Tales of Halloween / by Charlie Brigden

unnamed The public has only grown more enamored with anthology films over the past few years. It seems like wherever you look there’s a new burgeoning franchise rearing its head eager to rain down bite-sized stories upon you. What’s great about anthology films when it comes to their score and soundtrack is that they allow for the opportunity to feature many different talents, with each segment being its own crew and production team. Granted, there are some circumstances where an anthology film means one composer getting to run wild and have the ultimate field day, but Tales of Halloween goes the more expected route choosing to showcase many voices, and it’s the right move for the soundtrack.

While the film itself is a very fun Halloween romp and love letter to scary storytelling, it’s far from a perfect outing. There are not only a lot of very average segments served up in the film, but a few that also nearly fall flat entirely. On the opposite side of the spectrum there are also some deeply thoughtful and amazing shorts offered up, too. Regardless of the film’s overall quality though, this soundtrack ends up acting as a vehicle all on its own. Yes, all of these tracks compliment and evoke the shorts that they were scored for, but you could also simply play this at a Halloween party as a scary soundtrack that would function entirely on its own without the baggage of the film. Naturally there are a few cases where lackluster scores here are improved by thinking of the visuals that go along with them, but in most cases these tracks are elevated above their source material, with the audio functioning better on its own.

With the film containing a somewhat amateurish, tame opening credit sequence that begins things, the soundtrack has the mega talent of the acclaimed Lalo Schifrin to fall back on here for the “Tales of Halloween Main Theme.” Schifrin is responsible for the theme from the Mission:Impossible TV series, as well as pivotal scores for films such as Cool Hand Luke, the Dirty Harry pictures, and most relevantly here, The Amityville Horror, and Schifrin’s track instantly overpowers the subpar visuals and is no doubt greater than the sum of its parts. The track, while focused, does have some fun jumping around in different movements and interludes, as if trying to reflect the assortment of stories that the film offers up. It’s like these are disparate trick-or-treaters ping ponging along the street from house to house. These opening titles are really just incredible though with Schifrin just killing it. Hearing the recurring theme continuously pile on top of itself, getting more intimidating and bold, is wonderful and the right way to get you excited for a movie. It's worth mentioning that the label releasing Tales of Halloween - Aleph Records - is Schifrin's own.

It’s the perfect tantalizing overture that gets you eager for whatyou’re about to see, and it properly mirrors the fear and tension of a good horror film. In the final bars of the song it’s not hard to picture a Final Girl sprinting through the woods from a maniac, the track is that evocative. Schifrin might be the biggest name on this soundtrack, but his opening title theme is predictably the highlight of the offering, too.

Elsewhere on the album, the bulk of the tracks do their job exceedingly well. Christopher Drake’s slow, foreboding “Sweet Tooth” is a beautiful trek into the supernatural. The lengthy track takes its time, mirroring the quality of how a good piece of campfire storytelling is methodical and patient, waiting for the right moment to strike. Sure enough, the striking happens about half way through the track (and once more before the end) as the piece morphs into an angrier, more frenzied composition that amps up the strings. “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”, another contribution by Drake, doesn’t fare nearly as well. Arguably “Rusty” is the more forgettable of the two shorts in the film and the same can be said with this track, with it feeling mostly like a retread of the musical themes introduced in “Sweet Tooth” without any of the suspense.

“The Night Billy Raised Hell” by Bobby Johnston is one of the less frightening entries on the album, offering an upbeat, jazz-influenced meditative track initially. It’s easy to picture Billy running through the streets to this march-like tempo. However this pleasant beginning is ditched in favor of chaos as “The Night Billy Raised Hell” begins to go all over the place. The jazzy intro is lost to a more typically eerie palette, before then shifting into haunting chants mixed with what sounds like a possessed Morse code machine, and then turning the tables to a more calypso theme. Darren Lynn Bousman’s short in the film is the most tonally off, perplexing piece of the bunch, and this entry by Johnston feels much the same. The track is basically reinventing itself every thirty seconds and you never have a real chance to latch onto any of the rhythms. It’s one of the few entries here that makes sense with its film accompaniment, but on its own just feels like a schizophrenic mess.

“Trick” by Joseph Bishara is a spacey, ethereal track that instantly brings aliens and creatures from the dark recesses of the unknown to mind. There’s almost a sonar-like quality to the track, as if the music is scanning the murky waters for some sort of beast (with that ship capsizing in the track’s final moments). At times it sounds like that sonar is warping into an emergency alarm as the dreamy rhythm helps pull you along, only to occasionally yank on you, jarring you out of this haunted lullaby. It ends up culminating into one of the more soothing, fully realized tracks on the collection though, and can’t help but remind you of the work that Bishara did on The Conjuring.

