'Paranorman' Original Soundtrack – CD Review



With the new stop-motion animated horror comedy Paranorman hitting screens tomorrow, we here at FEARnet have been busy scattering some nifty goodies like Halloween candy, including tons of clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. If you haven't checked those out yet, follow the links and be sure to listen closely to the music... because you're going to hear some of the most eccentric comic horror cues ever, courtesy of composer Jon Brion. Having snagged Grammy nominations for his unique scores to Magnolia and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Brion is closely associated with indie comedies and offbeat dramas, including I (Heart) Huckabees, Punch Drunk Love, Synecdoche New York and Judd Apatow's upcoming This is 40. His resume also includes collaborations with Kanye West, Badly Drawn Boy, Crystal Method, Fiona Apple, Macy Gray and Tom Petty, as well as his own solo work. Outstanding cred all around, you can't deny... but Paranorman represents Brion's first venture into our beloved genre, so I gave this one special attention.

Brion's experience in bringing a high-concept feel to offbeat indie films turns out to be a pretty good fit for Paranorman's eccentric world, which blends '80s horror movie homages with over-the-top splatstick craziness in the playful spirit of Peter Jackson's Braindead (aka Dead Alive)... albeit toned down in a major way for the younger crowd, natch. It makes for quite a Frankenstein patchwork creation, snapping wildly between bouncy pop melodies, Goblin-style synth rock and ground-pounding percussive mayhem on a grand scale.
You can't get a more literal title than the bombastic opener "Zombie Attack in the Eighties,” which sounds like exactly that – a plinking synth opus that sounds plucked directly from that most beloved of horror decades, blended with an undercurrent of orchestral instrumentation but never straying far from that lovably cheesy vibe. The same retro-slasher spirit comes though in the outrageous "The Dead Shall Be Raised,” but for the most part the symphonic cues fall more in line with Brion's signature blend of epic-scale drama with character-driven comedy.
The gentle, lightweight piece “Norman at the Piano,” which is also the Main Title theme, captures one of the film's few moments of thoughtfulness before the chaos hits. The strumming guitars, flute and swelling strings of "Norman’s Walk" lend more of a warm pop sensibility reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine, while the linked cues "Enter Neil,” “Mr. P,” “Ghost Walk” & “Ghost Dog" are distinctly classical in style, and there's a hefty monster-movie grandeur to the medley of "Mr. P Dies,” “Historic Drama,” “Grounded” and “Heavy Visitation,” which rank among the score's spookiest moments, and some unique percussion instruments give cuts like “Aggie Fights” and "Alvin Attacks" a distinctive foot-dragging zombie lurch.
The busiest cut on the album by far is "People Attack,” a climactic 15-minute marathon that runs the full cinematic spectrum from action, suspense, shock, screwball comedy and even a touch of melancholy, and after the shimmery touch of “Resolution” comes the equally cool closing track "Oh, and One More Thing,” which wraps up every element of the exhausting crazy-quilt of cues that precedes it – including all the fun electronic elements – drawing the curtain on a happy but slightly pensive note.
Personally, I was hoping for even more '80s synth action, because the film obviously embraces the same cheesy, sleazy style of low-budget horror that kept me coming back to the mom & pop video stores back in the day... but that's just my own filter of nostalgia, and not Brion's fault. The more straightforward symphonic arrangements bring together the dark whimsy of Danny Elfman's career-defining score for Beetlejuice (cues like “Alvin Attacks” and “Moth Rock” are great examples of this), with some genuine moments of doom that wouldn't feel out of place in a deadly-serious supernatural thriller. It's a delicate balancing act – pushing either element could send the movie too far into goofy camp or scare the bejeezus out of younger viewers – but Brion pulls it off with ease and just the right note of eccentricity.
On a side note, you might want to also pick up Donovan's classic song "Season of the Witch," which can be heard in the trailer below... it's a perfect match for the overall mood.