Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 British-Italian thriller Don’t Look Now is a criminally overlooked film with an equally overlooked score, skillfully executed by veteran composer Pino Donaggio. This was Donaggio’s first foray into horror film music, setting him on the path to score other cult favorites like Carrie and The Howling in later years. Out-of-print and long overdue for a refresh, Waxwork Records have put together a beautiful package to complement Roeg’s exceptional film and Donaggio’s haunting arrangements.
Don’t Look Now can be described as variations on two themes: Side A (John) and Side B (Laura). The album opens with “John’s Theme (Children Play),” a piano-led piece that serves as a light introduction. Donaggio starts and stops the notes in a delicately lazy fashion, akin to a child practicing piano during a lesson. It brilliantly masks the terror of “Christine Is Dead,” a dark and menacing string arrangement. After the initial high pitched violin stabs, the low cello and bass dig into the murky depths below while, what can only be described as an otherworldly howl, permeates the foreground. It’s the sounds of loss, specifically John and Laura’s child, the overarching theme of the movie and score.
After another variation of John’s theme we get “Strange Happenings,” featuring some of the best flute work this side of Ian Anderson. The whisps of air flutter and spin through the flute, hurling notes into the space between the dark and foreboding strings.
Side A ends with “John’s Theme (Laura Leaves Venice),” replacing the piano with harp and strings. Although it only lasts a minute or so, Donaggio skillfully captures the sound of Italian dinner music from the ‘50s and ‘60s; simple and elegant, without any rough edges.
Side B begins with “John’s Vision (Laura’s Theme).” Contrary to John’s themes, Laura’s are more direct and frenetic, featuring fast-paced strings and piano. Donaggio used piano and guitar together quite well in these sections, panning them hard left and right to create space and disconnection, a theme prevalent in the film.
“Laura Comes Back” features some of the creepiest moments of the score — a loud, delayed piano over softly played violin. It leads into the even creepier “Dead End.” The harp is plucked like prickly hairs, sharp and clunky with very little sustain. This is Donaggio’s kitchen sink track; he literally throws every instrument, every theme, every sound he can muster at the listener, giving you little time to figure out where it’s all heading. After a bombastic finale, we get to the end, appropriately titled “Laura’s Theme (The Last Farewell).” It begins with piano like the other variations, before bringing in harp, strings, organ and flute to give it some weight.
Donaggio’s score leans on subtle moments and soft melodies, something that’s often an Achilles heel for scores pressed to vinyl. Fortunately, little to no surface noise is present on this release, giving the predominantly light instrumentation plenty of room to sing. Also of note, the stereo field is quite narrow; expect the strings and bass to be completely up front in the mix, adding to the overall tension and paranoia.
If there’s one place Don’t Look Now really shines, it’s in the lush, gorgeous artwork byJessica Seamans of Landland. The striking illustration of (an impossibly tall, due to water reflection) John on the cover holding Christine in his arms is heartbreaking, and needs to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. Inside, we see a dizzying street scene in Venice, with a red-cloaked girl running away from the viewer while a visibly lost Laura floats down the waterlogged Italian streets. Seamons works with color exceptionally well here, casting the scene in muted blue and gray to highlight the red raincoat twisting around the corner archway. The back cover is even more surreal, showing a peaceful Christine floating to the bottom of a mossy green lake while her red checkered ball floats along the top. It’s powerful stuff and one of my favorite Waxwork commissions to date.
The record is housed in a thick gatefold sleeve, similar to previous Waxwork releases. The vinyl itself is 180-gram weight on opaque red wax.
Don’t Look Now is available on “opaque red” vinyl at Waxwork.