Bishara keeps both of his tracks delegated to the same world, with “Friday the 31st” having even more of a reason to touch on alien musicality since this segment in the film (spoiler, highlight to read) actually contains aliens. Here the distant, black nature of space is still reflected in unsettling silences and echoing reverbs, with the piece embracing strings more than his other piece of work. The warbling, extreme strings almost feel reminiscent of the sensation of being abducted or beamed down from space, with the track being incredibly successful at capturing that complexity with merely music. It builds to such a frenzy by the end of the piece, and it’s no doubt the track on the album that’s the most reminiscent of Hermann’s work in Psycho.

“The Weak and the Wicked” is a very Western influenced outing in the film, with Austin Wintory’s score for the piece wisely riffing on Ennio Morricone’s classic Spaghetti Western body of works. While maintaining much of the DNA of Morricone’s classics, an off kilter infusion is weaved through it all. Things feel just slightly perverted, as if a zombie cowboy were shuffling through the desert, but it works in the track’s favor. The results are a truly unique, grandiose piece that’s the right mix of sinister and epic. The ending bars are truly inspiring, haunting magic and it’s a shame that Wintory only gets one track on here to show off his ability.

Christian Henson’s “Grim Grinnin’ Ghost” is another dreamy, haunting track that unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle of the soundtrack. There are a lot of tracks here that use this eerie, slow waltz as the skeleton to their music, and with Henson’s song not doing much on top of that, it results in a pleasant, albeit forgettable entry in the greater context of the album. It even resorts to the same “scares” that many of the tracks on the album do, feeling more uninformed of the other pieces it was augmenting, more than anything. Henson’s other track here, “Bad Seed,” however is pure Carpenter-esque bliss in a synth heavy retro piece that does a much better job at standing out. There’s even a movement about four minutes and thirty seconds into the track that sounds like it’s right out of Halloween.

Lucky McKee’s “Ding Dong” was my absolute favorite short from the film, and right from the jump Sean Spillane’s score feels vastly different from the rest of the music on here. The piece begins with haunting choral chants before seguing into a more modern rock opera sort of performance. It’s the most vocal heavy track on the album, and while that might demystify it to some degree, “Ding Dong” gains points for its originality. This is another one of the few instances where having seen the short for “Ding Dong” would help in the case of the music, as this alt rock song paired with the horrible, horrendous visuals works a lot better than taking this song at its peppy face value. Very much an anomaly, Spillane’s effort here could likely be your favorite or most loathed piece on the album.

Michael Sean Colin’s “This Means War” is a standout on the album, immediately grabbing your attention and taking you on a gothic adventure with it. A quick-paced, rock-embracing track that heavily welcomes the electric guitar, you almost feel like you’re being whisked away through Dracula’s castle as this ornamented piece continues to crescendo. The only complaint here is that Colin’s contribution is one of the shorter tracks on the album, with this chaotic piece easily being able to withstand a few more minutes.

“Limbchoppalooza!” by Edwin Wendler is another crazy piece that doesn’t have a short of its own to connect back to, but is still a bewildering mélange of twisted elements that unpredictably weave in and out in the best possible way. The whole piece is strung together with a very Ed Wood quality to it as the haunting sounds of the Theremin bleed through at some moments, while thunderclap bass drums annihilate at others. It’s a track bursting with personality and one that perhaps has the strongest personality of all the tracks on here, feeling fueled by B-cinema and shlock from the ‘80s (even right down to the track’s exploitative title), “Limbchoppapalooza!” is a crazy good time.

Two extra offerings from Christopher Drake that don’t have their own respective shorts to fall back on, “It’s Not A Fucking Kid” and “He Will Never Leave You,” round out the composers offerings on the album. They’re both entirely enjoyable tracks that add to the overall atmosphere of the album, although they do both very much sound like two halves of the same whole. Both “Kid” and “Leave” hit the more contemplative, mysterious end of the album’s spectrum, while also providing a vicious, predatory aftertaste that soon takes over.

The album’s final track, and the counterpoint to Schifrin’s accomplished opening titles theme is appropriately Jimmy Psycho’s  end title theme. While unsurprisingly not containing the same gravitas as Schifrin’s work, it’s also undeniably going for a different feeling. The closing track tries to ignite the feeling of a Halloween mosh pit and is perfectly fine as a fun, closing number. It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of these tracks are actually scary too, faithfully recreating the jump scares and tense moments of your favorite moments from the film. It’s one thing to compose some beautifully eerie tracks for a Halloween-centric album, but to have them be frightening on top of that brings the work to a whole other level.

Tales of Halloween is far from a mandatory purchase but it’s a humble album that might end up surprising you. A like-minded, albeit varied, selection of tracks acts as a delightful collection and a fitting addition to anyone’s Halloween music library.

-Daniel Kurland

Tales of Halloween will be released by Aleph Records exclusively through iTunes on October 23rd