A kind of precursor to the first Friday 13th slasher (lakeside community being knocked off in gory, ridiculous fashion), the music for Mario Bava's bodycount film is completely atypical for the genre: a silky-smooth main theme, and a sappy romantic sub-theme to convey a cheeky contempt for the mortal pawns who suffer grievous trauma in the film's wonky narrative.
Writing his first score for Bava, Stelvio Cipriani's main theme borrows heavily from Henry Mancini by adopting the smooth, warm tones and exotic, rippling percussion from "Lujon" - a cue written for Mancini's 1959 Mr. Lucky Goes Latin album - yet Cipriani adds a quirky touch: the bass groove from Iron Butterfly's " In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida " (oh, it's there. Just pay attention when the bassist shifts chords). The melody is still Cipriani, as are the subtle colorations - gentle flute, lilting harmonies, tender oboe - which are beautifully contrasted by the eerie sounds from organ, and various percussion instruments rapping and rippling in the background.
Those familiar with the film's lengthy 'carnage' trailer will be disappointed that the title theme is just a smidge over two minutes; meaning one of the composer's best themes ends just after you've been hooked. (The editors basically spliced two tracks to fill out the trailer's bloated length.)
A handful of variations - extensions of percussion passages, or capsule versions of the melodic line - do appear throughout the album, but it's a shame that the theme, which fades out quickly after the title sequence, runs the length of an old-style 45 rpm single. (The theme was the only cut that received a wide commercial release, making this 2-disc set from DigitMovies a must-have for Cipriani fans.)
The minute-long "Inseguimento e uccisione" basically forces the percussion up front, and Cipriani uses the piano's bass keys for the melodic line, while the organ initially sustains a guttural bottom-end note, shifting parts between electric guitar strums. The decelerated "Guidandonella notte" is another standout, and Cipriani achieves some sly black humour by adding wooden scrapes, while a harpsichord carries part of the main theme.
"Evelyn Theme," the score's secondary theme, harkens back to Carlo Rustichelli's romantic Windsor Concerto, which complimented the absurdities in Bava's Whip and the Body. Tragic and melodramatic, it's what helped get Cipriani the gig to score the film (as he recounted in an interview on NoShame's Colt 38 Special Squad DVD) because the music matches the tastes of the rich woman who's garroted in the opening murder, and exaggerates Bava's obsessively detailed approach of showing every nuance of the woman's demise, and her suspension above the floor, long after she's expired.
Scored in 1971, Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) also reflects Cipriani's jazz-lounge style of the time, and the voguish use of pop-styled source cues. Most of the source tracks are complete theme renditions with occasional unresolved finales, and they vary from the groovy lounge style in "Due Amanti" to the silly "Tribal Shake." A master (but overzealous) exploiter of theme re-interpretation, Cipriani also gives the hip-jiggle tune a romantic spin in a piano and flute version, "Passeggiata al lago"; a rock-bop variation in "Shake Giradischi"; and a slow and easy jazz play in ""Slow Giradischi."
Maybe due to his high workload in 1971, Cipriani re-used his "Evelyn Theme" in his score for Luciano Ercoli's goofy La morte cammina con i tacchi alti / Death Walks in High Heels (also released by DigitMovies), newly idiomaticized and re-branded as "Shopping," and "Felicita (bossa)".
The film's third theme, "Solitudine di Simone" is the romantic resolution to the "Evelyn Theme," and bleeds with a strange level of naive optimism, courtesy of a more contemporary piano rendition. For the film's concluding cue, "Teenagers Cha-Cha," he uses the uplifting 6-note progression from "Solitude" in a bizarre, kitschy jingle that underscores the story's multi-part conclusion of revenge and double-crossing. Reminiscent of his trippy cue which enhanced Silvana Venturelli's dance through the orchard in Radley Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet , the cha-cha has rippling congas and cheerful female vocalists la-la-ing and sha-la-ing while a child's xylophone taps chordal shifts of the six note motif.
Closing the Bay of Blood soundtrack are two bonus cuts: alternates of "Evelyn Theme" (ending on a warmer series of notes), and "Teenager Cha-Cha" (a more subtle opening, with elaborate harpsichord flourishes accompanying the vocal la-la's).
The most kinetic score in this set is for Cani arrabbiati / Rabid Dogs (1974), a film that remained lost and forgotten until the legal and financial headaches of Bava's unreleased film were somewhat solved. One of Bava's best works, the film boasts a brutal, sly finale, and was partially completed for a 1999 DVD release, using a reconstructed opening title sequence, and Cipriani's original recordings. (The out of print DVD has since become a top collectible, and while a new version of the film premiered in 2002 film, it has yet to be released on home video, once again relegating Bava's career pinnacle song to another lost mini-masterpiece.)
The CD's liner notes cite Lamberto Bava's claim that Cipriani's cues were mere demo versions, but all the tracks are crisp, stereo recordings, with extremely polished performances by some ace session musicians. The engineering of several early Cipriani scores indicate how the composer - who began his career as an arranger - knew the value of creating a slick, professional recording, and each of the three scores in this collection are beautifully engineered with some minor distortion when the recording gets a bit hot.
Dogs is near-perfect, and fans of the composer's jazz-rock style will no doubt be excited by the heavy bass, warm analogue sound, and long jazz solos that pepper many of the cues.
The score, however, is very repetitive. It's a nagging problem with Cipriani's seventies work, and one finds in many of those soundtracks that he'd generally craft a theme, and repeat it verbatim in efficient but polished variations that sometimes failed to capture the dramatic hits of a scene. His output during the seventies was substantive - westerns, crime thrillers, and gialli - and it's possible the disinterest in transcending the basic musical requirements of genre entries was due to his busy schedule, and the genre clichés that must have become painfully tiresome when films sometimes existed solely to showcase unique chases or death montages. (Check out a brief Cipriani-on-DVD retrospective at MFTM for an elaboration.)
