Film Score Friday: ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

A couple years ago I named Christopher Young’s Drag Me To Hell as my favorite score of the year. It had all of the big, bold, bombastic sounds you think of with true gothic horror. What raised that score above its genre and made it stand alone as the best was its sense of fun. It very well could have been the theme music for the tea cups ride at Inferno-Disney.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a new horror film with a strong pedigree. It takes its cues from a more classical age of horror movies and the film’s score follow suite. The music sounds like it’s from another time and shares many of the trademarks of Young’s score. This is particularly evident with the opening title, which actually made me look at my iTunes to confirm I wasn’t listening to Drag Me To Hell.

Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders have put together a very consistent sounding soundtrack for this throwback horror flick, in fact I often went ten minutes without realizing the track had changed. This ends up being a double edged sword for the album, on one hand I like what the music is giving me, so consistency means it is all gravy.

However, after the strong opening, the album never really hooks you again. You pretty much have heard everything dynamic this score has to offer in the first few tracks.

Of course I don’t mean that as big knock on the quality of the music. I genuinely love the main theme here, and there is a culmination track towards the end that I can see in heavy rotation on my iPod. I only bring it up to illustrate the difference between this music and the five star quality of it’s cinematic cousin Drag Me To Hell. I haven’t yet seen the music in context to film, but on it’s own merits this album has a problem establishing itself as a worthwhile listening experience as a whole.

Or perhaps I am being to hard on it, comparing it to one of my favorite scores of the past decade might not be fair. I do want to stress that the music is very competent and I am quite sure everyone will find at least one track on this album to embrace.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Gramophone Lullaby by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders: A perfect opening track for a horror score. It immediately sets the mood, informs the tone and unsettles the listener with it’s creepy sweetness. I love how the track transitions from an antiquated, old sound into a full orchestral sound that fills that lets a dark foreboding casually stroll into your mind. Nothing is particularly scary about this track, it just lulls you into position for movie you are about to watch.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Main Titles by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders: Boom! This powerful opening title track hits like a ton of bricks seconds after the lullaby. It is a powerful transition from subtly creepy to full on bombastic Gothic horror. It was this track that forever tied together this music with Drag Me To Hell, which limits the ultimate ceiling of success for the album as a whole but guarantees my admiration and love of a few tracks as stand alones.

Goblin Trouble by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders: By a wide margin this is the longest track on the album, and at the end of the day it might also be my favorite. It is a perfect seven minute encapsulation of the score. If my complaint about the album is it doesn’t do anything to establish itself as a worthwhile listening experience as a whole, then this track gives us the next best thing.

A perfect long track with all the best hallmarks of the score. If you are curious about the music for the movie, all you have to do is listen to this track and you have almost everything you need from it.

Least Favorite Track:

Sneaky Sally by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders: I knocked the album because of a consistent but undefined sound. It lacks many highs that hook a listener and pushes you forward through the score. But, if there are no high peaks there are also no deep valleys, it is hard to find a track I didn’t really like because they all have the same pleasant sound. So for my least favorite I went with a film score pet peeve, the super short track.

Coming in at less than a minute and having no real defining reason to be so short I am left with the question why? Why is it on here? Why couldn’t this be on another track? I am sure there are fantastic answers that make sense from the musician stand point, but as a fan and consumer it left me scratching my head.

This is an odd review for me, because I feel like I am being overly harsh on some really nice music. I do recommend fully anyone check out some tracks from this album. But, as a whole, I have to knock this album down a few pegs because as a stand alone listening experience I think it stumbles a bit.

Final Score for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark:

3.5 out of 5

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