Generally, horror film scores don’t really do much to distinguish themselves within the genre. That’s why composer Austin Wintory knew when he started working on the score for Paul Solet’s “>Grace that he needed to do something different.
Wintory’s distinctive film scoring approach is one part of the Grace puzzle and his work joins the highly collaborative effort from everyone involved on the film. It’s that collective passion that undoubtedly was responsible for getting Grace accepted into the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
“I generally think of horror movie scores as ‘vacuum cleaner’ scores,” said Wintory. “Lately, the trend has been where they just sound grungy or noisy and I wanted Grace to sound distinctive and refreshing.”
Wintory fell in love with movie soundtracks around the age of 10 when he started taking piano lessons. Rather than getting stuck with the average “by the books” piano teacher, he was lucky that his teacher had a different approach and soon began introducing him to the art of movie scores.
“At that point in my life, music wasn’t really important,” he explained. “But then my teacher played me Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for Patton and A Patch of Blue, and I was instantly hooked.”
The composer met Grace director Paul Solet after he moved from New York to Los Angeles and the two were instant friends. When Solet needed mood reel music for Grace, he went to Wintory who gave the song “Amazing Grace” a haunting twist through the extreme use of electronic manipulation.
Interestingly enough, that idea didn’t even get used when scoring the actual film of Grace. Wintory decided to go in a completely different direction.
“My ideas for Grace evolved a lot from when I knew I was going to get to work on the film to the time when I actually started on it,” said Wintory. “What was great about the process for me was that Paul was specific in what he needed for his film, but he was very hands-off. He completely loosened the reigns for me so that I wouldn’t hold back anything creatively and that’s very atypical of most directors. He would always tell me that the only rule was that there weren’t any rules.”
Austin studied the script of Grace inside and out so that he could compose a lot of the music based on the different character’s points of view.
“Madeline, Grace’s mother, basically has this internal breakdown during the course of movie,” he continued, “Rather than do something elaborate or over-dramatic, I wanted the music to reflect how internal the process was for her. I made some very emotionally intense music to demonstrate this and the end result is very quiet and subtle.”
Wintory also wanted to reflect the themes of maternal instincts and babies in the music of Grace, so he used some unusual every day sounds when scoring the film.
“I created a library of sounds to use throughout the film that don’t generally get used in creating a movie score,” said Wintory. “One of my engineers recently had a baby so I had him take a digital recorder home and just record any possible sound his child made so I could use them later. It’s amazing what kind of alien sounds can come out of a baby.
“I used babies because we as human beings are hard-wired to have a fundamentally anxious reaction to the sound of a baby crying,” Wintory further explained. “We hear that frequency range with greater sensitivity than any other, which is why, for example, you can hear a baby 15 rows away on a roaring airplane. It’s an evolutionary thing; the species can’t survive if the parents are unable to hear the infants. So rather than rely on the conventions of horror scoring, which often uses aggressively dissonant clusters of instruments and whatnot, I thought I could just add a feather touch of baby cries and it would have the same effect.”
Since there was the theme of death and waste in Grace, the mixer for the film (Brett Hinton) visited a horse farm and recorded all different types of “fly sounds”- from a single fly buzzing to swarms of flies.
“When you isolate those buzzing sounds, it’s just very unnerving and that’s exactly what we wanted for such a powerful and disturbing movie like this,” added Wintory.
One intensely dramatic scene in Grace was the birth scene where Madeline is going through the natural-birth process to deliver a stillborn baby Grace. The scene is not only fierce but emotionally draining and it was one of the biggest challenges Wintory faced.
“There are so many elements in the score in that (birth) sequence,” explained Wintory. “Front and center is obviously the percussion; the use of savage drums. The concept I’d had for this scene, going all the back to the ‘script’ score, was that it be like a barbaric ritual. Make this as kinetic and visceral as possible. Paul also had thought of the idea of making it feel like it was ‘slashing.’”
Wintory went on to describe the piece by saying, “So it’s a combination of this extremely oppressive drumming, me slashing away at a violin (which sounded particularly grating since I don’t play violin!), and a whole host of other sounds like dijeridoo, screaming (performed by Jordan here in my studio), etc. It was a balance challenge but it’s definitely one of my favorite moments in the score.”
To demonstrate a conflict between the main characters of Madeline and Vivian (her mother-in-law), Wintory used a contrast of instruments with a cello for Madeline and a violin for Vivian. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule for Wintory that each instrument could only be used for each character; he just used their general sounds as a representation of different viewpoints within the film.
In order to add some dramatic flair to Grace’s score (especially since the last 20 minutes of film features nonstop music), Wintory knew that he needed to do something powerful and extraordinary.
