According to Tim Lucas' liner notes, I Vampiri / Devil's Commandment (1956) and Caltiki (1959) were productions that, in a rather complicated way, were 'given' to Mario Bava to finish when director Riccardo Freda wanted out, and felt he could give Bava the chance he'd been waiting for to direct not one but two horror films.
I Vampiri is billed as Italy's first post-sound horror film, and it's an excellent tribute to the old Universal horror films, augmented by incredibly atmospheric widescreen photography and a simple but effectively told yarn about a rich woman who steals the life-blood from others to remain young.
Even more on CD, Roman Vlad's title theme is an overbearing herald that's oft-repeated in the film, and feels like a leftover from a creaky movie serial, fusing a grand, sweeping Beethovenesque fugue with a tremulous recitative that dips into a brassy, carnival-styled chase motif. Maybe Vlad wanted to evoke the same old-time thriller sounds of the early thirties (which it does), but it lacks the kind of subtlety that matches the ascending, nightmarish mood that characterized Bava's and Freda's dark little chillers.
Vlad's music bears no hint of the story's French locale, but the soundtrack's central core contains the best cues - largely because they cleverly deconstruct the main theme into more dissonant variations, and reflect Bava's strong advances into gloomy gothic terrain. A major highlight is "Tragica notizia & funerale," which chimes angrily as a group gather for the funeral of the creative doctor, whose experimentation extended the villainess' youth for many decades.
Vlad goes for subtle, eddying imagery in his cues, and they compliment the film's visial motifs of fogs, dimly lit streets, an expansive castle, and a victimized woman slowly driven to madness in an attic chamber. The doom and gloom is somewhat balanced by some lovely source cues, including a lilting waltz, and a lengthy piano version that appropriately conveys a baroque quality to the dance held by the villainess in her disintegrating ballroom, with many grim wall flowers and a few brave dancers.
Caltiki's main theme is less dated, and shares the energetic qualities as those written by Universal's in-house composers, who elevated rubber suited monsters and bone-headed dialogue into something frightening for big and small kids alike.
The film is a colossally silly, and it's a classic bad movie waiting to be re-discovered by genre fans jaded by the more predictable fodder cranked out by American studios and indies. The dialogue is ridiculous, the character machinations impetuous, and the whole retelling of a an alien blob escaping from its Aztec prison is too close to specific plot points in the original American teen classic, The Blob. Bava's direction is incredibly slick, and the film's breezy pacing and superlative action scenes are pretty astonishing when it's clear this was a low-budget exploitation quickie.
Roberto Nicolosi's music is fairly substantive for such a short film, and features a punchy score performed by a modest orchestra giving an energetic performance that transcend the film's daffy story, and while there's a tongue-in-cheek undercurrent, the score is full of small bits of colourful motifs that buffer Nicolosi's heavy use of his see-sawing main theme.
There's a significant generational schism between composers such as Stelvio Cipriani, who largely built their horror scores around idiomatic variations of their easily recognizable theme(s), and the prior generation, whose classical training seemed to better prepare them for crafting a score by extrapolating and deconstructing specific aspects of a theme in less accessible versions because they offered the composer greater flexibility in fulfilling the needs of a film's characters, plot, subtext, and portents of slimy monsters on steroids.
Nicolosi's theme is a see-saw fanfare that swells to a harsh peak, and ripples downward, terminating in a series of disjointed rhythmic motifs that later become the primary material used for scenes where the giant blob takes over the evil scientist's house, and threatens his wife and child.
The composer's approach doesn't really delve into heavy experimental sounds; rather, he re-uses his heraldic and danger themes, but there are some excellent examples of his ability to adeptly shift moods. "Discesa & esplorazione subacquea" begins with a romantic see-saw variation, using soothing woodwinds and harp that seem to move in a hopeful direction with the intro of strings. After a sustained note, a cascading piano quickly signals a mood transition to mortal danger, as pensive strings and muted brass convey the fear held by some of the scientists as more arrogant colleagues venture into an ancient tomb in search of ancient gold. "Seconda immersione & attacco del mostro" is quite similar, and the monster's assault is underscored by main theme quotations propelled by spiraling piano clusters.
Also included is "Danza tam tam," a ritual source cue with African drums and Brazilian-styled vocals that's performed by quasi-Mexican natives - just another bizarre touch that makes the film such a guilty pleasure.
Much of the score proper closely mimics onscreen action, which is why fans of Herman Stein and his band of pros will relish the energetic quality of Nicolosi's writing, and the mood shifts that colour many of the lengthy cues on Disc 2. Like the Vampiri, the Caltiki cues were recorded in mono and are somewhat hissy, but the noise reduction isn't excessive, and each cue has balanced volume, with woodwinds particularly benefiting from the upgrade to CD.
The last goodie on this packed set is a rare single, composed by Carlo Savina, for Lisa e il diavolo / Lisa and the Devil. Taken from an archival source, there's distortion in the high end, but it's in true stereo and features clean separation between strings, woodwinds, and Edda Dell'Orso's voice. Titled "To Mirna," the theme formed the other component of the film score that was co-credited to Joaquin Rodrigo.
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).
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan