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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Classic horror score


During the 1960s and 70s, the trend in movies was a significant one away from deliberately over-the-top, theatrical movies to considerably more "realistic" ones, with characters saying things which people might actually say in real life, rather than lines which would only ever occur in the movies.  While I understand the reasons for this and am generally pleased it happened, I am equally pleased that there still remains a place at the cinema for an old-fashioned kind of storytelling and that there are a few directors around who still treat the cinema for what it is, ie a chance to do something that doesn't have to be realistic, but in which a piece of entertainment can often be significantly enhanced by using showier, distinctly cinematic techniques.  A proponent of this style of moviemaking has been the much-maligned Brian de Palma.  I'm always amazed at the amount of critical bashing many of his films receive - usually over-the-top, for sure, but in a good way - he tells stories in a way which could only be accomplished in film, bringing panache and an enormous amount of visual flair to what is, of course, a visual medium.

His most accomplished films are done with style and are real feasts for the eyes.  His breakthrough was Carrie, based on Stephen King's first bestseller, and a very successful movie.  It began a particularly fruitful collaboration with composer Pino Donaggio (de Palma has worked with a series of composers over the years, almost always more than once, but Donaggio has scored more of his films than anyone else).  While he had scored Don't Look Now three years earlier, Carrie was really Donaggio's big break in terms of international recognition and has led him to have a somewhat similar career to Ennio Morricone since then, working on the occasional Hollywood picture interspersed with a great many projects back at home in Italy.  It was a break he did not waste, writing a justly famous, excellent score.

This was de Palma's first film after the death of Bernard Herrmann (who had, of course, scored two of the director's previous movies and was first choice for this one) but Donaggio's music could barely start any differently from a Herrmann score, with the deliciously sweet, innocent and extremely attractive theme for Carrie.  The composer gets quite a lot of mileage out of the theme during the score, but he never resorts to simply requoting it - he always builds something new into it to keep the music fresh.  The first taste of Herrmannesque stylings comes in "Bucket of Blood", the legendary pivotal moment in the film - the jabbing strings are obviously a tribute to the late composer and de Palma openly admits to temp-tracking the film with music from Psycho and his first movie with Herrmann, Sisters.  "Mother at the Top of the Stairs" features some edgy, very detailed string writing which also echoes aspects of Herrmann's work.  Later, the driving action of "Sue's Dream" is classic stuff.

The music remains melodic most of the time, but there is one notable exception, "School in Flames", which is one long, sustained synth piece which is incredibly unsettling and distinctly unpleasant - perfect for the film.  Its power is only raised further by the relative attractiveness of most of the rest of the music.  This is vintage stuff from Donaggio and the album - newly re-released on CD by Varese Sarabande - particularly well put-together.  The composer wrote a couple of attractive, folksy songs, both performed by Katie Irving, which surprisingly don't sound out of place.  (I continue to be surprised by my lack of knowledge in some areas: I was knocked out when I read in the liner notes that Donaggio penned the classic Dusty Springfield song "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", one of my favourites.)  This is a great score, well served by its album, and it deserves a place in the collection of any fan of horror movie music.

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  1. Theme from Carrie (2:51)
  2. I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me Katie Irving (3:10)
  3. And God Made Eve (2:03)
  4. At the Prom (1:56)
  5. Contest Winners (2:45)
  6. Born to HAve it All Katie Irving (3:03)
  7. Bucket of Blood (2:43)
  8. School in Flames (3:09)
  9. Mother at the Top of the Stairs (3:41)
  10. For the Last Time We'll Pray (2:42)
  11. Collapse of Carrie's Home (1:37)
  12. Sue's Dream (3:16)
  13. Theme from Carrie (reprise) (2:51)