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Page Cook, the great film music critic, once referred to Bernard Herrmann's score to Psycho as "ferociously beautiful."  I believe the same description could be applied to Jerry Goldsmith's Poltergeist.  The best way to describe this score is as a horror version of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, almost like Alien-lite.  One of the main motives, in fact, is a reworking of the dissonant V'Ger arpeggios, and most of the string moments sound like the other score.  But POLTERGEIST is definitely not about imitation - all the action cues are fascinatingly new, and the theme is completely unlike anything ever written for a horror score - the lullaby for Carol Anne.  This theme proves to be one of the composer's most versatile - it also doubles as a terrifying horror theme.  Goldsmith continues his thematic-but-not-quite-leitmotivic trend found in a lot of his other scores from this period, and POLTERGEIST has at least 5 different motives.  The other main one is the religious theme, which sounds like a precursor to The Final Conflict, especially with the chorus.  The choir provides another of the best aspects of the score - they enhance the religious-like sequences and add terror to the haunting scenes (especially Twisted Abduction.)  The album release is an expanded edition put out by Rhino and the same team that brought us the Star Wars Special Editions and the Superman Complete Score.  Even though it's only (only?) 68 minutes, we get the entire thing, as well as a few fascinating outtakes.  As is typical with these Rhino/TCM packages, the producers enclosed a huge liner booklet (24 pages in this case) which contains a lengthy production history (It turns out that basically the entire thing was directed by Spielburg) as well as a long track-by-track analysis.  Sound quality is perfect, and the orchestral performance shines.  I heard somewhere that Goldsmith was unhappy with the orchestral playing, so he refused to authorize this expanded version, but it sounds fine to me.  Overall, just about everyone should try to pick this one up.  It's a great "starter kit" for those wanting to venture into atonality, since it contains some of Goldsmith's most exciting passages, but is held at bay by the graceful main theme.


Track by Track Analysis:

1. The Star Spangled Banner (1:30)
Not exactly the most obvious opening for any score, let alone a horror score, but then again, this is anything but an ordinary album.  The arrangement is a typical one, but it turns out to be source music, since the track ends in the static of a TV.

2. The Calling/The Neighborhood (Main Title) (4:07)
Goldsmith opens with this extremely chilling "teaser" cue as the ghosts summon Carol Anne to the TV.  The composer interpolates brief celeste statements of the main theme, as well as the beginnings of some of the other motives, including the trilled tree motif, which sounds like it's somewhat derived from "Outland."  Also present is a hint of the sinister ghost motif, which won't fully become evident until "Twisted Abduction."  Binding the cue together are some mid-range string dissonance and lush glissandi that will become a signature of the score.  Goldsmith uses his trademark weird instrumentation, such as a bass slide whistle from Planet of the Apes and a shimmering synth from ST:TMP.  At the end of this cue is the first lullaby arrangement of Carol Anne's theme, the glue of the score.  "The Neighborhood" lightens the mood considerably, based almost completely around Carol Anne's theme.  Goldsmith demonstrates its versatility by placing it in a scherzo arrangement.  Serving as a bridge is a percussive section that sounds a lot like some of his later '80s work, particularly Lionheart.

3. The Tree (Outtake) (2:26)
As the liner notes say, this presents an impressionistic portrait of a gnarled tree. The trilled motif from the main titles returns, as well as a few more distinct versions of the atonal ghost motif.  Also present towards the end is a mystical outline of the main theme accompanying the tree motif on piano.  Here, the theme settles from the scherzo into the tranquil, lyrical melody that it is usually found in.  I think this cue would have greatly added to the scene, and I don't know why it was removed.

4. The Clown/They're Here/Broken Glass (Outtake)/The Hole (Outtake)/TV People (5:12)
In this track, Goldsmith provides the listener with the first dissonant horror music of the album.  "The Clown" introduces a new, minimalistic theme for the object, with hints of the tree motif thrown in.  Soon, the scoring gets more violent with lunging woodwind runs and grinding percussion.  "They're Here" is an extension of the summoning theme from the teaser, again with sections of the tree motif, shimmering synths, and bass slide whistle.  Next is a part for a grinding, spitting trombone, which joins swirling strings to form an impressionistic monster.  The next cue is based around a high, dissonant string version of the ghost theme.  In the score, this has two different facets: a menacing motif for The Beast and a religious arrangement for the benevolent ghosts.  The track is rounded out by forlorn string dissonance and Carol Anne's theme on harp.

5. Twisted Abduction (6:56)
Here, the ghost theme begins the track on bass clarinet, used to signify The Beast.  The music continues to build into a percussion and low-brass-driven frenzy, all based around this theme.  As the film cuts to scenes of Carol Anne's abduction, the female chorus enters, singing the religious version of the ghost theme, making this a definite highlight of the score.  The string writing is also noteworthy, using both glissandi and huge swirlings.  A new, pleading string figure makes its appearance, and most of the abduction music is based on it.   At the 3:00 mark, it quiets down into more of the creepy ambient scoring.  This facet of the score sounds very much like the impressionistically dissonant writing from Planet of the Apes, with some of the horror writing from Alien thrown in.  Also noteworthy is the way Goldsmith uses sound effects, especially during a lot of the choral writing - even though it's sublimely lyrical, the listener is scared to death by it.  In the final minutes, the composer intercuts some more dissonant low brass writing with this technique.  Carol Anne's theme finally appears at the end on celeste.

6. Contacting The Other Side (5:10)
The first few minutes of the track are engulfed in string dissonance, outlining the religious version of the ghost theme.  The summoning motif also appears briefly, along with lots of slithering bass.  Carol Anne's theme appears at 2:30 in a full arrangement for woodwinds and strings, but it's promptly thrown into the first statement of the "supernatural" motif, which is derived from the V'Ger arpeggios of Star Trek.  Just as the lilting theme seems to calm, Goldsmith throws in a huge timpani/low brass figure.  Next is some meandering ethereal string writing, high dissonance, and a synth version of the main theme.  The track ends with a dissonant orchestral outburst.

7. The Light (2:05)
Here, Goldsmith introduces another main theme of the score.  After a short recap of the main theme, the strings introduce the soaring Religion theme, which is another of the composer's greatest.

8. Night Visitor/No Complaints (9:07)
This underscores the sequence of the spectres descending the stairs.  The first few seconds are based on the summoning motif, followed by extremely unnerving dissonance utilizing out of control woodwinds and horn glissandi.  After a repeat of this pattern, yet another new motif enters, which was hinted at in Contacting the Other Side.  This seems partially based on Spock's theme from STAR TREK, and much of the next section focuses on that theme in both strings and woodwinds.  It also seems like a more (yes, I said more) dissonant version of one of  Alien's themes.  Some of the string arrangements seem like they could be from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, since they utilize bitonality.  The music grows in intensity, finally hitting another supremely unnerving horror moment.  "No Complaints" continues this bizarre string arrangement, later turning the theme into another dissonant action cue.

9. It Knows What Scares You (7:37)
This and the next track are actually one 16 minute cue.  A welcome respite comes in the form of Carol Anne's theme, but basically the entire track is based around the meandering Alien-derived theme.  Actually, this section reminds me of one of the unreleased parts from the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE score.  After a while, the Religion theme enters, bringing some raw power to the proceedings.  Later in the track, Goldsmith begins to experiment with his religious sound, introducing one of his favorite techniques of using chromatic triads to signify the supernatural.  As someone mentions The Beast onscreen, Goldsmith responds with a menacing version of the ghost motif in the bass.  Following this is a hugely disturbing slow string and xylophone glissando.  Next is a bass piano ostinato and hints of the Alien theme (I have no idea what to call this, so I'm referring it to the Alien motif from now on, even though it's not used much more in the score.) with high string dissonance.  Carol Anne's theme appears among another great passage using water-drop bars and a menacing woodwind theme.  This continues to build, until it hits the emotional high of the score:

10. Rebirth (8:23)
Probably the most moving track of the score, this reintroduces the choir, singing a grandiose arrangement of the religious version of the ghost theme.  Next, the supernatural theme, derived from V'ger's arpeggios, enters, later joined by choir.  Just as before, this hits a brass dissonance.  The Religion motif makes a brief appearance in woodwinds, along with a return to the arpeggios.  This next section is very faintly based on the Alien theme as well as heavy doses of the aforementioned arpeggios.  Later, the brass dissonance is somewhat expanded, and the score builds into a soaring string version of the Religion theme.  After more of the Alien motif, the arpeggios and Religion theme return, as well as the grandiose passage that opened the track.  In the final minute, Carol Anne's theme makes its only appearance in the cellos.  Like I said, this is probably the best track on the album because of the way Goldsmith seamlessly blends the themes into a "ferociously beautiful" monstrosity.

11. Night Of The Beast (3:51)
In the first half, the composer toys with our minds by basing most of it around low bass rumblings, intercut with fortissimo dissonances.  The second half is completely dissonant and nonthematic, except for a slight reference of the ghost theme.  Still, it's got more of Goldsmith's excellent uses of orchestration and 20th century modernistic techniques.

12. Escape From Suburbia (7:10)
For the climax of the film, Goldsmith provides us with arguably the most dissonant action music heard thus far.  The only thematic material present is a recap of the Alien theme, as well as one of his cleverest passages ever - as the mother lands in a pool full of skeletons, the composer introduces a brief quote of the Dies Irae, from the Catholic Mass for the Dead, on tremolo strings.  Later, the dissonant action continues with a more tonal horn riff thrown in.  Again, Jerry uses all of his awesome modernistic techniques to create a horrifying, ghostly sound world as well as an adrenaline-pumping action cue.  Finally, the music calms into an unnerving string rendition of the Alien theme.

13. Carol Anne's Theme (End Title) (4:19)
Goldsmith gives a farewell to the summoning motif, Alien theme, and string dissonance in the first section of this cue.  The second, the credits, give several full playings of Carol Anne's theme, now sung by the female choir.  The very last few seconds are probably the most unnerving of the score, but you have to buy the score yourself to hear what I'm talking about, because there's no way I'm going to spoil the surprise.  Let's just say that nothing else on the CD sounds remotely like it : - )

This is another of Goldsmith's masterpieces, and every collector should buy a copy, even those who hate atonality.  Rhino's release is perfect, rescuing the entire score from the void of studio vaults.



 
Poltergeist: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10 
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Sound Quality 8/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10
Length 10/10


Poltergeist is Copyright 1997 by Rhino.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.