Wednesday, 18 September 2013



28 DAYS LATER (2002)

ARTIST: John Murphy

If you’ve seen 28 Days Later or it’s sequel, 28 Weeks Later, you will know this piece of music.
A genuinely impressive piece of horror scoring, it has since gone on to be used multiple times in other films, tv programmes, adverts and even computer games, including: the superhero films Kick-Ass (during the badass scene in which Big Daddy takes down an entire warehouse full of mafia thugs) and Kick-Ass 2; BBC TV’s Top Gear, The Apprentice (yes, really) and Richard Hammond’s Journey To…, the anime Highschool of the Dead, the Xbox live arcade game Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (WHAT.) and an advert for Strongbow cider (this is kind of apt as a night spent drinking cider does tend to cause the same symptoms as exposure to the rage virus).
Furthermore, it’s been covered by British death metal band The Rotted (on their marvelously stupidly titled album Get Dead Or Die Trying) AND used as the intro for Italian band Eldritch on their 2008 live album Livequake.
And that’s just what I could find on Wikipedia!
If that many people can find a use for it, surely somebody has done SOMETHING right.

THE SCENE: As this music is played over the climactic scene of the film, the following description will provide some pretty big spoilers for the film. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, spin on, good sir, and come back when you have. I’ll be waiting, don’t mind me.
If you have seen it or don’t give a monkey’s (rage infected or otherwise) about spoiling the end of the film, read on.
Having reached the supposed safe haven of Major Henry West’s (Christopher Ecclestone) military blockade in Manchester, the survivors discover all is not as it seems. West has decided to wait to see how long it will take for the Infected to starve to death, and for that purpose keeps Mailer, one of his troops who succumbed to the virus, chained to a post in the yard. He also thinks that while he rebuilds society, he needs to keep morale up among his troops — and what better way than by using Selena (Naomie Harris) and Hannah (Megan Burns) as sex slaves.


Needless to say, our hero Jim (the then relatively unknown Cillian Murphy) doesn’t much like this idea, so the soldiers give him a bloody good hiding and drive him out to the woods to execute him and Farrell, one of the squad who also opposes West’s plan.

Needless to say, this doesn’t happen, as ending the film with one of our main characters dead in the mud and the other two looking at a lifetime of rape is probably a bit too bleak, even for a horror film.

Following Farrell’s death, Jim is able to escape his captives and dashes back to the stately home in which the soldiers are encamped. He lures West and one of the troops back to the blockade where he overcomes them, then promptly back to the mansion where he unchains the infected Mailer. Throughout this, the slowly building strains of In The House — In A Heartbeat commence.

As Mailer goes on a violent rampage against his former comrades and Jim desperately seeks out Serena and Hannah, the increasing tempo of the music reflects the building tension and violence on the screen. As the piece reaches its screeching crescendo, Jim finds Serena held captive by the extremely rapey and bastardly Corporal Mitchell. They fall into a bitter and savage scuffle, culminating in Mitchell’s death as Jim gruesomely gouges out the soldier’s eyes with his bare hands. Finally the victorious Jim turns to Serena who has now grabbed her machete and is gazing at a violent, animalistic blood-soaked man who may or may not be infected. Will she kill him to defend herself or has she come to care for Jim enough to endanger her own survival to give him the benefit of the doubt?

THE PIECE: Written and produced by John Murphy, the piece is a masterfully understated yet powerful example of building texture through steadily layering more instruments as it progresses. It also slowly increases the tempo, starting as an originally quite quaint and gentle strumming, folky number, with some suitably restrained piano, but adds genuinely menacing, heavily distorted guitar.
Upon reaching its truly knuckle-whitening crescendo, it breaks into some clean, soft guitar arpeggios while the listener/viewer hastily wipes the beads of sweat from their brows, catch their breath and possibly change their underpants.
Absolutely gripping.


John Murphy is a film composer born in Liverpool. He’s a self-taught multi-instrumental musician who worked with a few acts in the 80s, including German singer Claudia Brücken and The Lotus Eaters.
He’s done pretty well for himself with his chosen career too, composing the scores for Guy Richie’s megasmash Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass (yep, that again!)
Danny Boyle must be quite the fan, he’s also worked with Murphy on Millions and Sunshine.

WHY IT WORKS: Well, basically because it is bloody well composed. As well as perfectly matching the increasing ferocity of the acts on screen by building in tempo, the sinister distortion of the heavy rock style guitar riff matches the distorted and terrifying faces of the Infected from the film itself.
The discomfort caused by repeating the same chords throughout while layering more and more extreme and harsher sounding instruments works on a truly visceral level.
As for those who wondered about the title? It describes the events of the film perfectly: the piece starts as Jim re-enters the manor house and ends at the fateful standoff between Jim and Selena, who previously had told him that if she were to ever suspect he had become infected by the rage virus she would kill him ‘In a heartbeat.’

This piece of music was such a hit it was used a jaw-dropping THREE times in 28 Weeks Later. If they ever get a Europe-based sequel, 28 Months Later, off the ground (or even a prequel set during the initial outbreak, 28 Hours Later anyone?) I think it’s a safe bet that In The House — In A Heartbeat will be back.
I hope they’ll be smart enough to do some cross-promotion and play it as Jeremy Clarkson drinks a pint of Strongbow after gouging out Nic Cage’s eyes.


So, any suggestions for future pieces of iconic horror music I can cover?
Let me know!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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