CD Reviews 3/14/00
Compiled by Jonathan Z. Kaplan, FSM Departments Editor
End of Days ***
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
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
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
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