There's been so many fantastic score releases lately that it has been impossible to keep up with them all. From unexpected Holy Grails like Wolfen, Gremlins and Rapture, to awesome Silver Age classics like 55 Days At Peking and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and from cult gems such as Humanoids From The Deep, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula and The Core to inspiring new film scores like Marco Beltrami's The Thing, John Williams' War Horse and Howard Shore's Hugo, fans of film-music have been glutted with a rich and overflowing banquet upon which to feast. Naturally, I would love the time to be able to wax lyrical about all of these outstanding discs, but, alas, that is a commodity I do not have in abundance. So, to at least attempt to cover as many as possible, I am going to speed-through a couple of titles and lavish more attention on others when and where I can.
So, here's a reasonably quick bite for now …
Courtesy of Intrada comes one of the most-requested horror titles from the decade of excess … Brad Fiedel's seductive and nerve-shredding score for the original vamp-next-door thriller, Fright Night from 1985.
Fiedel had scored big for James Cameron when he produced the momentous and decidedly metallic SF/adventure The Terminator. His main theme for Arnie's blockbuster became iconic and his exciting thematic work certainly put him on the map. When ambitious writer/director Tom Holland approached him to score his 80's hybrid horror-comedy Fright Night, the composer had not scored anything in the chiller genre before. His ideas came thick and fast, however … and he sought, as many composers of the time did, the relative safety-cum-exploration of the synthesiser to help him to formulate his creature-feature themes and to effect a dense and atmospheric sound texture with which to smother the prosthetics-filled vampire-flick. By this time, synth-laced music was everywhere from pop to movies. Arthur B. Rubinstein used it for John Badham's Wargames, John Carpenter just couldn't put it down, Alan Silvestri was all over it for The Delta Force, Craig Safan utilised it liberally for Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous and Jerry Goldsmith was clearly infatuated with it, as Runaway (which was entirely electronic), Explorers, Gremlins, Legend and Extreme Prejudice so exultantly show. Fiedel had made extensive use of its heavy, crushing timbres for Cameron's killer-cyborg epic, as he would again in the never-ending sequel, T2, but he would thread traditional orchestral music through the silky layers of electronica for Fright Night in a conscious attempt to help Holland succeed in meshing old school terror tactics and gothic trappings with the hip, movie-savvy attitude that teen-movies were so stuffed with at the time. Thus his score sounds both of its time, and yet somehow strangely timeless, as well.
As was customary during the decade, the studio put out an album that was comprised mainly of the songs that featured in the film – Devo's Let's Talk, Sparks' Armies Of The Night, Evelyn King's Give It Up and naturally the titular Fright Night from the J. Giels Band - but Fiedel's complete score has never been officially available until now. The resulting CD, which includes only the music that Fiedel wrote, sounds amazing considering the varying quality of the source elements that have gone into the album's restoration. From Sony, Intrada located a single ¼ inch 15 ips two-track scoring session running for just over fifteen minutes. Further detective work secured a DAT transfer of the ¼ inch 7 ½ ips two-track stereo safeties of the remaining cues. All were in stereo. Album producer Douglass Fake informs us that since the fifteen-minute master reel was of superior quality it was decided to present this portion as a separate “suite” with which to start the album presentation, rather than mixing the cues in with the rest of the score. Furthermore, it became apparent that varying levels in both the master sessions and the DAT safeties were created in the film's post-production phase to accommodate dialogue and effects. Listeners will almost certainly notice such changes, but this is not detrimental to what is, above all else, an evocative and exciting aural experience. The film also carried a number of edits and repeat cues. This disc makes no attempt to replicate such chopping and changing.
The film tells the story of horror-obsessed teenager Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his nerdy chum, Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) and their twisted conflict with the uber-smooth vampire who has moved in next door to Charlie. As the victims pile up and the vamp, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), begins to put the moves on Charlie's girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), he realises that he is going to need something akin to professional help to rid himself of the fanged pest. So … he turns to the great Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer. Vincent (Roddy McDowell) is merely a TV host and the jaded star of corny old fright flicks. He only carries props and he has all the confidence of the Cowardly Lion. So, as a mocking Jerry quite glibly says to his amateur hunters, “Welcome to Fright Night … for real.”
Bloodsuckers, werewolves and massive, shark-mouthed vampire vixens jostle for scream-time and the film was a great success, aided immeasurably by Brad Fiedel's cavalier, boundary-pushing score.
