If there's any genre where sound - and music in particular - is an immeasurable contribution, it's horror. And when it comes to terrifying us via musical instruments it has one hell of a pedigree, with a list of giants such as The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, Psycho, and many other scores notorious for making you want to sleep with the light on. The latest attempt comes from a remake of an absolute genre classic: Evil Dead. Will the new version be up to the sonic challenge of the greats before it?
Roque Baños' score to Evil Dead is a gift to score fans, and one full of surprises at that. It is everything you'd imagine and hope it to be, while having a few moments that you perhaps wouldn't expect at all. The trailers have positioned the film as a non-stop nightmare, and while much of the music conforms to that, there are some curious elements that stand out away from the convention. But we'll talk about those later.
The first thing that I bring away from Evil Dead is that Banos has really paid attention to the history of horrific cinema. Like many scores before it, there is a blurring of the line between music and sound design that helps to create and reinforce a consistent soundscape. And at times, this particular soundscape scared the shit out of me. The sounds are familiar - the Penderecki-style insectoid strings, the low-frequency droning and the out-of-nowhere orchestral whoomph, the quiet almost childlike piano - they're all here and many more, and they're here with an energy and fury that is harder to conjure than you'd imagine.
It's really unsettling at times, with some cues having unbearably tense string movements, and others the more traditional choral elements. There's even what sounds like a chainsaw in there, and a horrendous siren that I can't quite figure out where it comes from. But then it drops and you're treated to a quite beautiful piano and string piece, one that also has a sense of foreboding. This is followed by an even lovelier solo piano, and you start to think about where this fits in the film, and what direction this is going in.
But of course this is Evil Dead, so you know what direction it's going in, and half the fun is listening to the way the creepy swirling sounds start to envelop the piano, leaving you on edge as you wait for it all to kick back in. And when it does, it feels like the 'force', the evil wood spirit from the original films that I assume is back in this one. But again, it's punctuated by these quieter moments which help with the balance and give it a sense of unpredictability. And there's no routine as such, so they come and go as they please.
The vocal work is impressive, and it's certainly in parts that you can tell Banos has listened to a lot of horror music. There are some really creepy moments where you have satanic whispers, the kind which if you played to someone while they were asleep would probably cause a stroke. Then there's the full-blown choral - a touch of Ave Satani, some Christopher Young, even a hint of the sacrificial music from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And it's a fun part, picking these little bits out that don't detract from the listening experience at all, and are probably more apparent on the second or third listen.
It's an experience for sure, one that grabs hold of you and slams you against the wall, while caressing your cheek and telling you it's okay. Then it stabs you in the gut. There are moments of terror and assault, yet emotion and beauty. And when you stumble out into the light of day, dazed, it's still not finished with you, recalling the original score by Joseph Lo Duca.
Evil Dead is a fantastic score. I've been wary of the remake, but if the music is anything to go by, we're in for one hell of a ride. The ultimate experience in sonic horror. Groovy.
Evil Dead is released on April 9th by La-La Land Records as a digital download and deluxe CD. The CD edition will feature an additional 25 minutes of music. For information purposes, the digital version was reviewed here.