Alan Silvestri was never the most original composer. Many have criticized his often monotonous underscore and action music, as well as his huge debt to John Williams (witness Back to the Future), Jerry Goldsmith (almost any action score), and now Bernard Herrmann. Bluntly, What Lies Beneath comes across as the largest Psycho imitation in recent memory - the specter of Herrmann looms heavily over the seemingly-eternal stretches of string banality (Herrmann would never let even his most minimalistic passages degrade into this quality, however). Varese Sarabande's 30 minute release (one of their only ones this year) is perfectly adequate - I doubt most people could stand more of this hopelessly generic suspense music. Thankfully, there are several highlights, however, particularly "The Getaway" and the spectacular end credits, though both owe a huge debt to Herrmann with their chopping strings and horn glissandi. Surprisingly, there are only a few scares, though all hell breaks loose when these paroxysms of dissonance surge across the orchestra, making for a few particularly effective moments. Silvestri opts for a more motivic than thematic approach, although an exciting theme begins to take hold in The Getaway and Reunited. I suppose this album could be perfectly serviceable for setting atmosphere on a dark and stormy night, although most would opt for something more interesting. In the end, Silvestri's moments of genius cannot stand up against this backdrop of monotony, so all but the most die-hard score collectors should instead try to locate the end credits on an inevitable compilation.
Track by Track Analysis:
1. Main Title (1:12)
Silvestri's brief main titles begin with murky rumblings in the bass before introducing the main motif, a meandering, ethereal melody for alternating harp and strings. The track ends in a huge surge of atonality.
2. Panic Attack (2:58)
The composer sets the main tone for the rest of the album in this underscore track, comprised of nearly aimless string and woodwind motivs, suggesting a vague aura of the supernatural. In the final minute, Silvestri inserts a brief reprise of the main title with its vibrant hints of string trills swallowed by minimalism.
3. Ouija Board (1:14)
Following a brief Herrmannesque outburst of stringed bass (reminiscent of Psycho's Madhouse motif), Silvestri comprises the rest of the cue with a violin motif that eventually climaxes in sustained high-register strings and an angry shout of dissonance.
4. You Know (2:40)
Again, Silvestri borrows from Benny's book of tricks with another rambling passage of strings that conjures images of Psycho's motif for The City. The composer inserts a few creepy synths, and the final minute is home to a collection of disturbing, howling sound effects and sudden outbursts of strings, diabolical trombones, and synth effects. A magnificent, terrifying glissando surges throughout the orchestra as the cue finally climaxes.
5. Forbidden Fruit (5:31)
Could this lengthy track be the most generic on the album? Silvestri continues to develop the completely uninteresting motivs of the main title and "Panic Attack," creating some great Herrmannesque atmosphere but not much substance. This track is somewhat important, however, as it develops the string passages into a main theme that will finally climax in "The Getaway." Additionally, it contains a few of the more startling passages of the score with several malevolent outbursts in the percussion, leading to string and woodwind glissandi and a small ensemble of screaming female voices. The final minute continues to develop the "Main Title" motif.
6. I Opened the Door (2:47)
Actually, "I Opened the Door" manages to usurp "Forbidden Fruit" as the most boring and generic on the album with utterly aimless stretches of sustained strings and woodwinds, a short passage for high synthesizer, and reminiscences of the main themes.
7. The Getaway (2:44)
Easily the best and most exciting track of the score, this causes the orchestra to explode into malevolent action music - actually some of the best of the year (even though it has Bernard Herrmann scrawled all over it). Additionally, the cue is actually compositionally sound, since it develops the main theme that had only been hinted at previously into a rapturous, yearning melody for full orchestra. If only the rest of the album had been this good! I'm not sure if this single track justifies a purchase of the album, but it still manages to save the rest of the score from an abyss of banality.
8. Reunited (3:53)
The climax of the score, this transforms the main theme that appeared in "The Getaway" into a lengthy, exciting horror cue full of pounding timpani, string glissandi, and fanfares. Silvestri vaguely hints at a chorus at various points, especially during the final reprise of the main title motivs in the last minute.
9. End Credits (6:33)
Destined to appear on every new compilation from now until doomsday, this satisfying end credits suite begins with an exciting reprise of "The Getaway" and its ensuing thematic material, before delving back into the world of murky, evocative string and woodwind passages that characterized most of the score, reprising all of the main themes.
Although What Lies Beneath's majority is comprised of pointless atmospheric string underscore, its better moments present a competent pastiche of Herrmann's Hitchcock scores, climaxing in "The Getaway," an absolutely thrilling orchestral showpiece that almost (but not quite) justifies the purchase of the album.