October Soundtrack Picks



To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD



Price: $19.98

What is it?:
If authors Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler gave their investigators Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe some small amount of hard-bitten class, Mickey Spillane was all about putting the dick into his private with the beyond hard-broiled investigator Mike Hammer. While he’d prove his barely ironic name in such envelop-pushing film iterations as “Kiss Me Deadly” and the Spillane-starring “Girl Hunters,” none caught the character’s sleazy magnetism like 1982s “I, The Jury.” As written by exploitation maestro Larry Cohen (“Hell Up in Harlem”) and played with five o’clock shadow cockiness by Armand Assante, the hyper-violent, sexed-up “Jury” was a soupcon of everything that was great about the un-PC 80s, namely orgies, serial killers and heroes who didn’t give a crap about body counts.

Why you should buy it?:
Sure Bill Conti had gotten Oscar-nominated attention for scoring action heroes ranging from the noble Rocky Balboa to the debonair James Bond. But it was the chance to rock and roll in NYC’s criminal underbelly with Hammer that unleashed one of Conti’s most aggressively energetic scores, taking detective jazz to new heights of film noir surliness. Driven by a breathless powerhouse theme that’s all rapid-fire percussion, heroic strings and swaggering brass, “I, The Jury” throttles along with a punchy, pop exuberance. A sax sets the smoky ambiance, while gnarled synths and twisted, shivering violins bringing in the horror elements of a slasher with a thing for blondes and belief – the killer’s government-sponsored roots enhanced with military percussion. At it’s best in cues like ‘Rummy Run,” Conti isn’t so much scoring the film as having a barely-in-control nightclub jam session, with the accompaniment of a swinging orchestra. Conti’s like Count Basie with a an attitude, his brass section aimed to kill in a classic pulp fiction jungle with a terrifically energetic score that revels in “Jury’s” hard R-rated glory.

Extra Special:
The Velda to Conti’s Hammer here is Michael Lang, a session pianist and keyboard player whose work has distinguished scores from “The Poseidon Adventure” to “The Russia House” and “Oblivion.” But in my book, it’s “I, The Jury’ that stands out as his most furiously memorable workout. At Lang’s fingertips, the piano is classically elegant in the rendering of Chopin, or Conti’s memorable love theme – which dispenses with sensuality as a hard-on jazz orchestra ravages Barbara Carrera to new heights of pleasure, the afterglow piano the equivalent of a cigarette. And when it comes to keeping time with Hammer, Lang’s chops are virtuoso magic as he for the “Concrete Chase Conclusion.” It says something for Mike Lang’s contribution that La La Land’s special edition ends up with the applause for Lang’s virtuoso playing in a score where the piano is the classy, smoking weapon of choice.


Price: $19.99

What is it?:
Kritzerland has released such singing-dancing cult movie numbers as “The Ghastly Love of Johnny X” and label founder Bruce Kimmel’s own “First Nudie Musical.” But if they’ve put out one soundtrack, and film that’s long overdue for “Glee”-like enthusiasm, then it’s “High School Musical.” I’d certainly never heard of it before watching this beguiling production as part of a teen throwback night at LA’s Cinefamily theater. As a member of The Class of 1983, this 1978 feature gave me a beguiling rush that recalled the rush of seeing “Grease” for the first time that very same year. For both productions capture that same retro-groovy innocence that’s all about the energetic rush of youth. But while “Grease’s” infinitely memorable tunes remained firmly rooted in the 1950s, the nearly-as-great numbers in “Junior High School” have a far broader range, as delivered by the charmingly raw voices of a bunch of kids dancing about the John Muir High School in Burbank – one of whom would grow up to b Paula Abdul.

