I finally saw - and heard - a movie sporting a score with the smallest genuine instrumental ensemble I can recall. Not just a single player, a true ensemble. But one that would fit in a closet with room to spare. This be no criticism, though. On the contrary, it is worthy of some note.
The Legend Of Hell House comes from 1973. John Hough directs, Richard Matheson scripts from his own novel. The shudders onscreen come courtesy Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt and Clive Revill. It's a variant on the possessed house theme with sturdy players and several vibrant shocks. So about that ensemble. Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire write the music and just four players seem to be realizing it, probably including the composers. There are very few harmonies and themes really play no part. The ideas are all stark and transparent. But beyond that, thing's aren't so simple.
What the two composers do is underline the opening credits with a solitary drum, tapping over a twisted line intoned by a contra-bass clarinet. A solo trumpet reproduced at half-speed provides brief splashes of color. And all three of these instruments sound over a hovering low-key synthesizer. In fact, this electronic portion of the ensemble provides a very important color in the score, albeit rarely moving beyond a pair of two-note chords comprised of a minor third each. The contra-bass clarinet idea that winds in and about becomes the other main voice. The drum and trumpet figure in specific scenes rather than throughout. Mostly it's the synthesizer that hovers underneath various scenes such as numerous transitions between dates and times etched across the screen. And the growling-yet-still-melodic voice of the contra-bass clarinet does the rest of the heavy lifting. For all its apparent simplicity, the musical ideas are studies in contrasts yet work very well together. They actually become something of a "voice" for the house - nudging, nagging, scaring - and ultimately doing harm to the inhabitants making their studies within.
A fun sidebar here. The movie had a certain reputation when first released and director Hough went on to further success. In an interview appearing as an extra on the blu-ray, Hough points out that following the project, his biggest ambition was to get work not in fright films but with Walt Disney. His wishes came true and he soon found himself directing both Escape From Witch Mountain and the sequel Return To Witch Mountain for the famed family-friendly studio. During the interview, he also makes mention of the music for Legend Of Hell House as well as his admiration for the two composers behind it. As time permits, check this one out.