Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This past month has shown just how odd things to get in October. The fall just began in September, but the air starts to get cold, the wind begins to breeze, and with the leaves falling off of the trees, those cloudy and rainy days just feel a bit more unnerving than they normally do. Maybe that’s why it’s so fitting that Halloween comes on October 31…

Since 2003, I’ve spent the month of October revisiting- and sometimes discovering- horror films from the past (and present) in honor of this spooky time of year. The one exception was in 2007, when a real-life hospitalization put me in less of a mood to scare myself shitless (to say nothing of taking 13 days out of my month).

Partially inspired by my Netflix queue, my annual horror movie marathon has entailed movies old and modern, classic (and sometimes, classically bad), seen for the first time and revisited for the latest time. From 2004-2006, my creative impulses were inspired by the likes of “The Shining,” “Interview With the Vampire,” “The Ring,” and “Nosferatu,” leading to compositions of a dark, unsettling type that I’d experimented with early on in my composing career. By the time “Otherworldly March” was completed in October 2004, however, my technique had grown more assured thanks to pieces that came in the months before.

This year, the creative bug struck me again. Inspired again by several of the films listed below, as well as some new instruments I’ve picked up in the past couple of years, I decided to flex my creative muscles yet again in the name of evoking terror. This year’s macabre composition- not long after my score for the horror-thriller short film “Walpurgis Night”- is entitled “The Hour of the Wolf” (the name of which is inspired by the Bergman film), and features completely live performances by myself on the trombone, the mysterious vocals manipulations of the vocoder, the reverberations from the Kenyan finger piano known as “Kalimba,” as well as the Theramin-esque sounds from the electronic Stylophone. You can hear it online at Sonic Cinema. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to check out the rest of my Gothic musical saga- listed below.

As for my horror marathon of October, check out the lists below. See what types of films got watched this year. A lot of different choices, a few first-time views, and some I hadn’t seen for a while. A little bit of something for everyone. I hope you enjoy! Happy Halloween!!

Brian Skutle’s Macabre Musical Saga
“Otherworldly March” (2004)
“Gothic Twilight” (2005)
“Darkness for Voices, String Quartet and Tubular Bells” (2006)
“The Hour of the Wolf” (2009)
“Walpurgisnacht (Original Score for the Short Film ‘Walpurgis Night’)” (2009)

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle

“I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontations. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you’re making a horror film doesn’t mean you can’t make an artful film.”- David Cronenberg (director, “The Fly,” “Spider,” “The Dead Zone”)

Brian’s 6th October Halloween Horror-a-Thon: The List
=“Zombieland” (2009)- A-
=“Friday the 13th: Part VI- Jason Lives” (1986)- B-
=“Bubba Ho-Tep” (2002)- A
=“Night of the Ghouls” (1958)- D
=“Stephen King’s It” (1990)- A-
=“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)- A-
=“Son of Frankenstein” (1939)- B+
=“The Shining” (1980)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Terror X” (1999)- B+
=“Black Sheep” (2006)- B+
=“The Ghost Walks” (1934)- B-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Terror IX” (1998)- A+
=“The Last House on the Left” (1972)- A-
=“Blood: The Last Vampire” (2000)- B-
=“Nosferatu” (1922)- A+
=“Hour of the Wolf” (1968)- A+
=“Paranormal Activity” (2009)- A
=“From Hell” (2001)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VIII” (1997)- A
=“The Thing From Another World” (1951)- A-
=“Jaws” (1975)- A+
=“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)- A+
=“The Signal” (2008)- B+
=“Bride of the Monster” (1956)- F
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XX” (2009)- A
=“Saw VI” (2009)- B+
=“Cat People” (1942)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIX” (2008)- A-
=“The Grudge” (2004)- A-
=“Panic in Year Zero” (1962)- A
=“Creepshow” (1982)- B+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII” (1996)- A+
=“The Last Man on Earth” (1964)- A-
=“The Mummy” (1959)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI” (1995)- A-
=“Horror of Dracula” (1958)- A
=“Psycho” (1960)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V” (1994)- A
=“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)- A+
=“The Ring” (2002)- A+
=“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV” (1993)- A-
=“Halloween” (1978)- A-
=“Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987)- A
=“Drag Me to Hell” (2009)- A+
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III” (1992)- A+
=“The Unknown” (1927)- A
=“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)- A
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II” (1991)- A
=“The Dead Zone” (1983)- A-
=“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990)- A+

