Reviewed by Gregory S. Burkart
The Autumn of 2007 is turning out to be an excellent harvest for fans of ?lost? horror gems from the '80s - a bumper crop of ?man, they'll never release that? titles including From Beyond, Scarecrows, and this long-awaited, glorious chunk of cheese from the Slashers' Golden Era. To most, Tony Maylam's The Burning had little to distinguish itself beyond its close plot similarities to Friday The 13th Part 2, but to '80s horror buffs, it has been celebrated as an unsung mini-classic, along the lines of Sleepaway Camp. Adored by fans not only for its roll call of soon-to-be-famous names (on both sides of the camera), it also developed a reputation around a particularly bloody scene censored from most prints of the film, thus cementing its ?must-see? notoriety. (Check out the DVD review for more on this.)
Not as widely celebrated, but no less deserving of praise, is Yes keyboardist and synth virtuoso Rick Wakeman's short but sweet score for the film - originally released on Varese Sarabande records in 1981, now finally reissued in a digitally-remastered edition by the UK's Music Fusion label, augmented with a few ?postmodern? touches (i.e. ambient effects and a dialogue excerpt from the film).
Wakeman's compositions run the gamut from sparkly synth-pop (courtesy of classic synth staples like the MiniMoog, the ARP Omni and Prophets 5 and 10) to rich, moody grand piano passages, then break into a soggy-bottom bluegrass stomp (?Devil's Creek Breakdown?) with an able assist from several guest artists, including steel guitar and banjo by one ?Alan Brawer? - better known today as music producer Alan Brewer.
As with the original LP & cassette release, the CD is broken into two thematic parts: the first four tracks comprise ?The Wakeman Variations,? which consist of extended or alternate arrangements of many of the main score themes. Wakeman's flourish at the keys shines through on these cuts, which are more improvisational and symphonic in tone than the ?flip? side. Case in point, he transforms the film's main theme from a simple melodic pattern (established in a warm piano intro, with the sound of buzzing cicadas in the background) into a colorful prog-rock opus filled with electronic string washes and playful, noodly leads. ?The Chase Continues? is as tense and frenetic as the title suggests, but tracks like ?Variations On The Fire? are a tad too playful ? I kept waiting for the cast of ?Fame? to come jumping out and start dancing on cars.
The ?Music From The Film? section is all over the thematic map, and ranges from silly fun ('70s smoke-pot-and-get-laid groove ?Doin' It? and the aforementioned hillbilly knee-slapper) to throughly chilling (the film version of ?Shear Terror,? accompaniment to the film's vaunted gore scene, would be much at home on a haunted house sound-effects CD), with some standard move-the-plot-along material in between. The requisite dialogue excerpt sets the tone for this section, with its campfire tale of the disfigured, homicidal ?Cropsy the Caretaker? seeking revenge for a campground prank gone horribly wrong.
Wakeman himself has expressed little enthusiasm for this project, having taken the assignment mainly for a quick paycheck (opting for a flat fee rather than a portion of the profits). Even so, his effortless riffing on the basic themes suggests that his skill with a melody or twist of phrase shines through regardless of the material. The recording quality throughout is top-notch, and lends a much classier tone to an otherwise fairly seedy low-rent production. The glassy ARP string washes and chattering Moog treatments swirl around the stereo space to impressive and spooky effect, making it an ideal mood-setter for your next Halloween party... or soothing dinnertime listening, if you're a freak like me.