Ten Film Scores By Christopher Young
There is nothing subtle about the creativity of Christopher Young. Which is not to be pejorative and imply that he's not as adept at low key grace as he is with gothic bravado. But he is, as the great Lou Lombardo is to editing, a towering rebuke to the puzzling maxim that varied facets of cinema practice should be, to all intents and purposes, invisible; to not intrude on the visual or the narrative or the audience's perception of the visual or the narrative. Christopher Young is one of the cinema's great, wicked collusionists. He goads, entices, seduces, coaxes, soothes, and caresses an audience like few composers working today. Dread, heartbreak, unease, surreality and nobility are all found seeping from the unconventionally sutured staves of a wondrous breadth scores during a career spanning almost 40 years. HELLRAISER (1987) Surely a score that, as much as STAR WARS, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, made a generational progeny of nerds fall head-over-heels in love with the art of film scoring. A last minute (supposedly more conventional) substitution for the eerie industrial soundscape of UK band Coil, what Young conjured up in a remarkably quick turnaround was an operetta of such swirling, devious, Stygian tumult, it became the sonic template for every demonic horror film for the next 30 years. It made this tiny exploitation film made for nothing in Dollis Hill by an upstart young novelist, theatre director and experimental filmmaker feel like a Hammer worthy of James Bernard. Look no further than the cue 'Resurrection", an awe-inspiring Mephisto waltz to accompany an equally jaw-dropping practical f/x showstopper from the great Bob Keen and Co. It remains his masterpiece.
THE VAGRANT (1992) Make-up f/x Oscar winner Chris Walas only made two feature films (and a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode) but on both he had the foresight to surround himself with the best artistic collaborators, most notably, the ever versatile Young. The first of these, THE FLY II, echoes the original's Howard Shore score but grafts Shore's full bodied 'sturm und drang' onto the increasingly liturgical orchestration that took full form with HELLRAISER (you can see it emerging even in early works like DEF CON 4) and, especially, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. That score, perhaps more than any other, sealed Young's early trademark reputation.
With THE VAGRANT, though both director and composer did a breakneck volte face from the dark body horror of THE FLY II to the unhinged, almost Coen-esque farce of a very different type of horror film. A deeply weird mash-up of "xxx-from-hell" that was so prevalent at the time (THE CRUSH, THE TEMP, THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE) and an eccentric nod to the European arthouse sensibility that would become the provenance of Alex De La Iglesia and Dominick Moll, Marshall Bell terrorises Bill Paxton to the strains of a musique concrète orchestra comprised of all manner of detritus one might find discarded amongst homeless community from whence our title character emerges. It's a stroke of genius on the part of Young, not an easy listen but a truly conceptual, original and thrilling alternative to the Hitchcockian norms of fake-Hermann that usually underscores these sorts of wicked little genre confections.
MURDER IN THE FIRST (1995) Dread and unsettlement are not the only tools in Young's aural lexicon. He is first and foremost a consummate classical musicologist and his unerring gift for an accessible motif is perfectly illustrated in the sweeping, lyrical benediction he affords wrongly persecuted petty criminal Henri Young in Marco Rocco's heart wrenching period prison drama. The score is a part tender, part thunderous paean to a largely innocent spirit that swirls with elegiac majesty and heart-wrenching anguish, channeling Nino Rota as much as it does to the pastoral romanticism of Vaughn Williams or the atonal Americana of Charles Ives. A psalm (literally: the final recapitulation of the main theme is set to a choral Kyrie and there's an Angus Dei in there as well) for the lost.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) Changing pace once more (his third collaboration with Jon Amiel after his luscious score for COPYCAT and the spiky accompaniment to ENTRAPMENT and prior to the rollicking thrills of THE CORE), Young won the Henry Mancini Award for this utterly delightful throwback to Mancini himself and to "Johnny' Williams and De Vol and their Tashlin/Edwards/Donen-devoted ilk. Traversing the staves of classic big band swing, it's a breezy, wanton blast of traditional woods, brass and percussion with an unshakeable set of musical hooks and Pete Anthony's inspired orchestrations (Anthony is a key collaborator in the Young camp; alongside mixer/engineer Robert Fernandez; his signature sound is as much theirs as it is his.)
BLESS THE CHILD (2000) A literal requiem, split into 5 movements. Perhaps Young's most "removed" film score (save SINISTER, see below) in that it plays less as an evocation of events on screen and more and an orgiastic companion piece to the film. A staggeringly ambitious work of accompaniment to what is, ultimately, a fairly generic piece of studio bloat (albeit with a suitably arch turn from Rufus Sewell) from THE BLOB/NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3's Chuck Russell.
THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001) Wistful Americana beset by a dark underbelly has been a mainstay of Hollywood films since the days of early melodrama and the pre-noir Depression pictures of the great studios (the product of a series of émigré moguls and directors and writers bringing a more jaundiced European perspective to the great American people's art form). In a post-millennial era of renewed cynicism, outsider directors like Ang Lee, Sam Mendes, Atom Egoyan and Lasse Halstrom took a rather jaundiced view, often via acclaimed literary adaptations, of classic American iconography (the disruption of the nuclear family, the conservative vs liberal value schism, traditional notions of patriarchy) and brought with them a host of exquisite, brooding, contemplative scores by a variety of dynamic composers: Mychael Danna, Rachel Portman, Thomas Newman and, here, Christopher Young.
HIDER IN THE HOUSE (1989) Not for the first time in his career, Young offers a decidedly liturgical take on a more secular scenario. Here, a domestic thriller wherein Gary Busey psychologically torments yuppie new homeowners from inside the walls and the rafters, gives its human antagonist a score befitting an omnipresent deity, albeit one both insidious and anything but benevolent. A haunting spectral choir intoning a reassuring lullaby crashes against otherworldly clangs and crashes from strings and percussion (doorbells and windchimes!) to mirror the marital and domestic disharmony resulting from the titular fiend. It's a simple but hypnotic set of cues from Young: all the portent of HELLRAISER; all the unease of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2; all the simmering menace of JENNIFER 8 or COPYCAT.
SPECIES (1995) This score for Roger Donaldson's engagingly and endearingly daft sci fi thriller marked an important period of transition for Young. It was the last of his epic, gothic quartet of masterworks with which he made his name (after HELLRAISER/HELLBOUND and THE FLY II) before he moved in two contrasting but equally compelling directions, embracing a whole host of jazz, urban and modern sounding aesthetics with scores for SET IT OFF, RAPID FIRE, ROUNDERS, SCENES OF THE CRIME and paring back the darkness of those epic 80s soundscapes into the chillingly quiet lamentations of UNFORGETTABLE, HUSH, THE UNINVITED.
He taps into both Holst and the great science fiction scores of the 50s and 60s (Leith Stevens, Herrmann et al) in a mostly conventional but intensely beautiful and exquisitely structured score that effortlessly evokes both the wide eyed wonder of scientific exploration and the churning dread of what unnatural menace might be discovered.
URBAN LEGEND (1998) Thoroughly maligned upon its original release amid a swath of far rattier post-SCREAM teen horror films, this smart, straight forward giallo-inspired horror film, written by UGLY BETTY creator Silvio Horta remains one of the least cynical and most sprightly of the era (alongside Geoffrey Wright's fabulous CHERRY FALLS). That director Jamie Blanks is also a musician and composer himself (he scored his own STORM WARNING and Mark Hartley's superb Cannon Films doc ELECTRIC BOOGALOO) is borne out by his hiring of Young to compose a furiously traditional orchestral score, eschewing any hint of the contemporary youth-skewing sound (cf. Marco Beltrami's trip-hoppy SCREAM and Mark Snow's electro-tinged DISTURBING BEHAVIOUR). It cuts straight to the chase with lurid, sinewy piano and willowy strings before proceeding to out-stab the mystery killer with its thrilling orchestral bravado. Only a 15 min portion is available on the ubiquitous "Music From And Inspired By" soundtrack but it's a ragingly rewarding listen.
SINISTER (2012) Another conceptual accompaniment to a genre film but, unlike the experimental spasms of THE VAGRANT or the formally mesmeric Mass of BLESS THE CHILD, this really goes for the jugular and as the opening track intimates, this is less a film score and more a Portrait of the film's iconic villain, Mr Boogie. It's an assault on the senses, taking pieces of the traditional score composed for Scott Derrickson's Blumhouse hit and churning, twisting and sculpting the fragments into a tour de force amalgamation of Gavin Bryers-like modern classical, NIN-esque industrial and, believe it or not, dubstep. It's a veritable nightmare caught on tape, an hallucinatory set of loops, utterly unlike anything you've ever heard coming out of a horror film (though, to be fair, it doesn't exactly appear in this form within the film). Young's boundlessly imaginative playfulness and willingness to engage with cinema's diegetic and non-diegetic form has rarely been more evident.