“We decided we needed to get eight bass and contrabass clarinets all together to record the final piece for Grace but it wasn’t something we were sure we would be able to do,” discussed Wintory. “Somehow, the stars aligned and we got all of these musicians together in the very same studio The Beatles used in Abbey Road and we ended up doing an internet recording session. It was simply an amazing experience for me as a composer and the result was very powerful to hear.
“You can just tell by watching Grace that this movie is so special and a labor of love for everyone involved,” added Wintory. “Paul has such a high level of commitment to this film that I just knew I owed it to him to create something special and hopefully those who see it will realize just how much we all really loved working on such an amazing project.”
Wintory was able to join many of the others who worked on Grace recently during Sundance. This is the second film in two years to play at Sundance that features Wintory’s composed music. Last year, his music was featured in the film Captain Abu Raed, which won the Audience Award in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance.
“Seeing my work with an audience for the first time is a little bit like an out of body experience, because it really feels like I’m seeing it for the first time,” said Wintory. “I had such sweaty palms during that midnight screening at Sundance! It’s such a thrill to really see it through their eyes and imagine what it must be like witnessing all this unfold for the first time.”
For a taste of the Grace score, click here to listen to “The Birth”!
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Superheroes You Never Realized Battled Xenomorphs
Though horror movie fans haven’t gotten an outstanding franchise crossover battle since 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, superhero movies have been at the forefront of bringing disparate characters together for some serious carnage. Upcoming films like The New Mutants and Spawn are courting horror fans by promising suspense and violence (refusing to shy away from previously taboo R ratings), but many don’t realize comics have been delivering terrifying crossovers featuring some of our favorite villains for years.
With the pending sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney, the future of the Alien franchise has been called into question. Though we may never learn the fates of characters introduced in 2017’s Alien: Covenant, horror and sci-fi fans might want to explore the vast universe unfurled in numerous comics and graphic novels. Not only do they delve into the lives of characters only briefly seen in films, you can find some unexpected crossovers that make Alien vs. Predator seem uninspired.
Superman and Batman are just the two most famous superheroes who have gone toe-to-toe with Xenomorphs in comics. Keep reading for a detailed summary of Alien franchise crossovers in comics.
The Man of Steel first crossed paths with Alien’s titular extraterrestrials in a 3-episode series from Dark Horse Comics. Written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens, Superman vs. Aliens ran from July through September 1995. The story found Superman lamenting his isolation when a signal from deep space renewed hopes that there may be other survivors of Krypton’s apocalypse.
His hopes are dashed, however, when he arrives at the decimated city of Argo, where a Xenomorph infestation has wiped out the once-thriving community. Deprived of the powers he receives from Earth’s yellow Sun, Superman must face the Alien Queen while seeking a cure for the Xenomorph embryo growing inside him!
The Kryptonian would battle these fearsome foes again in Superman vs. Aliens II: God War in 2002; the 4-episode series from Dark Horse was written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated Jon Bogdanove. This time, Superman comes to the rescue when a renegade ship full of Xenomorphs crashes into the homeworld of The New Gods. In this series, Superman’s commitment to protecting all life is challenged, as he contemplates finding a suitable planet for the Alien Queen.
Batman vs. Aliens
Dark Horse released Batman/Aliens as a 2-part series in 1997; it was written by Ron Marz and illustrated and inked by Bernie Wrightson. The Caped Crusader uncovers a Xenomorph threat while investigating Mayan ruins, leading to a confrontation unlike anything Batman’s ever faced before. The clash continued in 2002’s Batman/Aliens II, a 3-part series written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Staz Johnson.
This time, the Xenomorph plague hits Gotham, when a sealed vault reveals unsettling artifacts from a doomed mission to the South Pole. Mayhem reigns when face-huggers invade Arkham Asylum, where Batman must contend with a shadowy black-ops agency in addition to the relentless decimation caused by the Aliens.
Green Lantern vs. Aliens
Green Lantern versus Aliens (2000) is actually a continuation of a series that saw several iconic superheroes battling Predator’s intergalactic bounty hunters—but that’s a story for another article! This 4-issues series (also from Dark Horse and written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Rick Leonardi) kicks off with a never-before-told chapter in the story of Hal Jordan, widely considered the greatest of those to have carried the Green Lantern mantle.
Jordan’s decision to contain rather than destroy the Xenomorph threat will haunt his predecessor, Kyle Rayner, who joins a group of former Green Lantern Corps members to rescue residents of a planet overrun by Aliens. Ultimately, he must face the Alien Queen while struggling with the ethical consequences of annihilating an entire species, no matter how insidious it is—the same conundrum that tortured Jordan.
Judge Dredd vs. Aliens
In 2003, the Xenomorph plague hit Mega-One City hard in the 4-issue series Judge Dredd versus Aliens: Incubus, a collaboration between Dark Horse and Rebellion Developments; it was written by John Wagner and Andy Diggle and illustrated and inked by Henry Flint.
