Lost Scores in Genre Films
It took an awfully long time but it’s fair to say that composers for film scores are now given the same respect as their equivalents in the classical world, with several breaking out into becoming something approaching a brand. But many battles have been fought and lost along the way – many were poorly paid; others given preposterous time and resource constraints; some asked to sell their souls and write music in a form entirely at odds with their usual style. And then there were those whose hard work was tossed aside altogether. The history of lost scores and international alternatives goes back further than you may think – and shows no signs of stopping.
‘King Kong’ is widely credited as being the first sound film to have a completely original score composed for it (as opposed to non-diegetic effects or existing pieces of work). Max Steiner‘s work on the film still works brilliantly, with the tribal elements on the island giving way to portentous build-ups and epic crescendos. It was no throwaway gesture to feature an original score – director Merian C. Cooper had to fight with RKO to deliver his vision for the film throughout, from tonality to effects and the request for extra money to employ a 46-piece orchestra was considered an unnecessary extravagance.
One of the factors which allowed Cooper to win the argument was that the budget was in some respects paying for two films. By day, the set (and some of the actors) would be used to film ‘King Kong’, but by night, it would be used to create another film he was directing in tandem – ‘The Most Dangerous Game’. With Steiner, who was RKO’s in-house composer, desperate to be the first to score a full-length Hollywood production, taking a pay cut, there was enough budget to employ a second composer for ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, a job duly given to W. Franke Harling. Englishman Harling was well-thought-of and already successful, with his work playing across Broadway as well as being a noted composer of classical and choral works. He had already composed pieces for film and was considered a safe pair of hands. ‘A safe pair of hands’ is a recurrent theme in the world of lost film scores.
What Harling wrote was, by all accounts, perfectly fine…but turned ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ from a tense, claustrophobic, horrific film into a romantic melodrama. Cooper was having none of it and Steiner’s score for ‘Kong’ is largely repurposed for the film, though the baddie, Count Zaroff, is given his own recurring theme. Ironically, the premiere of ‘King Kong’ was delayed, meaning ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ was the first film to hit cinema screens, giving Steiner a one-two in the leaderboard for the first dedicated scores for sound motion pictures. Don’t feel too bad for Harling – he won the Oscar for the score to ‘Stagecoach’ in 1939.
Over the years, many scores have been replaced by alternatives or scrapped completely, sometimes for political studio reasons, though often to tailor the film to different international markets. AIP was the market leader in this respect, with an in-house composer ready to adapt a film’s score to fit into an American market, lest the European score prove too much for uncultured ears. The go-to composer was Les Baxter, famed as one of the leading lights of the exotica movement but also a prolific and reliable scorer of films. Genre films – whether they be pepla, horror, gialli or fantasy – were often the cause for headaches in terms of their music, as audiences were culturally attuned to quite different sounds evoking particular feelings or emotions. It’s difficult (and unhelpful) to broadly state the differences, but it could certainly be said that Italian composers were more forthright and experimental in their work, often dragging audiences unfamiliar with their techniques out of their comfort zone.
Baxter had already re-recorded the scores of some of the pepla films AIP had released in the late 1950s. Of note was his alternative score to 1959’s ‘Goliath and the Barbarians’, considered by the studio to be the blueprint all Swords and Sandal films should follow – ironically, the original score was by Carlo Innocenzi, similarly acclaimed in Italy as a mark of quality on a peplum film. Other giants of the genre such as Angelo Francesco Lavagnino suffered the same indignity. It was a slightly different situation with 1960’s ‘Black Sunday’, one of Baxter’s most famous alternate scores. Here, the film itself had been reworked considerably for the American market, with some footage considered too graphic or suggestive. In such a case, an alternative score seems understandable, with the viewings offering a quite different experience. Though different, there’s oddly not much to choose between Baxter’s score and the original by Roberto Nicolosi, with the latter’s, if anything, being slightly more restrained. This kind of behaviour did little to elevate European composers out of the murk of being considered ‘lesser musicians’ than those playing concert halls and it’s difficult not to see AIP’s dismissal of them as anything other than xenophobia.
It goes without saying that it wasn’t just throwaway exploitation films which were fraught with musical tug-of-war contests. Famously, Alfred Hitchcock dispensed with his long-term muse, Bernard Herrmann on ‘Torn Curtain’ (1966), pointing the finger at him for his old-fashioned style and demanding he look at what contemporary composers like John Barry were doing, introducing pop and jazz to their palette. Herrmann was not so much unwilling as unable to change his style and was ushered out of the door in favour of John Addison, who had won the Oscar for ‘Tom Jones’ three years previously. Another giant of film composition saw his work rejected in 1968 when Alex North, famed for scores such as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Cleopatra’, Stanley Kubrick preferring instead to use existing classical pieces for his film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Rejection like this is not something composers accept easily, and like Herrmann, North was enormously hurt by this. In Kubrick’s defence, North was somewhat foisted upon him by a studio investing a huge amount of money into the film and feeling that this should be reflected by a composer of such renown, though this is of little comfort to the artist. The score was rescued after North’s death and was eventually released on CD – it’s an exceptional piece of work and is highly recommended.
