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Has anyone ever heard of this?  According to the back of the case, it was a 1997 miniseries, apparently with complete unknowns both in front of and behind the camera.  Whatever the actual merits (or lack thereof) of the miniseries, Don Davis' score has to be the most acclaimed aspect.  As a precursor to his superb, modernistic score for The Matrix, he uses some of the same atonal orchestral and synth effects, but this should appeal to a wider audience due to the presence of a strong main theme, more traditional action cues, and a huge chanting chorus.  I have a suspicion that the miniseries had something of a darkly comedic tone, because there are a few moments when the chorus sounds like more of a mockery, especially the last few seconds of the main title, which seem like a parody of O Fortuna (NOT a rip-off.  I don't think there actually ever HAS been a rip-off of this, except for Horner's Glory.)  Also, although the masterful atonal effects are there, they are always used in moderation, never reaching the outrageous cacophonic heights of The Matrix.  But these two petty qualms hardly detract from the listening experience, which positions this disc near the top of Davis' oevure, along with The Matrix and Warriors of Virtue.  At the time of this writing, he also has a new score for The House on Haunted Hill, which supposedly turns The Matrix into a horror score, complete with pipe organ.  I can't wait!  Back to House of Frankenstein, this CD is an extremely rare promo release, with over an hour of score.  You'll probably have to venture over to Intrada or Screen Archives to acquire this disc.  But if you can get it, I highly recommend it as one of Don Davis' better works.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Main Title (3:28)
Davis begins the score with a huge atonal synth chord, along with a subtle string fugue based on the not-yet heard main theme.  After a few moments of uncertain dissonance, with the use of one of the synth instruments from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the huge chorus comes in, singing the simple, yet quite effective main theme.  It continues to grow in complexity, eventually splitting into a four-part harmony.  After this demonstration of pagan ferocity, the more playful tones take over, mutating the theme into a parody of Carl Orff's O Fortuna, mentioned above.  The first real instance of Davis' postmodern stylings enters at the end of the track, with a preliminary 1 minute action cue.

2. Frank-N-Danish (1:55)
After a short underscore introduction, the chorus comes back on with a typical Gothic chord progression.  Besides more brooding underscore, that's about all this track offers.

3. Vienna Hot Dog (3:49)
For the first part of the cue, we switch gears entirely, into a more tender piano theme.  Luckily, that doesn't last long, and the second half becomes a darkly dissonant development of the main theme, with a harrowing fluttering synth effect reminiscent of part of Goldsmith's The Cloud from ST:TMP.

4. Busted Lip Lock (1:20)
That bland piano theme comes back for a while here, along with the chord progression from track 2.

5. In Paradisum (2:58)
Davis takes another left turn for a while here, beginning with a huge hymn for chorus, with pairs of flute rhythms.  Things take a darker turn halfway through, throwing in a bit of dissonance worthy of Goldsmith's Omen scores.  At the end, this happens again, but this time it stays somewhat menacing.  Overall, although I'm not really fond of the flute groupings, I have to admit it's a great cue.

6. She's Not Hungary for Food (3:18)  (I don't think that's a typo, but I don't know what it's supposed to signify.)
Finally!  Now we're descending into Davis' native realm, that of unbridled dissonance and orchestral cacophony.  It begins fabulously with his usual tone clusters, takes something of a break in the middle, and returns for a frenzied action cue, which blends the dissonance with the powerful chanted main theme.  Truly a highlight of the score.

7. Club Spook (3:33)
We continue the frenetic atonal pace at the beginning of this cue, with a fragmented cello run augmented by crashing anvils and horn tone clusters.  Throughout this cue, he alternates this ostinato-like section with a quieter cantabile section with a serial melody for woodwinds.  Finally, in the last 10 seconds, the choir returns for a crashing finale.  Another highlight of the score.

8. Frank Restrained (2:14)
Davis goes back and presents another darkly sarcastic chant.  If you ever want to know if the composer means to be serious or not, just go through and listen for pounding fourth intervals in the timpani.  If they're there, chances are that the section you're listening to isn't really meant to heighten the drama of a piece.  If it's supposed to be dramatic, the composer REALLY messed up and turned the scene into a horrible circus act.  (Case in point: the end credits of Elfman's Batman Returns.  After a spectacular rendition of the Batman theme, he adds pounding fourth intervals to the bass, ruining the entire thing.)

9. Monster Bus (0:58)
More pointless and repetitive Gothic string chords.

10. Breakout (3:27)
More of a traditional action cue, Davis bases the action on a string ostinato with huge brass fanfares.  Snippets of the main theme come into play eventually.

11. Vile and Contemptibe (0:57)
This short cue expands the piano theme into a full, sweeping orchestral arrangement.  Much better than any time we've heard it previously.

12. Coyle and Cha Cha Break In (2:47)
This is one of the best tracks on the album, which is based around a minor mode Gothic chant, complete with chimes.  It ends menacingly, with a scathing, ferocious synth effect.

13. Armando Takes a Hit (2:09)
More dark Gothic orchestral stylings highlight this cue, whose main highlight is a playing of the now-orchestral piano theme.  This track is the best rendition we've heard thus far.  The last minute mutates into another of Davis' postmodern action cues, introducing the echoed brass effect that he built his Matrix theme around.

14. Cruising with Grimes (1:31)
More Matrix-like atonality comprises this cue, which sounds a lot like the later score's second track, with the fluttering triplets.  However, this one has menacing choir in the background.

15. Let's Shoot Grace (3:18)
Although mostly boring underscore, the chorus gets a short section based somewhat on the main theme.

16. Delbo Delirious (1:02)
Reminiscent of the previous cue, this takes the main theme in the brass and adds layers of choral effects on top.  They probably could have cut the previous cue out to make for a better listening experience.

17. Stake for Woody (1:38)
Another haunting track, with lush string arpeggios beneath a wailing, almost Baroque choral anthem.

18. Dog Speed (5:33)
This climactic cue blends all of the previous aspects, including the dissonance, tone clusters, chanting chorus, ostinatos, and main theme.

19. Franko-Fire (3:42)
This continues much in the same style as the previous one, with fluttering dissonance, but with the addition of the secondary theme.

20. Trouble in Transylvania (2:32)
Much more interesting than track 19, this continues one of the main string ostinatos, under a huge brass chorale rendition of the main theme.  Also present is the love theme, by now almost unrecognizable from the bland piano stuff at the beginning of the disc.

21. Beauty Kills the Beast (6:33)
Although not as exciting as Dog Speed, this REAL climactic cue introduces a military march with some of the first snare drums of the score.  Like the others, it creates an intriguing cacophonic soundscape through mainly orchestral textures.

22. The Vampire Lawyer - Finale (1:44)
As you would expect, Davis gives his score an epic sendoff with a recap of the main theme, back to its native choral arrangement.  Unfortunately, he pulls an Elfman and inserts those belittling timpani fourths, which really takes away from the finale.

Although I don't think I'd pay full price for this promo release, if you happen to come across it, be sure and pick it up.  I don't think it's on the same level as some of his other work like The Matrix, but it's definitely Don Davis at his apex (or close to it.)



 
House of Frankenstein: The Final Score
Music Rating 8/10
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Sound Quality 8/10
Orchestral Performance 9/10
Length 8/10 (They could have cut the length down to 40 or 50 minutes for a better listening experience.


House of Frankenstein is Copyright 1997 by Don Davis.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.