May 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /May01/

Ronald STEIN
The Haunted Palace. The Premature Burial

OSTs   PERCEPTO -002 [66:51]
Percepto Limited edition 3000 copies

I grew up watching horror movies like Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace (1963) and The Premature Burial (1962) (on TV, not in the cinema as I'm still a relatively young man!), but these were the kind of films dearest to my heart and even if with the passage of time I see more of their faults than before, they still hold a special place in my affections as intelligent, imaginative tales of dark fantasy. So what could be more fun than revisiting these old friends through their music!?

The Haunted Palace opens with 'American International Picture Fanfare/Main Title', an imposing, very modern sounding theme which happens to feature a key motif that is identical to Toto's main title from Dune! Even so, to put too much emphasis on this similarity would detract from the overall quality of both themes in my view, as their development from an initial phrase is entirely different. What is certain though is that Ronald Stein has conjured a very catchy, stirring piece that immediately grabbed my attention. As an interesting side note, due to the fact that the original 'good take' has gone missing, this is actually an edited version of the theme (the complete version appears as a bonus track). The decision was made by the producers because they felt that the orchestral playing in the first section was slightly askew. Personally I would have just presented it in its complete form without worrying too much. It's all part of the charm of the original recording after all!

Following on from this impressive main theme there are a number of suspense cues like 'People of Arkham/Beautiful Zombie/Evil Portrait' and 'Old Warlocks', subtle and imaginative pieces with a jet black sensibility. As might be expected and in this case it's very welcome, the main theme is also referenced in many tracks ('Vicious Ward/Mutant Circle', the effectively sombre 'Honoring Ann' etc.) and gets a full work-out on 'Mysterioso'. Only very occasionally does the score's age count against it, as with the slightly old-fashioned orchestration of 'Village Dusk Painting/Wheaton Creature', but more often than not I was struck by the freshness of the work; 'Tomorrow Morning/Death of Wheaton', with its strong dissonant brass work for instance. All in all this is a fine example of horror/suspense writing with very intelligent thematic development and a nice balance of melody and discord.

A lesser work, but still worth your consideration is The Premature Burial, the 'Main Title' a mournful, edgy piece which incorporates the song 'Molly Malone' to fine effect. For the most part though the score consists of slightly above average suspense cues (e.g. 'Basement Crypt'), with some occasional bold dramatics ('Guy Remembers' etc.). While the music is generally solid rather than striking, there are still several moments where Stein's talent really shines through; tracks such as 'Guy's Choice' with 'Molly Malone' used as a kind of eerie lament, 'Emily Abducted' with its restrained version of the main theme and 'Guy's Revenge/Emily Buried' where a death knell sounds in an ominous dirge-like piece. While less immediately appealing than Haunted Palace, there is still enough skill and technical accomplishment in evidence to keep things satisfying, although admittedly there are times when its quiet suspense building becomes a little on the bland side.

I really enjoyed this CD and I can easily imagine Ronald Stein picking up a fair number of new admirers after they hear the work presented here. For those who like me remember the heady days of old when horror movies meant period costume and Vincent Price (not to mention that dynamic duo of Lee and Cushing!), this will be a treat indeed.

Mark Hockley

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