Born in Canada in 1952. Paul Zaza, started to take an interest in music from a very early age. From the age of four years old he started to have piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto which is his birthplace and remained at the Conservatory until he graduated, it was not his performances on piano however that got him noticed, he was also a bass player and was picked out by the band The Fifth Dimension whilst he was performing for the stage show Hair. Which led to him touring with the band. He started to become involved with the scoring of motion pictures after he was approached by filmmaker Les Rose who had at times used Zaza’s studio, the director was looking for a composer to write the music to one of his latest movies and the score he had already he thought was not suitable. So, he asked Zaza to write a few themes for the movie which led to him scoring the picture and collaborating with the filmmaker on three other movies. Since those early days he has been involved with well over a hundred and fifty credits, often the horror genre and one does stand out which was for the Sherlock Holmes movie Murder by Decree, directed by Bob Clark.
The score garnered Zaza and his collaborator Carl Zittrer a Genie award which is the Canadian equivalent to the Oscar. The score was a worthy winner being a tense and highly fraught work, it was also symphonic through and through, with interesting orchestrations and a wonderfully lyrical pastoral theme which oozes a rich and lush persona that can be likened to something that Vaughn Williams might have penned.
But, it is three other horrors we turn our attention too now The Brain (1988), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Prom Night (1980). The latter title in my opinion is probably the better score, but I suppose its all a matter of personal taste. In many ways I feel that Zaza’s music is at times evocative of the scores that were composed by Bob Cobert and Bill Marx, especially the music that Marx penned for the two Count Yorga movies back in the 1970’s. There is a simplicity and a complexity within Zaza’s music, which is why it not only works so well within the films he worked upon, but also has to it an entertaining and appealing persona when listened to away from any images. But the style between both Cobert and Marx is I think noticeable.
Both My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night are available on digital platforms, with both scores recently being released onto vinyl. The films maybe considered as B features or low budget affairs, but the scores are both outstanding. Prom Night is a wonderfully atmospheric work, with the composer employing what sounds to be a medium sized ensemble of layers with the string section dominating the proceedings, but I love the way in which the composer also weaves in a little scattering of percussive elements and utilises woodwind to great effect, but it is the use of sinewy and sharp sounding strings in the form of jabs and stabs and visceral meandering passages that catches one’s attention.
For a small or low-key score, it certainly makes an impression on the watching audience adding much atmosphere and also creating an array of moods throughout. The score even includes a handful of half decent disco tracks, Dancin in the Moonlight, for example which although cliched and cheesy is a true toe tapper. There are a few songs included on the soundtrack release and if you enjoy syrupy disco tracks and predictable ballads you will love these and when listening I was suddenly transported back to the 1970’s when there were so many of these tracks around. I think the composer even sends himself up a little with tracks like Another Disco Funk track and Funk Dat Disco, making an appearance in their great funky, groovy glory. But look beyond these and focus upon the actual score and you will find a rare gem of a horror soundtrack, the version or edition on digital platforms contains every scrap of gloriously retro music from the movie, with thirty-four tracks and running for over an hour, however many of the cues twenty to be precise were not used in the movie. But its good to have them all here. This is a soundtrack that is varied if nothing else, but you know I really enjoyed it.
The same can be said for My Bloody Valentine, as in I really enjoyed it, the soundtrack is split into for sections or suites, all of which are over fifteen minutes in duration, these are 1. The Horror of Valentines bluff, 2. Pickaxe Impalement Suite, 3. Bleeding Hearts Still Beating Suite and 4. Trapped in the Mines Suite. The score is again a varied one with the composer employing a syrupy sweet Mancini like theme initially, which soon segues into something a little more malevolent and apprehensive, again the composer utilising a relatively small ensemble, but this time embellishing and adding support to this via electronic means, creating icy and chilling effects. There is again an underlying sense of foreboding as in Prom Night, with the composer creating a sinister and virulent atmosphere, this time with a solo piano which picks out a four-note motif and gradually increases its tempo until it reaches a climax of sortsand do not forget this is just in the first cue. Overall, this is a varied and an accomplished work, which gives the action on screen greater impact. I think the reason I prefer Prom Night is because it is more of a symphonic score whereas My Bloody Valentine does bring into play more synthetic instrumentation. But this does not mean that the score is not a good one, on the contrary it is a soundtrack that I would recommend without reservation as Zaza does an excellent job of purveying shock and tension via the synthetic and symphonic elements of the work.
Another film that Zaza scored was the 1988 low budget sci-fi horror The Brain, maybe not the greatest movie or score, but it is still an effective soundtrack, the composer this time creating a soundtrack mostly by electronic means that was supportive of the movie but was I am sad to say not memorable at all, but there again should music for a horror movie be memorable or just effective in the film? The score for The Brain, is eerie, jumpy, apprehensive and certainly atmospheric, but it has very little originality to it and sounds like so many other synth horror scores that were around in the 1980’s such as Xtro, by Harry Bromley Davenport. Again, for The Brain Zaza, includes a disco type of song, which for me sounds like something that was a track on an album from the 1970’s by a band or artist that was a one hit wonder.
But remember Zaza himself released a handful of disco albums or at least disco music themed albums such as Hot in Here, Le Payback and Contact all released in 1977 and all have to them a sound and style that was synonymous with the disco days of the late 1970’s with Chic and Ritchie Family like vocals.
Although effective within the movie the score for The Brain is not as inventive or indeed as developed as Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine. One does still live-in hope that the soundtrack for Murder by Decree will one day see the light of day as it is most definitely the best of Zaza and his long-time writing partner Carl Zittrer.