It's a bit surprisingly how little of the music from all those Hercules films exists on CD, although lesser entries, like those imported and distributed by American International Pictures, reused chunks of material written by Les Baxter for Goliath and the Barbarians (which did get an LP release).
The original Italian scores, however, have barely made it to CD in complete form, but following DigitMovies two-score album of Le Fatiche di Ercole / Ercole e la regina di Lidia, featuring music by Enzo Masetti, the complete score for Hercules in the Haunted World / Ercole al centro della Terra by Armando Trovajoli gets its own album, with more than an hour in vintage stereo.
Unlike prior entries, Trovajoli's approach was conceived to mimic the subterranean world and weird dangers that Hercules, his buddy and womanizer Thesus, and a bumbling sidekick encounter as they travel to the earth's core and retrieve a magical gizmo to save Hercules' girlfriend from the clutches of a sadistic villain, King Lico.
The peplum genre wasn't exactly conducive to sophisticated plotting and characters, but Trovajoli seemed to ignore the film's silliness and juvenilia and crafted a low-keyed score mostly comprised of atmospheric aural landscapes.
Barely used in the finished film, the album's first cue, “Preludio” flows without any distinct meter as bass clarinet, wooden echo-taps, and shimmering surfaces convey a foggy, cavernous setting, while the film's formal “Main Titles” quotes Trovajoli's militaristic main theme in two sections.
Trovajoli uses several effects to convey phases of a decisive assault: an introductory galloping motif (mostly through percussion and hard bass notes on the piano); brass fanfares for a herald, swelling strings for tension, and a short fusion of all three as a figurative army thrusts into combat.
“Apparizione di Ercole” underscores the pastoral landscape where Thesus is boffing someone else's girl, and features a truly peculiar motif in which Trovajoli has the violins play a gliding five-note repeat, while French horns and later oboes play the film's secondary theme (which later morphs into the somewhat contemporized “Precipizio di flame”). Shimmering metallic surfaces and harp mimic the swelling waterfall and verdant curves of this idyllic little pocket, but Trovajoli continues to sustain his circular motif to convey a more ethereal mood rather than a clichéd depiction of a mini-paradise.
The militaristic theme returns in “Agguato & Battaglia,” with an eerie sustained chord on organ. Trovajoli basically alternates the density of brass and percussion during the battle, and closes with some intriguing metallic clusters. From this point onwards, most of the score becomes atmospheric cues for King Lico's scheming and subterfuge, and the various freaky people Hercules and his colleagues encounter as they enter the bowels of the Earth.
“La Mela d'oro” furthers the more amorphous tones and percussive effects heard in “Preludio” for the film's standout sequence, where Hercules climbs a massive, knotted tree to grab a golden apple. Trovajoli emphasizes woodwinds and sustained strings, and recapitulates brief fanfares as our hero climbs to dangerous heights, further intensified by the reuse of the five-note motif.
The composer's jazzy origins also make a discreet appearance in the first bars of “Stratagemma di Ercole & Il mostro di Pietra,” and his approach in this two-part cue are unusually laid-back for a sequence that's designed to milk tension as Hercules strives to reach the apple, and later descends into the caves to rescue his friends from a goofy rock monster.
Opting for tonal shades instead of kinetic bursts of music, it's a style one finds in the some of Toru Takemitsu's work, and distinguishes Hercules in the Haunted World as one of the more intelligently conceived scores in the prolific sword and sandal genre.
DigitMovies' source materials are the original stereo master tapes, and given their age, the cues sound remarkably fresh. In most cases the stereo images are crisp and intact, and in spite of some slight distortion and inherent hiss, this is a must-have album for fans of the series, and those interested in Trovajoli's largely unromantic, impressionistic approach.
The CD also comes with a bonus cue (a brief :19 fanfare, intended as intermission music, though why this 81 min. movie mandates one is a mystery), and a densely illustrated booklet with liner notes by Claudio Fuiano, and Bavaphile Tim Lucas.
DigitMovies' Mario Bava anthology includes Vol.1 (La Mashera del demonio / Black Sunday + La ragazza che sapeva tropp / The Evil Eye), Vol. 2 (La Frusta Ell Corpo / Whip and the Body + Sei Donne per l'assassino / Blood and Black Lace), Vol. 3 (Ecologia del Delitto / Bay of Blood + Gli orrori del castello di norimberga / Baron Blood + Cani arrabbiati / Rabid Dogs), Vol. 4 (I Vampiri + Caltiki + Lisa e il Diavolo / Lisa and the Devil "To Mirna" theme), and Vol. 5 (Hercules in the Haunted World / Ercole al centro della terra).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan