Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Inspirational(ly Creepy) Music

It is the year 2000. I am watching a movie that is scaring the bejeezus out of me. The story: several soldiers during the Spanish American War are stationed at an outpost near the Rockies. A shivering, starving and half crazed man stumbles down from the foothills, telling a horrifying story of murder and mass cannibalism in a cave up in the crags; he was part of a party that was led astray by a devious and flesh-hungry soldier who intended to get the travelers stranded and then feast upon them. So the soldiers send a group (including the wanderer who told the tale) up into the mountains to investigate- to kill the cannibal soldier, and rescue anyone that can be rescued. So after some time they reach the cave. And this is not a little recession in a cliff. This is a deep, dark cave- the kind of cave you'd imagine not just bears, but yeti or dragons would nest in. They leave the wanderer and a couple of other soldiers outside to stand guard in case the cannibal is away from home and returns while they're searching. Pulses pounding, every nerve on a razor's edge, the rest of the soldiers slowly creep into the cave with weapons at the ready. The silence is oppressive- nothing but vague rustles and the echoing drips of moisture. They reach the back of the cave without encountering the cannibal soldier...and they find the bodies. They're convinced that the cannibal must be out wandering...but then one of them counts the bodies. There's one less than in the tale told by the half-crazed wanderer. And one of the corpses is wearing a soldier's uniform- that's right, the crazy cannibal was the wanderer who told the tale. And he's tricked all of the soldiers into coming up in to the mountains so he can feast on them as well.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? Better horror movie premises have failed. But what makes this scene a horror classic is the incredible music used during that scene, that skillfully supports the story and plays on the emotions of the listener. Here's the music piece in question (titled "The Cave," naturally):

Why am I talking about this on The Last Uniblog? It's a classic example of good sound design and scoring doing an excellent job of supporting the telling of a story. And while we still haven't finalized who will be sound designing the production, I'm hoping the designer will consider using this music in a scene or scenes, or at least I'll be able to refer him/her to this music as an example of the feel/mood I'm striving for. Also, this production of "The Last Unicorn" is not children's theatre! It will be mostly kid-friendly but we are exploring not just a cool story, but one with intense (and sometimes violent!) scenes, and grown-up themes.

I love how the music starts out unsettling and almost childlike (up until about 4:14), while perfectly evoking in music the natural sounds of the cave- you can hear weird echoes and what might be the flapping of bat wings or the scuttling of some small animal. Eventually, strings start to perfectly capture the sound of water dripping down into some puddle or small pool in the cave. In "The Last Unicorn," I'm wondering if this music, or music like it, might have a place in the Midnight Carnival scenes- especially when the Harpy is first revealed, or Mommy Fortuna disguises herself as Elli. Then at 4:14 things get really interesting. I think the percussion that starts there is initially meant to represent the pounding heartbeats in the ears of the increasingly terrified soldiers as they proceed deeper and deeper into the cave. Then more and more echoing and ominous percussion keeps being added on top of it- you can feel the horror build as the soldiers find more and more evidence and come to their horrific realization (while outside, the crazy cannibal has slipped his bonds and is already digging for his buried hunting knife...) This music (I mean 4:14 to the end) is the kind of thing I'm thinking about for the first appearance of the Red Bull, or maybe when the Harpy escapes. Speaking of the Harpy, fans of the movie version of "The Last Unicorn" might recognize the electronic guitar licks that happen at 5:44 and again at 6:15....coincidence? I think not.

No comments: