Perhaps more to veteran film music fans, Richard Band will remain a controversial figure because while he composed several orchestral scores for very low-budget productions (most directed and produced by brother Charles Band, and the enfants terribles of horror, Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon), critics have noted that his early scores sometimes contain themes, action motifs, and straight passages directly inspired by/ripped off from the works of Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, and James Horner.
In the case of Band's Re-Animator (1985), while the score does inject a mordant sense of humour in the film’s bloody tale of a mad doctor, it’s primarily based around a synth-pop arrangement of Herrmann’s Psycho (1960) theme that becomes monotonous, and inevitably distracting; when Band’s own compositions bubble to the surface, though, they’re the best component of the score, but are underplayed in favour of the poppish Psycho theme.
Now, to singularly attack Band for borrowing ideas from peer composers isn’t wholly fair because a) there’s Richard La Salle (Ambush Bay), the ultimate hack who used verbatim sections from original scores with total impunity, and b) younger composers have done the same when they were faced with a movie temp track, of which the most flagrant was James Horner copying Goldsmith (although the consistency of his efforts in Humanoids from the Deep, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Deadly Blessing is pretty potent. Humanoids is appalling in the way aspects from Alien and The Boys from Brazil are interwoven with small bits of original Horner material. It’s fluidly done, but horribly distracting in the film and the soundtrack album).
Band’s drawing from other composers in his early feature work is an equally old argument, but it’s substantive and justified in Mutant (1984) because one can hear vestiges of Jerry Goldmsith’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977), Capricorn One (1978), The Swarm (1978), Alien (1979), Poltergeist (1982), and his Twilight Zone scores (“Back There” in particular), as well as James Horner’s Aliens (1986).
For example, Band's pounding music that plays when hero Josh and heroine Holly escape from a zombie-filled grade school (“Josh and Holly Escape”), and a prior attack sequence at the town clinic are extremely similar to Horner’s Aliens cue, “Ripley’s Rescue.” Band follows a similar design of gliding string figures that are roughly accented by anvil hits and sharpening brass tones, minus the snare drum and ‘Klingon war cry’ that Horner himself ported over to Aliens from his score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), which itself was appropriated from Horner’s Wolfen (1981). (Just play the cues. It’s all there in Technicolor.)
Does Band’s version work in the film? Almost, but its wobbly success isn't due to a sense of familiarity. In the school escape, the action is frenetic and matches the music’s tempo, so it’s quite appropriate, but in the clinic attack, the music’s completely mismatched by the clumsily staged, brightly photographed footage; the music is physically trying to hasten the scene's locked, lethargic tempo, and the actor’s slow movements as she tries to avoid being usurped by another actor in an off-the-rack zombie makeup. When the percussion slams hard, it's plain overkill.
Band also borrows from Goldsmith’s Poltergeist (“Car Attack” is a sliver extrapolation of Goldsmith’s “Escape from Suburbia”) as well as Capricorn One, notably by mimicking canted string harmonics and eerie brass notes played in a wispy, see-saw motif.
Now, this is about where Band’s detractors are likely to nod in agreement, and the score’s fans will frown with ire that once again the composer’s being over-criticized for taking ‘inspiration’ from his peers. If you take the time to listen to Goldsmith’s classic sci-fi scores, and then re-watch Band’s early films, the similarities are very, very stark. Even the opening bars of Parasite (1982) are straight out of Planet of the Apes (1967).
The best way to regard Mutant, like Parasite, is as an on-the-job training experience, wherein Band furthered his film composing skills, and gained greater confidence to expand on his own ideas. Even the first scores by Horner and Christopher Young (Pranks, The Power, Highpoint) were sometimes influenced by temp scores slapped over scenes by film editors, so one can argue that through deconstruction and imitation, Band learned what kinds of sounds worked for a specific kind of scene or sequence.
Band can and has composed good original scores, particularly for the recent anthology series Masters of Horror. Director Stuart Gordon’s also been able to extract some very broadly rendered work from Band, and his bloody Pit and the Pendulum (1991) and utterly depraved Castle Freak (1995) are among his best big orchestral works, alongside Dr. Mordrid (1992) and Resurrected (1992). The early eighties were his training years, and the nineties the period where he came into his own.
In one way, it’s best not to see Mutant, because mentally, the music paints a very vivid portrait of a gripping horror tale of alien seed contaminating the human race, whereas the movie’s really just a clunky zombie flick about corporate pollution turning locals into blood thirsty ghouls (including school kids).
Certainly the opening titles' percussive crash sets the tone for a special kind of danger that has the potential to wipe out mankind, and Band’s piano motif – a lovely percolating theme that’s used to hint at some danger and well as develop into a love theme – is the score’s strongest component. Band smartly uses the motif as an anchor, particular when the hero’s brother is found dead, and the elder cradles the body of the younger in his arms (“Mike’s Death”) and in a short montage (“Walking Montage”) that’s very engaging. Also effective is the version for woodwinds, “Will Goes Out on a Lim.”
Mutant first appeared as a very, very bass-friendly LP from Varese Sarabande (it’s still fun to play that sucker loud), after which Intrada remixed the album from the original multi-track elements. Perseverance’s CD is a different animal, because it presents the album cuts as well as unreleased cues in (mostly) chronological order (some of the LP tracks were edited from shorter cues), beefing up the score’s running time from 35 mins. to 45 mins., although be forewarned that the track titles are different, and the bonus cuts are in mono.
(The liner notes don’t elaborate on the extra cues, so one has to presume only the master album tapes exist, and the remaining cuts come from mono safety backups, or perhaps the isolated music stems from a M&E mix. The film, incidentally, is in true stereo on Elite’s anamorphic DVD.)
The mono cuts offer some modest theme variations (several with much more dissonance). Most average less than a minute, if not less, but they’re important to the score’s overall scope in spite of some thematic repetition (as with the back-to-back alternate and film versions of “The Missing Blood”).
To fill out the CD Perseverance also added unreleased main title cues from Silvergleam Express, Demonic Toys (1992), Seedpeople, Zarkorr! (1996), Blood Dolls, Hideous! (1997), and Head of the Family (1996).
The CD mastering is very clean (the mono tracks sound as good as they’ll ever be), but for those still preferring the more concise, all-stereo flow of the original album, it’s worth holding onto the Intrada CD (and if you want good bass, track down the Varese LP, which also came with a bonus poster!).
As with all of the label’s CDs, Perseverance includes a booklet with a great background narrative on the film’s genesis, its production (with stills), comments from the composer, and details about the score’s creation, Band’s composing style at the time, and a brief sketch of the National Philharmonic’s musicians.
A derivative score? Absolutely, but still fun.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan