Music

The Stephen King Collection – Film/TV Score Review

Baz Greenland reviews Varèse Sarabande's release of the Stephen King soundtrack, covering the scores from four major Stephen King film and TV series adaptations...
‘The Stephen King Collection’ is limited to 1,500 Copies and you check out the details (and buy the album) at the official Varèse Sarabande site. Here we break down the specific albums inside the collection.

Dreamcatcher

Composer: James Newton Howard
Original Release Date: 2003

Across all these soundtracks, the scores to these Stephen King stories are incredibly atmospheric, but it is James Newton Howard’s score to Dreamcatcher that is probably the most ballsy, bombastic piece of horror music across the set. And that is one of the many ways in which it is my favourite.

Across the two discs, Newton Howard gives us everything you could want in a great horror movie score; sweeping orchestral scores, frenzied string movements, distorted eerie beats and gothic choral voices. There is a largel influence in 80s and early 90s horror across these tracks, with hints of wider inspiration too. At times you can hear an intense Hitchcock movie, John Carpenter terror and there were moments where I was reminded of the scores to everything from Gremlins to Predator.

If I have to find fault, it’s in that nothing in this soundtrack felt original; perhaps that’s because it is almost fifteen years old or perhaps it’s because it wears its influences on its sleeve. But it is hard to let that grate on you when it is such a bold and thrilling soundtrack to listen to.

And there is a lot to enjoy, 18 tracks per CD, 36 for just Dreamcatcher alone. Here are some of the most memorable:

Disc 1

Main Titles: The score opens with an ominous, rumbling start, mixing industrial sounds, slowed down wails together to create a very 80s / 90s horror movie vibe. This track builds and builds into something incredibly atmospheric.

Animal Exodus: The ninth track is another ethereal, atmospheric track with some heavy industrial beats and eerie simple orchestral movement before is descends into a thunderous synth drum beat and atmospheric wind instrument in background to create something full of danger and menace.

Weasel Kills Beaver: The eleventh track is one of the best on the entire soundtrack, with an ominous, repeating motif and strained string movement that is fraught with tension. It lets lose with a cacophony of sounds, eerie beats, frenzied strings and a dramatic, relentless, pure horror chase / action score. This really is terrific stuff that keeps you on toes, and just when you think it is over it builds on what is a full horror symphony, kicking in with some gothic choral moments and sweeping, emotive orchestral flares, wails and intensely powerful beats.

Henry Returns To The Cabin: The seventeenth track is another dramatic piece, filled with intense beats, eerie, unsettling strings and a gothic wail that builds into something bold, relentless and unnerving. The use of sharp, repeating string movements build and build into something fast paced and terrifying. This is pure horror movie music, with a dash of Hitchcockian peril.

Boys Find Josie: The eighteenth and final track on disc one has a bold, industrial vibe with a creepy, atmospheric undertone before it unleashes an 80’s style slasher movie style beat, almost John Carpenter-esque, that is just intense.

Disc 2

I’m That Monster: This track opens with a military style marching beat mixed with eerie sounds that build an unsettling but dramatic orchestral flair and a thundering percussion beat. This is big, bombastic an strangely heroic too with its use of horns in the mix. Reminding me of the devilish score to Gremlins, it is a true standout; an exciting, memorable track.

Jonsey Gets Files: The third track of disc two has an almost playful, guttural and industrial feel over another sweeping orchestral piece before it takes a course correction into something intense and terrifying.

Owen Rescues Henry: The seventh track continues the thundering beat, reminiscent of I’m That Monster, reminding me a little of the score to Predator.

Duddits Tells Story: Track 11 has a slow ominous beat, low, rumbling tension and frenzied strings; it builds and builds the horror throughout.

Curtis Takes Chopper: There is a real sense of danger in track 12; a repetitive orchestral beat, sweeping, dramatic string movement and industrial sounds. This builds on that military feel again into a bombastic beat with chilling howl effect.

Curtis And Owen Battle: The thirteenth track is another dramatic, triumphant tense piece; with hitchcockian hectic string movements, percussion beats and brass instruments, this score swells with tension, drama and intensity.

Duddits and Mr. Gray: There is a frenzied string opening to the sixteenth track; the eerie sounds and intense percussion beats are relentless and exciting. This is another example of pure Hitchcock terror, mixed with military grandeur and gothic drama.

Firestarter

Composer: Tangerine Dream
Original Release Date: 1984

The next disc on the The Stephen King Collection heads back almost twenty years to Firestarter and the score by German electronic music band Tangerine Dream. I’m a huge fan of their score to 80’s fantasy movie Legend and was excited to hear their take on this Stephen King story.

