I think it’s come to that point in my record-buying life that I need to look back and reflect a bit. This isn’t just a mere hobby to pass the time. This isn’t a phase I’m going through. Music has always been a part of my life, ever since my first music purchase back in 1984 with Ratt’s Out of the Cellar on cassette. Even before that, really. Spinning KISS records on my red, white, and blue-striped Fisher Price at 5 years old was maybe the point where music became an obsession for me. I’ve always needed a soundtrack to my days. There was always a couple of acoustic guitars at family get-togethers, and I can remember finding a beat up Tele in my uncle’s attic and picking it up and having this jolt of electricity go through me(it wasn’t plugged in, btw.) No, music has never been a sideline for me. It’s always been there, and that has continued well into my middle age years.
With my soundtrack collection growing ever so rapidly thanks to the voodoo spell those fine voodoo priests and priestesses over at Mondotees and Death Waltz have put on me I see no reason not to talk about my favorite soundtrack albums. With us being well into October I thought I’d talk about a few of my favorite horror soundtracks because…well, tis the seethin’.
House By The Cemetery by Walter Rizzati
If this was going to be one of those lists that was numbered from 1 to 10, then House By The Cemetery would be in the top 5. Even as a kid this S/T always stuck in my head. There’s a baroque quality to the music that stays with you(as it did with me for over 25 years.) Regardless of how badly dubbed the dialogue was or how dated the effects can be, the one thing that remains steadfast in Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy was the music. You can throw this album on late at night and get that cold, eerie vibe running through the house.
For me, I instantly go back to when I first saw House By The Cemetery. Sitting in my parents living room on a oddly cool summer night I sat motionless on the couch and watched this grainy, sordid Italian horror film. Despite the gore and the relative cheesiness of what I was seeing on that old Betamax copy of the film, I was struck by the sad beauty in Rizzati’s score. A mix of piano, synth, and what kind of sounded harpsichord, the music masked a b-movie in a shroud of quality chamber music. There was a couple dated disco-ish spots on the score, but that’s to be expected when you’re wanting to add a touch of “modern” sound to a film. It’s not that bothersome, really. Overall, Fulci was smart enough to hire the right guys to turn his sordid Italian gore features into something more by way of a hell of a soundtrack.
Excavation by The Haxan Cloak
The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is not a horror soundtrack but it should be. It sounds like cold, dead air escaping a dilapidated, rotting domicile. It creaks and beats like a black heart pumping foul dreck through the body of the undead. It’s the sound of synthetic blood running through a metallic death machine. Electronic music for the end of the world. Bobby Krlic’s musical world is a dark one. One that could easily score a night of demonic delights, or a walk through skull-lined catacombs. Excavation is an intense musical vision. If you want something to play for a late night tryst with a Succubus or Incubus, look no further than this 2013 record.
Phantasm by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm has to be one of the most bizarre horror films I remember seeing as a kid. Staying up late one night with my dad watching it till nearly 1am when it played as the late late show on WSBT channel 22, I can remember thinking it all just felt so dream-like. It was also really creepy, thanks to the estute scoring work of Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave. The electric piano work mixed with the nightmare sounds of synth and organ really went far to make the film’s hallucinatory vibe go the distance. The film was made in 1979, so the score can be dated at times. But if you’re like me, then you know this music is never out of fashion. The electric piano holds a very nostalgic place for me, and it’s used very well here. Plus, there’s some honestly eerie passages here that will make your Halloween season all the better.
The Fog by John Carpenter
If there is a legitimate horror soundtrack masterpiece then I think Carpenter’s The Fog could be it. The mood, vibe, and overall frigid fear of the film wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it weren’t for this masterful score. The piano motif shadowed by the synth; the heavy, looming bass notes; the distant electronic moans and baroque feel are immediate and never let go. The film is a masterpiece itself, but no other piece of cinematic music has ever felt so right in a film as this. John Carpenter was the real deal filmmaker. He had an overall vision in his films and music was one of the key elements.