The opening suite runs for 15.25 minutes and is, broadly speaking, a sly and provocative showcase for the score's more eloquent and sensuously macabre passages, as well as its more wildly discordant and unpredictable elements of creepy suspense and monstrous confrontations. Strings slide and squeal. Harsh keyboard notes are hammered as though they are stakes pounded into chests. Silky, fog-enshrouded tonal layers descend and blanket you with icy chills, and jangling electric percussion sizzles and unnerves. Cymbals clash and shimmer with sampled augmentation. The cumulative effect is ghostly, strange and eminently dangerous. All of the individual cues that you hear in this suite appear in their appropriate chronological track order later in the score presentation, but this is a dynamic and awesome way to embrace the score without rhyme or reason.
I'm amazed to learn that the sinuously raunchy and spine-tingling guitar riff that serenades Jerry and his conquests – a slice of pure Rock God excess – is actually performed on an electric violin, and not a guitar at all. Heard in Window Watching and especially in Come To Me, which is the big seduction scene when Jerry puts the bite on Amy, this is wildly erotic stuff performed by Ross Levinson that moves with a slow pelvic vigour, insistent and irresistible. Originally, Fiedel wrote lyrics for this steady, rhythmic ballad of the night, but Tom Holland stripped them out. However, at the end of this album presentation, you can hear this song version, imploring remorselessly with some admittedly poor vocals from some mysterious male singer (Fiedel, perhaps?) which sound mushed and smothered in the mix. It's still great to hear this version though, as it provides a weird humanity to Jerry's eternal plight.
The electric violin, at times, also sounds like a banshee-wailing, or even like a satanic take on Michael Kamen's theme for Mad Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon, which was proving to be highly influential right around then. Electric cello also makes an impact, with bloodthirsty chords sliced deep and wide like slit throats. Although many films were being scored with predominantly electronic instruments at this time, Fiedel really went to town with an eclectic mix, and seemingly threw them all together with a demonic frenzy against tortured traditional symphonics to create a carousel of musical chaos. It is difficult to tell when the conventional orchestral elements have been assimilated and reproduced electronically … but it is not hard to imagine Fiedel sitting atop some dark mountain edifice like Fantasia's demon lord Chernabog, himself, and composing on the cloven-hoof at a fiery and diabolical bank of sizzling synths, his traditional players writhing in torment down in the Pit below.
Whilst much of this material is dark, insidious and broodingly original, there are lots of little references and homages injected into the score. Listen out for the cheeky little riff on James Bernard's urgent flaring woods and strings from a multitude of batty Hammer outings in Track 3, with the appropriately titled cue, Bat Attack. This plays over the broadcast of one of Peter Vincent's old school, low-rent horror flicks and is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. The cue has even been mixed so that it sounds as though it is emanating from the TV. And then, in amidst the blood-pounding menace of The Basement you can hear phrases that sound eerily akin to Bernard Herrmann's score for The Day The Earth Stood Still – SF-tinged synth droning and heavy piano notes drifting through nervous Theremin-like textures. This combination of piano and dense, agitated synth tones is also reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein's super-charged score for Saturn 3. Discordant, anguished notes from the keyboard that frantically climb in terror were a catalyst in Charles Bernstein's awesome score for the previous year's A Nightmare On Elm Street, though Fiedel does do a lot more impressionistic work with the ivories here. The wobbling percussion of the waterphone recalls Ron Grainer's magnificent score for The Omega Man, which also liked to play about with pseudo-theological themes and to subvert them with darkness and evil.
This is shape-shifting music in more ways than one. As Jerry stalks Ed and changes from man to bat to fog, Fiedel is embracing the ripe and histrionic past of the genre and, together with synths, blending its primal potency with the modern gusto of hip electronica. Elsewhere, you recoil from the exaggerated pummelling of the piano keys. This is very similar to the over-the-top dramatics of music scored alongside the silent movies, as well as a doffing of the cap to the days of Bela Lugosi, in which concert pianists would be employed to provide ominous signatures for the Count. A cathedral organ is crushed and sampled, and waterphone employed to give a sense of echo and reverb in the first parts of Tracks 5 and 8, and the effect is heavy, doom-laden and supremely powerful. Listen for the wind-rush of a sampled choir mingled-in with the dark and ominous, semi-religious tones. Although grave-sounding, this is actually done with a tongue firmly wedged in Fiedel's cheek.
But, without a doubt, the most power and terror is conjured in the deeply demented triple-threat of Tracks 7, 8 and 9. With Charlie and Peter doing battle with a lycanthropic Evil Ed and then with Jerry's loyal human foil, Billy (Jonathan Stark), and then indulging in a violent, house-wrecking free-for-all with Jerry and a vampirised Amy, Fiedel unleashes all the demons he has at his command in a traumatic whirling tempest of blood and fury. Holland's film was a cavalcade of makeup FX, very much in the same vein as Evil Dead II, Re-Animator and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and the music had to be as avant-garde as the visuals, as heightened and dramatic as the fearsome creatures on the rampage.
