Having composed the music for writer/producer/director Ovidio G. Assonitis' Tentacles / Tentacoli in 1977, Stelvio Cipriani was again hired to score another silly tale of Man terrorized by a malevolent force from the ocean depths (though this time it's the army's fault for playing with piranha DNA).
Given more leeway to write dramatic underscore, Piranha 2: The Spawning is one of the composer's better horror scores, but like Tentacles, a fair chunk of the soundtrack album consists of source cues and lounge/pop variations of the film's main theme. Italy 's DigitMovies have expanded the original Polydor album with a bonus cut - an alternate of the film's theme single - and included an attractive full-colour booklet.
Whereas the film, noteworthy as James Cameron's feature film debut as director, was released in theatres and on DVD in mono, the original cues were nicely recorded in stereo, and pretty much all of Cipriani's film score is represented on the CD.
The rule of thumb in Piranha 2 is pretty simple: scenes underwater have traditional score, while the dry land material is mostly peppered with endless theme variations and pop cues. "Prelude" follows a horny couple as they dive into a sunken wreck in the film's pre-credit teaser, and Cipriani blends dissonance, textured strings, and a brief injection of big band brass as the two lovers enter the wreck, cut off their clothes, and start some underwater foreplay. Accelerated percussion announce the imminent appearance of the man-eating fish, and Cipriani pulls back and closes the cue's first half to make room for the sound effects used to enhance the feeding frenzy that follows.
Being the eighties, a slow, pop rhythm drives the films main theme over the opening titles, with classical-styled piano performing the melody, and heavy strings slicing away in 3/3 time. Bereft of its fish attacks, Piranha 2 has few dramatic scenes and character conflicts to keep it afloat, so the opening credits, much like the teaser, is blatant padding to bring the film around 90 mins.
Cipriani's main titles - dubbed "Profondo Sinfonico" - is therefore given generous time to run, and guarantees a cue perfectly timed for a single release. The composer's approach to title music has sometimes been uneven, as his emphasis on character and story through melody can runs contrary to an audience's hunger for music that ought to set up the kind of action and thrills they're expecting to see.
That isn't to say horror films can't begin with a pop tune - adding humour to a grisly pre-credit murder does work in a self-conscious horror flick - but dramatic music for the opening titles offers a more arresting alternative, and underscore is often less susceptible to becoming dated after the pop/rock conventions of a contemporized theme have become passé.
"Theme from Piranha 2 (Single Version)" is largely a symphonic interpretation, written as a short and very elegant adagio, using a scaled-down version of the film's theme. It's really just an alternate take of "Underwater Symphony," and certainly forms a stylistic link between the sequel and Joe Dante's 1978 original, which featured a mostly symphonic score by Pino Donaggio.
"The Wreck" is slight a variation on the orchestral music in the teaser, with strings and harmonics conveying a sense of sinking deeper into an unstable environment, while sustained chords and a 4/4 rhythm on electric bass evoke the divers' journey into the encrusted ship. More interesting is "6:30 A.M. Explosion," which adds a more pronounced 4/4 rhythm to the adagio-styled theme. Cipriani adds short piano figures and solo cello to amp up the tension, although the cue doesn't build to any grand, orchestral crash.
The flying piranha attack is livelier, and for "The Spawning" Cipriani alternates between strings and accelerated electric bass, but like the prior cue, there's no grand finale. The score's function is mostly as building material to a large sound effects pay-off, or as brief bits of elegiac material during underwater or tragic sequences.
Cipriani's "The Deep (End Titles)" recaps the main theme, and the orchestral-pop rendition - with electric bass and light drums - interestingly evokes Ennio Morricone's title theme for Frantic, which is performed using similar instrumentation. The other theme renditions on the CD are very straightforward, including a longer version that started B-side of the original vinyl platter.
"Profundo" is just a tighter version of the end credit music, while "Escape to Paradise" is a lounge version of the main theme, with an emphasis on keyboards, electric guitar & bass, and weird dustings of tinkling shards of glass. "Fun at Elysium" is really just an alternate take of "Escape," with a second half emphasizing an extended pulse with electric bass and keyboards (something you'd find in a Zalman King film, like Two Moon Junction).
"Club Elysium" is probably the most likeable source track, offering a fluffy blend of dual keyboards, synth drums, and electric bass, and is an extrapolation of the dramatic intro from the adagio version. Cipriani's mono-thematic scores don't always work as albums - the repetition becomes tiresome, and the composer's post-seventies lounge style really affects the album's dramatic thrust - but Piranha 2, while hardly a classic, nor one of the composer's best works, does satisfy with its decent offering of suspense cues. You just wish he'd been more diverse and more adventurous with his work sometimes.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan