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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Hellraiser - Christopher Young - Soundtrack Review

I was in the mood to discuss this week one of the best soundtracks for a modern horror movie, and because this is the first review of a Christopher Young score on my website, again, first of all, some basic facts.

The composer

Christopher Young was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, 1958, and graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in music. He then completed his post-graduate work at North Texas State University. In 1980, he moved to Los Angeles.

Originally a jazz drummer, he decided to become a film composer when he heard Bernard Herrmann's music and studied then at the UCLA Film School under the famous film composer David Raksin. Young now teaches at the Thornton School of Music of the University of Southern California.

Young is mostly known for his music for horror music, and his contribution to this genre is really astonishing. I remember when I first heard the music for “Hellraiser” how impressed I was that here is finally again an artist who knows how to use an orchestra and not just takes a synthesizer to make some electronic noise and call this later film music.

Recently, Young scored a lot of the music for the third “Spiderman” by Sam Raimi. The background story is a little bit complicated, but it seems that Elfman and Raimi did not get along very well, and Young was hired, but then, Elfman stepped in again, and so there is now music of both composers in this movie. Unfortunately, there is no soundtrack album with Christopher Young’s music available even though his motive for the Sandman (“Birth of Sandman”) is really great.

I found this music on Christopher Young's official website.

Young composed very modern music for the horror movies he was working on. This is not always easy listening, but Young has such a great talent to underscore these violent movies with a special atmosphere that I watched a few of these movies just to have a better understanding of the music.

The movie

“Hellraiser” (1987) is a British horror film, written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his own book “The Hellbound Heart”. I am in general not a big fan of modern horror movies. I prefer the old classics from the 40s to 60s. Most modern horror movies are just too violent for me. Often, I get the feeling that the makeup artists are the real creative people behind, and the only intention of these movies is to see how long people can stand to watch without going to the restroom and vomit. Therefore, “Hellraiser” was praised because it made a difference and really tells a story. Here is the trailer:

“Hellraiser” is also full of violent scenes and shocking effects, but it has a good story and created with Pinhead a fascinating figure of modern horror movies. Furthermore, Barker has a great feeling for building up suspense and creating good twists. He had some trouble with some violent scenes, but also with nudity as he explained in an interview with the magazine Smahain: “Well, we did have a slight problem with the eroticism. I shot a much hotter flashback sequence than they would allow us to cut in.... Mine was more explicit and less violent. They wanted to substitute one kind of undertow for another. I had a much more explicit sexual encounter between Frank and Julia, with some spanking, but they said no, let's take out the sodomy and put in the flick knife."

The main gadget of the “Hellraiser” series is a puzzle box. In the first “Hellraiser” movie, the main male character Frank Cotton buys this box in Morocco, and when he solves the puzzle, hooked chains emerge and tear into his flesh. The following story is another variation of the classical vampire motif, but it is the way how Barker is telling his story that makes “Hellraiser” into a classic of modern horror movies. The movie cost $1 Million Dollar, and make $14 Million, quite impressive, isn’t it?

The music

Barker wanted first the British electronic Band “Coil” to compose the soundtrack, but this idea was rejected, so editor Tony Randel suggested Young. Another interesting fact I found was that there was a big discussion about the title; Barker suggested “Sadomasochists from beyond the Grave”, and one woman on the team really suggested this title: “What a Woman Will Do for a Good Fuck”.

Young’s music offers a great mixture of lyrical themes and shocking atonal and avant-garde music. The main theme is a great example of a haunting theme that you will never forget when you have heard it.

The second track called “Resurrection” is the first highlight of the score. Young creates a wonderful haunting atmosphere with strings, brass and percussion; this piece underscores one of the most important scenes of the movie and is highly enjoyable.

Track four, “The Lament Configuration” is a good example of the modern electronic effects, Young likes to use in his scores. Another example is “Seduction and Pursuit”, a piece that starts first with the motif for the Cenobites, and then continues with music composed in a highly modern style. Not easy listening, but fascinating when you see how this music works in the movie. Similar music you can hear in “Cenobites”, Young transforms the noise of the chains into music and created some additional music for the creatures from beyond.

The last four tracks are the final highlights of the score. Young uses the motif he introduced in “Resurrection” for the track “Re-Resurrection”. Again, you have to imagine the time when this score was composed. Young brought an orchestra and lyrical themes back to the horror genre which was mostly dominated by Heavy Mental or lousy synthesizer scores, and we really have to be grateful for this.

With “Uncle Frank” the showdown starts. Young uses the brass and string section to underscore the following violent scenes. “Another puzzle” is the last track of the score, a very lyrical track, and because of the title, you can imagine that the final scenes are not the end of the Cenobites and the “Hellraiser” story.

The next movie “Hellbound” was more violent and has a lack of good storytelling. The positive thing is that we learn more about Pinhead, and again Young’s music was nearly the best part of the movie. He used the themes from the first one, but now also used a choir and again highly modern and avant-garde music. Young’s two “Hellraiser” scores are milestones in modern horror film music, so I highly recommend you to listen to both of them.

And here the main title for “Hellraiser 2 – Hellbound”.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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