Brian’s 10 Favorite Frightfests
10. “The Grudge” (2004; Takashi Shimizu)- While the trend of remaking Japanese horror movies isn’t exactly gone it has seemed to lose steam. Well, when the best efforts in the field are the first two, that’ll no doubt happen. When he sought to remake “Ju-On” with an American cast- led by “Buffy” star Sarah Michelle Gellar- Sam Raimi brought on the Japanese film’s own writer-director Shimizu to bring Stephen Susco’s screenplay to life. With the help of a dark score by Christopher Young and his own gifts in the field, I’ve always though Shimizu’s accomplishment here was much-maligned.

9. “Psycho” (1960; Alfred Hitchcock)- Ten years ago, maverick director Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting,” “My Own Private Idaho”) did the unthinkable and remade this legendary Hitchcock thriller shot-for-shot, in color no less. To what end, critics are still figuring out, but the classic original still looms large, with Anthony Perkins’ unforgettable performance as Norman Bates, a man whose devotion to his mother is beyond creepy, and a story that turns the audience on its’ head with the expectations it sets up, and the surprises it has in store.

8. “Horror of Dracula” (1958; Terence Fisher)- Though no other film has captured the allure of Bram Stoker’s tale as hauntingly as Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” Britain’s Hammer Films came closest with this dramatically powerful first film in their own Dracula franchise, with Christopher Lee rivaling the iconic Bela Legosi in the role of the titular vampire, and Peter Cushing in a terrific interpretation of Dr. Van Helsing, whose hunt for the Undead One has rarely been so visceral.

7. “Stephen King’s It” (1990; Tommy Lee Wallace)- The film lacks some of the bite of more intense horror movies, but this made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel has always been a favorite for me, if mainly because of the bonds of friendship King’s story revels in as the Loser’s Club has to face childhood ghosts and return to Derry, Maine, to fight a demon that takes the form of Pennywise the clown (played by Tim Curry). A lot of TV actors- mainly funnymen like Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Harry Anderson- bring their A-game to this entertaining genre entry.

6. “The Ring” (2002; Gore Verbinski)- Verbinski may have made blockbuster bucks directing the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, but for my money, he hit the jackpot first by making this tense thriller, Hollywood’s first remake of a Japanese horror classic. To star, he chose Naomi Watts, who projects her natural intelligence and strength along with your typical horror movie vulnerability as a reporter who starts to try and uncover the dark secrets of a videotape where the viewer dies after seven days. Just when you think it’s over, Verbinski and his collaborators have one more twist in store to curdle your blood.

5. “Cat People” (1942; Jacques Tourneur)- The first in a series of low-budget thrillers from producer Val Lewton, Tourneur’s film is not scary but sinuous, as a young Serbian woman (Simon Simone) finds herself dealing with fears of her innermost desires when she marries a New York man, but doesn’t feel as though she can act on her natural womanly desires, for fear that she’ll become a cat. The low-budget trappings only enhance the mood Lewton and Tourneur are able to achieve, while Simone’s performance not only fills you with dread but sympathy for her plight. Paul Schrader’s 1980s remake added more blatent sexuality, but included none of the original’s suspense.

4. “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964; Roger Corman)- Though typically known for low-budget B-movies like those you’d see on “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” writer-director Corman- a mentor to the likes of Scorsese and Ron Howard- nonetheless found his greatest storytelling strengths adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe, especially in this opulent and striking story of the evil prince Prospero (Vincent Price) and the feasts of his court when the Red Death comes to town. Price is incomparable, and Corman’s vision of the tale is without compromise or peer.

3. “Nosferatu” (1922; F.W. Murnau)- If you needed any proof as to how the ’20s-’40s were the heyday for horror films, all you’d need to see is this evocative adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale from silent film master Murnau, which captures all the terror in the story through its’ haunting imagery (which so inspired Werner Herzog when he remade it, he shot his film in the same locations) and a lead performance by Max Shreck as Count Orlock that is impossible to forget. Like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages,” and the likes of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the silent era brought a nightmarish touch to the story that sound takes away- Murnau milks it for all its’ worth.