As a side note, about two weeks ago my wife and I along with our two younger children were on our way back from going to see our oldest perform in her first band concert of the year. We were about 10 miles from home when we ran into some seriously dense fog, just after sundown. The fog bellowed over the valleys in the recently harvested cornfields we drove through. In typical fashion, I knew what needed to soundtrack this last stretch of road home so I grabbed my iPod and brought up John Carpenter’s “The Fog Theme” from his recently released single series from Sacred Bones. It was magnificent, and I got a good chuckle out of the wife.
It Follows by Disasterpeace
Last year’s It Follows was one of the most dividing film experiences in recent horror cinema history. You had one group saying it was one of the best horror films of the year while the other group said it was terrible. Most of the folks that said it was terrible were hardcore horror fans that found the film boring, confusing, and not the least bit scary. The folks that loved the movie considered it to be just as much an arthouse film as anything. They also saw a heavy David Lynch presence. For me, I didn’t think it was the best horror film of the year, mainly because I didn’t consider it a horror film. To me it was more like a psychological thriller. A f****d up coming-of-age story that was equal parts Halloween, Blue Velvet, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you were looking for solid narrative, obvious antagonists, and an ending that wrapped everything up you were doomed from the start. What you got was a noir-ish hallucination of a film. Solid acting, dream-like mood, and a score that hit it out of the ballpark. Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, is known for creating some pretty iconic video game scores. He mainly deals in indie games and in the chiptune variety of music. With It Follows he creates a moody set of pieces that bring Carpenter to mind, as well as many other 70s horror films. In my opinion, Disasterpeace has created a modern classic with the It Follows S/T.
The House Of The Devil by Jeff Grace
One of my favorite horror films of the last 10 years was Ti West’s The House Of The Devil. There were so many tips of the hat to guys like Polanski, Hitchcock, Friedkin, and even some lesser guys that put out solid horror in the early 80s. West made a modern film look like it came out in 1981, and if you’d come across it late one night you’d think you’d found some lost classic. Jeff Grace’s score is restrained, eloquent, and utterly horrifying. He takes a more classic approach, putting the electronics aside and going for more of a chamber music feel. Piano and strings take up the bulk of this one(with the exception of the opening track being a rock instrumental that feels like it was born from an all night binge on The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo”.) The score stays peaceful with an undertone of dread, which if you’ve seen the film would know that’s the genius of Ti West’s ode to “things that go bump in the night”. This one is a brilliant late night listen, and will surely curdle the blood at just the right moments.
Maniac by Rob
Think what you will of the film, but Maniac was a truly disturbing experience. The remake was prettied up and given a modern lean, taking away that late 70s street trash look of the original by William Lustig. Going from New York to Los Angeles Franck Khalfoun’s version of Maniac is a different beast altogether but seedy and disturbing nonetheless. I think the most riveting thing about the film was actually the score. Film composer Rob avoided the usual tropes of horror and stylized films by not filling the film with flashy tracks of disco and techno-heavy music. Instead he made a soundtrack that was overwhelmingly melancholy. Heavy synth score that, in my mind, reflects the serious illness and overall malaise of the lead character and psycho Frank Zito.
The movie overall is trashy(especially the original), but don’t ignore this soundtrack. It’s stunning, original, and something that can be enjoyed out of the context of the film.
So these are my desert island horror soundtracks. If I was stuck on some sandy patch in the middle of some Godforsaken stretch of blue these would be the records I’d have to have to play on my turntable made of coconut shells, bamboo, and hollowed out logs. These records, to me, define generations of music composers and their unique approach to scoring the movies that made us all look under our beds and check our closets before the light went out in our bedrooms. There are so many good horror scores out there, but these have been staples in my record listening diet. I hope you look into a few of them and see for yourself.
What? You want more? Well, then consider this part one. I’ll get started on part two immediately.