CD: Spellbinder (1988)

April 23, 2012 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: La-La Land Records/ Released: August 23, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: 15 tracks / (56:13)


Special Notes: 16-page colour booklet with liner notes by Randall D. Larson / Limited to 1200 copies..


Composer: Basil Poledouris




Announced about 20 years ago as an upcoming CD release by Intrada, Basil Poledouris’ electronic score finally makes its debut via La-La Land, mastered from what’s billed as the only surviving recording from the composer’s archives at USC.

Poledouris was extremely adept at writing for large orchestras, pure electronics, and a variable blending of both mediums, but what makes Spellbinder such a special score among his canon is the virtual reliance on electronics for rhythm, mood, romance, suspicion, and outright horror. Poledouris had chosen a similar palette for his rock-styled No Man’s Land (1987), but aside from a steady pop-rock beat and backbeats on synthetic bass drums, most of Spellbinder sticks to a sense of unease and distrust – central themes to the story about a husband who fears his hot new wife may become the victim of a weird cult.

During the eighties, MGM produced a handful of B-movies which had better success attracting small cult followings on cable TV and home video than theatres. Spellbinder, however, was recut prior to its release, and LLL’s CD features some material not used in the film – in particular, an opening that was accompanied by Poledouris’ step-like, 6-note motif, around which he builds thick synth chords and adds the obligatory (and then voguish) bass hits foreshadowing Big Danger. Also in the cue are elements of the love theme (later heard in “Love Montage”) which, in classic Poledouris fashion, is lengthy in its buildup, thereby ensuring the music captures the full spectrum of the couple’s passion, and gives the audience more depth in what’s an otherwise clichéd love interlude.

As the composer’s only foray into horror, Spellbinder is a really fun work, filled with rich tones and punchy rhythmic patterns, particularly the pulsing “End Credits” which, as with the love theme, is introduced earlier in the score. “Pursuit” begins with an odd variation before it kicks into gear with bass drones, and has backbeats resembling animal growls and a highly addictive ostinato. It’s the film’s most memorable suspense track, and like many of the sounds within the score, Spellbinder is a time capsule of then-cutting edge electronic sounds which quickly became horror clichés in lower budgeted horror and action films. (Interestingly, Poledouris makes use of sampled male chorus in “Aldys Follows” which was integral to Jack Nietzsche’s score for the theological thriller The Seventh Sign, composed that same year.)

It’s a pity Poledouris didn’t wander into another horror project, because it would’ve been interesting to hear how he would’ve blended orchestral and synth elements. Perhaps the closest he ever came to such a thriller was Breakdown [M] (1997), one of his best and most gripping works.

La-La Land’s source tapes are okay; they’re in stereo and offer reasonable fidelity, but there is a slight muddiness which the engineers tried to lessen without losing the thick bass inherent to Poledouris’ synth chords. The lack of high end detail is disappointing, but it’s a treat to have this long-delayed gem on CD, and re-experience vintage synthetic sounds.

The CD also includes a remix of the “End Credits” that opens the CD (not a bad idea, given it’s the score’s most addictive cue), a source cue from a junked dance club scene, and an alternate version of “The Ritual” prior to further studio meddling.

A big thanks to the label for their persistence!



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


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