Humans have always had a curiosity for occurrences we can't rationalise; from the meaning of life to the supernatural, if we can't compare, categorise, experiment and come to a satisfactory conclusion about it we're fascinated. Mysteries to people are like shiny things to a crow. This fact of human existence comes across in everything we produce, including film and music; this article investigates the blending of cinema and soundtrack through films, which explore popular curiosities, namely vampires, resurrection and vengeance beyond the grave. The soundtracks I'm presenting, though similar in many aspects are comprised of classical score, alternative rock, metal, choral and electronic music. Broadly speaking, these soundtracks can be defined by the dark moods they convey and a poorly concealed obsession with what lurks in the shadows.
These three films are gothic action, horror comedy and vampire movies respectively. The Crow (dir. Alex Proyas, 1994) is a cult comic book adaptation having attained this status largely due to the on set death of its lead actor. The film's anti-hero lives and dies at the decaying heart of a dystopian city, otherwise populated by greasy gangsters and a fractured police force. Bride of Chucky (dir. Ronny Yu, 1998) drags the Child's Play horror franchise (Trilogy 1988, 1990, 1991) kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The characters set off on their ill-fated road trip from a small town trailer park, a similarly socially deprived setting to the urban decay of The Crow. While "Bride" uses claustrophobically introverted comedy to post-modern effect, The Hunger (dir. Tony Scott, 1983) uses sinister sex appeal to create a modern reinterpretation of the vampire movie. Most of the action takes place in the couple's sophisticated New York home.
The Crow is the vengeful story of a metropolitan misfit, Eric Draven, who is resurrected a year after the brutal slaying of himself and his partner. Back from the dead with an unbearably heavy chip on his shoulder he sets about systematically hunting down the gang responsible. The soundtrack takes its lead from Draven, who is a rock guitarist. Reflecting his pain, passion and past life as a musician it oscillates subtly between grunge guitar hooks and angelic female choral singing with string accompaniment. A tragic violin phrase acts as Draven's leitmotif, signalling his arrival at key moments. Free spirited pre-teen, Sarah plays a principal role in the film as the street child befriended by the dead couple. Draven's leitmotif heralds his resurrection when he meets Sarah again after death, as well as during the slayings he commits.
When studying popular recorded music in soundtracks, production context is of paramount importance; just as the actors' costumes can be chosen for fashion reasons as much as to show an aspect of their character, music can be used in part to give a feel of the historical setting, or simply due to its popularity at the time of production. The window into 1994 provided by The Crow is a bleak picture. At the time, Grunge – a subgenre of rock sometimes referred to as “Seattle Sound” because of its emergence in the city's late '80s music scene - was at the height of its popularity. It manifests itself here in the form of flat, distorted guitar riffs, which signal Draven's presence before killings. These tracks use thick electric guitar layers under angelic female choral vocals to sonically reproduce the conflict between murderous hatred and sorrowful love. A hybridisation of trashy sleaze rock and grunge is evident in the live band nightclub sequences. This style straddles a transitional period between brash solo-driven '80s hard rock and anti-materialist angst laden rock of the '90s.
Bride of Chucky was released four years after The Crow. It too largely contains rock and metal music, but despite the short gap between these films the musical landscape had already changed drastically; rock was moving away from a grunge nucleus, playing on the genre's clichés. Rock music splintered off into myriad subgenres, merging with other styles like dance and hip-hop. It was in the late '90s that Nu Metal was first heard, an alternative metal blending Grunge's mundane everyday anger with catchy riffs and hip-hop's up front vocal delivery. Electronic backings, six or seven stringed guitars and a flirtation with DJ culture blended for a punchy pop friendly cocktail. There are hints of Nu Metal raising its head in Rob Zombie's soundtrack contribution; he almost talks through the verses, assimilating rap. What he adds to the soundtrack is a lurid Halloween nightmare quality, which reminds the audience of Chucky's Slasher Movie roots.
Kidney Thieves' cover of "Crazy" adds a gloomy dimension to the original, hinting at the film's remake status and post-modernism. During Tiffany's doll makeover, Blondie are played, matching a classic film staple "The Transformation" with a classic rock anthem - it's the '90s, move over Led Zeppelin and The Who, Blondie are now considered classic rock!
The oldest of our three films, The Hunger was produced at a time when pop and rock musicians were at a creative peak in terms of experimentation. In keeping with the advent of synthesised pop success stories in the late '70s, there's barely a live instrument throughout. The soundtrack takes much of its inspiration from the first song, a performance by Gothic Rock band Bauhaus. Their sound is characterised by a sparse treble section, intermittent bass, frantic rhythmic sampling and foreboding eerie vocals. These same characteristics minus vocals bleed into the rest of the soundtrack. The track choice wasn't just about sound; the song is called "Bela Lugosi's Dead". These lyrics about the best-known silver screen vampire are a statement of intent for the film, which sought to subvert the vampire genre's melodramatic conventions. The Hunger explores the vampire genre's sexual elements, which were largely lost between novel and celluloid first time around thanks to strict censorship laws.
The synth heavy soundtrack cultivates an intense, dehumanised atmosphere. Its relentless continuity in terms of musical style echoes John's inescapable fate. As if to ram the point home, during the lab scenes enraged monkeys' screams become virtually indistinguishable from the busy electronic music. John is as caged as the lab animals.
Intriguing and imaginative soundtracks match these three films' unique fascinations with the dark side of life. The Crow presents a wholly unsympathetic view of the criminal underworld, a group of twisted individuals with a taste for the extreme when it comes to lifestyle and live bands; underground metal music played in a sticky and dingy club is part of their lifestyle. The Metal sound is equated with both wicked recklessness (the baddies) and passionate love (Eric Draven). For Tiffany from Bride of Chucky a morbid obsession with death and a love of rock/metal are one and the same. Despite this, the soundtrack is fun, not disturbing; also indicating youth culture when played by the young couple, and the pantomime macabre it plays with adds comedic emphasis to many a farcical situation. Far from adding light relief, the electronic accompaniment for The Hunger builds up a sense of impending doom for the lead character, encased in a nightmare by disorientating robotic noise.
The soundtracks of these films tell us so much about the characters (Tiffany's horror influenced lifestyle, Eric and John's passionate musicianship and love for their ill fated partners), their motivations (love in all cases) and the production context (late '90s obsessive self-conscious postmodernism, early to mid '90s gloomy politics and rock and early '80s electronic experimentation). The way that music brings so much to the viewing experience and can teach us compellingly about the extra-textual world outside the frame is what makes it such a fascinating field of study.
Here are selected soundtrack albums for the films discussed in this article. The main disappointment is with "The Hunger" album which is not representative of the film and doesn't contain the Bauhaus track "Bela Lugosi is Dead". However you will find versions of this on various Bauhaus albums such as "Crackle: The Best of Bauhaus" which we've listed below.