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WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Modern horror scores, no matter how effective in the film, don't make the best albums; further proof is available here
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Screen Gems, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Without fail, every review of the new teeny horror film When A Stranger Calls has called it a remake of the 1970s film of the same name (and said it's a load of rubbish); and indeed, most of them have used the adjective "classic" when mentioning the older movie. I've never seen it - and have never heard of it - but this "classic" status seems to have arrived through some rose-tinted spectacles (not only have I never heard of the film, I've never heard of its director or a single member of its cast). The plot sees a young babysitter plagued by obscene phone calls from a stranger - with disastrous consequences!
The first film was scored by Dana Kaproff; for the remake, one of Hans Zimmer's helpers James Dooley came on board. Dooley's career so far has mostly been providing "additional music" to scores by Zimmer and his more senior helpers on films like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and The Ring, along with a few solo spots (including the delightful little score he wrote for the short film A Christmas Caper which was shown before Wallace and Gromit in cinemas) - clearly he'll be hoping to be the latest name to emerge from the Remote Control (né Media Ventures) studio to score big budget movies.
I don't mean this as an insult to Dooley at all, and don't intend it to make me sound like an unprofessional jerk either (clearly, I don't need to do anything other than keep on doing what I always do, to reinforce that latter opinion) - but I'm sure I could have written this review without actually listening to the hour-long album. Horror films used to bring out the best in film composers (Psycho, The Omen, Hellraiser anyone?) but these days the opposite usually seems to be true - a standard way of scoring them has emerged, and it seems that directors have become unwilling to allow composers to divert from that path in any way.
Rumbling bass will continue virtually unnoticed for the majority of the score, elevating tension, with occasional little piano bursts, or grinding synths for accompaniment; then all of a sudden will come a bam! from the larger orchestra. The only real variable is the time interval between each bam! and whether or not there'll be a children's choir (for When A Stranger Calls, there isn't). Needless to say, it is a perfectly good approach for most modern horror films; also needless to say, it has become so ubiquitous that new releases of these scores can barely be greeted with anything more than a shrug of the shoulders.
On its own terms, there's nothing inherently wrong with this album (though I defy anyone to say they can truly sit and enjoy it for an hour) and I cannot see how it could be anything less than perfect in the film (which of course is exactly what Dooley was trying to achieve) - but if you've already got The Grudge (yes, even Christopher Young succumbed to the formula for that one) and The Ring and so on, it's hard to see what more you can bring to your life with this. Dooley has shown some talent and this album is not entirely without interesting music (I must admit that "Hunting Jill" is impressive) so let's hope a composer with his own voice can emerge, but it was always unlikely to happen in When A Stranger Calls, a score which doesn't distinguish itself in any real way against the legions of other, similar works of the last few years.