Ultimately it’s the weakest soundtrack on the release, but the great thing about The Stephen King Collection is that each score is unique from the rest, while still retaining the usual atmospheric flairs you would expect in a horror soundtrack. Firestarter is the most dated out of the four, relying heavily on a mash of 80s keyboard jazz, synth and pops. With Dreamcatcher, the tracks ranged from atmospheric but a little forgettable to hugely memorable. Firestarter is a bit more eclectic in nature. Here are some of the more notable scores…

Crystal Voice: The opening track has an ethereal, haunting quality but is unmistakably rooted in the 80s with its jazzy keyboard beat, synth chords and atmospheric sounds that feel a little cheesy.

The Run: The second track is just plain odd; bizarre reverberating sounds and a very 80s keyboard mix of weird jazz synth pop mishmash of sounds and effects that go on far too long.

Escaping Point: This has a somewhat more ominous vibe (reminiscent now in Netflix‘s Stranger Things); it has a simple keyboard beat and synth score that slowly builds The most atmospheric track so far with a drum beat reminiscent of Ghostbusters too.

Rainbirds Move: The best way to describe the sixth track is a distorted harpsichord jazz, funk keyboard mix but at least it has plenty of atmosphere.

Burning Force: The seventh track is much more sinister, forbidding and atmospheric. Burning Force shows Tangerine Dream at their best in a score that is dramatic, haunting and atmospheric with a big, ballsy, synth. Thi is pure 80s with a heroic theme rising over the heavy, beat, and a grim, eerie backing.

Between Realities: Along with the previous track, the eighth track is the other stand out; another eerie, haunting piece full of distorted, grinding sounds and whaling background that is the stuff of nightmares.

Shop Territory: The pace changes in the ninth track, with a funky 80s’s rock guitar riff, percussion beat and cheesy keyboard sounds, but there is still something soulful about it that is delightful to listen to.

The Shining

Composer: Nicholas Pike
Original Release Date: 1997

I’m rather fond of nineties TV miniseries of The Shining, starring Steven Weber and  Rebecca De Mornay. It’s not as bold and memorable as Stanley Kubrick’s film version but it is a more faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. The slow descent into Jack’s madness is well portrayed and the history and supernatural presence of the Overlook Hotel is delved into far more successfully than the film. And it’s the soundtrack to that three-part TV version that is featured in this set and reviewed here.

Pike’s score is presented across three discs, ‘Nights 1, 2 and 3’, covering the accompanying soundtrack to each moment in the mini series; at 50 tracks, that is a lot to get through. There is a lot of repetition across the tracks, particularly the familiar piano theme that, while emotional and atmospheric, is present in the majority of the score. For purists, who want every musical moment captured on disc, this release will be a dream, but for many this will be a soundtrack that needs to absorbed piecemeal, rather than a single setting.

There is no denying the build up to that fateful climax though; as the soundtrack progresses towards disc three, there is a notable buildup in darkness and tension. And Pike infuses the score with a deeply emotional core too. Here are some of the most noteable tracks on each disc…

Night 1

Main Titles: These appear on each disc and are very forbidding; the use of a haunting child’s choral voice and ominous use of percussion and strings making for an atmospheric and very 90s title sequence score.

Flashback: Track two is different from the rest, with a sexy, ominous, solo brass instrument solo and lighter industrial sounds that give way to grim ending.

Tire Slash Time to Time and Memory of Dad: Tracks four and five are deeply melancholy pieces with a darker, dramatic beat that create a sense of danger; the use of wind instruments and piano are filled with quiet passion that are quite beautiful. The descent into darkness in the latter and creepy string movement would not be out of place in Mark Snow’s score to The X Files.

Track 8 A Scary View: The eighth track starts with a sweet, uplifting sense of wonder prevalent in a number of the early tracks but quickly descends into pure horror movie, full of spiralling piano pieces, creepy strings and haunting wind instrument.

The Hotel Waits / Comin’ To Get Doc / Lend Me A Hand: The ninth track has another dark, sinister opening with creepy, frenzied strings, low rumbling sounds while the rest of the score is ominous throughout; the eerie piano movement and haunting choral voice are full of atmosphere and dread, continuing the Mark Snow vibe.

A Near Fall: The opening to the fifteenth track comes out of nowhere, a twisted, offbeat sound putting the listener on edge, and a haunting, orchestral movement with forbidding drum beat; this is a great, sinister piece, making great use of the horn solo present in many tracks familiar evocative piano theme.

No Sale: That same piano theme opens track 16, mixed with a slowed, weary orchestral sweep; everything feels dragged down. The orchestral movement is beautiful and haunting, full or emotion.

