Eban Schletter, who a year ago released Eban Schletter Presents Michael Avallone’s Tales Of The Frightened, is back with another “Halloween-appropriate” album with his score to director David Lee Fisher’s eerie 2005 remake of Robert Wiene’s 1920 German Expressionist silent horror film classic The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.
Released via Netherota Records, the score employs everything from bird calls, suitably disturbed whispers and screams, carnival noises, multiple instruments and a Theremin, and is altogether original while evoking Wiene’s influential concept and Fisher’s innovative replica.
Fisher actually preserved Wiene’s expressionist painted sets, using modern filmmaking technology to superimpose his cast onto them by way of greenscreen.
“We both loved the original,” says Schletter, a composer and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work on comedic shows Spongebob Squarepants and Mr. Show With Bob and David. Schletter came to the project by way of Fisher’s wife Paula Elins, the film’s costume designer, who also designed the costumes for Mr. Show.
“I was so excited to do it because a lot of my childhood was horror movies and science fiction and going to comic conventions,” Scfhletter continues. “I saw Frankenstein and Night Of The Living Dead when I was way too young! Scoring Dr. Caligari was exactly what you think it would be for a young film score nerd.”
Big into horror/sci-fi and spaghetti western film scores, Schletter nevertheless ended up in comedy.
“Once you’ve started on that path they kind of box you in, so I was very excited to do something that was not a comedy, and not only not a comedy, but not just any horror movie but a retro, arty one. I also love art house film, and here was something from the art house and horror world–not like Hostel or Saw, but a 1920s movie updated to the ’50s, but still black-and-white and with a straightforward approach.”
When Schletter signed on, he decided not to go back to Wiene’s Caligari for inspiration.
“There are a few versions featuring different soundtracks,” he explains. “The one I liked best had a string quartet score by Timothy Brock; others were interesting, with a more electronic and modern score, but Timothy bridged the gap for modern viewers watching a ’20s movie. But I wanted to bring my own sensibibility to it that was as clean and clear as possible without showing a direct influence from the other scores. Obviously, you can hear [Bernard] Herrmann and [Krzysztof] Penderecki and other styles and influences, but nothing is ‘subconscious’: I read the George Harrison ‘My Sweet Lord’ legal case [Harrison was found guilty of ‘subconscious’ infringement of the copyright of The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’], and that puts the fear of God into you!”
In his score, Schletter looked to “get into the insanity of the character,” he says.
“I had this nightmare with the sound of 1,000 angry, screeching monkeys, so I did a version of something like that when Caligari’s total madness is in full gear,” continues Schletter. “There are 60, 70 layers of voices screaming and whispering and talking–all kinds of stuff: My wife came in and read verses from The Bible, and one guy came in to do extra vocals–and muttered to himself in a low voice like a crazy guy he saw do that on the bus the day before! It was a bubbling horde of voices, and we used it as a ‘cloud of sound’ effect in the murder and abduction scenes to suggest the pure insanity.”
Regarding melody, Schletter says that since there is “something tragic about someone with mental illness,” he came up with a main theme that is “constantly trying to rise, but is never quite able to. It goes up and falls backwards.”
While the theme runs throughout the whole score, it is most prominent during the opening titles and the introduction of Cesare, the sleepwalker. “It’s not a particularly hooky melody,” he says, “but like a melody that got lost in the woods and is trying to find its way!”
The release of Schletter’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari film score comes a year after Eban Schletter Presents Michael Avallone’s Tales Of The Frightened, essentially a remake of two classic discs from 1963, Tales Of The Frightened, Volumes 1 and 2, in which horror film legend Boris Karloff narrated spooky short stories penned by the late prolific pulp fiction writer Michael Avallone. Schletter’s version had actor Vernon Wells, who played the villainous Wez in The Road Warrior, as narrator.
“Quite a few reviews mentioned the soundtrack,” Schletter notes of Caligari. “Half of the amazon.com user reviews said soemthing about it.”
Schletter adapted the film’s artwork for his CD packaging, which in a nifty touch appears to extricate the CD, which features a picture of Doug Jones as Cesare, from Caligari’s cabinet’s door.
Meanwhile, Schletter hit it off so well with Daamen J. Krall–the actor who played Caligari–that he has since used him in other recording projects including Eban Schletter’s Witching Hour and Eban Schletter’s Cosmic Christmas, as well as his monthly The Paul F. Tompkins Show podcast with comedian Tompkins.
“His voice is awesome,” Schletter says of Krall. “It’s like a Vincent Price voice.”
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