Due the evedint dearth of talent that so often befalls Hollywood producers and directors that after several years of two very similar themed films coming out at the same time (Armageddon and Deep Impact, the currently two upcoming films about missions to Mars and while I admit A Bug's Life and Antz were similar, they were at least superb films in their own right) 1999 produced two haunted house films, both of which were remakes and both of which were panned unilateraly. While Jerry Goldsmith was saddled with having to make the Haunting more frightening that a Twix, Don Davis was at least given a film that was apparently scary. Having said that, it was just shocks; harsh sounds and gory effects.
While Goldsmith's effort was more, well, haunting, Davis' is much more written for suspense, excitement and aural bombast. The opening cue introduces what is about the only major theme of the score, a vaguely modal and chordal church organ composition that provides the obligatory dollop of gothic atmosphere. However, it is in Pencil Neck (the most unlikely track title I've come across in a long while) that probably features the most exciting music of the entire score. While complaints of ripping off Goldsmith's choral score to the Omen, Davis' composition takes the most chaotic sections and winds up the intensity factor so much, that the music jumps about to such a huge degree that one sitting is not sufficient to grasp the onslaught you have just experienced. It is short so seems to finish even before it has even got going, but has a huge impact.
Clearly the tension building episodes were going to require music that was eerie and with the occasional outbreak of brass and whispering choir. Indeed Surprise takes this kind of suspense writing to its extreme with huge outbursts that really are quite disturbing. Many of the cues remind one Unable to Speak from The Matrix which was mere dissonence, but that was a very short segment and so was bearable whereas when its extended further can be a little too much. What makes it perhaps a little hit and miss is the huge variety of styles, there is the loungy jazz in Misty Misogamy, then exciting action in Struggling to Escape, but it is sometimes difficult to grasp what direction the score is headed. There is little natural progression and comes across as more of a series of episodes.
By its nature, this score is not an easy one to listen to. What is clear is that it is one of the most inventive and dynamic horror scores in quite some time. It does provide some quieter and calmer interludes to break up what could possibly be an unbearably intense experience, but unlike something like The Omen it does contains sections that are merely sound effects created with orchestra and synths which may work fine in the film, but makes for pretty unexciting listening. That having been said I am prepared to overlook the occasional miss to praise the talent that Davis has poured into the score. I wonder if, had the film been somewhat better, whether Davis might have been able to restrain some of the less musical sections rather than have to single handedly provide the surprises in musical form. It seems that he will certainly have a bright future if he continues to be this creative as, despite staying within the boundaries of the genre has managed to write something that surpasses what anyone could reasonably have hoped for given the material he had to work with. Anther fine effort.