Things became even more complicated when European productions employed major US and British actors, such as 1968’s ‘Barbarella’, starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law and David Hemmings. Dino De Laurentiis‘ typically outlandish production demanded an equally dazzling score, though the choice of composer was a surprise to the studio. Michel Magne was chosen by director Roger Vadim to supply the music, the acclaimed Frenchman having previously composed the themes for films such as 1962’s ‘Gigot’ and 1964’s ‘Fantômas and having worked together three times before. Vadim was confident that Magne could supply something mould-breaking in terms of a score and encouraged him to be as wild and experimental as possible – ‘Barbarella’ was both stylishly futuristic and completely in-tune with popular culture and, like the James Bond films, this was an opportunity to create something of a cultural milestone.
Magne fluffed his lines quite badly. The score, which was rescued by his widow many years later, is really quite pedestrian, the main theme being a stodgy, Bach-like fugue. There are some cues which are edgy and cool – ‘Plainte de Prisonniers‘ features some eerie, ghastly moaning and ‘L’Envol du Vaisseau‘ has some discordant, spidery strings and honking horns but it’s very angry and cold – perfect for an entirely different film! The pop element Vadim requested comes in the form of ‘Barbarella’s Theme’, sung by Jackie Lee who was hot on the heels of her hit single, ‘White Horses’ the much-loved TV theme, though she would later work with Norman J. Warren on ‘Loving Feeling’ in 1969 and 1970’s ‘Goodbye Gemini’ by Alan Gibson. Lee’s theme is very coquettish but a bit too laid back for such a technicolour spectacle. The studio wasn’t the least impressed, De Laurentiis never one to hold back. Instead, in came Charles Fox – an expert in light-weight sunshine pop (the theme to ‘Love Boat’ is his) – and Bob Crewe who had co-written many of The Four Seasons‘ biggest hits and would later write ‘Killing Me Softly With his Song’ for Roberta Flack and ‘Lady Marmalade’ for Labelle. The soundtrack, though fun, still feels like something of a missed opportunity.
Meanwhile, AIP was still making composers’ lives a misery, with ‘Cry of the Banshee’ (1970) the latest culprit. This time it wasn’t even Italian composers the studio took exception to but British, specifically Wilfred Josephs, who had the misfortune to be given several films to score for throughout his career that would make few ripples in the wider world – ‘Fanatic’ (1965); ‘Killer Bees’ (1966), and ‘Dark Places’ (1973) were his, though he at least got the provide the music for the BBC’s blockbusting series, ‘I, Claudius’. The idea was for Josephs to create a score befitting of the period piece, and it’s certainly chilling with roaming bassoons startled regularly by furious string crashes, giving way to a lush, ominous theme.
AIP, naturally, disliked it, and tore the film apart, removing Terry Gilliams’ animated opening, Josephs’ score and some of the more ‘titillating’ scenes. No prizes for guessing who took Joseph’s place. Baxter’s name must have been like a dagger to the heart of dozens of European composers, chosen ahead of those who had been working with the film’s director from the very beginning and often delivering an alternative score which really offered little more than had originally been presented. In fact, ‘Cry of the Banshee’ might be Baxter’s best film work, confident, concise and with some really neat percussion, brilliant electronic keyboard work and tonal shifts to create tension. Recent reissues of the film give an opportunity to hear (and see) both versions.
When the major studios were involved, the issues could often escalate into preposterous situations bordering on farce. Richard Fleischer‘s 1971 film, ‘See No Evil’ (‘Blind Panic’ in the UK) starred Mia Farrow in the lead role so it was no real surprise that her husband, André Previn was chosen to provide the score. Unusually, he utilised a synthesiser alongside the London Symphony Orchestra and by all accounts, the results were great, though little if anything, remains. Columbia demanded an alternative, though there were attempts to coax Previn back into the fold to re-score the film, but contract issues meant this proved impossible. Previn later went on to attack the film and its creators, though the line between truth and fiction with the composer was always somewhat blurred,
To replace Previn, the studio chose British composer David Whitaker, a trusted pair of hands as an orchestrator and arranger, with film credits including several Hammer titles, ‘Scream and Scream Again’ (1970) and later, ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer’ (1982). He’s probably best known now for arranging The Rolling Stones’ ‘Last Time’ track in 1966, later to be ‘borrowed’ by The Verve for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’. Whitaker’s score was progressively more jarring as the film progressed, reflecting the mental state of the characters in the film, and was, again, apparently, excellent. This time it was Columbia in America who rejected the work, their office in the UK being more than happy with it. It can only be bloody-mindedness which is responsible for this decision, an arm-folded harrumph that Americans were front and foremost in all aspects of the film. The third and final attempt fell to Elmer Bernstein, not the most subtle of composers but hugely successful (‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956); ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960); ‘The Great Escape’ (1963)). Though there are gentle, reflective moments, the main theme is an almost comically over-the-top bongo-heavy salvo which does little to set the viewer up for what they are about to watch.
If all this sounds like every instance was simply America versus the rest of the world, take heart that Asia too has been embroiled in similar antics. 1971’s ‘The Big Boss’ was the first feature-length film to feature Bruce Lee in the lead role, with Golden Harvest seizing the rights to produce the film from the Shaw Brothers’ offer was rejected. The film was seen as the vehicle to relaunch Lee’s career in the West and establish Hong Kong at the heart of the Asian film industry. It wasn’t unusual for martial arts films to have patchwork soundtracks, featuring both original compositions and library tracks (De Wolfe in particular lending its works to features), but ‘The Big Boss’ had a rather more complex arrangement.
Primary composer for the film was the astonishingly prolific Wang Fu-ling, a veteran Shaw Brothers’ collaborator whose credits include ‘The One-Armed Swordsman’ (1967); ‘The Chinese Boxer’ (1970) and ‘One-Armed Boxer’ (1972). Wang’s scores were all formulaic, designed to fit the action without distracting the viewer’s attention, something of a conveyer belt approach which is unsurprising given that over 30 films bearing his name were released in 1970 alone. His score for ‘The Big Boss’ proved more than satisfactory for the local market and even initial European releases but Golden Harvest quickly set about re-working the film to improve the slightly comical dubbing.
Perhaps to further distance themselves from generic Shaw Brothers releases and any other existing stereotypes in the West, they also decided a new score was in order – somewhat bizarrely, their choice was Peter Thomas, best known for his work on German television series and sex comedies. The results are great fun, the main theme a jaunty slightly-Asian-tinged spy number whose overt poppiness was far less challenging for traditionally attuned ears. Oddly, the film continued to credit Wang for the score, Thomas’ work only coming to light in the early 2000s. The studio hadn’t finished tinkering just yet and re-edited the film again for the Japanese market, bringing in Golden Harvest stalwart Joseph Koo ( ‘Game of Death’, 1978) and then combining the results with Thomas’ score. For good measure, musicologists have also suggested that some of Wang’s cues may have been ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere, with Akira Ifukube and Chen Yung-yu’s names being mentioned. Let’s not even get onto the fact the Cantonese version included unlicensed tracks from Pink Floyd and King Crimson on the soundtrack. Chaos!
The fear both composers and studios had that the contemporary music scene would impact on filmmaking was well-founded. Even before The Beatles and Elvis had brought together music and film successfully, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz had been used to soundtrack films in lieu of a standard, more orchestral approach. Franco Zeffirelli had already received an Oscar nomination for ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 1968, so there was much riding on his reputation when he set out to make ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ in 1972. With somewhat lofty ideas, Zeffirelli saw his film showing the life of St Francis of Assisi as an allegory for the 60s counter-culture movement and pinpointed The Beatles as the ideal band to both appear and score the film. Funnily enough, ‘they were busy’ and Zeffirelli temporarily shelved the idea and hired Riz Ortolani as composer. Ortolani is a straight-down-the-line composer, with lush string sections, strict orchestral set-ups and romantic themes, sometimes bordering on slightly too much to stomach.
Ortolani’s score to ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ delivered exactly what he was known for and, in fairness, fits the soppy on-screen action perfectly and had just enough religious overtones without descending into church music. However, it was decided this would, for contractual reasons, only remain as the soundtrack for the Italian release and Zeffirelli returned to his initial idea of hiring a pop performer to write songs which carried the film’s message to viewers even more keenly. Paul Simon declined outright; an intriguing Leonard Cohen and Leonard Bernstein collaboration was at least in the early stages of fruition before they too withdrew. Instead, Donovan, he of ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ fame, was drafted in and recorded a series of songs for the British release. To augment this, Ken Thorne (‘Help!’ (1965) and the following year’s ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’) would rework Donovan’s melodies into instrumental cues. Donovan managed to restrain himself from too much dayglo whimsy and the director at least was delighted with the results. Oddly, the score was never released, with Donovan eventually finding himself having to re-record his own compositions with the rights to the originals under lock and key in Italy.
