Saturday, November 23, 2013

SOUND OF HORROR: IT'S ALIVE

(This review originally appeared in The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope magazine.) 

IT’S ALIVE Music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. 24 tracks, 49-mins, Film Score Monthly Vol. 15, No. 2 $19.95



Warner Bros., anticipating a horror trend on the heals of its The Exorcist (1973) rollout, took a hands-off approach with young director Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974) which he also wrote and produced. Composer Bernard Herrmann’s (1911-1975) New York meeting with The Exorcist’s director, William Friedkin, went very poorly and Cohen became its beneficiary. He gave Herrmann complete control over the score; even promising him a title sequence that ran precisely 90-seconds when the composer requested that timing for the music he had in mind. The score was recorded in England utilizing a small orchestra of 34 pieces, an odd amalgam of instruments that included harps, trombones, an electric bass guitar, percussion and Moog synthesizer. And as only Herrmann could, the resulting music weaved, worried and walloped its way throughout Cohen’s modest shocker. Even those who are slightly familiar with his music will need only hear three or four notes to immediately recognize Herrmann. One of the minor drawbacks of movie composer familiarity is the mildly distracting mental referencing of bits, passages and orchestrations from previous works. Since It’s Alive was one of Herrmann’s last assignments it understandably contains countless stylistic references to a lifetime of film compositions. What is prevalent here, though, is the lack of any melodic treatments. The composer relies on a series of tight fragments, cinching and relaxing the tension that sometimes releases into a horrific blast. The gentler moments, too, are troubled with knarly Moog twists warning that there is something terribly wrong with the Davis’ baby. The aforementioned main title acts as an overture for the atonal direction, a musical foreboding of darkness and false light. According to Cohen, he filmed the main title visual (its content unknown to Herrmann) in his basement. It’s an overprinting of searching and gyrating flashlights amid a dark expanse. The music accompaniment is so perfectly suited it’s difficult to believe the two were independently created. The director would repurpose the music for his sequel, It Lives Again (1978), with Herrmann’s friend Laurie Johnson adapting and augmenting. The CD is a premiere release and was mastered from ¼” monaural session tapes housed at Warner Bros. as no stereo sources are known to exist. Its ample 16-page booklet is highlighted by a treatise on both film and score by Jeff Bond and Frank K. DeWald.

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