2012 October 22 • Monday
The 240th Soundtrack of the Week is It's Alive, a late work from the master, Bernard Herrmann.
The "Main Title" is an eerie, unsettling piece that combines tense horn playing with haunting strings and ominous electronic instruments such as electric bass guitar and Moog synthesizer. One particular section, which features the bass guitar, is reminiscent of Herrmann's Taxi Driver score.
After that comes "Delivery/Something Small", music to accompany the birth of the monster baby and the resulting carnage. The last time I watched It's Alive I was impressed by Herrmann's decision not to add to music to anything between the opening credits and this scene. It's at this moment that everything changes and the horror begins and the entrance of the music echoes the entrance of the It of the title. The music is classic Herrmann tension and features a three-note motif that's familiar from other Herrmann scores. At the end there's an otherworldly call-and-response between the Moog and the strings. (Interestingly, the electric bass guitar sound is very similar to the sound of the same instrument as played in the score for Godzilla vs the Smog Monster.)
"I'll See You in the Morning/The Father Returns Home/Cry Baby" has an affectingly plaintive line for solo violin played over a childlike ostinato figure. Snarling horns and rattlesnake-like percussion close the cue, only to be heard again in the beginning of "Murdered Boy/Getting Ready for Fishing Trip/The Milkman Goeth", which also feature the same sing-songy line that underscored the solo violin passage in the previous cue.
Most of the other cues develop along these lines, with low rumblings, dissonant horn explosions, sparse and suspenseful atmospheres for only a few instruments, brilliantly understated writing for harp and cello and, of course, the electric bass guitar, Moog and percussion which are the instruments that represent the monster.
"Restless Night/Where's Lenore?/Someone's Thirsty" contains echoes of Herrmann's Twilight Zone music as well as, with its use of bells, his theme music for the radio show Suspense.
"Father Runs With Child/Father Keeps Running With Child" is the cue that makes the most use of the potential of the Moog. It's the most important scene in the movie, similar to but more affecting than an analogous scene in Rosemary's Baby.
Bernard Herrmann could work miracles with an ensemble of any size, and It's Alive is a model of how much he could accomplish with a small group.