Monday, October 31, 2011

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: Eight Top Italian Horror Soundtracks

Note: The following is an (admittedly) 11th hour piece written for the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies that is finishing today. I had hoped to be able to get out a couple of more posts on actual films before today rolled around but both time and surplus brain-cells have proved to be in shorter supply this weekend than initially hoped. However, in the interest of getting another contribution out before the day is through, I decided I'd do something a little different instead. I'd say I'm probably as equally obsessed with/distracted by music as I am with film. And when the two are mixed, well, I'm just happy as a pig in shit. In fact, almost invariably, most of my favourite films usually have (for me) equally memorable soundtracks. So, for this second brief foray into the world of Italian horror, I decided I'd take a quick tour through some of my favourite scores from the genre. The following are in no particular order.

Una lucertola con la pelle di donna/Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
Whilst I'm a big fan of Morricone's work on Argento's animal trilogy, his work on this trippy, labyrinthine thriller from Fulci is undoubtedly my favourite of the giallo scores I've heard from him so far. The central elements - such as a seductive, swinging female solo vocal and some eerie downtempo whistling to cite two disparate examples - are often deceptively simple. Yet these catchy melodies are often quickly coupled with layers of creeping dissonance which transform the whole mix into a heady brew of potential menace and suggested intrigue.

E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldila/The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Frizzi's memorable score for Fulci's face-melting, spider spawning opus of crawling chaos, like much of Morricone and Goblin's work, mixes traditional orchestration with jazz-funk jamming to consistently fascinating effect. A creepy ascending then descending piano theme also features throughout the film, adding tremendously to the full-on gothic ambience of proceedings. Finally, there's even a wonderful, boozy, bluesy track that plays when Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck are sat in a Louisiana jazz bar that provides a bit of local flavour (just in case anyone was in any doubt where the film is set I guess).

Profondo rosso/ Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
Composed by Goblin and jazz pianist Giorgio Gaslini, this seminal score arguably owes a few debts to the earlier soundtracks of Ennio Morricone (e.g. the sinister lullaby that soundtracks the opening murder is a case in point). However, something in their collective DNA allows this group of musicians to create something much more crazed and seemingly free-form than Morricone ever seemed to achieve during his giallo work with Argento and Fulci.

Phenomena (Dario Argento, 1985)
Eclectic, even by Argento's standards, this soundtrack includes contributions from such diverse artists as good ole' Goblin, Simon Boswell, Iron Maiden and others. Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor's sublime "Valley" is, for me, the musical highlight of the movie; a serene, yet sinister soundscape that perfectly matches the chilly beauty of Argento's Swiss-shot photography. Goblin's tracks, whilst certainly not on the same level of their earlier work with Argento (to be fair, I think the band was starting to fragment at this time, if I'm not mistaken, which would explain a few things) are still an excellent accompaniment for this delightfully barmy Gothic fairy tale. And the inclusion of Iron Maiden's "Flash of the Blade", whilst perhaps somewhat incongruous, in no way diminishes my enjoyment of the film; in fact, quite the opposite...

Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980)
Compared to that of its sister film, Suspiria, the soundtrack for Argento's equally extraordinary, yet relatively underrated Inferno by Keith Emerson sadly doesn't seem to get much praise. It's certainly a more traditional score than Goblin's celebrated work and, perhaps, maybe a little overly operatic/seemingly overwrought for some tastes. However, despite the more conventional approach to instrumentation, Inferno's score is still, even when compared with its more celebrated cousin, incredibly dynamic and seething with movement and violence. Whilst it probably goes without saying that Goblin's soundtrack is the more groundbreaking, I find myself listening to Emerson's music for this film more often for some reason. The main theme is simply gorgeous, and sets the appropriate mood of intrigue mixed with a sense of impending catastrophe. "Rose's Descent into the Cellar" helps conjure a fairly consistent feeling of creeping unease and imminent peril. And, last but not least, Emerson's remix of Giuseppe Verdi's "Va, pensiero", in 5/4 time (to mimic the feeling of being shunted round a bumpy Italian taxi) is, whilst possibly somewhat misplaced (despite the lysergic visuals), still certainly inspired.

Quella villa accanto al cimitero/The House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Whilst perhaps not as audacious or accomplished as Fabio Frizzi's scores for the previous installments of Fulci's loosely connected "Gates of Hell" trilogy, City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981) (and this goes when comparing the movies themselves as well I'd say), I seem to have, for some reason, more of a soft spot, so to speak, for both this film and its soundtrack, despite (or maybe even because of) its slight creakiness.

Un delitto poco comune/Phantom of Death (Ruggero Deodato, 1988)
Deodato's underrated and underseen giallo stars a fantastically affecting Michael York (i.e. Basil Exposition from Austin Powers) as a famous pianist suffering from a degenerative illness that is not only making him age prematurely but is also turning the poor guy into homicidal maniac. Genre luminary Donald Pleasence also features in a typically (yet wonderfully) scenery chewing performance as the police inspector out to stop the madness. The score, from the similarly underpraised singer-songwriter turned composer Pino Donaggio (who surely belongs in the horror/exploitation composer Hall of Fame for his work on Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) and Dressed to Kill (1980) and Joe Dante's The Howling (1981), among many others) arguably lifts what might be otherwise be considered somewhat modest material (although Deodato is certainly not without his occasional directorial flair) up to another level. There is an eclectic mix of styles and instrumentation throughout the soundtrack but the highlight is probably the opening piano solo played by York's central character; a piece that (along with the flashbacks glimpsed during this sequence) gives us an incredible amount of insight into his both his backstory and his psychology, in just a few short minutes.

Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
The high watermark of Goblin's association with Argento, this score is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary ever produced, especially for a horror film. The title track, with its hypnotic music box motif set against a slow burning soundscape that sounds like it's been specifically composed for a black mass, seems the perfect aural counterpart to the feverish images of Jessica Harper's heroine tripping through the dark fantastic. Other tracks, such as "Witch", shriek and caterwaul with hysterical abandon (unsurprisingly, this piece underscores some of the film's shockingly brutal (yet strangely beautiful) murder set-pieces). Instrumentally, it's almost as though Goblin have thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. Thankfully however, the results proved to be stupendous, yet sadly somewhat of a hard act to follow. The aptly named "Sighs" and the gorgeous "Black Forest" (which doesn't actually feature in the film itself, if memory serves) are among other standouts on this OST.

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