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Hellraiser: The Chronicles (Christopher Young, Randy Miller)

May 13, 2015

Cover_HellraiserChroniclesHELLRAISER: THE CHRONICLES

Christopher Young, Randy Miller, 2003, Silva Screen Records
14 tracks, 42:31 | 14 tracks, 61:10 | 11 tracks, 46:35

With the release of Clive Barker’s novel “The Scarlett Gospels”, which promises to bring Pinhead’s reign to an end, I think it’s only suitable to revisit the scores for the original “Hellraiser” film and the only two sequels worth mentioning.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Based on his own novella “The Hellbound Heart” (1986), Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” is a gothic horror film full or gore and sadomasochistic undertones (seriously… Mr Grey has nothing on Pinhead). The original story centers around demon Pinhead and his troupe of Cenobites. They bring pleasure (read: pain) to those who open a mysterious puzzle box (the Lament Configuration).

The first film sees Frank opening the puzzle box (in the attic of a family home) and subsequently being ripped to shreds by the Cenobites’ hooks. As Frank’s brother Larry and his new wife Julia move into the house, Julia soon discovers Frank… alive, escaped from hell, but without skin. Julia and Frank were once lovers (and want to be so again), so in order for him to restore his body she seduces strangers and brings them back to the house to be devoured by Frank. Larry’s daughter Kirsty discovers what’s going on with Frank and evil stepmom Julia, steals the puzzle box and flees the house. When she opens the box she manages to strike a deal with Pinhead: she will lead the Cenobites back to Frank and in return they will spare her.

Classic though Christopher Young’s scores for the first two films have become, he was not Clive Barker’s original choice. Barker initially opted for a soundtrack by industrial band Coil. Needless to say their work was rejected (not sure by whom exactly); and they reused their material on their album “Unnatural History II”. If you’re curious to hear their work, simply open this link.

What does it sound like?

“Hellraiser” (1987, Christopher Young) –

Cover_Hellraiser“Hellraiser” opens with its titular track, an opulent and brooding orchestral cue for strings and brass. It’s grand and gothic, with a larger than life attitude. What follows is one of horror’s seminal cues: “Resurrection”, a deliciously dark waltz for piano, strings and counterpoint brass. It supports a scene in which the dead uncle Frank comes back to life in a spectacularly gory fashion. The film’s main theme receives a wonderful reprise in “Hellbound Heart”.

All lyricism is put aside with “The Lament Configuration”. The title referring to the puzzle box. A deep tolling bell and the sound of dangling chains dominate this track, alongside sound effects and dramatic orchestral clusters. “Reunion” is a sinister cue, whilst “A Quick Death” stands out for its forward motion. A string ostinato, dramatic chords and echoing effects make this feel like a ‘montage’ of death.

The aforementioned “Resurrection” waltz returns in “Seduction and Pursuit” but is performed as if it came from a demonic music box. In the film the music-box variation appears a number of times as it is all part of the puzzle box’s construction. It’s heard again, in fragments, in “The Cenobites” which accompanies the summoning of the demons. As with “The  Lament Configuration” this cue revolves around tolling bells, chains and evolving soundscapes.

“The Rat Slice Quartet” appears to be based on the “Resurrection” waltz, but it’s so altered it’s barely recognisable. It’s an incredible piece showcasing some wonderful harmonic writing for strings; and it actually vaguely reminds me of James Horner’s “Aliens” (you know, the bit where he echoes Katchaturian’s “Gayane Ballet”). “Re-Resurrection” features a toned-down, but no less wonderful version of the waltz for full orchestra. “Uncle Frank” and “Brought On By Night” are two eerie cues (of course) with a strong emphasis on high strings and violin; before “Another Puzzle” brings the score to a close with another lush performance of the main theme.

“Hellraiser II: Hellbound” (1988, Christopher Young) –

Cover_HellraiserIITraumatised by Uncle Frank, Julia and the Cenobites, Kirsty has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Channard. He, however, has taken great interest in the puzzle box and has a rather sinister agenda. Meanwhile we learn that Pinhead once was Elliot Spencer, a British army captain from the 1920. Clive Barker himself provided the story (turned into a screenplay by Peter Arkins), whilst Tony Randel took on directing duties.