Night Fest / Freeze You Bastards: Track 18  is dark and menacing from the start, heavy industrial beats; gravely string movements and percussion beats are full of danger.

Night 2

Behind The Door: The fourth track of disc 2 is creepy, atmospheric and unhinged; tinkling piano keys, heavy percussion and some creepy rising tension throughout make this a pure horror movie score!

Dollhouse / Mallet In The Room: The seventh track is the strongest in The Shining soundtrack at this point. There is a playful mix of strings and percussion with a somewhat edgy undertone, before the track descends into a sweeping, bombastic, creepy horror symphony; lingering unhinged string movements set you on edge and the grim ending is full of darkness and despair. At over six minutes long, this captures the horror and tension of the series at its best.

Dad on the Radio / That Was Close: The eighth track is another winner. From the grim opening, it is clear that everything a bit darker and more sinister as the album progresses. This track is full of haunting, subtle string movements that add more tension, the rumbling percussion feel creepier, the twinkling piano key piece comes across as edgier and the horn solo feels more mysterious. This is full of atmosphere, the rising score and thundering beat more dramatic and more tense as the track reaches its crescendo.

I’m Not Seeing That / Trapped: The twelfth track has a haunting choral opening and the creepy, slow string movements, percussion beat and frenzied sounds build up the darkness and tension. The drawn out strings put the listener on edge

They’re After Danny: There is a dark, insidious opening to the thirteenth track, the creepy solo horn, wind instruments and percussion beats build to something creepy, haunting and deeply unsettling. It’s a grim, intense finale; the Jaws-like homage builds and builds and the heavy beats create something really sinister.

Night 3

Someone Got Their Fuse Blown: The second track has an ominous, atmospheric opening. It is clear that the familiar piano theme and solo horn have become a little repetitive a little point, but it feels more melancholy as the album – like the story – progresses. The final clown theme is deeply unsettling and the rumbling darkness feels palatable as it builds into a relentless, spine-tingling intensity.

Dad In The Window / Where There’s A Will: The fourth track is another tense, grim piece, demonstrating how the soundtrack descends more readily into horror movie with each piece. The same solo horn mixed with a dramatic, frenzied string movement and intense piano piece transform the familiar themes into something more strained and melancholy.

Nothing But Spooks Unmasked: There is something deeply sad, emotional and hauntingly beautiful in the eighth track before it builds into frenzied strings, booming percussion, creepy Mark Snow-esque strings with forbidding, haunting, jarring sounds. This track ends in a jarring cacophony or jumbled, frenzied sounds that are incredibly atmospheric.

Between The Eyes: Creepy, atmospheric piano and heavy percussion beats fill the tenth track; the same frenzied strings – full of tension and drama – are pure Psycho and creater a sweeping, unhinged orchestral score.

What’s Been Forgotten: Track 12 has a thundering beat and ominous orchestral score; it is incredibly creepy too, full of disturbing sounds, full of tension and mixed with haunting choral voices.

Take Your Medicine: Another unsettling, atmospheric piece of horror, track 13 builds the tension with the intense string movements and rumbling percussion. There is a sweeping, epic feel to this as it rises into a bombastic, dramatic climax.

What Could You Know: Track 14 is grim, intense and haunting; the same chilling screamin-like sound and the mournful horn solo offers a glimpse of light in the darkness. There is a sense of desperation in the rising orchestral sweeping score against the heavy forbidding drum beats.

Dump It: I loved the repetitive sound of the ball bouncing in the 15th track, used as a relentless creepy motif, mixed against the continuously forbidding orchestral score,

I Think The Party’s Over: The dramatic, intense strings and bold use of horn in track 16, full of tension and terror; distorted, eerie sounds are deeply unsettling and full of dread, the cacophony of screeching sounds and creepy, rising string movements perfectly captures the climactic moments of The Shining. Big, bold, unhinged and epic, this is a dramatic climax to the musical themes running throughout the soundtrack.

All’s Well That Ends Well: There is a gentle, beautiful energy to this final, melancholy piece. The lovely orchestral rises and falls are full of hope too and the new, uplifting version of familiar themes are full of emotion; it’s a stunning ending to this soundtrack, full of passion and sadness.

The Stand

Composer: W.G. ‘Snuffy’ Walden
Original Release Date: 1994

Finally we come to the final soundtrack, scored by future The West Wing composer W.G. ‘Snuffy’ Walden. This is the most interesting, eclectic mix of themes across the entire collection; while I enjoyed the bombastic horror of Dreamcatcher more, this is probably the strongest of all the scores, mixing western, horror, military, rock metal and powerful emotional beats.