Many film directors work with trusted composers across many of their films, regardless of their theme, simply as they have an instinctive understanding and trust that they understand one another. One could highlight Hitchcock and Herrmann (though that had now gone down the pan – funnily enough, in 1972, Hitch was busy sacking another notable composer, Henry Mancini, from ‘Frenzy’); David Cronenberg and Howard Shore; Luci Fulci and Fabio Frizzi. Less likely to spring immediately to mind is the union of Sam Peckinpah and Jerry Fielding, despite a decade of working together and some monster hits, in particular 1970’s ‘The Wild Bunch’.
The 1972 film ‘The Getaway’ was directed by Peckinpah but there was a significant fly landing in the ointment in the shape of the film’s star, Steve McQueen. Taking on much of the film’s pre-production and installing himself as judge, jury and executioner, he started the film by rejecting Jim Thompson‘s treatment of his own novel as too dark and then kept himself busy by starting an affair with co-star Ali McGraw. Meanwhile, an inevitably drunk Peckinpah turned to his friend Jerry for the necessary musical duties, one of the few people who was unlikely to incur his wrath. Fielding was almost angelic in terms of his willingness to appease the directors he worked with, happy to contribute just subtle touches where many others might insist on ensuring their personal stamp was clear for all to experience.
Both Peckinpah and Fielding saw ‘The Getaway’ as a fundamentally taught, suspenseful film, despite McQueen’s attempts to ratchet up the action (with himself at the heart of it, obviously). As such, Fielding’s score features a lot of space, allowing the viewer to build up their own sense of dream without layering it on with a trowel. McQueen wasn’t having any of it and asked Quincey Jones to re-score the film and to add some genuine excitement to the proceedings. The resulting jazz score changes the tone of the film completely and left the director furious. He’d be even more furious when he found out that McQueen had given himself the last word on the film’s final cut. The film was a big success at the box office, despite the fraught production and so-so reviews from the critics. Peckinpah vowed never to allow his choice of composer to be changed on another film and took out a full-page advert in Daily Variety to apologise to Fielding.
So many films have soundtracks that are so well matched, it’s almost impossible to imagine them in any other form, though 1973’s ‘The Exorcist’, still held by many to be the greatest horror film ever made, went through several incarnations before settling on its eventual score. Having recovered from the indignity of being sacked by Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann had returned with a bang, his score to Brian De Palma‘s ‘Sisters’ (1972) considered to be one of his best in years. With cascading strings, unearthly choral effects and dramatic percussion, it was chilling in its own right. Realising that Herrmann was back working (from what was essentially semi-retirement), director William Friedkin showed him early footage of his new film and asked if he would be interested in supplying the music.
From this point onwards, reports as to what happened are more than a little conflicting. With Herrmann at a stage in his career when he was fond of withering put-downs and was easily wound up and Friedkin notorious for blowing a gasket and throwing his toys out of the pram, it’s little surprise that the early signs weren’t too promising. Some reports suggest he was only working on the film begrudgingly anyway, not especially convinced by what he’d seen (although the next score he produced was for Larry Cohen‘s ‘It’s Alive’ so that rings a little hollow). Herrmann made some helpful suggestions to Friedkin in terms of the action, telling him to scrap the initial sequence in Iraq as it was “fucking boring”. Remarkably, Friedkin didn’t murder him on the spot.
Herrmann was insistent on recording in London, having grown fed up with issues around Californian musicians, and in particular wanted to record in St. Giles in the Field, a church in London he had a lot of affection for due to its acoustics and the availability of a pipe organ. Friedkin was amenable to this but made it very clear that he should stay well away from the organ, something he saw as being too overt for a film he wanted to creep up on people. As it transpired, the London recordings never happened – Friedkin was unwilling to let the score be produced without being there and leaving the American shooting location wasn’t an option. It was a good way of ending the relationship without lawyers being involved. He had no plan B and the situation was in danger of becoming a disaster. In the short term, his field editor, Jordan Leondopoulos, supplied existing avant-garde classical pieces as fill-ins, but Friedkin wanted a composer to bring everything together. The man he chose was Lalo Schifrin.
