Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In-A-Bava-Da-Vida

The third volume of Digitmovies' "Mario Bava Original Soundtracks Anthology" is now in stock here at VIDEO WATCHDOG: it's a two-disc offering of the original Stelvio Cipriani soundtracks for the films known here in America as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (or BAY OF BLOOD), BARON BLOOD, and RABID DOGS (or KIDNAPPED). With the exception of a TWITCH cue called "Evelyn Theme," which was released in Italy as the A-side of an extremely rare 45rpm single, none of this music has ever been commercially available before. While the two previous Bava soundtrack anthologies included some material in mono, every track on both CDs in this set are presented in brilliant stereo.

I had the pleasure of listening to the discs yesterday while working on the Bava book. There are cues here from all three movies that will cause that soundtrack lover's idiot smile to spread across your face, as it did mine. At the risk of being redundant, this is the first time a complete album's worth of music from TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE -- arguably the greatest drive-in movie of the 1970s -- has ever been released, and the first time Cipriani's score has ever been heard in stereo... and that includes the la-la-la-la song heard at the end of the movie as the kids run down to the bay after shotgunning their treacherous parents. (It turns out it's called "Teenagers Cha-Cha-Cha" and this disc gives you two different performances of it.) Another case is the opening airliner footage of BARON BLOOD; it sounds kind of inappropriate in the movie, at least as far as setting an ominous mood is concerned, but presented in stereo and finally heard on its own terms, it's a terrific lounge track. With harpsichord in the foreground, the ostinato score of RABID DOGS reminds me of Edwin Astley's music for Patrick McGoohan's DANGER MAN series, only darker and more urgent.

TWITCH (or ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO) is one of the most suspenseful and tension-inducing scores ever composed for Bava, and it covers a wide range of musical ground, from new classical and samba to sprightly pop and a heavier, tribal rock instrumental that sounds very much like it was written around a temp track of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." The presence of a track called "Evelyn Theme" on this soundtrack is mystifying because there is no character named Evelyn in the movie, and the track in question was used by Bava to underscore the last moments of the wheelchair-bound Countess's life. It makes one wonder if Cipriani may have composed and copyrighted this track in the expectation it would be used instead in Emilio Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, which was made around the same time? (EVELYN was eventually released with a library music score by Bruno Nicolai, recycling his cues from EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and other pictures, so it's possible the film ran out of money and couldn't afford original music.) This peripheral mystery aside, the TWITCH disc is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be -- melodious, savage, sensuous. An instant classic -- be sure to look for a shot from the film's unforgettable "coitus interruptus" moment hidden in the casing under Disc 2.

The real surprise is Cipriani's music for BARON BLOOD, which, taken separately from Bava's images, is something of a revelation. In the case of all three scores, being able to hear them in stereo for the first time decompresses them greatly, giving one a better appreciation for their instrumentation and their qualities as stand-alone music. This is especially true of BARON BLOOD, which is very densely orchestrated and full of subtle effect that can only be appreciated when spread across a proper stereophonic field.

I know what you're going to say, and I agree with you: the Les Baxter rescoring of the film, for its AIP release, is the superior accompaniment. But if you compare the two scores as stand-alone listening experiences, I think you'll agree that the Cipriani score wins out. Cipriani's score is too unfocused to support the film's bold imagery -- but it's nevertheless a sensuously textured, atmospheric piece of work, full of slithering smoke and incantation and charred bone; it's lounge music in funereal garb. In a sense, it's exactly what the film called for in terms of color, but it was perhaps too refined for its own good. Some tracks, like "Inseguita" (which accompanies Elke Sommer's first sighting of Otto Von Kleist and the ensuing HOUSE OF WAX-type chase through the night streets), could easily fit into TWITCH with its percussive piano and tribal percussion, and others could almost pass for outtakes from Pink Floyd's MEDDLE album. Large chunks of the score have a surprising progressive rock flavor that occasionally edges into the outer frontiers of Krautrock and space rock, although never completely leaving the orchestral milieu. It's the sort of album that works well as a background to work, but even better as a focus point, with all the lights turned off -- the better to fall under its weird and hazy spell.

The discs are packaged with a nifty 12-page color booklet containing liner notes by Digitmovies producer Claudio Fuiano and also by me, along with lots of rare photos from all three films. You can find more details by clicking here; the link will take you to the CD/DVD page on our website. Copies of the first two volumes are also in stock, but all three are in limited quantity.

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