Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Giallo fever: part 7

Title: Lo squartatore di New York (The New York ripper)
Year: 1982
Composer: Francesco De Masi

The giallo genre was slowly fading away in the 1980s but there were still directors trying to revive it with fresh ideas. The iconic horror director Lucio Fulci changed the locale to America in his campy Lo squartatore di New York which nevertheless featured such shocking and gruesome murders that it had to be heavily censored in several countries. Francesco De Masi made the score and even though his career was also slowing down in the 80s, he still managed to compose colourful but cheesy music suitable for an urban atmosphere.

The score can be divided into two distinct categories, the first one being the 80s pop/disco inspired cues and the other the music for the killer scenes. New York one more day perfectly sets the mood for the hustle and bustle of the city with the catchy main theme that is very 80s cheese but highly entertaining. The melody is carried through different period-appropriate instruments such as electric guitars and synthesized elements. New York one night is a fine counterpart to the opening cue because the theme variations are more subtle and mellow with their textures for sensual trumpets and saxophones while still having similar drive and enthusiasm. In addition there’s also material that’s clearly more source music in style such as Puertorico club which offers Latin-inspired rhythms, a sax solo and shouting band members which probably serve their purpose in the scene but not as well on the album. There’s also a romantic theme called Fay which is a lullaby-like, dreamy duet for a trumpet and harmonica.

The suspenseful cues begin with Phone call which transforms the main theme completely, first performed by a mysterious flute solo over dubious harpsichords and trumpets. The atmosphere starts to warm up and turn more romantic before more dramatic, echoing saxophones appear and the main theme moves to the electric guitar. The atmosphere becomes icy cold in The ripper, which is an effective thriller track even though there seems to be very little happening. The intensifying feeling of dread is accomplished with flutes, keyboards, electric guitars and subtle percussion and ingeniously applied main theme variations. Slight unease is also added to the end of New York one more day’s reprise which disturbs the otherwise laid-back feeling of the track. Where is the ripper? clearly tries its best to be suspenseful but here the 80s instrumentation sounds almost comical and hence the cue doesn’t reach the same level as the previous killer cues. The score luckily closes with two brilliant yet hair-raising moments: Suspense and murder & Waiting for the killer. The first one features jazzyish harmonies and concludes with a shocking main theme statement and a musical knife stab before returning to the noir atmosphere. The last cue combines the best of both worlds because there’s a source cue feeling to the backing drum set and bassline but the echoing saxophones and vibraphones simultaneously create a feeling of growing suspicion which leaves the listener wanting more.

There’s a great blend of acoustic and electric elements here, and the 80s synths and effects are applied thoughtfully. I know that this score won’t appeal to everyone because it’s a 1980s score after all and you shouldn’t be expecting a large orchestral approach. De Masi’s technique shines through and there are an abundance of catchy melodies and clever variation to the thematic material which just makes me smile.

Rating: ****

Title: Una tomba aperta… una bara vuota (Night of the scorpion)
Year: 1972
Composer: Piero Piccioni

The album’s second score offers 20 minutes of more peaceful atmospheres after the in-your-face attitude of its predecessor. It’s for a Spanish-Italian co-production involving a man haunted by his previous, deceased wife and a series of murders committed by a gloved killer. Piccioni made a very subtle, beautiful score that is more reflective than murderous in nature.

Surprisingly the score doesn’t open with a main theme statement but with sinister music that clearly fits like a glove for a haunted house film. Helen where are you? is built around a repeating phrase for strings while the atmosphere around it transforms along with instrumental changes, such as ghostly organ or tremolo strings. Though the pace is slow there’s a mood of cleverly rising suspicion and horror that makes my skin crawl.
The peace is restored in It means love, the film’s main theme. It’s a piece for piano solo over soft strings, that is just so enchanting with its fragility. However below the peaceful surface lies steadily pulsating undercurrent for drum set and bass which prepares us for the impending doom. That pulse carries straight over to Haunting memories which combines it to the opening track’s ominous string writing. The reprise of It means love concentrates on the fragile strings while piano taking a background role before coming more prominent during the end. The melancholic mood is almost agonizing with its immense beauty.

Oddly the mood moves rather elegantly to the complete opposite, namely Ghost chase that features sinister strings which are almost as fragile at first as in the main theme but gain more power as the piece progresses. Dreaming again adds a real feeling of dread to the mix and makes me look over my shoulder as is clearly sounds like someone creeping around in dark hallways. A quiet electric organ takes over Moonbeans on the ruins which is also built around a steady beat like the preceding track but unfortunately isn’t as effective. The string melody from the opening track is reprised though with piano and eerie, textural strings. The final track of the score, Echoes of a name, is a complete version of a melody that began track 18. It is a mysterious cue that combines approaches heard in the suspense cues to jazz-inspired harmonies but sadly leaves the album quite unresolved.

It’s absolutely sublime how Piccioni has achieved so much with so little. This has to be one of the all-time subtlest thriller scores but still a nail-biting experience that holds you in its grip through the short duration. Besides the killer main theme there’s even strange ethereal beauty amid the suspense which really leaves the listener into a state of confusion as how to feel about the score. And that’s a good thing without a doubt.

Rating: ****

“Lo squartatore di New York”
1. New York one more day (02:53) *****
2. Phone call (04:34) ****
3. New York one night (02:43) *****
4. Puertorico club (03:15) ***
5. The ripper (03:26) *****
6. New York one more day (02:09) ****
7. Fay (03:36) ****
8. Where is the ripper? (02:24) ***
9. New York one night (02:36) ****
10. Puertorico club (03:15) ***
11. Suspense and murder (02:49) ****
12. Waiting for the killer (02:43) *****

“Una tomba aperta… una bara vuota”
13. Helen where are you? (03:55) *****
14. It means love (02:24) *****
15. Hunting memories (02:17) ****
16. It means love (02:35) *****
17. Ghost chase (01:45) ***
18. Dreaming again (02:17) *****
19. Moonbeams on the ruins (03:14) ****
20. Echoes of a name (02:00) ****

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