2. “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987; Sam Raimi)- Maybe this is the type of movie Bryan Singer was trying for with his revisionist “Superman Returns.” Alternately a sequel and a remake of his cult classic, Sam Raimi- who returned to the genre brilliantly this summer with “Drag Me to Hell”- returns to the woods and the unseen terror unleashed by the book of the dead with everyman star Bruce Campbell returning as idiot hero Ashe. The difference this time? This sucker is funny as Hell. Scenes of Ashe being followed by the evil- personified by Peter Deming’s zooming camera- and Ashe dealing with his dismembered and possessed hand have the intensity lacking in many a horror movie, with a darkly comic edge that makes it a laugh-out-loud riot.

1. “The Shining” (1980; Stanley Kubrick)- If John Carpenter’s “Halloween” two years before ushered in the modern era of horror films, Kubrick’s unsettling adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous masterpiece marked the end of the reign (for decades) of intelligent, adult-oriented horror films, stretching back to silent classics like “Nosferatu,” and continuing through the Universal legacy with Legosi and Karloff and the Hammer films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Make no mistake- intelligent horror found its’ way onto the screen- from “Silence of the Lambs” to “The Sixth Sense” to “Sleepy Hollow” to last year’s underrated King adaptations “1408” and “The Mist”- but with one visceral and brilliant entry, the reclusive master- with the aide of Jack Nicholson’s timeless nuttiness- brought the legacy of movie monsters past to its’ unforgettable peak.

Other Noteworthy Nightmares- More of Brian’s Faves:
-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush” (1999; Joss Whedon)
-“The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” (1990; Rich Moore, Wes Archer, David Silverman)
-“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935; James Whale)
“Bubba Ho-Tep” (2003; Don Coscarelli)
-“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919; Robert Weine)
-“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001; Guillermo Del Toro)
“Drag Me to Hell” (2009; Sam Raimi)
-“The Exorcist” (1973; William Friedkin)
“The Frighteners” (1996; Peter Jackson)
“Hour of the Wolf” (1968; Ingmar Bergman)
-“Jaws” (1975; Steven Spielberg)
-“Scream” (1996; Wes Craven)
-“Shaun of the Dead” (2004; Edgar Wright)
“The Signal” (2008; David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush)
-“Sleepy Hollow” (1999; Tim Burton)

Macabre Masterworks I Plan on Adding to My Collection
-“Army of Darkness” (1993)
-“The Birds” (1963)
-“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
“Diary of the Dead” (2008)
-“Dracula: The Legacy Collection” (1931-1945)
“Drag Me to Hell” (2009)
-“The Evil Dead” (1982)
-“Freaks” (1932)
“Friday the 13th” (2009)
-“Friday the 13th” (1980)
-“Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1981)
“The Frighteners (Director’s Cut)” (1996)
“Grindhouse: Planet Terror” (2007)
-“Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” (1922)
-“The Hounds of the Baskervilles” (1959)
-“Interview With the Vampire” (1994)
-“In the Mouth of Madness” (1995)
“Man With the Screaming Brain” (2005)
“The Mist” (2007)
-“The Mummy: The Legacy Collection” (1932-1944)
-“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
-“The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958)
-The “Saw” Movies (2004-2009); Reviews of “Saw IV”, “Saw V” and “Saw VI” available at Sonic Cinema
-“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
“The Shining” (1980/Collector’s Edition DVD)
-“Troll 2” (1991)
-“The Val Lewton Collection” (1942-1946)
-“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994)
-“The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection” (1935-1946)
“Zombieland” (2009)

“The Horror…the Horror”: 2009 in the Genre
=“Drag Me to Hell” (A+)
=“Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries- Part I” (A)
=“Paranormal Activity” (A)
=“Night for Day” (A)
=“Zombieland” (A-)
=“Friday the 13th” (A-)
=”The Haunting in Connecticut” (B+)
=“Saw VI” (B+)
=“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” (B+)
=”One-Eyed Monster” (B)
=“Jennifer’s Body” (B-)
=”The Last House on the Left” (B-)
=“The Unborn” (C+)
=”The Horsemen” (C)
=“Pandorum” (D)
=“The Final Destination: Death Trip 3-D” (F)
=”Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Halloween II” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Orphan” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Sorority Row” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Thirst” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” (Haven’t Seen)
=”The Uninvited” (Haven’t Seen)
=”Whiteout” (Haven’t Seen)

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