WOLFEN: REJECTED SCORE – Craig Safan
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Director Michael Wadleigh chose to adapt Whitley Strieber’s novel Wolfen to film, as he believed it afforded him an opportunity to infuse depth and intelligence into the horror genre. The story is a mytho-historical tale that reveals the existence of a hidden intelligent species called Wolfen that have co-existed with humans for centuries. After a city cop (Albert Finney) is assigned to solve a horrific set of violent murders, he gradually unravels the mystery that are the Wolfen who will now do anything to ensure their anonymity. Replete with Indian legend and folklore about wolf spirits, the story was heralded for its sophistication and effort to elevate the horror genre. Regretfully, the film ran seriously over budget and Wadleigh was fired and never allowed to complete his vision. The film was not a commercial success, however critics acknowledged it as an unusual and ambitious effort.
Wolfen was a gateway score for composer Craig Safan – his first opportunity to compose for a major Hollywood film. He said he was inspired by the opera The Devils of Loudun by modernist composer Krzysztof Penderecki. As such, in visualizing his score, he chose to eschew traditional melodic and thematic music, embracing instead a more modernist approach based on ambient “sonic events”, which would shift and sound different as the film’s settings changed. He stated, “It (the score) was aleatoric, very weird. It was a very large orchestra, very sound oriented, very percussive… very mythological and it had some Indian motifs in it.” Regretfully, when replacement director John Hancock came in, the film was severely edited and Safan’s seminal work became a casualty. His avant-garde score was rejected and replaced by a more traditional orchestral score by James Horner.
Safan’s modernist atonal score abounds with dissonance, ambient textures and features no melodic lines or themes. It instead relies on a recurring series of “sonic events”, which Safan modulates in different ways. There is one four-note motif that permeates the score that speaks to the mystery and menace of the Wolfen. “Main Title and First Killings” is just an astounding opening cue and a score highlight that establishes Safan’s soundscape. We open with an eerie and decidedly creepy atonal ambience that slowly, yet inexorably begins a slow coalescence around a recurring four-note motif, first carried by strings and later by solo piano. Safan’s modernist writing here is just exceptional and features an incredible array of tense ambient textures, dark deep bass rumblings, twinkling glockenspiel and metallic textures, woodwinds that alternatively trill and wail, discordant strings as well as sharp percussive strikes. Coming in a 9:28, this very long and nuanced cue cannot be fully taken in or appreciated with a single listen. This for me is testimony to genius.
“The Body” continues the soundscape of the opening cue with a very eerie atonal ambiance carried by discordant upper register woodwinds that play atop pensive strings. Infused with twinkling metallic showers, percussion strikes, we hear the four-note motif carried first by flute and then horn set against rumbling bass and dark growling tuba. “The Morgue” opens with shrill woodwinds that usher in the four-note motif on horns, which unleash a cacophony of eerie, waling ambient textures that are terribly unsettling. Again, Safan establishes a weird, atonal and discordant ambiance where sections of the orchestra play seemingly unbeknownst to other sections, and yet never the less manage to create a disquieting synergy.
“Run to Church” as its name suggests features the tension of a flight for survival. We open with strings of trepidation, discordant woodwinds, atonal piano and twinkling metallic showers. Slowly dark bass, atonal piano strikes, woodwinds agitato and sharp horns begin to amplify the tension until all hell breaks loose at 1:25. We are propelled by an amazing interplay of horns ostinato, piano glissandi, swirling discordant woodwinds and growling bass, which end with an eerie diminuendo of wood stick percussion and twinkling metallic showers. “Run from Church” again opens with atonal upper register woodwinds, which introduce an eerie violin line whose flow is increasing interrupted by sharp horn and percussive intrusions. Once again Safan employs a series of ambient effects to include a most disquieting soundscape including atonal woodwinds, tremolo strings, fluttering horns, growling bass and shimmering metallic showers. When the sanctuary of the church fails, we flee at 3:55 atop discordant and raging horns and metallic strike percussion, which ends in a sea of complete dissonance.
“Wilson and Pearl” is a powerful cue that features some fine synergistic writing for horns, woodwinds and shimmering percussion. Adorned with atonal piano, blaring horns, eerie strings, the piece at 1:23 features a fine display of the four-note motif on oboe with a flute counter. Intrusive squawking horns and growling bass shatter the melodic flow as we slowly end in a eerie diminuendo. “Thinking of the Kill” is another exceptional score highlight, which features modernist writing at its best. We open on a string sustain, which ushers in a flute emoting the four-note motif. Safan then treats us to a dazzling display of creative and innovative writing as we bear witness to discordant woodwinds, screeching strings, wailing woodwinds, atonal piano and growling bass replete with harsh striking metallic percussion, At 2:35 we begin a slow crescendo atop discordant strings that ends not in a shattering climax, but instead a dying diminuendo. We close with just a starting cacophony of stunning dissonance, which concludes with portentous horns, rumbling percussion and pensive strings. This is just testimony to Safan’s extraordinary native talent.
