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Unlawful Entry
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Intrada / 1992 / 35m

Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe befriend a lonely policeman in Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry after he “protects” them from a burglary he stages.  Given that he’s played by Ray Liotta it shouldn’t have come as a great surprise that he turns out to be a psychopath, obsessed by Stowe and willing to destroy Russell’s life to get her.  It got decent reviews and was pretty successful at the time but has rather descended into obscurity since.

The film was the second collaboration between Kaplan and James Horner, five years after Project X which was of course a very different kind of film and a very, very different kind of score.  For that film the composer was able to write one of his big, orchestral adventure scores; for Unlawful Entry he went to the other end of the scale and wrote a dark, rather abrasive score primarily for electronics with a couple of soloists adding a little colour.

James Horner

James Horner

The score opens with an intriguing and impressive main title, a hypnotic piano figure accompanied first just by an electric bass guitar before a sax adds a sultry air and then an array of electronics joins the party before it circles back to where it started.  It’s moody and atmospheric and in fact very attractive, even as it’s clear that there is a darkness lurking beneath the surface.  But it’s a long time before anything even vaguely attractive is heard on the album again.

That’s because the body of the score is very dark and moody.  Stabbing piano strikes introduce “Intruder”, which is a sustained onslaught of psychological terror, abrasive synths and electronic percussion hits creating a tremendously effective tension.  The piano figure of the main theme is reprised at the start of “Being Watched”, but this time there’s a much more overtly uncomfortable feeling and even as the body of the theme is heard again, this time it’s awkward, tense; then things get all out aggressive in “Leon’s Death”, a battering ram of synth percussion piling on top of itself.  It’s abrasive, unpleasant, very effective.

“Drug Bust” is bleak and dark, not even the merest glimmer of sunlight as the synths and samples continue; there is a little chink in the armour in “Bail Denied”, but only a little one, with the piano motif back again.  Then comes the score’s centrepiece, the eleven-minute “Pete’s Passion”, which is essentially a lengthier exploration of the Horner’s dark ideas for the score.  It’s a slow-burning piece of psychological scoring, the perspective coming from inside Stowe’s character’s head and it’s done cleverly; but I have to say it’s a relief when the end title piece comes on with a reprise of the main theme.

It can’t be ignored just how effective Unlawful Entry is as a film score, nor that it clearly took Horner well outside his comfort zone and he proved to be very capable of writing in this unfamiliar style.  As an album the issue is that it will also take many listeners outside their comfort zones, which is clearly very much the point of it but there is little here that is pleasant to listen to.  It’s an album that it is hard to imagine many people listen to very frequently, even the most devout fans of the composer; as a listening experience, it is unsettling but not entirely unrewarding, the main reward clearly coming from the theme which bookends the album.  There’s a certain intrigue to the suspense in between as well, representing as it does perhaps the darkest film score Horner ever wrote.

Rating: ** | |

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  1. Adam Cousins (Reply) on Wednesday 22 July, 2015 at 08:28

    An enjoyable film with a score that works very well in context. However as an album it’s very near the bottom of the list for this James Horner completest.

  2. Mark (Reply) on Friday 31 July, 2015 at 08:08

    interesting to compare this with Class Action, also very stripped down and synth-y, though without any of the abrasive aggressions of this score. yet probably the closest companion piece to this, with nearly the identical theme. in both, it’s the tonal anchor of a nuanced kind of thriller score (Class Action is a legal thriller, ultimately charged more by public drama and the relationships between characters than dark inner worlds). yet treated ever so slightly differently, the effect in each case is quite different. both establish an effective air of mystery and intrigue, yet Class Action skews a little warmer, sympathetic, while Unlawful Entry has more of a noirish chill about it, an eerie seductive detachment…