Shifrin was already very successful, with hits like ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967), ‘Bullitt’ (1968) and ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971) under his belt, not to mention the TV smash, ‘Mission: Impossible’. Shifrin came from a Latin and jazz background and Friedkin felt that his unorthodox approach was what his film needed – something angular, unexpected and subtly atonal. He set to work providing musical backing to the first trailer, an in-your-face nest of violin spiders and crashing crescendi – fairly close to the exact opposite of what Friedkin was looking for. Considered too overwhelming as a whole, the trailer wasn’t used. Once more seemingly keen to enrage Friedkin, Schifrin set about recording cues for some of the major set pieces, as well as themes for some of the characters, focusing particularly on Father Karras. He had an idea for a Latin verse played backwards that he was sure the director would be delighted with.
At Warner Brothers’ Studio in 1972, William Friedkin was the least delighted man in America. Faced with an enormous 100+ piece orchestra featuring five percussionists, singers and a harpist, Schifrin raised his baton and let fly. Pausing for a break, he asked for Friedkin’s opinion. Barely able to contain himself, Friedkin said it was too loud. Schifrin rewound the tape and lowered the volume slightly. Once again, Schifrin somehow escaped certain death. The director reiterated that he wanted the music to be cold, inhuman, lacking any emotional characteristics, and most of all, that it should be unobtrusive. Schifrin, who claimed it would have been helpful to have had this much direction in the first place, refused to replace what he considered one of his greatest pieces of work. He was fired.
To give a flavour of how much Friedkin despised the score, a story told by one of the editors, Bud Smith, tells of a crew member using one of Schifrin’s cues to play alongside one of the scenes during a playback session. Silently, Friedkin stood up, entered the sound booth and removed the tape reel. He walked outside and flung it across the car park, bellowing, “That’s where fucking marimba music belongs!” At this stage, Friedkin seriously considered leaving ‘The Exorcist’ completely unscored and spoke to sound advisor Ken Nordine about using conventional sound unconventionally instead. Nordine was an extraordinary man in his own right and had recorded a series of word jazz albums in the 1960s, his intestine-churning deep voice used like both the rhythm and bass elements of a band. Next, experimental composer David Borden was approached, as was Jack Nitzsche, famed for his work with Neil Young and The Beach Boys, but neither of these options quite worked across the entirety of the film. Ultimately, Friedkin returned to Leondopoulos’ temporary cues, echoing Kubrick’s decision on ‘2001’ to adopt a compilation approach.
Surviving the cut were Krzysztof Penderecki; Anton Webern; George Crumb; Hans Werner Henze and Harry Bee, alongside Borden and a snippet of Nitzsche…plus a little bit by Mike Oldfield. Two fun facts to conclude – in the 2000 re-edit of the film, there is a brief use of the exotica track, ‘Quiet Village’ by…yes, Les Baxter, a man who just can’t stay away. Friedkin reflected after the making of his follow-up film, ‘The Sorcerer’ (1977), that if he’d heard Tangerine Dream earlier, he would certainly have used them to score ‘The Exorcist. We can only wonder what could have been.
Returning to directors who are indelibly linked to composers, it would be amiss not to include Dario Argento and the band Goblin in this conversation. It was actually Ennio Morricone whom Argento had worked with most frequently up until 1975 when the director felt he wanted to move away from a conventional score into using a more bombastic, rock approach. Deep Purple was approached and apparently accepted the assignment to score his next film, ‘Profondo Rosso‘ (‘Deep Red’) but the studio wouldn’t allow it, insisting that the score had to be from an Italian source. This was easily solved, not by employing the ever-busy Morricone but by employing Giorgio Gaslini, the jazz pianist who had made huge strides into getting Italian jazz accepted by American audiences. Gaslini had previously scored Argento’s ‘The Five Days’ (1973) and two episodes of his TV series ‘Door into Darkness’ so this was far from a risky choice.
The music Gaslini produced was in keeping with his style – piano-led and effortlessly cool. For Argento, a little too cool. His vision for the film to assault both the eyes and years still demanded something more driving and visceral. Gaslini wasn’t happy at being told his own job and left, disappointing Argento as he certainly felt what had been recorded was of a high quality. The band chosen to replace him was Cherry Five, a four-piece prog band led by a virtuoso synth-player, the Brazilian-born Claudio Simonetti. They had been performing for two or three years and slowly gathering a loyal audience, though they had yet to have anything approaching a hit record. They had been signed by the Italian record label, Cinevox, which specialised in releasing soundtracks as a rule. The odd arrangement meant that the band were kept busy in any downtime by rearranging music written by others to be used in films, something which gave them a distinct advantage when Argento approached them.
