Tuesday, March 05, 2024

The Piper, with Julian Sands

It is hard to figure what the cheapskate Hamelin villagers were thinking. Maybe targeting their kids was a bit unexpected, but obviously he could always just drive another swarm of rats back into town. They were tragically penny-wise-pound-foolish, which understandably angered the Piper. It sounds crazy, but a musician suspects he is still ticked off in director-screenwriter Erlingur Thoroddsen’s The Piper, which releases this Friday in theaters and on digital.

Renowned composer Katharine Fleischer is in a rather agitated state, trying to burn the last surviving copy of her infamous first concerto, but she immolates herself instead. It had not been performed since its infamous premiere, which caused fatal rioting within the concert hall. This was bad news for Melanie Walker, because Fleischer was her patron at the orchestra. As a single-mother, she needs her chair for the insurance, to cover her young daughter Zoe’s treatment for her hearing impairment.

Gustafson, the pretentious maestro wants to perform Fleischer’s “Children’s Concerto” as a tribute, even though the composer always refused his requests while she was alive. Walker was supposed to use her connection to the family to secure the manuscript, but she resorts to pilfering it from Fleischer’s attic. Unfortunately, Fleischer managed to burn several pages, including the third movement, so Walker must channel her mentor to reconstruct the lost passages. While working on the score, she experiences lost time and weird visions. Strange things also start happening around her, including the disappearance of her colleague’s son Colin, who usually spent rehearsals with Zoe, whether they wanted to or not.

Fleischer’s concerto is sort of like the musical equivalent of the forbidden films that lead to madness in
Fury of the Demon and the “Cigarette Burns” episode of Masters of Horror. There are similar examples of evil, overpowering records, like Black Circle and Dead Wax, but Thoroddsen still offers some reasonably distinctive variations on the theme.

The late, great Julian Sands also brings a lot to the party, preening and chewing the scenery as the arrogant Gustafson. Sands really was an underappreciated horror master, who will be missed. Charlotte Hope is a decent horror heroine, but Alexis Rodney is more memorable as her brainy ethnomusicologist platonic friend, Philip, who helps provide a framework for understanding the uncanny power of the Piper’s music.

Christopher Young deserves a lot of credit for putting his name on music that gives characters blackouts and nosebleeds. Indeed, the Piper’s theme has an eerie simplicity that gets under your skin.

Thoroddsen is a skillful genre filmmaker, but
The Piper has a Euro-horror vibe that sets it apart from his previous features, Rift and Child Eater. He is also shrewd enough to mostly keep the Piper in shadows, maximizing the mystery. It is almost classy for a guilty pleasure, because Thoroddsen milks the classical music world setting for all he can squeeze out of it. Recommended for fans of Sands and fairy tale horror, The Piper releases this Friday (3/8) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Glendale.