1990s

  • Evil Animated Cirino

    The 1980s and 1990s are filled with a host of low-budget horror films.  Each have their blend of titillation and mutilation.  One of these more on the adventure/comedy end was Fred Olen Ray’s (The Bay, Emmanuelle 2000) Evil Toons (1992).  Shot over the period of little over a week, the film, with tongue firmly in cheek, focuses on four young, and sexy women who clean houses.  In one, they find a book of magic incantations and this looks to the appearance of a bloodthirsty animated demon.  Consider it a bad Roger Rabbit from the dark side sort of film and you are on the right path.  Chuck Cirino (976-Evil, Chopping Mall, Munchie) is no stranger to the needs of such low-budget films and using a variety of electronic and synths crafts a score that begs for a realized orchestral performance, but which is the closest one could come with this budget.  This was his seventh score (of 17!) for the director.

    “The Talking Book” opens with a flurry of sounds and the sort of 80s/90s electronic horror scoring one might come to suspect.  The organ adds a bit of the Gothic flavor (rather humorously in “Roxanne’s Body Possessed”) along with careful choral backdrops.  Electric piano sounds add some nice jagged rhythmic propulsion here too as the opening lays out many of the tropes Cirino will explore.  His “Main Titles” music is a fast-paced keyboard with blends of synth strings and repeated motives that add a nice forward motion.  Haunting choral sounds and other interesting effects are swirled into “Arrival”.  Cirino demonstrates here and throughout the score his deft strokes of adding creepy atmosphere and hitting the right punches.  Quirkiness also pops up as we head into “Unloading-Up to the House”.  The electronic swaths of sound help add a sense of impending nervousness or doom while the repeated motives float above them.  Melodic ideas also help add to the interest here even when they are a bit slight as in “Megan’s Walk.”  The presentation moves us through these various intriguing atmospherics (“The Basement”; “Translation”).  Sometimes there are some neat little colors like the walking bass line in “Open Book”.  Sometimes there is almost an Elfman-esque feel to the style in places like “Draggin’ Biff”, one of the rather interesting little blends of organ, jagged ostinato, percussion, and thematic statements.  Cirino’s arpeggiated higher lines like those in “Back to the Basement” give way to eerie textures and a sort of walking ostinato pattern.  “March to Death” also adds that little black humor with interesting effects and sounds that come to the foreground after the opening statement.  “Megan’s Waking” blends some of the gentler melodic material with punctuating vocals and piano.  There are two final end credit tracks which are certainly among the highlights of the score.

    Dragon’s Domain has done another great service for fans of Cirino’s work.  It is also another great demonstration of what composer’s were capable of doing with shoestring budgets and whatever equipment they might employ.  It certainly is a must for fans of synth and electronic scores from this period

  • Short Films and Music of John Morgan

    Many film music fans will recognize John Morgan from his extensive reconstruction work on a variety of classic film scores recorded with William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony.  This new collection of music features selections from several of his scores for short films and audioplays.  As one might suspect, Morgan’s affinity for classic film music spills over into his own musical language.
    The album opens with music from the 2004 critically acclaimed short film, The Visage.  This is a little creepy score with gothic romantic music that comes to the forefront in its dark main title.  As the score progresses, it is most reminiscent of a classic Herrmann score with its dark orchestral textures that swirl around Morgan’s theme.  Anna Bonn Stromberg contributed a brief noir-ish “Saxophone Source Piece” and William Stromberg provided some additional music as well.  With the Moscow Symphony at their disposal, the sound of the score is quite marvelous bringing out the rich, dark colors of Morgan’s score.  Towards the end of the score a series of linked cues (“Pesky Corpse-Unrest-Harmonic”) give the listener a chance to hear some of the different orchestral techniques that Morgan uses to blend theme with even creepier musical styles to add tension.  It makes for a fine introduction to this release.

    At the center of the release are selections from an anthology film and a radio play.  First is a suite from The Headless Horseman of Halloween (1996) which is sort of variant on the classic Irving story.  The music here incorporates the Dies irae chant as well as some additionally Hermann-esque stylings and delicate flute and oboe writing.  Here too the orchestral writing is stunning.  The Trials of Mrs. Surratt (c. 1982) is from an audio play about the first woman tried through a military tribunal and executed for her part in Lincoln’s assassination.  Some fourteen minutes or so of score appear here.  Scored for brass and winds, it has a rather wistful Americana feel at times, with a beautiful opening trumpet theme.  As it plays out, is feels like a long-lost Twilight Zone episode score.  It is framed by a larger suite from the anthology film series for the episode “The Eggs”.  The music here has been arranged into a longer concert work for chamber orchestra.  It has a rather quirky feel part Herrmann, part Elfman, with nice wit in its orchestral hits and overall thematic development.  The wind writing here is really a highlight.  It is reminiscent of The Trouble With Harry.

    Closing off the album is music from the The Medal (1992).  Directed by Andrew DeCristofaro (an Oscar-nominated sound editor), the story follows a man who reflects back on a military medal he received as a youth and it becomes a symbol for him to carry on after his wife’s death.  The film has a nostalgic and sentimental quality that comes across in Morgan’s beautiful score using a reduced chamber-size orchestra.  “Graveyard” features a heart-melting thematic idea to open this often moving score with a truly inspiring “Finale”.

    Morgan’s own style is an extension of the vintage film music he lovingly reconstructs.  Gorgeous orchestral writing, a nod to Herrmann here and there, and engaging themes all make this release a delightful discovery.  The release is available through the BuySoundtrax.com website.