At some point during the soundtrack’s recording, the band changed its name to Goblin. With an all too rare example of diplomacy, Argento requested that Gaslini’s main themes – ‘School at Night’ and ‘Gianna’ were left as Gaslini had performed them; ‘Wild Session’ and ‘Deep Shadows’ were Gaslini compositions performed by Goblin, whilst the main theme, ‘Death Dies and ‘Mad Puppet’ are Goblin originals. Dario Argento, the great compromiser. Gaslini didn’t quite manage to get his name on the front of the vinyl release of the soundtrack, but he was respectfully credited on the rear sleeve and liner notes. Argento’s decision proved a masterstroke and the album sold over one million copies, leading to joint collaborations up to 2001’s ‘Sleepless’.
So enamoured was Argento with Goblin that it led to three further instances of soundtrack-related clashes – two with the same director! George Romero‘s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) had been written at least partially in Rome, and he was working with Argento on the European release of the film. Part of the arrangement was that Argento would be allowed to use Goblin for the score, whilst Romero, as he often did, used library cues, most extensively from De Wolfe. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is perhaps the perfect example of how a soundtrack can change the mood of a film entirely. Goblin’s incredibly dramatic score, using electric guitars and synths echoes Italian action films of the time, competing for the audiences’ attention and smacking them around the chops for good measure. Romero’s library cues work perfectly, atmospheric, familiar yet alien. Both work – both deserve to be experienced. Fantastically, over the years, this had been made possible. George didn’t like Dario’s cut, nor was he especially fond of the music – with Argento similarly irked by the film’s original sprawling length and tone. Both won out for their respective territories but it certainly set the tone.
Richard Franklin‘s breakout Ozploitation classic, ‘Patrick’ was released in 1978, a disturbing, gripping film which very belatedly invited Australia to the film party. The composer was Brian May, the country’s pre-eminent – indeed, pretty much only – soundtrack composer. He produced a beautiful score, achingly delicate and by turn frenzied and taut. However, for the European release, there was an intervention by none other than Dino De Laurentiis. Having seen the success of Goblin score to ‘Deep Red’, he saw the familiar dollar signs in front of his eyes and was eager to use the band. In truth, there was little option but to have a replacement score of some kind as he had demanded significant cuts, meaning May’s work simply no longer fit. Whilst not a disaster, Goblin was left with an almost impossible proposition – provide a rock score for a film where the main threat was laying comatose in bed. It works brilliantly as a rock album but is a strange mismatch for the film.
Released a year prior to ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Martin’ saw Romero direct a haunting, introspective vampire film scored by New York-born jazz composer and musician, Donald Rubinstein. The score, which is now considered one of the greats in any horror film, is the perfect match for Romero’s vision – gentle and hopeful and then knotted and abstract as the titular character struggles with his identity. Argento, once again distributing the film in Italy, hated it. Goblin, naturally were drafted in to score his cut of the film, now called ‘Wampyr’. Using adapted tracks from the band’s albums ‘Roller’ and ‘Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark’, it doesn’t work at all – the band’s original piece, bubbles away like a mental kettle but loses any and all sense of the emotion and wonder of the film.
In 1980, you might think the days of low-budget exploitation film releases undergoing score changes had passed but it was still far from a rare event. Marino Girolami‘s ‘Zombi Holocaust‘ is, by any standards, a work of erratic quality. The Italian cut of the film was already a collection of stolen ideas (from the likes of the unquestionably superior ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ 1979) and enjoyable but gratuitous gore scenes but the demanded American cuts to the film, now retitled ‘Dr. Butcher M.D.’, introduced a whole new sense of carnage, with scenes ripped out and others implanted.
The film’s score was by one of Italy’s most reliable (here comes that phrase again) pair of hands, Nico Fidenco. Fidenco had started his career as a singer-songwriter, achieving several hit singles in his homeland before finding himself scoring films, in particular, Italian crime, Westerns and softcore erotica, most notably Joe D’Amato‘s incredibly successful Black Emanuelle series. It wasn’t unusual for Italian composers to reuse some of their most popular themes – Stelvio Cipriani‘s main theme for 1973’s ‘La Polizia Sta a Guardare‘ (The Great Kidnapping)’ turned up again in 1977’s ‘Tentacles’. Likewise, Fidenco re-purposed the love theme from ‘Emanuelle e Gli Ultimi Cannibali‘ (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 1977) for ‘Zombi Holocaust’.
Can a sultry ethereal love song work as the theme for a gore film? Well, Riz Ortolani’s main theme for ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980) proved you could add beautiful melodies to jaw-dropping scenes of barbarity, so the answer was yes – though ‘Zombi Holocaust’ was not in the same league in any sense. Elsewhere, Fidenco reverts to his much-used synth to provide atmospheric ‘bwowms’ and creepy, steaming tribals chants and doomy stabs of electronics. It’s the best thing about the film, something which was removed for the American release which was instead scored by Walter Sear.
