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CD Reviews 3/14/00

Compiled by Jonathan Z. Kaplan, FSM Departments Editor


End of Days ***

JOHN DEBNEY

Varese Sarabande 302 066 099 2

17 tracks - 40:21

End of Days represents too many of the symptoms of the rapidly dwindling Hollywood blockbuster--and the routineness of the film unfortunately extends to John Debney's score. The End of Days album kicks off with a hackneyed "Dies Irae"-esque choral chant ("End of Days Main Title") that's bookended by a disquieting boy soprano vocal. More so than in most of Debney's work, this score is reliant upon prerecorded synth samples; 48 tracks of samples (many from Spectrosonics' "Symphony of Voices") were combined with the 74-piece studio orchestra. "Porcelain Man," "The Shooter" and "The Tunnel" feature heavy synth sampling laid against routine orchestral passages, but "Alley Fight," a funky stalk-and-chase cue, offers something different with its surprising synth patches and unpredictable symphonic maneuvers. Many subsequent cues on the Varese album (unusually long for a union-recorded score) feature similar moments of interest amidst the longer, more routine passages.

Debney's flair for entertaining (if not by-the-numbers) action music remains, particularly in "Helicopter Pursuit" and "Subway Attack and Escape"; other cues such as "The Beast Comes a Callin'" and "Crucifixion" allow him to experiment with the inherent limits of the genre. Unique instrumentations (particularly in the use of Tuvan throat-singing, the ram's horn, the Tibet long horn and the duduk) keep the music from sounding totally run-of-the-mill--but before the album's played out, even the more ingenious moments become repetitive. "The Eternal Struggle" and "Redemption" allow Debney to stretch his dramatic arm and, despite the silliness of the film's climactic sequences, the music earns points for not becoming sanctimoniously self-conscious. The album closes with a less frenetic, alternate "Main Title" cue and an enjoyable techno remix of the score's main theme by electronica performer cEvin Key. --Jason Comerford


House on Haunted Hill **1/2

DON DAVIS

Varese Sarabande 302 066 088 2

25 tracks - 54:14

The House on Haunted Hill score is not as memorably abstract as The Matrix. It's also more forced--the main House theme is in-your-face gothic romanticism that exudes a Danny Elfman-at-the-baroque funhouse atmosphere. This theme's melody is restated effectively in cuts like "Melissa in Wonderland," but it's underused and not strong enough to stand with limited playings. The rest of the score is a hodgepodge of styles that combine to throw a surreal but annoyingly loud and inconsistent blanket over the film.

"Pencil Neck" and "Blackburn's Surprise" are full of jarring vocals, slashing orchestral effects and frantic, Omenesque shouts of "Dies Irae." The surprise in "Surprise" (not to be confused with "Blackburn's Surprise") is actually a series of earsplitting effects. "Coagulatory Calamity" features more of the same. The yelling and shrill orchestral blasts are more painful than scary--but they serve their purpose in the film. (There are the occasional strange and genuinely frightening sounds, like the bloated noise at 3:24.) There are also strange stylistic/source incorporations like the retro rock of "Struggling to Escape."

"No Exit" is the first real dose (and one of the only) of Davis's Matrix writing, with its closely stacked, winding low brass pyramids. On the other hand, the worst track on the album, "Epiphanic Evelyn," weighs in with a heavy mix of Horner, Williams and Morricone genre-music polished off with a fair does of Christopher Young's Hellraiser. It would be unfair to ask Davis to follow up The Matrix with something as solid (or as surprising), especially when dealing with a subject and film like House on Haunted Hill. --Jesus Weinstein


The Quatermass Film Music Collection ***

JAMES BERNARD, TRISTRAM CARY, CARLO MARTELLI

GDI GDICD008

39 tracks - 74:06

GDI's second Hammer CD is likely of interest only to die-hard fans of the studio or of modern composition. Although this is billed as The Quatermass Film Music Collection, producer Gary Wilson was only able to locate about five minutes worth of James Bernard's unusual strings and percussion score for the first two entries in the series (written five years before Bernard Herrmann utilized much the same set-up for Psycho). Bernard's Quatermass compositions get a more generous airing (almost 14 minutes) on Silva's re-recorded collection, The Devil Rides Out.

The remaining 70 minutes of the CD are comprised mainly of Tristram Cary's score. His most famous score is probably to Ealing's The Ladykillers, but he was also known for working extensively in electronic composition, both in his concert work and for television programs such as Dr. Who. Hammer, in commissioning him for Quatermass and the Pit (a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth), requested two versions for certain scenes--one electronic and one symphonic--so they could later determine which approach worked best. (Ultimately, there were cases were they used neither and opted for unscored dialogue or sound effects.) Pit, however, underwent more post-production tinkering than was usual for Hammer; the film was re-cut and the ending was re-shot to create a more downbeat mood. More of Cary's music went out the window and, as he had moved on to another project and was unavailable, sections of the film were re-scored with Carlo Martelli's music from Witchcraft. So, what we have on this CD is, apparently, all of Cary's symphonic and electronic contributions, plus at least two of Martelli's ("Poltergeist?" and the "End Credits," although only the former is noted as such on the CD jacket).

Those who are into Cary's music can check out the Cloud Nine CD, Quatermass and the Pit, which purports to feature the complete symphonic score, and compare it to GDI's to see if any of Cary's music was left out of the latter or if there are more cues by Martelli than I've been able to identify. Cary's score is nothing if not obvious, comprised almost entirely of short, blaring "shock" cues. Longer pieces consist of incoherent and unrelated fragments, none of which are developed but instead thrown together into a huge jumble. The only grace note within the score is Martelli's "Poltergeist?" which imparts a beautifully impressionistic aura of menace. Martelli's plaintive "End Credits" are likewise an improvement over Cary's, which seem to be bouncing from idea to idea in search of one it's comfortable with--and never finding it. Cary's electronic contributions are delegated a separate section on the disc. Anyone familiar with the Barron's work on Forbidden Planet will be unimpressed by these buzzing soundalikes (although given the insectoid nature of the film's menace the sound is appropriate). --Harry H. Long

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