Column: Slicing Score: Re-Animator (1985)

By Maria Mitchell

Re-Animator (1985). Director: Stuart Gordon. Composer: Richard Band.

The score to Psycho, composed by Bernard Herrmann, may have been the epitome of a score that slices sound, but Re-Animator‘s score is a score that splits a heart of darkness into shards of laughter. This score, I believe, was born, not of madness, but of affection and respect for a cornerstone of horror music contained between Herrmann’s original staves. This quality is an underrated and ignored aspect of horror music.

Horror music has different purposes and not all are obvious at first listen. While the main point of any score is to accentuate the dramatic aspects of the film it is written for, that score can take on different uses after the film is over. Here’s a question I think about after I’ve heard a film score like the original score to Psycho: what happens when the movie’s over? Do those notes just sink into some Lethe and become crystallized in a vast Cocytus? Do those notes become cold, immovable and unchangeable? Or can they be re-imagined into a vibrant, hilarious score that embodies the very definition of re-animation by taking the original musical ideas from a composer deceased by 1985 and reincarnating them into a new score with similar musical elements that elicit a completely different emotional reaction? What could be funnier than taking one of the most horrifying pieces of film music and turning that horror on its head? This is the value of horror-comedy. To anyone who allows horror to skewer their minds regularly, there is nothing more precious than hearty laughter.

When the score to Family Plot was recorded, it was noted for its comic irony and subtle humour. While the slapstick nature of Re-Animator‘s music is not subtle, it is the best medicine for crumbling confidence and apathetic indifference.

Re-Animator was filmed at a time when a film had to be seen in theaters. It couldn’t be pirated over the net, or distributed virally. It had to be experienced in person, so to speak. This made the music all the more important because, if it wasn’t evocative, no one would give any credence to what was happening on the screen. The ambience of the sound had to pull the audience into the thrill of the film.

My favourite cue from Re-Animator will probably always be Dr. Hill’s cue to reach for blood without his head to guide him properly. Let me just say: I identify. If you’ve never had a particular problem before, you are at a loss as to how to cope with it, at first. Therein is the value of every individual’s spirit to identify with some form of expression on their terms. The result of that identification will be the measure of intent.

Emotive pop music serves its purposes, on the surface. Dig a little deeper and you may find emptiness. You may find nothing more than a collection of smug notes that flatten imagination rather than encourage creativity. The connection between Herrmann and Band’s scores is not one of these smug denigrations. It is two musical interests coming together to form a community of sound.

Edgar Allen Poe summarized the nature of moody music best in his poem, “The Conqueror Worm”, when he referenced the spheres fitfully breathing music. Some of the bars in Re-Animator have a fitful, restless quality, especially the cue where Herbert West re-animates Dr. Hill. This restless quality embodies Herbert’s zeal as a scientist pitted against his better judgment. He knows what he’s doing is not a good idea, but he cannot resist the chance to tower over Hill as a superior. After all the contempt he received from Hill, he thinks superiority is his due. Hill’s reanimation indicates that contempt doesn’t die easily. Contempt isn’t something to fear. It is something to pity, because no one holds contempt or disrespect without a high price.

When I first came to Innsmouth, I embraced the persuasion of one that idolized film music. I now know why idolatry is detrimental. No music will ever be self-sustaining as long as it’s overshadowed by an idol. Herrmann isn’t the idol in the score to Re-Animator. There is no idol. There is only the re-animation of humour in the face of horror. There is a real horror in exposing your imagination to the entire world, but the producers of Re-Animator‘s soundtrack were too bold to let real-life horror keep them from where they wanted to take the music. Band states on Re-Animator‘s commentary track that he inverted some of Jerry Goldsmith’s notes to the movie, Freud, for cues that make the audience see the sort of childish side of Herbert West. Going for a football tackle on the musical theme written for psychology’s most sickening nightmare puts an already clever score over the top as a winning soundtrack.

Re-Animator‘s soundtrack is available at Amazon.com.