Sear had played a vital role in helping Robert Moog make synthesisers both affordable and rather smaller than the elephantine prototypes and wasn’t a stranger to playing one himself, though his involvement in film scores was limited – his most notable contribution was to the soundtrack to 1971’s ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death’, working alongside composer Orville Stoeber to create one of the first horror films scores using synths. Sear’s squelchy synth sounds are great fun but only serves to highlight the mess the film had become.
Some directors never learn and Kubrick could be accused of being one of them. Despite his experience of using/not using/using classical music and making composers’ lives a misery, he once again repeated his behaviour on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with ‘The Shining’ (1980). As before, his intention was to use existing classical music to provide the musical score and had already begun to use cues for early scenes he had filmed. Regardless, synth genius Wendy Carlos, whom he had previously employed for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in 1971 was tasked with scoring the film, despite her reservations, having previously had music she had written replaced by classical performances. She was right to be concerned.
Carlos worked on the film using both an early (and very long) work print and Stephen King‘s original novel, which, ironically, he would say was not well served by the film. This meant that Carlos was doomed to be composing cues for sequences which would never make the final cut, or indeed be filmed in the first place. Despite Kubrick’s enthusiasm for Carlos’ ideas, many of which were built around classical themes he suggested, he still opted to use his existing temporary cues instead. Despite recording over an hour of music, Carlos’ work in the final film is negligible and she vowed never to work with him again, though stopped short of suing him (not least as there was no contract). Carlos’ score has since been released as part of a two-disc set, ‘Rediscovering Lost Scores’.
Even the most successful, award-winning composers were not exempt from having their work rejected, though it would take a decision from someone of equally exalted standing and with immense confidence to do so. Step forward, Ray Harryhausen. Now well into the twilight of his career, 1981’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ would be his last major work as both producer and stop-motion animator, and he had a very clear vision of how the film should look and sound. Had he still been alive, it’s entirely possible Harryhausen would again have chosen to work with Bernard Herrmann but instead was delighted to have John Barry at his disposal. Despite his connection to the Bond franchise, Barry had proved himself very versatile, with 1966’s ‘Born Free’ and 1968’s ‘A Lion in Winter’ both winning Academy Awards for best score, amongst many other gongs.
Both the mythological narrative and the involvement of some of the greatest living Shakespearean actors demanded a score of real substance and gravitas. Accounts from both Barry and Harryhausen suggest that only a handful of demos were recorded and the snippets of these reveal themes which while naturally very accomplished, could equally fit ‘The Black Hole’, which he’d recently scored, and feels a little too light and flighty. Hands were shaken and there were no hard feelings. Instead, the job went to Laurence Rosenthal, a surprising choice given that the majority of his previous work had been restricted to the small screen (a large exception being ‘Becket’ (1964) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award). His score is far better than history suggests, the memorable main theme completely in keeping with scores from previous Harryhausen epics.
It’s one thing when the studio or producers get involved in deciding what’s ‘best’ for the film, the director logically being the one who should have the last say in the matter. However, there are those unfortunate occasions when directors are jettisoned from productions just as quickly as any composer, camera operative or hairstylist. In the wake of the box office successes of werewolf features ‘The Howling’ and ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (both released in 1981), cinema had a new (old) monster to scare audiences and filmmakers weren’t shy in jumping on the bandwagon.
The twist with ‘Wolfen’ is that the New York attacks are not by the traditionally accepted shape-shifting werewolves but a species of wolf creatures in their own right, struggling to survive in a world where they had existed alongside indigenous tribes for centuries before the baddie humans arrived. Given this ecological spin, the director hired was, though a surprise, understandable. Michael Wadleigh had directed 1970’s peace-and-love-hippy-utopia documentary, ‘Woodstock’ and the idea of an allegory of nature’s fight against thoughtless humans appealed to him. Wadleigh chose Craig Safan as the film’s composer, originally a singer-songwriter but more recently a film composer, having scored distinctly 70s titles such as ‘The Great Texas Dynamite Chase’ (1976) and ‘Roller Boogie’ (1979), though had more recently shown a slightly more mature approach with horror comedy, ‘Fade to Black’.
Production on the film was very slow, not least due to real wolves being used and an awful lot of time spent on filming the night sequences. Safan wrote a score for the whole film, a mix of industrial, electronic tones and dissonant brass and strings. There are no themes for specific characters and the glacial feel and overarching gloom reflect the cityscape as a hunting ground – it certainly feels as though it would be very effective. However, having previously had hours of footage to play with on ‘Woodstock’ and no real pressure to deliver the goods quickly, the producers lost patience with Wadleigh’s pace and when presented with a four-and-a-half-hour cut, sacked him, ultimately replacing him with John D. Hancock himself sacked as director of ‘Jaws 2’).
