The Case of the Bloody Iris (OST)

Bruno Nicolai
Bruno Nicolai
Digitmovies, 2004 (CD/LP)

It was common for Italian exploitation films to be graced with a soundtrack that was much better than the film surrounding it. Such is the case with Bruno Nicolai’s score for The Case of the Bloody Iris. At best, it’s a middling affair as a film. Nicolai, however, was a consummate professional and, by 1972, a seasoned veteran who knew how to take pride in his work even if it was composed in the service of a bad movie. In ’72 alone he contributed scores to fifteen feature films, including six giallo, one of which, All the Colors of the Dark, is among the best work Nicolai ever did. And all that was in addition to other obligations, like stepping in to conduct on scores written by his long-time collaborator Ennio Morricone. Granted, when one is producing so much so quickly and often in the same genre, certain elements and motifs get recycled, but even when he’s retreading work, Nicolai finds a way to do something interesting with it. It’d be reasonable to expect a couple stinkers given the vast body of work Nicolai turned out every year, but that never was the case, even when the movie was mediocre, like The Case of the Bloody Iris, or downright rotten, as was the case with The French Sex Murders, an awful giallo to which Nicolai dutifully contributed a much better score than the film deserved.

With a driving bass intro leading into strings and a harpsichord, the main title theme sounds like it could have been from a particularly baroque ’70s cop film. But then the lush strings kick in, creating that oddly sensual and pastorale mood that is common to many giallo scores despite them often being used during moments of horrific violence. “Murder in the Elevator” is a more traditional mood piece, not unlike what you might have found in a thriller from pretty much anywhere in the world, though once again Nicolai uses the harpsichord to give it a bit of Gothic flare before it settles into a bass driven drone that sounds like something that would have come from much later, by a synth-driven composer like Fabio Frizzi or even John Carpenter. “Night Club Show” is a percussion-driven number that begins with the main theme of the movie, transitions to exotica-tinged drumming, and ends, remarkably, with a jaunty bit of something between reggae and music you might expect from a carnival scene in a Fellini movie.

“Live Scene” is a lovely slice of cocktail pop, and even though it’s repeated often, the main theme remains a pleasant motif running throughout the soundtrack without wearing out its welcome. The rest of the soundtrack is made up mostly of variations on the main theme and tense mood music. In that regard, it’s one of the more conventional scores Nicolai has done. When a track like “Night Visitor” or “A living Nightmare” play, there’s no doubt of the mood they’re meant to evoke. At times, Nicolai wanders into something very close to a traditional Bernard Herrmann style (Herrmann having composed, among other things, scores for several Hitchcock films). This results in a soundtrack that is more closely tied to the film it is meant for, with a little less listening value outside of that context. But within those confines, it’s still quite good. In fact, the soundtrack is considerably more adept at conjuring feelings of tension, fear, and sensuality than the actual movie. So perhaps it does have substantially more value outside the context of the film, as a soundtrack to a different, better film.

As with many giallo soundtracks, there are several different versions available (or not available, as these things seem to fall out of print pretty quickly given the niche appeal). Finders Keepers does great releases, but they often only do them for a tiny sliver of the collectors’ market. Their release of this soundtrack, for instance, was a 10″ LP with ten tracks, catering to vinyl collectors who were quick on the trigger (or the “Add to Cart” button). It’s since gone out of print and no digital alternative is currently offered.  Digitmovies, the most prolific and dedicated label for Italian movie soundtracks, released a more comprehensive 26-track CD. Again, many of the tracks are variations or repetition of the main theme, so one doesn’t necessarily need them all, but this isn’t about need. Of course, it is also out of print, so as is always the case, one takes what one can find.

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