Happy Death Day (Bear McCreary) – Film Score Review

Baz Greenland reviews the soundtrack to the last cinematic slasher Happy Death Day...

Scream meets Groundhog Day; that’s the premise of the latest cinematic slasher film Happy Death Day. Directed by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and written by Scott Lobdell, the film is out in UK cinemas now. And to celebrate the release, Back Lot Music have announced the release of the Happy Death Day soundtrack, featuring music by Bear McCreary. It’s been available digitally since October 30th and on CD from the 20th.

McCreary discusses what drew him to score the film…

“When I first saw Happy Death Day, I was immediately struck by the film’s perfect balance of horror and dark comedy. The main character, Tree, hilariously captures a millennial spirit the horror is genuinely terrifying, and the comedy pitch perfect. The film is a goldmine for musical inspiration!”

McCreary took inspiration from the baby-face masked killer in his three-year old daughter, collecting recordings of her to use in the score.

“Christopher Landon and I decided to give this voiceless character a voice in the score. These sounds of her giggling and whispers were digitally mangled and distorted, until they became terrifying vocal textures, with menacing bass, crackling breathy overtones. One baby whimper in particular became the theme for the killer, wailing like a banshee over the score. I combined the baby voice with a full orchestra, and the end result truly terrified me. I am hopeful it will have the same effect on the audience.”

The Review…

Listening to the musical score to Happy Death Day, it is clear that McCreary is well versed in horror movie tropes, filling the score with creepy voices, frenzied string movements and relentless percussion beats. But the darkly comic nature is also apparent; a times the soundtrack feels delightfully over the top and self knowing of the horror movies it is homaging.

The album gives us nine sizable tracks, each giving something slightly different while having a cohesive narrative. It begins with ‘One Day’, which has an offbeat, atmospheric opening. It is repetitive, simple but very effective ending on a more sinister note as it builds to a ridiculously over the top but delightful murder spree music climax.

‘Day Two’ starts sinister and offbeat before returning to the same repetitive beat of ‘Day One’, But this time it has a more surreal edge, McCreary playing on the repetitive nature of the Groundhog Day scenario by delivering something that is just different to the first track to be stand out. This track is full of gothic atmosphere too, the offbeat tone, growing more sinister before engaging in another frantic murder spree-like theme, full of danger and tension.

‘Day Three’ builds on the tension and sense of unease; Creary really starts to let loose with the sense offbeat comedic charm, the deranged string accompaniment playing over continuous beat. The creepy synthesized voices, screams and creaking sounds are incredibly off putting and this is where the score descends into pure nightmare. The slowed down sounds and voices really unsettling before the third version of Tree’s murder which is utterly relentless.

‘Day Four’ is delightfully tense, but with a Tim Burton style manic charm (think Mars Attacks). It is wonderfully relentless and dramatic before winding down to into something more reflective and morose. ‘Hospital Pursuit’ is another fast paced track; a sense of urgency in the string movements with an ominous orchestral accompaniment and urgent beat. The wails, laughs and evil whispers are suitably chilling. It has a pure 80s slasher movie vibe, particularly when it ascends into a demented, frantic horror score, perfectly capturing the terror of the situation. This is the best track on the album.

‘The Bell Tower’ is another intense piece filled with huge ominous orchestral sweeps, disturbed voices and percussion beats. It feels purposely over the top; McCreary’s intention to mimic the horror genre that preceded it. ‘Righting Wrongs’ then takes a breather, returning to the lighter tone of the earlier tracks; it has some lovely sweeping moments but lacks the emotional intensity of the rest of the album.

‘Tree Takes Control’ brings things back up a level with a relentless, spy-thriller vibe and a repeating beat and a rising orchestral score that builds on the sense of danger. The wails and slowed down voices add a sense of dread before descending into another dramatic piece that feels as darkly comical as much as it is chilling. The album ends with ‘The Cupcake’ which starts off sinister, building and building to an intense, frenzied string movement and a pounding percussion beat full of tension and terror. But it still keeps that blackly comic charm through to its melancholy end.

The soundtrack to Happy Death Day has lots of charm and dramatic horror tropes. It doesn’t feel original but then I don’t think that was McCreay’s intention. Rather than reinvent a slasher movie score, it takes from the best. It’s an enjoyable album. Would I listen to it a second time? Perhaps, though there are far better horror movie tracks out there (check out my review of the 30th anniversary re-release of the Hellraiser soundtrack for example). But there’s no denying that this is a decent attempt at soundtrack horror…

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