When the Alien threat emerges, Dredd first suspects there’s a connection to an underground fighting circuit, but this case will force him to seek the very origins of the nefarious species. In addition to protecting the residents of Mega-One, Dredd must also contend with an embryo growing inside him.
Others vs. Aliens
Other unexpected Alien crossovers that took place in comics worth mentioning include Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In Space No One Can Hear You Slay! Courtesy of (you guessed it) Dark Horse and released in 2012, an ill-advised “spacecation” finds Sunnydale’s savior facing off against the galaxy’s greatest scourge. The species’ acid-blood makes Buffy’s usual method of dispatch uniquely problematic!
Back in 1998, the WildC.A.T.s crossed paths with horror fans’ favorite E.T.’s after an outer space escape pod crash lands in New York City. With StormWatch out of commission, the remaining team must rally all their resources to defeat an unprecedented threat in WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, a one-off first published by Image Comics, and later picked up by Dark Horse.
Perhaps the most bizarre matchup occurred in 2012 when Vampirella battled Xenomorphs in a whopping 6-episode series published simultaneously in digital format by Comixology, Dynamite Digital, iVerse and (of course) Dark Horse Digital. Aliens/Vampirella takes place on Mars and also includes an ancient race of Martian warriors.
As creative minds and artists continue to collaborate, we can expect many more unexpected crossovers in the years to come. Whether any of these comic book match-ups featuring Xenomorphs ever come to fruition in the form of feature films, however, remains to be seen (though it seems unlikely).
Jesper Kyd Returning to Score Vermintide 2
Get your headphones ready, Warhammer fans because State of Decay and Darksiders 2 composer Jesper Kyd is back to score the upcoming Warhammer title Vermintide 2! The game will be coming to PC and consoles early this year.
Kyd was inspired by Norse mythology, utilizing ancient tribal music as well as dark fantastical elements to build upon the acoustic soundscapes he composed for the first Vermintide game. Channeling his own Scandinavian roots, Kyd will blend Viking and Norse-inspired vocals with ritualistic percussion styles to create a unique soundtrack experience.
Three tracks from the score can be heard below.
Like Me – Will You Like This Dystopian Thriller?
Starring Addison Timlin, Ian Nelson, Larry Fessenden
Directed by Robert Mockler
While Like Me is not dystopian in the classic science-fiction sense, it does aptly put the downer vibe across. If the present is abysmal, then the future is downright hopeless. We learn this as we follow an unhinged teenage loner called Kiya (Addison Timlin) on a hollow crime spree that she broadcasts on social media. At first the world “likes” her—with the exception of YouTube rival Burt (Ian Nelson), who disdainfully denounces her viral videos—but pride goes before the fall, and Kiya’s descent is spectacular.
If you’ve peeped the trailer for Like Me, then you’re probably expecting a horror movie. I mean, they’ve got the requisite menacing masked baddie and they’ve got genre icon Larry Fessenden in a major role—those are a couple of the key ingredients, right? Yes they are, but this simmering, shimmering stew of Natural Born Killers, Excision and King Kelly, it boils down to a whole lotta nothing. Like Me is sort of a drama, kind of a road trip flick, and almost a thriller. It succeeds at none yet does stand on its own as a compelling collection of cool visuals and pertinent performances. But is that enough?
While Kiya is a compelling character on the surface, there’s barebones beneath. Sure, she’s a Millennial mind-fed on random online clips and snappy soundbites—but what turned her into a psychopath? Was she born that way? Is social media to blame? We’ll never know, because not a hint is given. I don’t mind ambiguity, but even a morsel would have been welcome in this case. As Kiya ramps up her reckless exhibitionistic extremes, the stakes are never raised. In the end, who cares? Maybe that’s the point.
A word of warning: If you plan on watching this movie while chomping snacks…don’t. There is stomach-turning scene after vomit-inducing scene of orgiastic easting, binging, and the inevitable purging. I’m sure it’s all metaphorical mastication, a cutting comment on disposable consumption. I get it. But I don’t wanna look at it, again and again and again. Having said that, Like Me is an experimental film and in its presentation of such grotesquery, it’s quite accomplished. Montages, split-screens and jittered motions are scattered throughout, showing us all sorts of unpleasant things…Kudos to the editor.
I didn’t hate Like Me. But I do think one has to be in the mood for a movie such as this. It’s not an easy or entertaining watch, but it is a peculiar and thought-provoking one. There’s some style and mastery behind the camera, and I am curious to see what first-time writer-director Rob Mockler comes up with next.
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Superheroes You Never Realized Battled Xenomorphs
Jesper Kyd Returning to Score Vermintide 2
Like Me – Will You Like This Dystopian Thriller?
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