If it wasn’t for the October 2017 timestamp below the YouTube video player, I would have put money on Hangman being a forgotten ‘90s classic. Stop me if this sounds familiar: a thriller about a senior detective and a criminal profiler who are dragged into an investigation when a serial killer leaves cryptic clues that indicate that his recent murder spree is somehow tied to the detective himself. The detective in question is played by none other than Al Pacino. Oh, and for good measure, the trailer is set to The Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun,” performed by Geordie.
Hangman pulls from the playbooks of the crime films that defined the genre to deliver a film that feels like it was plucked from a different era, shamelessly pandering to an audience who cites David Fincher’s Se7en as their favourite film and have seen Silence of the Lambs more times than they’d care to admit. Full disclosure: I’m in that camp. Beyond its nostalgic value, House of the Rising Sun is used to colour Pacino’s character as complicated and grey, painting a silhouette of a man who is not without his regrets.
The trailer begins with the two detectives staking out a dive bar. The music features prominent male vocals humming the chord progression for House of the Rising Sun. The music is so loud here that it is difficult to make out the dialogue – a stylistic choice that is true of the entire trailer. At 0:15, as Pacino’s character is informed that his badge number was etched into a desk at the scene of the serial killer’s most recent murder, the lyrics sing, “It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy.” At 0:20, the music cuts out for the first and only time in the trailer, just long enough for the criminal profiler to declare, “We got a serial killer.”
When the music returns two seconds later, it is fleshed out with drums and guitars. The detectives discover that the killer is toying with them, playing a game of hangman written with the blood of his victims. Again, the music dominates the sonic space, putting as much if not more weight on the lyrics of the song. At 0:37 it becomes clear that Pacino’s character is encumbered by the weight of the murders. The trailer communicates this to the audience simultaneously through dialogue and the music. Exasperated, Pacino exclaims, “Because of me, this whole game is taking place.” At the same time, the lyrics of the song echo, “Spend your lives in sin and misery, in the house of the rising sun.”
At 0:49, the electric guitar takes over and solos as action flies across the screen. At 1:02, the singing has taken to new decibel heights, totally overshadowing the dialogue. Geordie’s rendition of the song is rife with emotion. Frontman Brian Johnson, who later went on to front AC/DC after Bon Scott died, sings powerfully, “There is a house in New Orleans, that they call the rising sun. And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God I know I’m one.” The climax of the song is thunderous (insert Thunderstruck pun here), syncing the music with the onscreen action, ending with a fiery explosion, as trailers often do.
– Andrew Sproule