Horror

  • 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

  • Here Comes the Bride!

    Two scores in early Hollywood would be instrumental in shaping the importance of music in film.  The first of these is Max Steiner’s King Kong (1933).  The other is undoubtedly Franz Waxman’s stunning effort for James Whales’ The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  Now, thanks to the loving work from La La Land’s Mike Matessino we have a chance to hear this music on its own in this new limited edition, part of the label’s Universal Heritage series.

    Waxman was a recent arrival in Hollywood having played in bands and written scores for a host of German films as the decade began.  He had more recently completed Liliom (1934) which had gotten the attention of some, notably director Whale who wanted to employ him for his sequel to the successful Frankenstein (1931).  A lot had happened with music and film in that five year span.  The first film had stock main and end title music, but the new film would need a much more intricate score.  Waxman obliged and the result is a moment in film history when many things lined up to create one of the classics of early cinema.

    It is hard to believe that this 84-year-old score still has the sort of power it has.  With thematic motives that run through the score and create connections to characters and a longer unity, the listener here can follow the storyline fairly well even with what has survived to be included here.  The music for the “bride” is a stunning, rich ultra-romantic approach then very much in vogue back in Europe (the likes of composers like Zemlinsky, Richard Strauss, and Korngold were all dabbling in).  With this score, Waxman charted a line of orchestral writing that would continue to impact Hollywood for decades to come.  The “Prologue-Minuet” sets us up with music that is delicate and casts back to an earlier genteel age while still staying mostly rooted in a later harmonic sensibility.  The comic touches and subtle sinister qualities of Pretorius also come across (“Introducing Pretorius”).  “Danse Macabre” gives us some equally fine off-kilter music that matches well what we are seeing and adds its own quirkiness.  But it really is in the extended eleven-minute sequence of “The Creation” where Waxman’s score really demonstrates the power of music and image.  Timpani heart beats run as a slow ostinato through the sequence that begin to add a sense of tension with such great simplicity.  The little motivic shimmers that begin to appear add to the intensity of the scene until, eventually, all will come crashing down.

    Orchestrally, the use of organ helps add a rather macabre religious quality to the music which further connects with the themes of science as a new religion in the modern era.  Blending this with harp is a rather fascinating color as well.  As the score plays out here, one is also struck by the quality of the musicians sitting on that soundstage reading this new music.  Perhaps most were just glad to be employed, but you have to wonder if they did not still feel something unique and special was in their hands.  Of course, all of this means nothing without the sort of painstaking restoration that has been undertaken here to give us a truly crystal clear audio of the score that does not show its age.  As a remastering demonstration, this is really as good as one could hope.

    Not all of the recorded score survives, but the half-hour that does is well worth every moment.  La-La Land includes four additional “bonuses” that were unearthed that give a slight glimpse into the alternate takes of key moments (“Pastorale-Village-Chase”, “Danse Macabre”, and some excerpts from “The Creation”).  It is certainly one of the label’s finest releases that is a gift to any serious lover of film music.  This is a limited release of 3000 units.