The majority of Wadleigh’s work remained, with only reshoots of a handful of scenes and judicious editing left to complete, meaning that Wadleigh’s name remains as director on the film’s credits. Sadly, the other casualty was Safan. With a now entirely different pace, his score was not used and instead, James Horner was given the task. Horner was right at the beginning of his career (his only previous credit was the Oliver Stone eye-popper, ‘The Hand’ – you really must watch it) and as such he didn’t come with the baggage of a fully-honed sound. His approach was to add more emotion and conventional (yet still aggressive) themes to the previously ice-cold score.
Horner obviously felt an affection for the score as part of one of the themes is reused in James Cameron‘s ‘Aliens’ five years later. It certainly feels more Hollywood and less like an experimental art film, but works really well, a slightly unusual example of both scores being more than worthy of inclusion. Perversely, Safan’s score has appeared on CD whilst Horner’s has yet to receive a full release.
Horner would soon have the tables turned on him. Walter Hill‘s 1984 action-noir, ‘Streets of Fire’, saw Horner as composer of the film’s score, Hill having alienated Bruce Springsteen by suggesting someone other than he could sing his song of the same name when he said he was unavailable. With some reasonable logic, Horner created an experimental score, though this was met with stony indifference. Horner had failed to appreciate that his music had to sit alongside the raft of rock and pop tracks that Hill had managed to licence, Bob Seger not easily meshing with the avant-garde approach. A more easily digestible score by Ry Cooder was used, something which made far more sense from the get-go, one might suggest.
The story of the score to Clive Barker‘s ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) has been told many times but is a good example of how money will ultimately dictate what happens to art in the film world. As good friends with Barker, the band Coil had been there from the film’s inception, helping the director include elements of the underground world they lived in themselves, from the music to body art and S&M. Whilst some of Coil’s catalogue might offend some delicate ears, there’s no denying their invention nor their commitment to their art, and the score they produced shows a great deal of restraint, yet perfectly echos the torment onscreen.
”Hellraiser’ was already a fully-formed beast when Hollywood executives sensed there was money in them thar’ hills. Despite Barker’s commitment to his friends and his utter belief in his own material, it seems everyone has their price, and whatever it was it paid for the film to be re-dubbed and re-located to America. Whilst perfectly fitting the original cut, the changes forced Barker’s hand and a new composer was sought. It was also very likely that in common with so many other productions, the American backers simply wanted ‘one of their own’ involved. That man was Christopher Young, who although relatively new to the game had produced strong scores for other horror films, including ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ (1985); ‘Invaders from Mars’ and Trick or Treat’ (both 1986). Young’s score is perfect – modern yet grounded in horror tradition, it’s one of the 1980s best horror scores and is highly thought of still today. The option to see the film using both alternatives has rarely been more necessary.
Finally, there is another example of composers’ scores being replaced and fittingly it involves AIP. When Orion bought AIP’s catalogue to release on home video in the late 80s, they found that the rights to many of these films, with their international co-productions, were sometimes very tricky. Among other issues were that the rights to the music in the films were not automatically included in the purchase, meaning that new arrangement had to be made. This was complicated by several factors:
- The original composer couldn’t be located
- The original composer was dead
- The original composer had since become a megastar and now demanded unrealistic fees for their work (these range from Vangelis to Funk Godfather, James Brown, who asked for a cool million dollars to have his score to ‘Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off’ (1973) used)
The sales potential of many of these films simply didn’t warrant either exorbitant fees or years of detective work to solve. Instead, it was decided that no-one would notice (or care) if the score were simply replaced by something else. Goodbye to Gino Marinuzzi Jr‘s score to Mario Bava‘s ‘Planet of the Vampires’; David Whitaker‘s to ‘Scream and Scream Again’ and Paul Ferris‘ score to ‘Witchfinder General’, among many others. Instead, ‘will this do?’ cues were supplied by journeymen composers and even trailer composers like Kendall Roclord Schmidt, who would work at great speed and even reuse cues throughout the film to save time and money. Thankfully, this practice died out quite quickly, creating a few curios along the way and allowing DVD and Blu-Ray distributors to add original soundtracks as flashy new extras if they’d uncovered the Turin Shroud.
The fate of a film’s composer is no safer now than it was then. Hollywood may now clamour for the glutinous self-satisfaction of a Hans Zimmer for their film rather than looking to employ a more experimental or imaginative composer, but the role of music in film continues to be one which demands the highest respect.
Recommended further reading: Gergely Hubai’s ‘Torn Music – Rejected Film Scores’