Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

CD Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when Hollywood has to tap into 40-year-old, long-forgotten TV movies for new product. (SYBIL with Lindsay Lohan, anyone? How about Halle Berry in  THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN? Or a Pixar animated version of DUEL?) I don’t remember if I ever saw the 1973 TV movie DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. At nine, I would have been the perfect age to appreciate the horror elements, but I doubt my parents let me watch it. So I had no particular interest (or affiliation with the original) to go see the new Guillermo del Toro remake.

The story of a young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend who discovers creatures in her new home that want to claim her as one of their own doesn’t sound particularly fresh (if it ever did). And the film has been languishing on the shelf for well over a year, even with producer del Toro’s name attached. But if there’s any bright light from the release of the film, it’s that the superb score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is now seeing the light of day.

The two primary elements that make the score so successful are showcased within the first two tracks. The first is a strong main theme. “Gramophone Lullaby” is a memorable waltz, played in the opening track in all its full, sweeping orchestral glory (reminiscent of Rota’s GODFATHER music). Since the film is viewed through the little girl’s eyes, the theme plays a major role in the score. Elsewhere, the lullaby is played more traditionally on celeste in tracks like “Lamb Lamp Lambency” and “Treesome.”

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark CD
“Gramophone Lullaby”
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Main Titles”

What makes the score work are those tried-and-true horror instrumental elements—belching brass; shrieking violins; pulsating cellos; growling bass clarinets, contrabassoons and trombones; string pizzicati and harmonics—that continue to send shivers up our spines. For instance, in the main titles, the lullaby soars over a steady eighth-note pulse, while the violins supply a rhythmic, energetic ostinato.

What seems sweetness and light at the beginning of “Sally Arrives At Blackwood Manor” in the celeste and harp soon turns dark with its minor-key harmonies and eerie secondary string theme. The French horns scream in pain as “The Gardener Gets Snipped,” while in tracks like “Sally Leaves,” the pulsating syncopation of the lower strings makes the blood race.

The score reaches its zenith in “Goblin Trouble,” a 7-minute orchestral tour de force in which Beltrami and Sanders bring together nearly every musical element of the score, employing nearly every horror trick in the book and pulling it off. The score takes a brief emotional turn in the soaring strings of “Return to Blackwood” before playing off in an unsettling harp arpeggio and violin tremolo.

I was hooked by the end of those first two tracks and the rest of the score played out at a consistent level of compositional quality. The choral work is subtle and effective, with the vocal forces never overwhelming the acoustical instruments. Bravo to Beltrami and Sanders for not scoring the film with the expected creepy child’s solo.

Beltrami and Sanders were given directions to score the film in a style reflective of ’70s film music, and they succeed without the score feeling dated. For a score that was composed in a deliberately retro style, the music is fresh and invigorating. Don’t be afraid to give this one a spin.

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