Why should you buy it?:
Created by Michael Nankin and David Wechter as an elaborate 45-minute “short” that should’ve been a feature, the songs of “Junior High School” capture a mixture of angst, innocence and adult feelings that reflect the universal pre-high experience, as done with hilariously catchy and heartfelt lyrics and a dazzling range of styles. “The Party Song” is a doo-wop invitation to the big shindig, country cowpoke rhythms deliver absurdist teacher instructions for “Wood Shop / Home Ec,” “The P.E. Song” has a Klezmer chorus of coaches, while two affection-struck kids “Duet” to an ersatz Burt Bacharach piano and brass melody. But the jaw-dropping highlight is the Dixieland-Ragtime shower-stopper “The Itty Bitty Titty Committee,” with a rollicking chorus of girls begging for their bra-enchancing hormones to kick in. Wechter’s wonderful lyrics joyfully burst out here with the enthusiasm of a Broadway savant, having fun with the social ridiculousness of higher public education in a way that’s sweetly honest and infinitely catchy. The score by David’s dad Julius (of the Baja Marimba Band) is the kind of jazzily swinging, pizzicato pokey stuff that would be right at home on “Gilligan’s Island,” or any number of classic sitcoms you might imagine these students rushing home to watch after school, an instrumental goofiness that is a big part of ”Junior’s” charm.

Extra Special:
A festival darling when it came out, but still not long enough to have achieved the fame it should have, “Junior High School” ensured that its creators would graduate to non-musically contribute to the likes of “The Gate” and “Battlestar Galactica.” Kritzerland’s soundtrack offers some of their more tuneful latter works, including the Schoolhouse Rock-worthy “The Jimiiny Gravity Song,” the demo for the title song for their bigger foray into PG-rated grooviness of Disney’s “Midnight Madness” and the Carpenters-like melody for “The Bikini Shop,” which manages to make Double-D exploitation as sunnily inviting as a trip album, which Kritzerland does one better by offer a blu ray of “Junior High School” itself HERE – which is likely a first for a label to offer both a soundtrack and movie for an institution that more than ever needs to graduate to cult fame.


Price: $16.93

What is it?:
Where you could have synth keyboards or an orchestra playing computer espionage in the dial-up modem days of “War Games” or “The Net,” hacking has now grown to become an international enterprise of the hip and politically savvy. And along with these very good looking nerds, the techno thriller genre’s music has evolved into lightning-fast connection combos of trance-industrial rhythms, as often practiced by DJ’s getting their feet wet as film composers. So it’s nice to hear a composer who helped rep a new wave of film music back in the 80s with the oddball likes of “Blood Simple” and “Being John Malkovich” getting the chance to dive the electronic information stream with Wikileaks, and coming out with a “Fifth Estate” score that’s both of-the-musical moment while offering orchestral food for thought as the soundtrack’s moral backbone.

Why you should buy it?:
“The Fifth Estate” marks Carter Burwell’s fifth collaboration with filmmaking Bill Condon after the dirge-like doom of “Gods and Monsters,” “Kinsey’s” folksy sexual eccentricity and the two rock romance-cum-vampire scores for “Breaking Dawn” that finished the “Twilight” saga off with a bang. But whether he’s dealing with undead glitter or oddball Coen-isms, Burwell’s music has never failed to be interesting, or stretch the limits in subtle ways. Like Fall On Your Sword’s groove score for the Wikileaks documentary “We Steal Secrets,” Burwell derives real electricity from “Estate’s” suspensefully groovy computer rhythms, going beyond just pouring on the beats to let us inside the coldly calculating, agent provocateur mind of Julian Assange. It’s an alternately hyper, and melancholy place to be as the music intrigues with the Wiki ringleader’s haunting, icy determination and gleeful sense of making a political difference. Yet within the score’s change-the-world enthusiasm, Burwell is very much at home with the cool, haunting melody that’s made his music especially distinctive to Coen Brothers fans. And with the moral of these movies usually being about how dreams of changing the world turn to shit with the given crusader’s hubris, Burwell gradually brings in creeper samples and a simmering orchestral voice, the music creating a paranoiac intensity. “The Fifth Estate” holds attention, and a musical determination that clearly shows its composer is doing a lot more than scratching a beat, reaching into psychology with a haunting effect that plays both the cold excitement of the internet, and the flawed people realizing the ultimate cost of good intentions in a planet that’s speeding from one message to the next.

Extra Special:
With characters who’ve turned protest into its own form of hipness, “The Fifth Estate” offers the cool alt. grooves of Amon Tobin’s “Always,” Yppa’s “Never Mess With Sunday,” Tame Impala’s mildly rocking “Elephant” and Emika’s “Come Catch Me,” all songs which convey the cool, calculated groove that comes from being an truth-revealing Rockstar who’s all about public image.


