The sequence, and the soundtrack, kick into high gear, however, when Holmes chases Dredger into a dry dock where a ship is being worked on, hoping to get answers to his questions. In an abrupt reversal of fortune, Holmes the pursuer becomes the prey as Dredger wrenches the electric wand from his grasp and then chases him down the length of the ship toward the Thames. Dredger is so strong that he is able to chase Holmes with a giant maul too heavy for a normal man (i.e., Holmes) to lift, bashing down beams that support the giant ship as he goes. Listen to clanking of heavy iron chains and the deep, ominous groaning of the ship’s hull as it slips from its supports and slides stern-first into the river, dragging an immense capstan along behind it (which comes perilously close to crushing Holmes and Watson as it crashes past them). For fans of compelling surround effects, loud action sounds, and explosive dynamics, Chapter 13 is a real crowd pleaser.
• If Chapters 12 and 13 are spectacular showcase pieces (and they are), then Chapters 20 and 21 show a somewhat more poignant and artful way of handling violent action—though one that is certainly no less explosive. In Chapter 20, Holmes and Watson explore yet another laboratory, this one located in a warehouse/meat packing plant, as they pursue the phantom-like Lord Blackwood, when—with a resonant and weirdly all-enveloping voice—Blackwood suddenly reveals himself, announcing his intent to “end the world as you know it.” Holmes and Watson fire pistols at Blackwood, missing him, and are about to give chase when some of the meat-cutting machinery fires up and Irene Adler appears, chained to a conveyor mechanism and headed straight for a giant band saw meant to cut hog carcasses in half. Note how the sound designer uses the eerie whine of the saw blade to convey a sense of impending doom. In a near run escape, Holmes and Watson figure out a way to free Adler when she finds herself, predictably, just fractions of an inch from the keening blade.
• In Chapter 21, Watson resumes his pursuit of Blackwood, catching the briefest glimpse of him before accidentally trigger a trip-wire that sets off a huge explosion. Observe, once again, the way the sound designer supplies cues that time has slowed down, so that we hear—in painfully slow motion—the whine of the trip-wire retracting, leaving Watson only enough time to shout a brief warning to Holmes before the blast launches him into the air. The explosion, which is mostly rendered is slow motion, is a thing of terrible beauty, as we hear the subdued sounds of the blast and of vestigial surround effects as debris flies through the air above and behind us, while a hauntingly beautiful violin solo, full of pathos, conveys the tragedy of the events unfolding onscreen.
10. The Strangers. A 2008 drama/horror film, purportedly inspired by actual events, that shows Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) as victims of a random late night prank that slowly, mysteriously, and inexorably turns into a horrific and deadly home-invasion.
Recommended Chapters: “Back Again”, and “In The House”.
• McKay and Hoyt have come home late from a friend’s wedding reception to spend the weekend in a remote family cottage. Hoyt (perhaps inspired by the wedding they have just attended) proposes to McKay, who gently but decisively turns him down. In the midst of this, what appear to be pranksters led by a young woman begin banging on the front door in the middle of the night, demanding to know, “Is Tamara there?” Eventually, McKay and Hoyt persuade the visitors that no one named Tamara is present and that they should go away (or so McKay and Hoyt think). Hoyt, plainly upset at having his offer refused, decides to go into town “for cigarettes,” leaving McKay behind (after all, according to the well-established rules of horror films, the attractive girl must always be left alone in the house when evil comes calling). What ensues is an extended sequence whose soundtrack is—in its own subtle and in a sense understated way—one of the creepiest, scariest, and most unnerving that I’ve ever heard.
• After Hoyt leaves, McKay putters around, tending to a fire in the fireplace, and tries to relax from the stress of having turned down a proposal from a dear friend who is not, apparently, “the one.” At that moment, the sound designer uses subtly expanded dynamics to let us hear yet more pounding at the front door (the effect is realistic, yet also somewhat overblown for dramatic effect). Once again, a young woman’s voice asks “Is Tamara home?” When Tyler objects that the person has "been here already” and that Tamara is not present, the slightly unhinged voice from the other side of the door asks, “Are you sure?”