Christopher Young returned for the sequel and it immediately becomes clear that he means business! “Hellbound” opens with a larger orchestra and with an added choir, making it even bigger, grander and bad-asser than the original. It reprises the original main theme, but it’s so big it’s bordering on being ridiculous (in a good and totally satisfying way). “Second Sight Seance” introduces a new theme, but it clearly belongs in this universe. I think it’s harmonically the same as (or very similar to) the original main theme and is orchestrated in a similar way. It could easily be a counterpoint to the main theme. It is dark, but it is beautiful and mesmerising. There is something reverential about it. It wouldn’t be amiss in one of the earlier “Star Trek” films; or equally it could be part of a pastoral symphony. The woodwind trills are a particularly nice touch. Oddly it reminds me of the crowing of a rooster, hence my ‘pastoral’ comment earlier, as it could signal a new dawn. The theme returns, equally beautiful, in “Something to Think About”. There’s a real sense of ‘longing’ about it. The string writing here approaches that of Young’s “Murder in the First”… yes, that is how gorgeous it gets!

Percussion and staccato brass, again reminiscent of Horner’s “Aliens”, play an important role in “Looking Through a Woman”, until the main theme returns. Choir, brass and timpani all play key roles in this huge, theatrical performance.

The tolling bell and the sound of chains also make appearances in this score. There is no better example than “Leviathan” which also, quite literally, features a horn of doom. If memory serves me right it’s a Tibetan horn. This mostly atonal cue is followed by another grand orchestral one: “Sketch with Fire”. And if this album hasn’t got enough highlights already, “Headless Wizard” takes the main theme to a new level as staccato strings accompany it. Much of the cue also relies on, what I believe is, Dr Channard’s theme (a series of rising and falling notes for horns). The album closes, a little disappointingly actually, with “What’s Your Pleasure” which focuses largely on a carnivalesque ‘clown’ theme, which makes sense in the film, but is less pleasant on album.

“Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” (1992, Randy Miller) –

Cover_HellraiserIIIWith Pinhead and his original human counterpart Elliot Spencer now separated, Pinhead has become pure evil. He and the puzzlebox are locked inside an intricately carved pillar. Nightclub owner J. P. Monroe obtains the pillar and soon Pinhead finds a way back into life, massacring night club visitors in the most gruesome ways (sometimes quite original, sometimes a little hokey). Elliot Spencer and several others try to fight Pinhead.

Christopher Young did not return for this sequel; and neither did Clive Barker, though the story was at least written by Tony Randall and Peter Atkins who worked on “Hellraiser II” as director and writer respectively. In comes Randy Miller who had scored a handful of horror movies since 1988. He stays remarkably close to the sound Young had developed for the series.

“Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” opens with a frantic, stabby ostinato for strings and percussion, overlayed with wailing trumpets. It’s a large orchestral sound, the syncopated nature of which may owe a little to Jerry Goldsmith, and it’s much more typically ‘cinematic’ than Young’s scores were. Half way into the cue it all briefly calms down before strings, brass and choir burst out in the original “Hellraiser” main theme. Now we know for definite that we’re in safe hands, musically speaking. “Back to Hell” and “Cenobites’ Death Dance” continue in a similar fashion, with Miller skillfully integrating Young’s themes into his own original compositions.

“Pinhead’s Proteges/The Devil’s Mass” is a 13-minute tour de force, reprising the syncopated stabs and Young’s main theme amidst frenzied orchestral writing. It’s surprisingly coherent, considering its length. The rhythmic approach to “Come to Daddy” against reminds of Goldsmith or Silvestri; whilst “Gothic Rebirth” sees Miller merging two of Young’s themes with choral material of his own. “Emergency Room” is a tense cue, though not as frenzied as some of the earlier tracks. “Mind Invasion” and “The Pillar” are two dramatic cues for strings, with the latter cleverly referencing some of the subtler parts of Young’s scores (note the piano and hi-hats taps towards the end of the cue). “Elliot’s Story” continues this dramatic approach for strings, adding muted trumpet (reprising the main theme), before “Shall We Begin” brings the album to a frenzied, action-packed end; surprisingly not referencing the main theme and instead focusing on Miller’s own stabby rhythms and screaming brass.

Is it any good?

Christopher Young’s two “Hellraiser” scores have become genre classics, and for good reason. The composer offers lush themes in a gothic orchestral setting – at the risk of almost being too grand for the visuals (especially where the first film is concerned, which is set in ordinary suburbia). As large and impressive as the first score is, it is easily overpowered by the even bigger and even more gothic sequel “Hellraiser II: Hellbound”. This score is so opulent and theatrical, it borders on the insane! Whilst it is clearly a work of its time and whilst some passages superficially resemble other works by Young (I mentioned “Murder in the First”, but “The Dark Half” and “The Fly II” also come to mind), it is so much more than just another film score. It feels much more like a symphony from hell, dedicated to Pinhead and the Cenobites. It is every bit as reverential and seductive as Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic chant from “The Omen”. It’s hard to criticise Young’s scores and any concern would only be minor. That said, the carnival music heard in “Hellbound” jars slightly on album (regardless of its context in the film); and the recording and mixing on “Hellraiser” leaves a little too be de-si-red (pun intended) especially compared to the rich, clear sound on the sequel album.

Randy Miller’s “Hell On Earth” offers an excellent and satisfying continuation of Young’s themes and overall style, yet providing a much more traditionally cinematic approach. It’s a little bit of a shame (or so it feels) that you can’t really talk about Miller’s score without constantly referring to Young’s. However, this only shows how much Miller respected the franchise and the work done by Young. Miller has done an outstanding job in retaining the familiar themes and similar orchestrations, whilst injecting the music with plenty of new ideas of his own. Fans of Young’s scores for the franchise, as well as fans of Jerry’s Goldsmith’s horror scores, will find much to enjoy here. Personally, I struggle a little with the rather sharp brass (mainly trumpet) sound that permeates this score, but it is only a minor criticism. One could also argue there is an over-reliance on the main “Hellraiser” theme, which contributes to the demystification of the Pinhead character. Again it’s barely relevant criticism (certainly not aimed at Miller), as the film itself is much more ‘the Pinhead show’ than its prequels ever were. Whilst it’s still an enjoyable flick, it marks the beginning of a long line of inferior sequels that ruined (rather than enhanced) the mysteries of hell, the Cenobites and Pinhead. So now, in 2015, we have arrived at a point where Clive Barker himself feel the need to finish this off, once and for all, with “The Scarlett Gospels”, his latest novel which is released this month.

Ratings

Hellraiser [4/5]
Hellraiser II: Hellbound [4.5/5]
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth [3.5/5]

Tracklistings

“Hellraiser” (1987, Christopher Young) –

01. Hellraiser (01:47)
02. Resurrection (02:30)
03. Hellbound Heart (05:02)
04. The Lament Configuration (03:23)
05. Reunion (03:09)
06. A Quick Death (01:15)
07. Seduction And Pursuit (02:58)
08. In Love’s Name (02:57)
09. The Cenobites (04:08)
10. The Rat Slice Quartet (03:18)
11. Re-resurrection (02:37)
12. Uncle Frank (02:59)
13. Brought On By Night (02:20)
14. Another Puzzle (04:08)

Total (42:31)

“Hellraiser II: Hellbound” (1988, Christopher Young) –

01. Hellbound (01:58)
02. Second Sight Seance (05:29)
03. Looking Through A Woman (05:26)
04. Something To Think About (04:26)
05. “Skin Her Alive” (01:46)
06. Stringing The Puppet (04:55)
07. Hall Of Mirrors (07:46)
08. Dead Or Living? (02:49)
09. Leviathan (03:25)
10. Sketch With Fire (02:53)
11. Chemical Entertainment (06:35)
12. Obscene Kiss (05:00)
13. Headless Wizard (05:31)
14. What’s Your Pleasure? (03:11)

Total (61:10)

“Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” (1992, Randy Miller) –

01. Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (02:11)
02. Back To Hell (04:38)
03. Cenobites’ Death Dance (02:29)
04. Pinhead’s Proteges / The Devil’s Mass (12:51)
05. Come To Daddy (02:41)
06. Gothic Rebirth (01:05)
07. Emergency Room (06:33)
08. Mind Invasion (02:41)
09. The Pillar (04:08)
10. Elliot’s Story (05:13)
11. Shall We Begin? (02:05)

Total (46:35)

Availability

The three “Hellraiser” scores have been released individually, and combined in Silva Screen’s excellent 3CD “The Chronicles” compilation. I’m not sure about the physical availability of any of those, but “Hellraiser: The Chronicles” is available on iTunes.

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