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CD: She Demons (1958) / Astounding She-Monster, The (1957)
Review Rating:   Excellent  
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April 10, 2013

Tracks / Album Length:

53 tracks  / (57:29)



Nicholas Carras, Guenther Kauer


Special Notes:

20-page colour booklet with liner notes by David Schecter.

Comments :    

MMM’s couplet themed around female invaders / demons shines the spotlight on two forgotten composers whose work in film was rather sporadic.

Nicholas Carras’ time may span a good twenty years, but his roughly 25 credits are tied to low budget exploitation fodder, often directed by less than stellar filmmakers, but if She Demons (1958) is any indication of his talent, he as more than well-versed in exploiting the intimacies and bluster of an orchestra, writing tight themes and knowing when to move from agitated strings to all-out bombast.

She Demons has a jazzy underbelly – the title theme is a crazy mash-up of jazz, and exotic percussion – and there are a few moments when the title track sounds like some long-lost Elmer Bernstein work because of the harmonics and some of the brass writing, but the entire score is a real treat for B-movie fans wanting a skilled, all-orchestral work with a strong central theme and many moody variations. Carras splinters this theme into many small guises, adding some swaggering brass, sustained chords, or grinding double bass notes which make She Demons unusually rich (and likely gave the film a sheen it perhaps didn’t deserve).

The strongest sections are the most restrained, especially “Nazis in Pursuit,” where Carras repeats his collage of agitated strings and colours the cues shifting tension by effortlessly gliding between woodwinds and strings. It’s a beautifully orchestrated cue, and while most tracks average around a (1:30), with some running significantly less, the score has a tight flow – perhaps the clearest example of how Carras organized his material into a lean work which, when placed n chronological order, moves like a taut suite. Avoiding repetitions, redundancies, and clichés, She Demons is shockingly classy.

Guenther Kauer’s The Astounding She-Monster (1957) is a mash-up of classical (Stravinsky, Debussy) and maybe a little contemporary (Bernard Herrmann, Leith Stevens), but it’s also a weird, free-floating mass of eerie and suspense-building passages interrupted by a flatulating 4-note ‘uh-oh’ motif for what remains one of the most ineptly made films among a large pot of 1950s Grade Z schlock.

Director Ronald V. Ashcroft’s background was in sound and picture editing, and while he may have had the skill to assemble material into a coherent form, She-Monster is a mess that moves from gangster drama to sci-fi in which humans trapped in an isolated cabin are periodically teased by a she-monster (a busty woman in a zippered Lycra suit).

With little story or money to flesh scenes into something even visually arresting, Ashcroft has most of his cast wandering in and out of the cabin, wandering back and forth through the hills, and once in a while brings his she-monster, gangsters, and hostages to closer proximities before bungling what should’ve been a straight conflicts. The most memorable aspect of She-Monster – besides the visible zipper of the monster’s silvery suit – is Guenther Kauer’s uh-oh motif, which is heavily used throughout the score, either because Kauer knew the exceptionally dull film needed some goosing, or as David Schecter writes in the album’s liner notes, Ashcroft had so badly hacked up the cues that what remained tended to be a lot of ‘uh-oh’ cues tracked over all those preposterous wandering scenes.

Kauer’s score was recorded in Germany and sounds sharp in mono, but it was never properly synced to picture because of Ashcroft’s edits, so MMM’s disc offers fans of the film to really hear the composer’s intentions, or rather how he intended to save a dull picture from anesthetizing its audiences into deep comas.

Kauer’s approach is to feature plenty of swirling motifs (“Walk to the Cabin” has a wonderful opening set of bars before it decelerates to a pensive variant with lovely woodwinds, and like Herrmann’s North by Northwest (1959), the use of a fandango (“Brad Goes Outside”) is highly effective in creating an unstoppable momentum. His uh-oh motif does get weary towards the end, apparently being both the film’s ‘danger’ and ‘busty alien approaching’ alerts, but its inclusion in “She’s Back!” is especially humorous because the cue is such a mash-up of material that borrows from Stravinky’s Rite of Spring and interpolates the ‘Ringle-Rangle’ melody which Jerry Goldsmith used just as potently in Legend (1983).

Both film’s may live on due to their own merits as classics of cinema fromage, but this lovingly crafted release is a testament to skills of two men whose film and TV careers mandated using their wits to support the banal, the clichéd, and the utterly ridiculous and give them some class.

Carras’ other score, Missile to the Moon (1958), is also available from MMM.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan



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