Price: $19.99

What Is It?:
Among the spells cast by a company whose fan devotion borders on the scary, Disney’s “Hocus Pocus” has bewitched a following easily big enough to form more than a few covens over the last 30 years. Following up his similarly cultish Mouse House musical “Newsies” with this supernatural kid’s comedy-thriller, director Kenny Ortega resurrected three Salem witches on Halloween night, with only a bunch of intrepid kids, a talking black cat and a zombie standing between these twisted sisters and world domination. But if these ladies weren’t exactly threatening (and far more devilishly hot in the broom-flying case of Sarah Jessica Parker), it was still necessary for the small fry audience to take the scares somewhat seriously. A big part of creating that particularly spooky-fun magic fell to composer John Debney, a Disney legacy artist who was building his rep through such youth-friendly projects as “Piggsburg Pigs,” “Jetsons: The Movie,” and “A Pup Named Scooby Doo.” That “Hocus Pocus’” resulting score would propel Debney into much bigger, and truly scary adult things like “The Relic” and “End of Days” shows just how well he cast this movie’s bright musical black magic, whose wonderful melodic potency has only grown for Intrada’s anniversary edition.

Why You Should Buy It?:
All Hallow’s Even has been very good to Debney, right from his very first gig for “Disney’s Halloween Treat” to scoring “The Halloween Tree” in 1993 – the same year as “Hocus Pocus.” Debney has understood the real trick of how to approach these stories is the way to make the music scarily suspenseful for the kiddies, yet not too scary. “Hocus Pocus” is an exemplar in symphonically balancing the light and the darkness, while also standing as the score that really showed Debney could soar into the major leagues. He’s got a wealth of memorable themes ranging from the warmly emotional to the rollickingly malefic, showing a talent for lush orchestral writing in the John Williams tradition. He’s bubbled and troubled with the maestro’s by using sparkling strings, bells, and haunted voices that make “Hocus Pocus” a worthy cauldron-mate to Williams’ “Witches of Eastwick.” Debney also draws on the tradition of bewitched music, especially “Fantasia’s” use of Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (which famously had Mickey and a bunch of out of control broomsticks) to Modest Mussogorsky’s fearsome “Night On Bald Mountain.” Distilling these worthy ancestors into his own voice, Debney’s “Hocus Pocus” is the swirling fairy tale embodiment of all that’s spooky, suspenseful and fun about the tradition of Halloween run amuck.

Extra Special:
A great many fairy tales of “Hocus Pocus’” sort (not to mention Disney movies) always revolve around its villains’ diabolical plans to do away with those pesky kids – plots which are usually put into deceptively sweet candy wrappers. One of the most deliciously charming examples for this particular studio remains Sarah Jessica Parker’s siren song of “Sarah’s Theme,” a chillingly beautiful call to the little children (written by original composer James Horner) to follow her into a land of enchantment that’s anything but. This vocal is but one of the many treats of Intrada’s sumptuous album that at last puts “Hocus Pocus’” understandably expensive promo into the far more affordable hands of this movie’s acolytes, especially the Debney fans yearning to get the ultimate edition of a score that understandably gave Debney the broom ride to the big leagues.


Price: $13.64

What is it?:
Those expecting the kind of orchestrally ferocious, percussion-gnashing cannibal family score that usually comes with the rural, inbred territory aren’t going to get the expected soundtrack serving, in spite of one clan’s gruesome steadfastness that “We Are What We Are.” The credit for this unusually intelligent, and delicate approach to a genre that splatters both flesh and instruments with equal helter-skelter abandon goes to the collaboration between composer Jeff Grace and director Jim Mickle, who previously collaborated on the apocalyptic vampire fable “Stake Land,” and now has relocated a Mexican meat-eater film for upstate New York with the same brand of haunted poetry.

Why you should buy it?:
Less is often creepily more for Grace, a composer most often attached to a school of horror that relies on the slow, spare build, whether it was a classically orchestral ghost story for “The Innkeepers,” the eerie, expressionistic “House of the Devil,” the batshit “Roost” and even the blackly comic hijinks of “I Sell the Dead.” There’s a melodic maturity at work in Grace’s style of horror scoring, a subtlety for piano, violin and unsettled electronics that comes in particularly handy when capturing the angst of two young daughters who can’t escape their father’s flesh-eating expectations. In seamless tandem with co-composers Philip Mossman and Darren Morris, “We Are” is full of doom, as well as humanity, conveying a religious sense of obedience that’s really the road to damnation for two innocents doomed to repeat the sins of the past. By staying in the shadows, Grace conveys immense waves of dread with the stroke of a violin, or a slow, pounding piano, his music the equivalent of a horror that preys on the imagination instead of explicitness. Yet Grace and his compatriots aren’t out to cheat fans with highfallutin’ musical ambition, for they’re well aware that this is a horror movie, and score, after all, excelling as well with the creeping electronics and strings that befit the genre.

Extra Special:
Of course in a movie like this, no matter how smart it might be, you’re bound to get an ironic, finger-licking good ole’ boy country tune, here with Tommy Strange & The Feature’s “It Was Me That Made Her Bad,” while Nick Garrie’s “Cambridge Town” has a girly, Calypso folksiness to it that definitely does not belong in “We Are’s” rain-soaked trailer park-cum-smorgasbord.



Greg Edmondson certainly knows something about a trashed-out future after his twangy sci-fi score for the cult TV show “Firefly.” And when it comes to high adventure, his videogame music for the blockbuster “Uncharted” series stands as the genre’s answer to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Though made for decidedly less than that film, his new score for this post-apocalyptic mash-up of “Mad Max” and “Tank Girl” is a big bunch of balls-out fun. With a rousing orchestral performance that just might make Nashville a new symphonic scoring destination, Edmondson pours on a sound of bright, galloping nobility that’d befit a Texas Ranger on horseback as well as it does a busty, scum-slaying action heroine and her five-o’clock shadow English-accented companion, who get some surprisingly lyrical piano romance as well. But as opposed to straight-up string and guitar adventure and the percussive, Indian-from India ethnic weirdness of a future gone wrong, Edmondson is also in on the movie’s jokey fun with rockabilly jams and roaring Spaghetti western-isms. In the end, “Bounty Killer” score works thrillingly as an upstart mash-up of Edmondson’s musical stylings for Captain ‘Mal’ Reynolds and Nathan Drake, hell-bent for leather in he-man lady’s clothing, music that has a subversive smile on its face while delivering justice to the wasteland.


Where most Hollywood films do their best to instill some sense of reality into true-life movies, director Paul Greengrass has the ability to make his re-enactments real, which makes it no easy task for the composer to musically capture that sense of cinema verite. Where John Powell did an admirable job of creating an inevitable sense of dread with the ticking time-bomb percussion, Arabic suspense and tragic heroism that would send Greengrass’ “United 93” to its awful fate, the director’s new, equally gripping, but far “happier” ending for the true story of “Captain Phillips” demands a way more visceral approach, and significantly more sonic presence from musician Henry Jackman. Don’t even think of looking for that composer’s military hoo-raaa approach for “GI Joe: Retaliation” here in the SEAL-assisted rescue. For “Captain Phillips” is all about frantic confusion, even in the midst of a decidedly mild-mannered hero’s determination. Given a soundtrack that must set a record for continual screaming and menace, Jackman draws on all manner of African-Arabic percussion to embody the tribal nature of the Sudanese pirates, a wall of thrumming, pounding menace that makes the hijacker’s intent all the more furious – as contrasted with the clear-cut rhythmic mission of Phillips’ saviors. Yet while this is a movie that’s very much about calm in a sea of aggression, the sheer, complex relentlessness of Jackman’s score is as exciting as it is adrenalin-filled, creating a “you are there” impact that makes the listen an enthralling, rhythmically breathless journey into one man’s most nightmarish experience- while offering just a bit of tender redemption for the end – a deserved gift of unvarnished melody in a score of frightening, riveting intensity – music that’s as suspensefully real as it gets.


Konami’s videogame franchise that’s been undead for nearly three decades got a major-league reboot in 2010 with “Lords of Shadow,” whose stunning graphic and voice performances by the likes of Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart was certainly far beyond the old days of its demon-killing knight roaming through NES land. The game’s scope is likewise enhanced by the darkly biblical power of Oscar Araugo’s score, which brings on the holy hosannahs and raging orchestra in crucifix-weapon spades. As a Spanish composer who’d started out with videogames in 2001’s “Blade of Darkness” and 2004’s “Scrapland,” while also doing such features as “The Appeared,” Araujo’s work resounds with epic power, a dark mission-from-God splendor that really gets to sing in this ultimate edition soundtrack. One piece after the next ramps up with galloping fury and armor-clanging percussion, the score working on epic overdrive. While a continuous barrage of this well-wrought, fury-charged music might be bit overkill at points, what makes “Castlevania” truly memorable are its more emotional pit stops in between slaying creatures, with out hero’s yearning for his dead wife played with impressive, romantic poignance. While paying tribute to the scores of “Castlevania” yore, “Lord of Shadow” does well with the bigger, better axiom that comes with giving an old warhorse gigantic new moves befitting the stuff of historical, supernatural movies, a sound no doubt benefitted from Araujo’s score for a live action “El Cid” picture. Musical might makes impressive right here, a journey of holily hacking and slashing through evil that “Castlevania” pounds out with full force until tender deliverance is at hand, a more intimate spirituality that in the end is the most powerful musical force at play here.


After such impressive scores as the majestic haunting of “The Awakening” and the entrancingly downbeat crime drama “Blood,” the prolific English composer Daniel Pemberton finally gets a major Hollywood score for fellow Brit Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor.” It’s a gig that lands Pemberton once again on the wrong side of the law, and south of the border as a suave legal eagle gets in way over his head in the Mexican drug business. But that doesn’t mean that Pemberton can’t have black-humored fun with the bloodshed at hand with a nice big helping of Spaghetti Western music. It’s an ironic, and subtly humorous tone for strumming guitar and wolf howl strings that are nevertheless filled with tension, and an above-it-all sense of criminal class. Pemberton’s “Counselor” is all about the calculated, slow boil of jumping into business with the devil, crossing a sunbaked, outlaw tone with the modern, melodic sheen of a conspiratorial suspense score, even going for a metal-grunge rhythm for decapitation in the score’s neatest bit of business. Impressively embodying his antihero, Pemberton’s “Counselor” is filled with style, venom, fateful guitar romance and the kind of strumming that tells us a big, lethal moral lesson is at hand

. DAY OF THE DEAD (3,000 edition)

Even when outright horror movies had humor in them, composers would mostly play the often gory action straight. While “Day of the Dead” might amiably shamble amongst George Romero’s original trilogy, it’s John Harrison’s score that stands as the most unique of their soundtracks for this reason. Where “Night” used library music for maximum black and white effect, and Goblin brought catchy, progressive rock color to “Dawn’s” entrail-laden shopping mall, it could be argued that Harrison was the composer who truly got Romero’s subversive satire, even if this sequel was claustrophobically set in a decidedly non-consumerist military mine complex. For what Harrison heard was a Reggae-Calypso beat of all things, a brilliantly sardonic approach that was actually far more humorous than the movie itself. Somehow, it was an island rhythm that moved in perfect time with these increasingly smart zombies. Starting out in Romero’s reparatory company an actor in “Dawn of the Dead” and “Knightriders,’ Harrison showed an even more fearsome talent for composing in “Creepshow” electronically replicating a 1950s B-movie horror sound that was in perfect synch with that movie’s use of stock scores. Harrison’s brilliant conceit for “Day of the Dead” was using its tropical sound to hear inside the mind of heroes who’d much rather be hanging out in the Caribbean, as opposed to being stuck with a bunch of army loonies. While their aggression brings out a dangerous, militaristic march-percussion, there’s also much ethereal beauty to “Day’s” score, its drifting melodies reverberating within an immense underground space that holds little safety for all of its isolation. Harrison’s ideas as are much conceptual as they are thematic, while also giving the more obvious music scares and shock effects their due for when the zombies will of course invade. La La Land’s special edition soundtrack gives even more space to Harrison’s score, revealing its full, inventive complexity, especially for the score’s more ruminative moments, while also offering “Day’s” original release on a second disc, which offers its own disco spin on the main title. “Day of the Dead” confirms the distinctively inventive electronic beat of an artist who’d later go on to direct “Dune” and “Leverage” for TV, but whose unique horror sound remains missed in a genre that could use more of his bitingly inventive approach.