The long drawn-out death-throes of Ed's contorted wolf-boy are accompanied by sustained trauma from the electic violins, droning, agonised synths and exotic, supernatural percussion in Your Dinner's In The Oven. For the thunderous climax, Fiedel actually improvised to the film's extravagant set-piece flourishes, and then layered-in synth elements, unearthly samples and that hell-struck piano to envelope the craziness all the more. The piano is, in fact, the one constant in an ever-squalling maelstrom. Listen out for the insane whale-song effect that flares up in-amidst the bedlam, reminiscent of how Leonard Rosenman caught the same synth-embellished sound for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home the following year. The whole melange of mysterioso and heart-stopping clamour is profoundly unusual and frighteningly kinetic. Clashing synth drums smash against the rocks of shrill angular tones carved out of epic despair, the electric violins and cellos moaning in gothic lament for the final vanquishing of Jerry Dandridge. You've been lost in a land of the musical Grand Guignol, lost without a map … and with only the maniacal Brad Fiedel to lead the way.
This is an exceptionally busy score. Fiedel crams in as much unusual percussion, bizarre synths and orchestral samples as he can, and the result is a detailed, atmospheric and altogether exciting cacophony of weirdness. Discord and dissonance form the backbone of a freight-train of atonal assault. You'd think that much of this would be uncomfortable to listen to, but it makes for a ride that turns out to be a wacky, gothic funk-fest of non-stop experimentation and musical invention. For me, Brad Fiedel hasn't really offered too much else to celebrate. His music has a distinctively angular and metallic voice, which naturally worked for The Terminator, T2 and True Lies, but I've found his more traditional orchestral scores, such as The Accused and Striking Distance to be rather unsatisfying and forgettable. Fright Night, however, is a magical blend of effects, stingers, cool themes and alarmingly nightmarish soundscape sculpting. It is evocative and hypnotic and full of odd, intriguing tones and textures. With Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter crafting full-on synth scores that captured the mood of a movie, rather than the on-screen action, it is fun to hear how Fiedel deliberately “mickey-moused” his music, merrily aping the battle between Charlie Brewster and Peter Vincent and their undead nemesis, Jerry Dandridge, and giving expression to every bit of danger they encounter.
Intrada's terrific release comes with a lavish, beautifully illustrated 20-page booklet of notes boasting tech talk about the album production from Douglass Fake and recollections from Brad Fiedel, himself. And, man, look at that gorgeous cover artwork! That was surely one of the best posters of the 80's and hats off to Intrada for reproducing it here.
This release comes highly recommended.
Full Track Listing
Fright Night 15.25
Window Watching 1.57
Jerry Takes Off 1.45
Drive To Evil and Bat Attack 2.07
Charlie's Cathedral, Charmed and Alley Bat 5.29
Evil Visitor 1.44
Charlie Begs For Help and Come To Me (Seduction Scene) 4.38
Vampire Killers and Your Dinner's In The Oven 9.44
Jerry's Time Is Up 7.28
The Basement 5.21
You're So Cool Brewster and Come To Me 5.44
Total Time 61.39
* From the 1/4” 15 ips Stereo mixes
** From the ¼” 7 ½ ips Stereo mixes
Fright Night was one the 80's most imaginative and entertaining FX showcases. It spawned an agreeable sequel, also scored by Brad Fiedel, and now has a surprisingly good remake tagging-along, as well. One of its most effective elements was the seductive score from Fiedel. Intrada have stalked the crypts and the catacombs and unearthed his exuberant and highly stylish soundtrack from its cobwebbed tomb. Quirky horrors mingle with a mood of bloody decadence, the providence and arrogance of the old Count marvellously relocated into the undead yuppie from Hell, Jerry Dandridge, by virtue of the gothic piano that claws all the way across the ages. Fiedel knows the story is played half for laughs, but he keeps the thumbscrews turning and the nerves suitably frayed with wild discord, mischievous riffs on traditional tropes and a sensual aspect that is, at once, in tune with the era and yet just as erotically charged and grindingly potent today.
The opening suite is a gorgeous run-through of the macabre melodies and atonal structure of the score, and is a veritable tour de force in its own right, but couple this with the rest of his searing, blood-hungry composition and you have the definitive Fright Night musicola. So sit back in a darkened room and crank up the volume … but don't, whatever you do, open the door to the neighbour when he comes round to complain about the noise!
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