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The Haunting
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2017 / 74m

It is fair to say that of the two cinematic adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, Jan de Bont’s 1999 one is the less-favoured.  Indeed, it was absolutely panned on its release, with few reviews finding anything good to say about it at all – but to be honest, while my devotion to Jerry Goldsmith has led to me watching numerous films of dubious quality over the years, I always found The Haunting to be a perfectly watchable film, bolstered considerably by stunning production design, decent effects for their time and (almost needless to say) Goldsmith’s score, which is typically strong.

These days, if someone’s talking about Jerry Goldsmith on the internet, chances are they’re saying something very complimentary.  He is, deservedly, one of the most-revered film composers of all time.  But the funny thing is that in the earlier days of the internet, I remember it was very different – each new Goldsmith score seemed to be greeted by waves of apathy or even worse.  I suppose, looking back, I can understand why folks who grew up on The Sand Pebbles or Capricorn One might have been disappointed on first hearing his late-career action/thriller scores – but I never understood then, and nor do I now, the vitriol which was directed towards The Haunting.  It was genuinely hated when it came out (if you don’t believe me, go back and check old messageboards and newsgroups – if you know what they are!)  I always considered it to be hugely underrated and it’s great to get a deluxe edition of it, which doubles the length of the album Goldsmith prepared at the time of the film.  He was a master of the horror genre and this was his final film within it – OK, so nobody’s going to say the score’s as good as Poltergeist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t seriously good.

Jerry Goldsmith

There are three major themes in the score.  Two of them are introduced in the brief opening cue, “Afraid”: the first, which in fact slightly recalls a theme from Poltergeist, essentially represents the house itself.  Its swirling, psychological nature is just perfect.  Secondly comes a very simple, descending figure which presumably is an almost literal depiction of the descent into terror going on within the characters’ minds.  Finally is my favourite theme, for Lili Taylor’s character Eleanor – it is very sweet and lovely, usually heard for flutes.  Introduced in the outstanding “A Place for Everything”, it has a similar feel to the gorgeous theme Goldsmith wrote for Sleeping with the Enemy – there’s a gossamer-thin quality, as if it could drift away in the mildest breeze.

As he so often did, Goldsmith took fragments of his main themes and used them as building blocks to form most of the pieces in the score – for example, “In the Dark” opens with a twisted take on Eleanor’s theme before horns offer up a grand, gothic arrangement of the house theme.  It also offers the first glimpse of what is a very clever move on the part of Goldsmith and his engineers Bruce Botnick and Bobby Fernandez – there’s a humungous, cavernous sound to the recording of the brass that is almost like another character in the film.  Sadly the score was dialled-down to such an extent within the film that it became rather lost, but credit the composer for his ingenuity.

The vast majority of the score is more psychological in nature as the characters take a while to realise that there is a bit more going on in the house than they had been led to believe.  Goldsmith shared with his friend and mentor Alex North the ability to really delve inside characters’ minds through his music – and you can hear doubts become fears become absolute terror as the score progresses.  Electronics are used, but (apart from the percussion which accompanies the action) are kept fairly subtle – the composer relies on his orchestra to do the heavy lifting.

I love the cue “The Curtains” (slightly extended for this release), which trawls through interesting variants on the three themes, but it’s some way into the album before the overt horror really begins.  There’s a taste of it in “Noisy Fireplace”, with deep tension punctuated by a brassy outburst of terror, but it’s not until “The Picture Album” (around the midpoint of the album) that Goldsmith really starts going to town.  Even then he holds something back, but the buzzing brass is so effective, the terror building all the time.  The following cue, “Out of Bed”, slowly builds up to more of that, with some dissonance near the end which brings a disturbing atmosphere.

Then, in “Return to the Carousel”, we hear some typical late-90s Goldsmith action music, with frantic strings and booming brass very much in the same style as The Mummy, written around the same time.  When a piece of calliope music (heard earlier in “The Carousel”, which actually opened the original album) is brought in to the mix, it’s a perfect bit of suspense/horror.  “Terror in Bed / Nell’s Room” sees the horror laid on thick (with that cavernous sound so effective); but it’s “Finally Home” where Goldsmith really unleashes everything including the kitchen sink – it’s a nine-minute tour-de-force which sees the composer gradually crank up the tension, cycling through his themes as ever, getting things note-perfect.  Things get wrapped up very nicely in “Home Safe”, which gets a new “Theme from The Haunting” addition to its title for the new album – though it’s actually all the themes.

The original album may have been short, but it was very well-produced as was always the case with Goldsmith albums. All of the score’s highlights were there and, as ever, the composer’s sequencing and micro-edits within cues created a wonderful flow. But any fan of the score will enjoy the expansion and want to pick it up – it’s essentially just more of the same, and that’s no bad thing.  Sure, the music is somewhat repetitive and it does take a while for this longer album to build up to the real chills and thrills, but it’s a pleasure to hear the way the composer builds up to where he’s going.  Jeff Bond’s liner notes are interesting (I didn’t realise it was produced Steven Spielberg rather than director de Bont who was responsible for Goldsmith’s hiring) and of course the sound is excellent.  The most remarkable thing is just how listenable it is – a 70-minute album of a psychological horror score.  I’ve become so accustomed to the moans and drones that usually make up the scores for these things these days, it’s a bit shocking to revisit something from really not so long ago and be reminded what a quality film composer could really do – perfect for the film, a pleasure to hear on album.  That’s Jerry Goldsmith for you.

Entertaining, effective psychological horror | |

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  1. Goldfish (Reply) on Saturday 30 December, 2017 at 09:54

    All for Goldsmith expansions with substantial missing music but the album was more than enough. Nothing really happens for the majority of the running time and the big finale was essentially on the album! And odd people want Deluxe Editions of things like L A Confidential and the 13th Warrior? What big cues were missing from these?

  2. J.B. (Reply) on Sunday 31 December, 2017 at 02:09

    Yeah, I kinda agree with Goldfish. Maybe an ideal would be a fifty minute compilation. And the album version of Finally Home is significantly better than the film one.

  3. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Wednesday 3 January, 2018 at 21:45

    OK James—I`ll again listen to the original album. Maybe after years of mediocrity from all the wannabe composers, I`ll appreciate ‘The Haunting’. Among a new batch of scores that arrived are two GOLDSMITH releases, both from Intrada. I dismissed the original 1996 ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ but this new CD boasts the music as used in the film…AND it is totally different to the 1996 version. The African vocal utterances and percussive rhythms, embellished with electronics, and NOT heard to this effect in the 1996 release, are startling and innovative, while the melody line is gentler and exquisitely harmonic.And just as the predatory lions (with a taste for human flesh) quietly stalk their victims, so does the music underscore these scenes with brooding dissonances. The music, like the lions, is biding its time, waiting to attack. This score is testament to the genius of one of Cinema`s greatest composers.

  4. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Wednesday 3 January, 2018 at 22:12

    There wasn`t enough space to continue commenting. The other GOLDSMITH release is ‘One Little Indian’–a 1973 Walt Disney Western, with comedy overtones. It doesn`t compare with his brilliant Westerns such as ‘Hour of the Gun’..’Rio Conchos’…’Stagecoach’…Bandolero’…’Wild Rover’ and so many others. If I`d listened to it before the genius of ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’, I might have liked it more, but it disappoints with its lack of memorable themes and a feel of The West. Another Intrada release are two of QUINCY JONES` greatest scores on one CD. ‘Mackenna`s Gold’ is a sprawling Western with glorious themes, amazing orchestration, percussion and rhythms AND JOSE FELICIANO singing the title song. ‘In Cold Blood’, a film about the gruesone murders of the Clutter family, is a genius score with discordant jazzy themes for the swaggering murderers and terror music as they kill and kill.A must for lovers of film music.