In fact, there is a strong hint of the majestic, sweeping scores that Walden would later create in the soundtrack to The West Wing. In terms of grandeur, there are few television composers that do it with as much majestic grace as Walden. Across two discs, we are presented with 33 tracks; what differs here from both Dreamcatcher and The Shining, is that they all continue to have distinct flavours. There are certainly repeating themes, but they don’t start to feel tired like the previous score.

Here are some of the more memorable tracks across both discs.

Disc 1

Project Blue : The opening track makes great use of guitar solo, adding swagger to this Western feel and mixing in some grim, synth industrial sounds to remind us this is a horror story..

The Dreams Begins: There us a fairytale-like ethereal quality to track two, that blends in a military horn with gentle choral voices and keyboard. It’s identifiably 90s but there is a hint of what would become The West Wing theme rising to the surface. It’s very evocative and atmospheric, distorted wails and screams pull the listener out of the beauty of this piece.

The Trashman in Vegas: The fourth track is the first to embrace full 80’s rock with a synth swagger and keyboard jazz sounds; this is so full it attitude, certainly verging on over the top cheese and fun too.

Larry and Nadine (The Rejection): Rock guitar opening to track six has real grit and passion, played in an unusual key with a gorgeous orchestral backing and a sinister synth backing track.

Sorry Mister I Don’t Understand (Tom and Nick meet): Track eight has a sweet piano solo, full of hope and emotion, mixed with a synth ethereal sound. It’s another beautiful, track.

Mother Greets The Multitudes: An emotional piece with a Western twang, there is a sweeping beauty to track 10, that is reminiscent of The West Wing at its very best, mixing harmonicas and orchestral soars.

‘One Will Fall By The Way’: Track 12 delivers a melancholy but beautiful piano solo; the simple orchestral backing part way through is lovely and when the guitar and wind instruments kick in, they are full of grit and passion.

Beginning of the End: With a gritty use of guitar, track 13 delivers a sense of wild west wilderness, which is quite sublime to listen to. Percussion beats and heavy synth sound blend with an emotional piano piece, full of drama and hope that makes this rather epic.

The Stand: With track 14, the score transforms into a swirling orchestral piece full of darkness, despair, and epic ominous beats. Rock guitars, rapid string movements, rising and choral chants and epic percussion combine into something quite special; the stunning use of fantasy and horror in one soaring track make this one of the stand outs in the entire soundtrack.

Tom and Stu Go Home: There is an epic beauty to track 15, with the use of familiar emotional guitar solo, lovely wind instrument accompaniment, rising piano and simple orchestral score.

Aint She Beautiful: The first disc ends with another soaring track, full of sweeping emotion, guitar and orchestra;  this is a melancholy twang to this track, full of passion, grief, hope in one mix.

Disc 2

Escaping: The second disc kicks things off with ominous, dark synth industrial sounds, strained wind instruments and forbidding beats; the soundtrack takes a dark, grim turn, the building percussion beat is relentless.

Trashy And The Dark Man: The third track of disc two is is pure 80s cheese with its heavy rock guitar opening. The track takes a sinister turn, full of dark industrial sounds and atmospheric rock guitar.

New York No More: With another grim, atmospheric opening, track seven has plenty of odd choral sounds and synth chords that are unsettling to listen to.

The Funeral: Track eight has a terrific, emotional guitar riff, epic and offbeat. The wonderful orchestral score mixed with guitar is passionate, epic, soaring and full of grief.

Boulder To Vegas: Track 13 starts with a bang; a bold, rock guitar and sweeping emotional score full of atmosphere and passion that explodes in a frantic chase sequence piece, heavy, dark and exciting.

Captured: The sixteenth and penultimate track is frantic, dark, fast-paced and gritty; the rumbling rock guitar and thundering beats mixed with distorted, forbidding sounds are hugely atmospheric.

War Preparations: The use of military drums mixed with dark synth sounds and intense string movements, give the soundtrack an epic, booming ending.

Final Thoughts…

The Stephen King Collection assembles a terrific mix of soundtracks, each distinct from the other but still identifiably horror in their own right. Dreamcatcher is the classic horror of the lot, full of bombastic, thundering beats that listener on edge, while Firestarter is more firmly rooted in its 80s origins, some ethereal haunting tracks standing out against the cheese. The Shining  soundtrack had plenty of atmosphere and a number of stand out tracks but does feel overly long, while The Stand is the most eclectic – horror, western and rock guitar making for something quite distinctive.

It’s a fabulous set and there should be something for every horror soundtrack fan, though it depends on your mood and preference on which one you would like more. It’s not consistent, but it is atmospheric and memorable; could you ask for any more?

The Stephen King Collection is now available from Varese Sarabande records.

 

 

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