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Artwork copyright (c) 1982 Turner Entertainment Co.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Beautiful, terrifying, awe-inspiring horror score


Poltergeist was a very successful movie in its day, spawning two sequels and launching a few catchphrases that have entered popular culture.  This was fairly surprising given the amount of publicity which surrounded the movie's troubled shoot, during which there were many rumours that the movie's Producer Steven Spielberg had actually directed some key sequences instead of Director Tobe Hooper, rumours which were only exacerbated when Spielberg took out a full page ad in the press denying that it had been the case, but thanking Hooper for allowing him such creative freedom on the movie; and then Spielberg handled the whole post-production phase, hiring composer Jerry Goldsmith for the first time (they would work together again shortly thereafter on Twilight Zone: The Movie, but haven't done so since).  

Goldsmith was going through the richest and most rewarding phase of his career at the time.  He frequently worked on movies that simply weren't very good (and despite its strong box office performance I would put Poltergeist in that category), but seemed to choose projects that allowed for enormous musical potential.  Having done so well with horror movies in The Omen and its sequels, he showed that he was the premiere film composer for the genre, and this was simply reconfirmed with this score, entirely different from the three of those but, in its way, just as impressive.

The famous main theme, "Carol Anne's Theme", is - perversely - one of the sweetest and most attractive of Goldsmith's career.  A lilting lullaby, heard in its fullest incarnation with a girls' choir, for the young female protagonist, it opens and closes the score but doesn't actually appear all that often within its body.  The second half of the opening cue, "The Neighbourhood", is a charming portrait of suburban, nuclear family bliss, a clear precursor to Goldsmith's music for Joe Dante's movies with similar notions.  The pleasant atmosphere continues with "The Tree", but then things get more dark.  "The Clown", which opens the fourth track, introduces more of a sense of mysterious unease rather than absolute horror, a brilliant example of how well Goldsmith constructed his scores in those days, fashioning them as complete musical works made up of similarly complete individual pieces, but moving from one place to another over the course of the score.

"Twisted Abduction" is a highlight, a masterpiece of film scoring, with the music reaching apocalyptic proportions with the orchestra and choir at one point before calming down somewhat, pitching Carol Anne's Theme against some more dissonant, disturbing - but subtle - music as the piece moves on.  It's vaguely reminiscent of one of John Williams's scores for Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but composed entirely in Goldsmith's own unmistakable style.  "Contacting the Other Side" sees a gradual flow from slightly disconcerting music to an explosion of terror in the middle, and then back from whence it came, including a terrific passage closely related to the V'Ger music in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, another Goldsmith masterpiece.  In "The Light", the music takes on an almost religious fervour, with big, modal writing from Goldsmith, quite beautiful.  He opens "Night Visitor" with some remarkable florid music for winds and brass, before really laying on the terror with powerful and portentous music for horns and trumpets.

The last half hour of the score (covered by the final five cues, though a couple run into one another) is nothing short of extraordinary.  Opening with "It Knows What Scares You", dominated by the religious theme from earlier in the score, it showcases everything so good about Goldsmith's music, moving along from creepy, unsettling territory into more brazen horror before some wonderful writing for orchestra and choir that is otherworldly and truly beautiful.  It's probably the closest Goldsmith has come to rapturous, almost orgasmic bliss in music outside of The Final Conflict at some stages, but also includes some of his harshest, most challenging material.  "Rebirth" is a particular highlight, showcasing the most vigorous music of the score and also the most beautiful.  "Night of the Beast" is like a musical representation of a particularly unpleasant nightmare, with clustered brass piling on the terror.  In "Escape From Suburbia", there is no real let off from the terror until the very end of the cue, with a slight emotional payoff coming, still without a great degree of warmth; the real payoff comes in the end title arrangement of "Carol Anne's Theme".

Poltergeist is a world class film score and it's difficult for my words to do it justice; featuring one of Goldsmith's best themes, some of his most satisfying horror music and some remarkable choral writing, it's difficult to see how you could go wrong.

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  1. The Star Spangled Banner (1:30)
  2. The Calling / The Neighbourhood (4:07)
  3. The Tree (2:26)
  4. The Clown / They're Here / Broken Glass / The Hole / TV People (5:12)
  5. Twisted Abduction (6:56)
  6. Contacting the Other Side (5:10)
  7. The Light (2:05)
  8. Night Visitor / No Complaints (9:07)
  9. It Knows What Scares You (7:37)
  10. Rebirth (8:23)
  11. Night of the Beast (3:51)
  12. Escape from Suburbia (7:10)
  13. Carol Anne's Theme (4:19)