Bruno Nicolai: All the Colors of the Dark

Ennio Morricone is arguably the most important composer to work on giallo soundtracks. Because, you know, he’s Ennio Morricone. His shadow looms long and large over the entire landscape of Italian movie music, if not just plain movie music period. But if there’s one composer who deserves to emerge from that shadow and get the accolades he deserves, it’s Bruno Nicolai. Nicolai, who was at one time a close friend and frequent collaborator with Morricone before a falling out left the two men unreconciled for the rest of Nicolai’s life (he passed away in 1991), played a significant role in helping define what became known as the Morricone sound. He would often conduct scores Morricone had written when Morricone himself didn’t have the time (he was, after all, writing an ungodly number of scores, and you can’t conduct them all). Given how closely the two men collaborated, it’s no surprise that their music has a lot in common, not the least of which would be a predilection for breathless, wordless vocals by Edda dell’Orso. In the end, and despite Morricone’s much deserved reputation, it’s probably Bruno Nicolai who deserves to be crowned king of the giallo soundtrack. He wrote quite a few. Most of them are very good. Many of them are great. All the Colors of the Dark is the best.

There are two versions of the soundtrack currently available, and which one you might have can impact exactly how it plays on its own, separated from the movie. The first, released in 2004 by Italian label Digitmovies, contains 29 tracks (many of them variations on a few central themes, as is common on such soundtracks). The second version is a 2014 release from Finders Keepers, a 12-track remastering and reorganization of an original 14-track 1973 vinyl release from the Gemelli label. In all three cases, the number of tracks and their order on the disc is different. Unfortunately, also in all three cases, the release is now out of print. So take whichever one you can find. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be referring primarily to the more recent Finders Keepers release since it contains all of the primary music, though from time to time we’ll circle back to some of the variations that appear only on the Digitmovies release, which contains more such variations and the track list of which is more in line with the chronology of the film.

All the Colors of the Dark (Tutti i colori del buio) is a bizarre (even for giallo) mixture of psychological horror, old fashioned stabby murder, romance, and occultism all told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator who is losing her grip on reality. It’s a trippy experience augmented considerably (as giallo often are) by Bruno Nicolai’s score, the mood of which is as varied as hat of the film. Working with Italian soundtrack heavyweights Alessandro Alessandroni (going wild on a sitar) and Edda dell’Orso (whose vocals are so recognizable and so often imitated that they practically qualify as a genre unto themselves), Nicolai matches madness for madness. The Finders Keepers release begins with the film’s two most distinctive and repeated themes, “Sabba” followed by “Magico Incontro” (the Digitmovies release begins with “Magico Incontro” and does not get to the primary version of “Sabba” until much later in the soundtrack, after a few different (less lunatic) variations of it). The main version of “Sabba” is a sitar-heavy psychedelic freak-out accompanied by thumping bass guitar, tortured howls, and ritualistic chanting. It’s a perfect reflection of the frantic, paranoid occult atmosphere of the movie and is one of the best themes Nicolai ever wrote, followed closely by “Magico incontro,” the film’s other main theme. That one is a laid back, romantic song highlighted by dell’Orso’s wordless singing lulling the listener into a false sense of…I don’t know. A lovely walk in the park, or a relaxing drive through the bucolic countryside that will, upon further contemplation, become suddenly, ominously lonely and threatening.

“Bambole,” a similarly soothing track driven by flute and strings that begins to hint at something a little more sinister lurking beneath the surface. “Medium” ratchets up the overt horror in the music, which then reaches a crescendo in the track “Insidia,” which is a much more conventional giallo danger theme with a funky feel underscored by Bernard Herrmann-like blasts of discordant strings. This is straight-up “chased by a killer” music. The release also contains a breezy alternate version of “Magico incontro” that is pure jet set cocktail pop and a longer version of “Sabba.” At times it seems like Nicolai should simple lose control of these disparate styles, that it should become too much. But he maintains a firm hand and somehow makes it work, a rich clash of moods and styles that is at once beautiful and disconcerting, soothing and jarring.

The most notable inclusions on the Digitmovies release that do not show up on the Finders Keepers version are several fantastic versions of “Magico incontro.” All in all, it contains seven different versions of the theme, and a third version of “Sabba” that only features haunting choral vocals, and a couple more straight-forward jazz-funk tracks to accompany you when desperately fleeing from a dagger-wielding maniac (All the Colors of the Dark is a very dagger-heavy film) or try to find your way int he dark around a sinister old apartment building. Despite the additional tracks primarily being variations, they are different and interesting enough to make it worth trying to track down both this and the Finders Keepers release.

Referring to Bruno Nicolai’s All the Colors of the Dark as an unconventional giallo soundtrack suggests that there is such thing as a conventional one. While there may be a certain underlying style to many of the scores, they were composed by musicians who thrilled at doing weird stuff, so it’s pretty common to find surprises in even the most run-of-the-mill soundtracks. Instead, let’s say that All the Colors of the Dark stands out not just because it’s weird and soothing and upsetting, and terrifying and lush; it stands out because in a field crowded with great music, it exists on an entirely different level. Sergio Martino’s movie was the masterpiece of both his career and that of his favorite leading lady, the legendary Edwige Fenech. So it’s only fitting that the accompanying soundtrack emerges as the crowning achievement in Bruno Nicolai’s storied career.

Track List

colors

Finders Keepers, 2014 (CD/LP)

1. Sabba (3:44); 2. Magico Incontro (2:11); 3. Propiziazione (2:34); 4. Evocazione (3:10); 5. Magico Incontro (1:27); 6. Bambole (1:45); 7. Insidia (2:28); 8. Oppressione (2:19); 9. Insidia (1:43); 10. Espiazione (1:43); 11. Medium (3:42); 12. Sabba (5:45)

tutti

Digitmovies, 2004 (CD)

1. Magico Incontro (2:09); 2. Bambole (1:43); 3. Medium (2:00); 4. Magico Incontro (3:22); 5. Insidia (1:47); 6. Suggestione (2:25); 7. Magico Incontro (2:55); 8. Evocazione (3:09); 9. Bambole (1:42); 10. Esorcismo (3:00); 11. Oppressione (2:18); 12. Magico Incontro (2:50); 13. Ipnosi (2:28); 14. Invasamento (2:12); 15. Sabba (3:41); 16. Incantesimo (3:24); 17. Propiziazione (2:35); 18. Insidia (1:42); 19. Sabba (5:42); 20. Immateriale (2:54); 21. Espiazione (1:42); 22. Medium (3:40); 23. Insidia (2:27); 24. Magico Incontro (1:26); 25. Insidia (2:25); 26. Magico Incontro (1:08); 27. Invasamento (3:34); 28. Sabba (3:43); 29. Magico Incontro (2:23)

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