“Shape Shifting” is an eerie and startling cue where Safan perfectly supports the physical transformation unfolding on the screen. Opening again with discordant woodwinds and rattle percussion, we bear witness to discordant horns, which build to a raging cacophony that crescendoes to a shattering climax at 0:57. Harsh horns and a cacophony of woodwinds and strings emote the aftermath and end with uncertainty. In “At the Zoo”, Safan paints a very eerie ambiance that is full of foreboding. We open with some energy atop animato strings. Discordant horns soon join and play over shifting violin sustains, which give way to atonal and ambient textures until a crescendo begins a 2:36, which ushers in a bizarre parade of weird and discordant textures and orchestral strikes.
“The Dream and Love Scene” provides us with a several interesting textures as well as interplay among the instruments. We open with a duet of harp and strings whose ambiance is shattered by a joining of screeching strings and harsh native horns. From here we are treated to a parade of soft woodwinds join by violins, bass rumbling and drifting ambient textures. Most pleasing is the cues ending which features interplay among the various woodwinds as they pass the four-note motif back and forth among themselves.
“Whittington Gets Snuffed” takes a very long time to deliver, but when it does, wow! For most of this dissonant and textural cue Safan maintains fidelity to his bizarre soundscape with strange plucked strings, rumbling piano, wild discordant woodwinds, twinkling metal percussion and eerie shifting violin sustains. At 5:45 the atonal ambiance is shattered as we are assaulted by a cacophony of brazen horns and percussion, which propel us to a dark conclusion. “Indian Bar” is an astounding dissonant cue, which features an amazing array of bizarre, percussive textures and effects. Weird wailing woodwinds that are joined by shimmering metallic showers and growling bass join to amplify the dark tension. The ending, replete with cymbal clashes and a rumbling bass diminuendo makes my skin crawl.
“Discovery and Penthouse” is one of the most atonal and dissonant cues in the score, consisting of rumbling piano, eerie screeching violins, odd woodwind sounds and weird percussive textures. The occasional sounding of the four-note motif on muted horn and later woodwinds make an effort of providing some structure, but it is fleeting. “Wall Street and Wolfen Finale” is the score highlight and features the film’s final confrontation. We begin darkly with a violin sustain that is joined by plaintive horns and woodwinds. A portentous orchestral chord leads to the score’s first and only effort at a melodic line. Dark bass resonance pitted against an array of pizzicato and tremolo strings usher in ominous horns, which portend the final confrontation. Slowly the horns rise and assume a horrific heraldic power, which serves to terrify and amplify the tension. From out this cascades a ferocious onslaught of complex orchestral dissonance that is just stunning in its complexity. The cue culminates with a series of thundering low register fortissimo major chords, which strike us like dark menacing waves as the torrent of orchestral dissonance becomes deafening. Yet, like a storm, it washes over us and the music dissipates into a diminuendo at 4:16. As the Wolfen disappear the scores dissipates, fading to nothingness atop the four-note motif. Wow! This is why I love film scores!
I offer my praise to Douglass Fake, Craig Safan, Roger Feigelson and Intrada for resurrecting this seminal score, which has for decades cried for a release. The sound quality is pristine, again demonstrating Intrada’s commitment to quality recordings. This is one of the finest examples of modernist scores you will find. Abounding in complexity, atonality and dissonance, this score features some of the most creative and innovative writing you will find. Be advised that this is a horror score that is in no way an easy or pleasant listen. The score’s beauty lies within its construct, originality, complexity and stunning application. Rarely today are composer’s afforded the opportunity to strike out on radical and innovated paths that eschew convention. What Craig Safan has done here is nothing short of magnificent. His score will resonate through time and I acknowledge his brilliance. I highly recommend this score for your collection.
Buy the Wolfen soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title and First Killings (9:26)
- The Body (2:23)
- The Morgue (4:11)
- Run to Church (2:21)
- Run from Church (5:25)
- Wilson and Pearl (2:10)
- Thinking of the Kill (4:50)
- Shape Shifting (2:14)
- At the Zoo (3:50)
- The Dream and Love Scene (3:55)
- Whittington Gets Snuffed (6:13)
- Indian Bar (4:17)
- Discovery and Penthouse (3:45)
- Wall Street and Wolfen Finale (5:21)
Running Time: 60 minutes 42 seconds
Intrada Special Collection Volume 206 (1981/2012)
Music composed and conducted by Craig Safan. Orchestrations by Craig Safan and Peter Bernstein. Album produced by Craig Safan and Douglass Fake.