Sunday, 29 October 2017

Oh, the horror: part 11

Title: Suor omicidi (Killer nun)
Year: 1979
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

Alessandro Alessandroni was most well-known as the whistler and guitarist on many spaghetti western scores and the founder of the choir I cantori moderni, also a frequent addition to the Italian film music scene. However he wrote over 20 film scores many of which haven’t had a release. A 1999 Beat records release included 3 horror scores by him which cover a number of different styles and moods. The first film, Suor omicidi seems to be just your average euro-shlock exploitation film and the score is as over-the-top cheesy as the film’s premise of a killer-junkie-lesbian nun would suggest.

I cantori moderni begins the score with the complete Dies irae melody with deep descending keyboard lines that are joined by a beating drumset. It’s clich├ęd for sure but it works, however it won’t cause any chills in the audience. The reprise in Seq. 8 doesn’t variate the material in any way. Fortunately Seq. 2 has more interesting textures for recorders and flutes over sparse piano chords, further explored in Seq. 7. It sounds like music that would fit for instance to an opium den. Later some cheesy synth chords appear with thunder-like rattles. Then out of nowhere appears a waltz melody that couldn’t be farther from the preceding material.  It’s probably the most unique cue on the album along with Seq. 4 that has some really interesting guitar textures similar to Morricone’s Two mules for Sister Sarah and a highly groovy bassline with some wind-like sound effects and eventual cool electric organ chords. It captures that folky hippie vibe and combines it with straight-up horror brilliantly. The additional church organ at the end just sends shivers down my spine. A less successful electric organ moment tries to convey a sense of dread in Seq. 6 but fails to find a proper direction.

There is a romantic theme as well heard in Seq. 3 with echoing electric guitar effects probably played by the composer. It’s an inoffensive melody, just a bit of that late 70s fluff. In another weird twist that same melody is turned into a cringy end title love song for the choir singing in English. It does feel quite dated and for some reason it seems like the singers aren’t even in tune. Similar cheesy fluff in a more orchestral manner with pop-music like percussion appears in both Seq. 5 and Seq. 9, latter in particular is just lovely in its melodic galore complete with a key change in the middle.

I almost don’t know what else to say, but it certainly is the product of its time. There is no suspense, no real horror here. Apart from the absolutely sublime Seq. 4, the rest of the score is rather bland but passable effort that seems to have some tongue-in-cheek attitude to it, which the project probably needed badly.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: Lo strangolatore di Vienna (The mad butcher)
Year: 1971
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

For a tale about a butcher who accidently kills his wife and gets rid off the body by making sausages Alessandroni provided another score that was more cheesily comical than scary. The film takes place in Vienna and this must have served as the inspiration because the melodies have been influenced by the classical waltzes and galops etc. A clear example of this is Seq. 1, a dance-like main theme that’s weirdly written for a saloon piano which does remind me more of westerns. However after a few key changes a small string orchestra also brings it that classical flavour. A charming yet uninspired waltz tune written for similar instrumentation is heard in Seq. 2 later presenting material familiar to Morricone’s scores like the Investigation of a citizen above suspicion or Il gatto. There’s also a comical tango of Seq. 3 that turns pure jazz at the end.

A bit of horror is heard in Seq. 4 with dooming piano notes balancing with the laid-back electric guitar version of the main theme. A surprising, fun action track Seq. 5 follows with a fast piano ostinato, martial drums and electric guitar and organ which turn the cue into cacophony of sounds eventually. A twisted version of the previous waltz appears in Seq. 6 before some beautiful nightclub jazz for solo sax breaks the mood. Seq. 7 is a full cue written in that comical Investigation… style which also has some suspenseful tremolo strings intensifying the atmosphere before the last midnight version of the main theme performed by the piano at the corner.

The score is pretty descriptive in bringing mental images of the city streets and pubs to mind. However there is quite a little of substance to the music and nothing special to grasp on. It probably fits the film like a glove but on its own it just doesn’t hold up.

Rating: ***

Title: Lady Frankenstein
Year: 1971
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

For the last score Alessandroni took a complete turn compared to the two others. The music is serious, suspenseful yet beautiful where it needs to be. The film continues the story of Dr. Frankenstein where his daughter carries on his work and creates a new monster.

Right from the get-go a bleak tone is established with atonal harmonies and dramatic high string melodies with condemning low-key piano. After a while it cools down and leaves room for flutes, glockenspiel and a fastening piano-ostinato which leads the cue into a horrific conclusion. Seq. 2 includes the similar wind sound effects heard in Suor omicidi and combines them to faint electronic organ, flutes and the same piano melody from the last cue which rolls on with movement. Seq. 5 returns to the horror with crackling electric guitar and string chords, later presenting electronic manipulation perfectly suitable for a 70s mad scientist set. The last powerful horror statement comes in Seq. 7 which includes an array of orchestral devices to create a dooming atmosphere, however unlike the other cues it doesn’t really go anywhere.

Luckily there are also moments of beauty on the album. Seq. 3 begins with another chilling horror cue though but middleway turns into a fragile lament for just the strings including a rising longlined minor key melody that is sure to make your eyes water especially at the end with tremolo string backing. Seq. 4 is the film’s romantic main theme in major key with similar old-fashioned string section, added wonderful piano flourishes and jazzy chord progressions. It’s more hopeful than the preceding cue and not as overblown like the romantic material for instance in Suor omicidi. In Seq. 6 the melody is reprised but then flute continues it over a backing track which gets more and more suspenseful as the cue progresses ending with another dramatic string moment. The final strings only version is heard in Seq. 8 with some flute at the end and a proper conclusion to the melody. The last cue is probably for the running credits. It has a very pop-music like descending chord progression later with added light percussion which reminds me of Morricone’s main theme for Il clan dei Siciliani. It’s nothing special but a suitable end to the album for sure.

Luckily they saved the best for last. Lady Frankenstein has a lot of variety, genuinely chilling suspense that is intersected with romantic interludes. The composer passed away this year so hopefully his memory will be respected with new releases of his unreleased scores (here’s hoping for La spacconata in particular).

Rating: ****

1. Suor omicidi - seq. 1 (04:00) ***
2. Suor omicidi - seq. 2 (05:02) ****
3. Suor omicidi - seq. 3 (01:41) ****
4. Suor omicidi - seq. 4 (04:49) *****
5. Suor omicidi - seq. 5 (01:29) ****
6. Suor omicidi - seq. 6 (01:57) ***
7. Suor omicidi - seq. 7 (03:37) ***
8. Suor omicidi - seq. 8 (03:56) ***
9. Suor omicidi - seq. 9 (02:09) *****
10. Suor omicidi - seq. 10 (03:10) ***

11. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 1 (01:53) ****
12. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 2 (01:31) ***
13. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 3 (01:49) ***
14. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 4 (01:36) ***
15. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 5 (02:42) ****
16. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 6 (02:07) ***
17. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 7 (03:02) ****

18. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 1 (02:58) *****
19. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 2 (02:47) *****
20. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 3 (03:00) *****
21. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 4 (02:01) *****
22. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 5 (03:15) ***
23. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 6 (03:17) ****
24. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 7 (03:21) ***
25. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 8 (01:53) *****
26. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 9 (03:50) ****

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