Musings About Music In Film


By Charlie Brigden pg2015

Poltergeist is the latest in a long line of horror remakes. I used to be vehemently against remakes in general, but in my old age I've come to just not really care, although as someone who runs a movie-related website sometimes remakes make finding images of the original film pretty difficult. Poltergeist (1982) is a movie I like a lot with a score I absolutely love, but that has no real bearing one way or the other. This is a new beast and will be treated as such.

So this is again the story of a family in suburbia whose youngest daughter (then, Carol-Anne, now Maddy) is abducted by angry spirits - assuming the story is relatively the same, then there's a justifiable reason for them being pissed off. The score is provided by Marc Streitenfeld, recently the house composer for Ridley Scott and therefore brought us music for Robin Hood and Alien weirdquel Prometheus, the latter of which impressed me quite a bit on album. Poltergeist has similar tones, especially where electronics are concerned, but while Streitenfeld has a style does he really have substance?

No, not really. Poltergeist is an absolute mixed bag, a score that has some good ideas but does its best to make you forget how underused they are. Its main musical idea seems to be taking innocent and sweet sounds and overlaying them and distorting them, often with electronics, to juxtapose the terror of the ghosts with the innocent victim of Maddy, who is pulled into the TV by the beasties (thank god they didn't use an iPad). Maddy has a theme of her own, a short and sweet melody that sounds like a music box. 'Poltergeist Opening' immediately brings the score's idea to the fore, starting with the theme before immediately introducing sinister overtones, which work quite well initially.

The issue is that it doesn't really go anywhere. It's used quite a lot as you'd imagine, but it never really develops so when it comes back in force at the end nothing really seems different, and it's not a good enough theme to really attach any kind of emotion to it. Amongst this are some nice hopeful string melodies, most of which are used in the latter half, albeit to not real effect. They're mixed with these big passages of insectoid strings and harsh percussion, where it sounds appropriately like a poltergeist, with dozens of things banging together.

While not being particularly pleasant to listen to, some of these are really effective. 'Clown Attack' is quite uncomfortable to hear, and the sawing violins and percussion feels at times like an assault. 'The Storm Is Coming' is more foreboding with some tender piano, but it's reasonably effective, while 'Maddy Is On TV' starts off with intense and menacing brass that soon segues into more emotional and hopeful material. One of the most interesting parts are the processed screams we hear, presumably of the tortured souls. But these sections are undone by the generic string chugging and the constant electronic treatment, which feels like a random noise filter.

I can't be sure if the album is in order or not, but there's no coherence in Poltergeist. There's a musical story there somewhere but it's obscured by a tendency to go for more conventional contemporary horror music and it's given no time to develop, so there's no journey, viscerally or emotionally. Streitenfeld clearly has talent but it's whether he's really allowed to utilise that; he never really was with Ridley outside of Prometheus. What began with promise ends with a disappointment. I hope the film doesn't suffer the same fate.

Poltergeist is out from Sony on 18 May (UK) and 19 May (US) in digital and CD flavours