Douglas Pipes knows his way around a horror score. The composer's work on such seminal cult favorites as Monster House and Trick 'R Treat has ably demonstrated that he knows how to wind a story up with creepy orchestral atmospherics. For the new film, Krampus, Pipes once again teams with director Michael Dougherty to take on holiday terror.
However, given that Krampus is a Christmas tale, Pipes has given his music a distinctly wintery flavor. From the opening track, “A Cold Wind,” the composer uses traditional elements of winter holiday music like bells and choruses to set the scene. To even greater benefit, Pipes mixes in bits and pieces of classic carols like “Auld Lang Syne” and “O Christmas Tree.” Given that he modifies these traditional songs with creepy, yet still seasonally appropriate tones, the score is just as effective as a Christmas album as it is a horror score. The “Krampus Carol of the Bells” is an absolute choral delight, as well.
Ample use is made of the xylophone, which obviously brings up comparisons to the most-notable Christmas film theme of the last several decades, that being John Williams' “In My Memory” from Home Alone. Given the inverted family dynamic inherent in both films – wherein Christmas isn't a time of merriment, but instead, of terror and defense against evil intruders – one has to assume that the choice isn't made randomly. Said instrumentation also does a wonderful job of bringing up The Nutcracker, especially a piece such as “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”
Deeply resonant cellos are frequently called into action by Pipes, bringing the sound of the score quite low. Be it on “Into the Storm” or “Naughty,” the low tones of the cellos are almost always complemented by arpeggiated high notes from the rest of the string section, setting one's nerves on end from top to bottom and bottom to top. It's unsettling, and marvelously effective.
However, it's the chorus that really brings everything together. As mentioned, the chorus is in use from the very opening track, and proceeds throughout Pipes' score, right up to and including the absolute delight that is the end credits' “Krampus Carol of the Bells.” While the big bursts of energy and verve make Krampus' score a big scary movie, it's those voices that tether it to the holiday at which it is set. Be it “Elfen” or otherwise, the best moments of Pipes' music are those that sound like a terrifying version of Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah.
The score is available now as a digital download from Back Lot Music, and will soon be available as a double LP from Waxwork Records in the United States. Get it now or later – but definitely get it.
AUDIO REVIEW: KRAMPUS (2015) / COMPOSER: DOUGLAS PIPES / LABEL: BACK LOT MUSIC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (DIGITAL) (VINYL- TBA)Starburst Rating: