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Reviews - Shrunken Heads

This review is for the Shrunken Heads Album. If interested in Shrunken Heads as it appears on MFADT2, go here.
Review by Ian Davis
This is one of those films for which Danny Elfman committed only the opening titles. It is part of a tradition which includes films such as Army of Darkness and Revenant [Modern Vampires], the latter linked to this film all the more by way of its director: Richard Elfman.
Let me admit now for the film music puristís benefit that I havenít been able to find the film itself, so most of this review is based on CD presentation only, hence only one set of star ratings. On the plus side, the CD itself is very accommodating to the casual listener, providing not only a large selection of stills but also notes from the director and the label, Moonstone Records, although it is a pity neither composer contributed with his own opinion.
Let me be brief about Dannyís Main Title music. It is nothing special. It lacks any real spice, and the March of the Dead written for Army of Darkness a few years later matches the style and adds a greater orchestral flair (and recorded balance). I could find no mention of exactly which orchestra performed the score (and perhaps it is the case, as it so often is, that it was a contracted ensemble) but for more spectacular playing go for Army of Darkness (with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorus). Elfmanís music for AOD appeared on disc without mention of an orchestrator, which is annoying because the pieces have a similar style of orchestration, with the later work an improvement on the former. Interest springs from the involvement of Mark (sometimes Marc?) Mann in orchestrating Shrunken Heads -- his name crops up in conjunction with Elfman for the most part in terms of MIDI programming (see Mars Attacks!, Flubber, The Frighteners, Extreme Measures...) -- although this is quickly dashed as there is no real stylistic leap away from earlier gothic fantasy scores like Darkman.
In conclusion I found very little new in this track, and its only worth as a purchase lies in its later inclusion in Music for a Darkened Theatre II.
Some might find some consolation, however, in Richard Brandís score for the rest of the movie. Brand is quite an experienced film composer with some glowing reports from his collaborators, and Richard Elfman is no exception. However, I am somewhat suspicious of a composer the only film whose title I recognise is Arrival. This said, he appears very much at home with the fantastic and quirky, and Shrunken Heads gives him some leeway in this respect. [NB it might be of some interest to note that Band has contributed logo music for Full Moon Pitcures (1989) just as Elfman has for Hollywood Pictures (1991), according to Jeffrey Wheeler at Filmmusic.com].
In effect we have several different styles cleverly superimposed in this score: many cues are a dynamic and cheeky mix some sweet-styled music with a big band style, which is never quite big enough to take off. Some moments may remind the listener of the synthesised quasi-orchestral mix of the type you hear in many TV series today (with varying degrees of success).
Track 6 is a fascinating mix of a Satie piano Gnoissienne with savage tribal-style accompaniment (it makes varied reappearances in tracks 9 and 13), but of most interest to Elfman fans is the blatant Edward Scissorhands filch which ensues in track 7 (c3:00)! Thematically this music is unmistakable, but Band adds to this Edwardesque tinkly sounds and boy/female voiceless choir, and a touch of accordion or mouth organ (it really is too brief to make up oneís mind). I assume this is homage not rip-off, being a Richard Elfman film, but it does little more than lip-service to building up the kind of power which distinguishes Edward.
As an oddball score for an oddball film, however, Richard Bandís music is a pleasant surprise and not too bad a consolation for missing out on a full Elfman score. However, on the basis of Elfmanís track alone as it stands on this CD I have no option but to give it a single star rating.
Rating: *


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