The title theme uses a maniacal ostinato on harpsichord that was frequently applied to scenes of the car moving on the highway, carrying the kidnapped victims and their tormentors. Most of the movie takes place in the auto, and Bava wasn't afraid to show nasty behaviour in such a confined place. The 1999 version overused Cipriani's theme - whether it was applied according to Bava's notes isn't clear - but its dramatic power was unmistakable: the ostinato's cascading notes convey high tension; congas add resonance to the villain's power over a brutalized woman, father & son; and the melodic line is a stirring ode to human desperation.
Cipriani uses brass and woodwinds to carry the sad melody, and he creates a sense of powerlessness by forcing a wave of percussion during the theme's first statement - starkly outlining the seriousness of the drama, and his film potent score. (Unlike Bava's fetishistic thrillers, there's nothing cheeky or amusing in Dogs; it's a neo-realist crime thriller with raw, masculine contempt for anything innocent or respectful.)
After a brief melodic rest, Cipriani takes all of the strings, which have been discreetly supportive during the melodic sections, and has them play the middle third of the melody's second and more strained recapitulation. The change in colour augments the sense of desperation, and the high register strains the melody to a plaintive end until the brass reappear, and bring us back to a more secure place by concluding like a lullaby. Cipriani avoids a sappy conclusion, however, by maintaining his hard rhythm textures, and brining in an electric guitar to close the cue with crude, harsh shading.
The slow-paced "Rapina e fuga" basically focuses on the percussion parts, prominent fuzz guitar, and some marvelous syncopated rhythms on drums and high hat dominating the cue's first half.
Cipriani also includes idiomatic theme variations, and "Radio Bossa" replays the theme with a small ensemble of tenor sax, organ waves, and low-key percussion. "Autostrada" returns to the main title's faster pace, and it marks the fourth theme variation in a row - which would probably be a bad thing, except by this point, one can't stop humming the melody; the composer's allowance of jazz improvs, notably between sax and a distant-miked organ, also keeps things fresh.
The best cue, however, is the meaty "Fuga nel campo di grano." Top session musicians basically improvise alongside percussion textures and bass grooves, and there's lots of aggressive sax work, with congas rapping on the left side, and organ noodling with electric guitar on the right side. There are shades of prime Piero Piccioni in the cue, and it's a standout rendition of the main theme where Cipriani basically retains the bass line, but substitutes long swathes of improv in place of straight melodic quotations. One of the CD's two bonus cuts is a shorter alternate version, with a grittier sax performance, a more prominent electric guitar, and sudden tempo shifts.
The remaining tracks are more overt theme variations: "Ripresa del viaggio" is more intimate, with solo flute carefully rising above fuzz guitar and organ ostinato; "Fine di un incubo" emphasizes tenderness via brushes on drums, acoustic guitar, harp, electric bass, and a reintegration of strings; and "Cani arrabbiati," which basically repeats the main title's orchestrations.
The most intriguing music in this set comes from Gli orrori del castello di norimberga / Baron Blood, a score that was dumped from the American release and replaced by Les Baxter's dissonant orchestral score, but reinstated when the film was issued on DVD in 1999. On the one hand, the rescoring was an insult to Cipriani's efforts, but his music was at times jarring with the expected tone of Bava's film.
Why write such a ditsy title track for a horror film? Why would Cipriani use happy vocals and an in-your-face ebullience? Was Bava mocking viewers that expected an immediate murder? Or was he following the same idiosyncratic approach, as in prior works like Five Dolls for an August Moon, where he starts the film on a level of giddy innocence, and slowly descends to moments of fear, dread, and torment? Was Cipriani following the aforementioned pattern himself by starting with an idiotically uplifting tune before the score quickly tumbles into impressionistic underscore lacking any catchy melodies or grooves?
The big surprise in these cues is how effective Cipriani could be when the film's design mandated atmosphere in place of theme variations. The "Sadico omicidio" ends soothingly, but the bulk of the cue contains rippling percussion, and woodwinds mimicking gaseous clouds of unsettling tonalities.
There is a re-use of prior material: "Inseguita" borrows the ostinato from Bay of Blood's chase cues, but after two seoarate pauses, the final third re-emphasizes the bass clarinet, and oddly evokes the electronic sounds crafted by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson for The Legend of Hell House (1973), where the composers focused on percussion textures and woodwinds.
Unlike the other Bava films represented in this set, Baron Blood contained some very long sequences that required dramatic score, and Cipriani's approach was a mix of opposing elements: in the 6-minute "Magia Negra," a sleek and steady bass groove and rippling bongos are contrasted with distorted electric guitar, which itself becomes involved in an exotic dance with clarinet, and waves of sustained organ chords.
The CD also includes an 11-minute suite of dramatic cues for the concluding scenes, which reintegrate a few melodic bits heard earlier on bass clarinet. There's some strange metallic effects and recombined suspense motifs which Cipriani uses to bring together all the score's instrumental elements and colours.
The heavy atmosphere of the score is broken up by solo celesta in the sweet "La bambina e il castello," and lilting harpsichord and strings in the pretty "Eva e Peter (Tema d'amore)," which also brings back female vocals; both are very tender compositions, and are quite atypical among the heavy material in this 2-disc set. (The vocals also reappear for the end credit music, and in a bonus version of the title cue, minus piano.)
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