Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: The Italian Synthetic Music Machine - Dance to till You're Dead

Can horror fans dance? Well I suppose that depends on who you ask. If you’re looking to the gang of Goths jamming out to Bauhaus watching The Hunger and swaying viciously, imitating vampire-like zombies then maybe you’d skip a night out at the disco and head straight for the Bat Cave. Maybe you think you’re Jessica Harper, can dance the ballet and are registered at a prestigious European dance academy run by witches. I tend to think that both of the scenarios would include the outliers of this rabble of horror freaks that pays attention to this lil’ blog. We’re probably somewhere between the headphone wearing hipsters, wearing an oversized noise reducing set of Skull Candy brand phones and the type of folks who think they can do the Calypso after watching Beetlegeuse. That is not to say that we like music any less and being a remarkably creative bunch, we can figure out steps to any song on which you’d drop the needle.

Italian Horror is known for its diverse selection of musical styles and its influence on a generation that grew up listening to boldface organ drops as if every horror flick was the Phantom of the Opera. If you’re a fan of the horror of Italy then you’re probably in the know about Goblin. Maybe you can name drop Simonetti or Frizzi which is all well and good, but let’s break out ever so gently of the more popular riffs from these fine composers. Yes, we will include all three of those big named composers but let’s not mention Suspiria or City of the Living Dead. Their work is stunning. It has earned its place among the John Williams’ of the lesser known horror subgenres, but we need to broaden our minds.

Take some time to listen to and read about the compositions below. If you’re feeling spry make up a few dance steps for these and cut the proverbial rug perhaps while enjoying a glass of Campari or J&B (sinful). The music in this article is not disco and in fact it probably isn’t danceable at all, but after a few cocktails you can trip the light fantastique to Negativeland if you want.

 I urge you to listen to everything below. I also urge you to try an experiment. Open two or three or four of the soundtracks below in other tabs. That means right click the YouTube link and have them open and play simultaneously... I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the cacophony. Be a kid. Have fun. Be an Italian Horror DJ!!!


(warning contains no Disco music)

SHOCK – Get ready to break out your classic 70’s prog rock dancing klogs. When a couple is terrorized in their new house the last culprit you’d suspect would be their son… even more unsuspected would be that this Mario Bava final film would be set to very danceable, hip, happening  music that sounds quite a bit like Goblin.  Appreciate the funky groove of Dino Cappa’s inspiring bass performance that might have you feeling very Les Claypool by the end of the piece. Maurizio Guarini on the organs will have Rick Wakeman begging for lessons.  Dark, brooding with a beat. It’s exactly what you’d come to expect from the boot shaped country in the middle of the Mediterranean.  Beyond the Door II is well worth the watch; funny but doesn’t fail to “shock” you. It’s not The Girl Who Knew Too Much or Blood and Black Lace but give the BAVA the benefit of the doubt.

DEMONS II – Every time I listen to this tune I end up thinking of Wax Trax meets Short Circuit. You remember Short Circuit right? Johnny Five meets Ally Sheedy… romance… baby robots ensue in the sequel? I’m a huge Short Circuit fan and even saw the sequel in the theater. Go ahead and listen to music from the opening, “robot build” sequence and tell me there aren’t similarities. There are moments where this reminds me of material of the Wax Trax Black Box, a three CD set that dominated my angsty period during the mid-90’s. Think Cyberaktif or Lead into Gold. There are distinct shifts throughout ranging from rock movements to electro noise. Contributors to this mix were Simon Boswell (who did some composition for Phenomena), The Cult, The Art of Noise and Caduta Massi. It’s no surprise that the Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento would have an amazing soundtrack to the follow up movie Demons that had one of the most memorable soundtracks of the Italian Horror golden age. If you think you’re apartment building, infested with cockroaches has it bad try having it infested by Demoni! Bobby Rhodes shows up for the party, but he ain’t the pimp you’re used to.

SALO OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM – If you want an Ennio Morricone score that simply doesn’t sound like your preconception of Ennio then this might be for you. When Libertine philosophy meets your teenage dream you get a big pile of strange cabaret/low key big band music that is more period then perversion. It’s the perfect score to counteract the atrocious acts you will see on screen. While I don’t necessarily think of this as horror and would much prefer to watch any of the Ilsa flicks to this fascist torture romp, it has it’s place in the canon of shock cinema which is to be respected at all costs. Move over Mussolin, Pasolini is coming in. Slow dance with your sweetheart while sticking a candle up her ass for this one. Maybe take a hint from the great Sardu and eat dinner of each others backs (I don’t think Joel Reed was Italian even if he did direct a movie called Night of the Zombies in 1981 starring one of our favorite porn stars, Jamie Gillis).

HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD aka NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES – Now I fully realize that I just mentioned Joel Reed and Night of the Zombies in my previous commentary on the score for Salo, however I want to assure you that it was completely random that I mentioned Mr. Reed, that he directed a film (not this film at all) called Night of the Zombies. It’s fate. Onto the score… We’re here to talk about the Bruno Mattei directed, Claudio Fragasso written B, zombie apocalypse with one of the greatest movie posters ever conceived for all its simplicity. The music for this film was made by Goblin for the Luigi Cozzi film Contamination (which is a must see movie), but was also used in Hell of the Living Dead. It’s a brilliant score. Atmospheric guitar driven music with creeping bass notes and 60’s drive-in horror organ hits. It’s as creepy and campy as the movies in which it is used. Should we have included Reed’s Night of the Zombies as well… might be more fit for dancing if Jamie Gillis (star of one my favorite adult films, New Wave Hookers)is on the screen… the highlight of early 80’s porno music meets Simonetti perhaps?

CEMETERY MAN aka DellaMorte DellAmore- I believe I have talked enough about my first couple experiences discovering Cemetery Man to justify why I continue to call it Cemetery Man as opposed to DellaMorte DellAmore (it’s propert Italian name). Old habits die hard. What I will say about the score is that it ultimately has that Full Moon feel. It’s not subtle. It demands and grabs your attention by your wet and curlies. It’s good for a scare from the outright with big orchestral/symphonic synth hits. Now there is a sweet side to this score written by Manuel De Sica just as there’s a sweet side to this strange undead tale. At times I even felt “Less than Zero” about the whole thing. Bleak. Sounds that drift between pillars of dense cacophonies of well constructed ambient noise.  If you need a soundtrack to play outside your house on Halloween night you’ll be happy with the variety. Oh yeah… and of course there’s the sound of a theramin (or faux theramin) that whistles you into a hypnotic trance followed by a near tribal, suspense building, pulse pounding dirge. Versatile.

CANNIBAL FEROX – Fabio Frizzi to Italian zombie movie music what crab cakes and football are to Maryland… That’s what he does!  During the greatest exploitation phase in Italian movie history, cannibals walked the earth just as much as the dead. While the war waged on for supremacy in the “man eat man”- out shock me baby baby battle, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato would duel, having created to of the original films that lead to the cannibal craze, would ultimately bring to a close its ferocious period with two back to back releases… Cannibal Holocaust by Deodato and Cannibal Ferox aka Make Them Die Slowly from Lenzi. While fans continue to argue for the merits behind the dominance of each film to this day, the battle of the Italian music composer is a fierce, time tested fight as well. One one side Fabio Frizzi, composer for Zombie and City of the Living Dead and on the other, Riz Ortolani’s score that has been used by fans to accentuate their own productions. Featured here is the synth orchestral masterpiece of Mr. Frizzi. Enjoy, compare, contrast but most of all, die… slowly. There are no clear victors in battles of this type… only victims! Do you want the spike through the cooter or the hooks through the titties?

TENTACLES – From the man who gave us the scores to Twitch of the Death Nerve and Piranha Part II, Stelvio Cipiriani creates action soundtracks for dramatic movies that empower the audience and helps to put them in the shoes of the heroes on screen. Having composed one of my all time favorite scores for Nightmare City and working on over 200 movies his name has become synonymous with the legendary composers of Italy during the 70’s and 80’s. He’s done everything from cannibals to zombies to gialli and big monster rip offs. If you are unfamiliar with Cirpiani’s work then you need to check out his composing filmography. Baron Blood, Evil Eye, Deported Women of the SS Special Section. Tentacles isn’t considered an Italian film, but leave it to Stelvio to cross the international borders to take part in one of the greatest of cheesy giant monster movies of the 70’s. Tentacles features John Huston… you know… The Maltese flacon , The Treasure of the Sierra Madre John Huston. Directed by Ovidio Assonitis, a Greek director who did a little movie called Beyond the Door… maybe William Friedkin would remember his name better?  Also directed Piranha Part II… he’s got under water credentials.

CONQUEST – I know this sword and shield epic battle against the incredibly sexy, nudie evil isn’t exactly horror, but really, what is horror anyway? This movie has one of my favorite posters, an amazing “epic” score that comes off as a Terminator meets Beast Master mythological trek to obtain power and glory. You can find this (if you can find it) on a soundtrack that combines Aenigma (composed by Carlo Cardio), Conquest (by Claudio Simonetti) and Morirai a Mezzanotte (also by Simoneetti) on one compilation. I’ve including a sampling below of all three and one just of the titles written by Mr. Simonetti himself for Conquest. This one has just a hint of Space Invaders and a dash of Atari’s Missle Command embedded in it. A real treat from the synthetic age.

BUIO OMEGA – Goblin does island music that transitions into gorgeous synth-funkadelia. If you were looking for the place where musical genres collide like atoms in a smasher The Goblins (as they were once known) are ready to split your ears wide open. Ever so danceable, you might as well be listening to the score from the latest Travolta or Newton John dance drama. Rest assured that I’m not taking the time to belittle this piece of Italian musical history to bash our beloved Goblin. The reason that you listen to this is for the evolution of the band itself from their stardom in the mid-70’s to their awkward period to Simonetti’s maturity and resounding echo throughout Italian and indeed world cinema.. Where does Simonetti take the band from 1979 and the collaboration with Joe D’Amato? Furthermore, how does happy dance funk frolic like this enter a Beyond the Darkness. Who hires these guys anyway?  One minute you’re scoring Deep Red and Dawn of the Dead with grueling bits of synthesized gloom and doom with action sensibilities or understated ghost story revelry and childlike terror fugues… the next you’re waiting for a Pina Colada in Manhattan with palm trees lining the discothèque. This just might be a Bikini Island unto itself.

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