feeling synth voices, or the addition of metallic percussive elements to set the rhythm instead of simply letting the piano drive. These changes are not unwelcome ? Bates' use of percussion is one of his strengths ? though I suspect the changes might have grown out of a need to put his own personal stamp on the cues, not unlike a jazz musician riffing on a classic melody.
That said, it's disappointing that very few of these cues actually show up on the soundtrack album. Only two of them, in fact: the main theme (of course) and the monotonic ?The Shape Stalks Laurie.? The familiar ?Laurie's Theme? and some of the shorter cues are absent from the disc, largely to make room for ten '70s rock classics ? which is not entirely unexpected, considering Zombie's penchant for musical nostalgia. But it would have been nice to have all the cues anyway.
Minus Bates' contributions to the album, what we're left with is essentially a miniature version of a '70s power-hits album interspersed with the usual movie dialogue soundbites. Short and entertaining as the excerpts may be, they are little more than weird, profanity-laced index markers to delineate the songs, grouped roughly by their approximate location in the film. Hard to say much about these songs that hasn't been covered in a thousand other albums or collections, but suffice to say if you've ever stuffed a towel under a door in your lifetime, you'll be quite at home here, if you get my drift.
I'd say Rush's ?Tom Sawyer? is a bit tired by now, having popped up in about two dozen films in the past three years, but there are some nice surprises here which echo Zombie's childhood nostalgia ? most notably Alice Cooper's ?Only Women Bleed,? Iggy & The Stooges' ?1969? and The Misfits' ?Halloween II? ? and nearly all of the songs have either overt or subtle meaning within the context of their scenes, which makes it tolerable again to hear Nazareth's ?Love Hurts,? or even ?Baby, I Love Your Way? from Frampton Comes Alive. And of course no '70s arena-rock collection would be complete without a nod to KISS (?God Of Thunder?) or BTO (?Let It Ride?).
Also significant are those songs which directly reference the first two films in the Halloween series: Blue Oyster Cult's ?Don't Fear The Reaper? (which, thanks to Saturday Night Live, I can no longer listen to without demanding ?More cowbell!?) and Nan Vernon's ghostly slow-dance cover of ?Mr. Sandman? (which Bates produced), a song which in its original form opened and closed Halloween II.
In summary, this CD doesn't really overturn any of the tired tropes of so many Hollywood soundtrack albums these days, and could have benefited from the inclusion of all the score cues instead of just a few scant highlights; it's not a particularly lengthy CD, so there should have been room for everyone to play. As I mentioned, if you're nostalgic for the same musical era Zombie tends to revel in, then you'll probably have fun. Otherwise this album has little to recommend it, even for fans of Zombie's body of work. Unlike Devil's Rejects, I don't really expect to see a separate score-only release for this one, and despite my admiration for Bates' work, I wouldn't really be that interested in buying it either.