Where most Hollywood “Asian” movies usually kowtowed Orientals into secondary positions below the American actors (though mixed up a bit in this case with the brogue of Sean Connery and the urban cool of Wesley Snipes), we can credit “Rising Sun” director Philip Kaufman for bringing some level of authenticity to this thriller’s cultural melange by hiring Toru Takemitsu for his sole Hollywood film. One of Japan’s most revered movie composers for his work on “Kwaidan.” “Woman in the Dunes” and “Ran” Takemitsu’s sole work truly stands out for his mastery of the distinctly American genre form known as film noir. A sexy, smoky sax gives erotic heat to the film’s murder mystery, with the kind of brass feeling that could be right out of an old school Warner Brothers picture. But it’s just the jumping off point for “Rising Sun” to venture into beautiful, impressionistic weirdness with the horror movie sound of a Theremin-like Ondes Martenot, eerie reverberated percussion, tingling strings. Yet there’s a Japanese sensibility at play in Takemitu’s use of his country’s Koto, flutes and ethnic drumming. The tantalizing results are very much the sound of an alien in LA, conveying his country’s age-old identity with a distinctively strange grasp of a murder mystery score, two musical identities that make for a soundtrack of startling mystery and erotic beauty. While most people never appreciated Takemitsu’s achievement in its original, greatly truncated album, Kritzerland’s new, complete release of his score (complete with jazz Karaoke and furious drumming by Tsunami) is a chance to discover one of the 90s most intriguing scores.


Brian Tyler is best known for blowing stuff up real good in such might-makes-right scores as “The Expendables,” “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.” Easily one of his most deliriously bombastic entries in this action field was for D.J. Caruso’s action thriller “Eagle Eye,” which makes their new collaboration on “Standing Up” all the more surprising and powerful. For this story of two decidedly non-testosterone kids who run away from bullying at their summer camp, Tyler and Caruso show that real strength lies from within. It’s a lesson that the composer spells out with one of his most beautifully inspirational, and moving themes. Tyler beautifully varies this movingly melodic scoring with lush, soaring strings, lyrical guitars and poignant pianos, reserving his percussion for youthful hijinks that are anything but to its victims. “Standing Up” is also equally affective as salute-worthy Americana. The fact that this film, and score are giving that respect to a spirit of friendship over taunting make this perhaps the most emotionally, and intimately devastating score in Brian Tyler’s cannon, showing that this composer could easily be walking away from confrontation at the same time he gloriously thunders into it


When given the opportunity to write non-comedic scores, Henry Mancini would run with the opportunity with some of his most beautiful and adventurous work, trekking from Italy to Russia in “Sunflower,” venturing to outer space in “Lifeforce,” or digging into the Irish-worked coalmines of “The Molly Maguires.” It’s that score’s spirit that has the most in common with one of the composer’s most haunting works as he treks across Alaska in 1974’s “The White Dawn.” With a rousing (though unused) orchestral theme promising high adventure, Mancini follows a trio of seriously misplaced whalers into the company of Eskimos. At first, a pennywhistle plays a lullaby-like theme, transposing the Irish feeling into the natives’ Asian origins. Mancini’s gorgeous, whisp-like melodies glow in this film’s supremely deceptive spirit of cross-cultural warmth, while native percussion and eerie wind like effects convey the foreboding atmosphere. That can also be said of the horn-filled orchestra when it makes its presence known again with the whalers’ welcome that’s worn out, the heat of Mancini’s percussive danger rising to one of the most chilling shock climaxes in film history. As one of the composer’s least publically known, but most requested scores by fans, “The White Dawn” gets fine treatment by Intrada, right down to Lou Gossett’s haunting vocal accompaniment with the Eskimo singer Akshooyooliak that captures the simple beauty of this film, and score’s haunting power.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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