Eerie Listening: 31 Great Euro Horror Scores, Part I
It’s that time of year once again, isn’t it? Time for us all to get our Jerry Goldsmith, Gerald Fried, Hans Salter, John Carpenter and Joseph Bishara scores out, play them loudly in-between various Elvira song compilations and collections, maybe welcome in a trick or treater or two (or not) and try to scare them to something almost but not quite like death so they’ll never trick or treat in your nearest vicinity again.
Of course, some of the more hard core among you will get together with the partner of your choice and dance naked while chanting ritualistic passages from tomes made of dead skin as a prelude to practicing a good imitation of the beast with two backs but... hey, you get tired of that sometimes and just want to listen to music (the two backs thing can be handled quite easily with much playing of music anyway... so no problem there).
However, sometimes the usual suspects on your composers of choice list, while powerful, could do with a little variety mixed in with them. There are lots of European horror movies (and I’ve stuck to that for this article... no Japanese or Korean horrors here etc.) that have some great scores out there so, for your consideration, I’ve compiled a list of 31 of my favourites.
Okay, I know the first question that’s on your lips when you read that... Why 31?
Well there are two possible reasons I submit to you and you can choose the one you think most truthful. It could be said that I took a number which, for me, is synonymous with the spirit of Halloween revelry, 13, and then inverted it as a kind of homage to the inversion of celebrating all things demonic or satanic at this time of year... to get 31. Yep. You could say that.
Or, you know, some of you could say that I tried to do a top ten, then found some others I thought I’d like to include, so made it a top 15... then found some others I’d like to include and etc.
Whichever explanation you pick is fine... they both have a certain amount of truth in them, to be honest.
Before you read on, I should probably warn you that there are some classics that just aren’t included on this list. For example, Fabio Frizzi’s Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) and Goblin’s take on Zombi (aka Dawn Of The Dead) are exempt from this list. Yes, they both have a great, powerful and much loved horror theme in them... but from my experience of album releases of these two, it’s usually just that one theme and a load of less interesting stuff (HEATHEN! - Ed). That being said, I do like Claudio Simonetti’s group Daemonia’s new Zombi cover album because it contains some very unusual orchestrations and it’s overall a much better listen to these tired old ears than the original score.
So yeah, you won’t find either of those two in here, I’m afraid... although you will find a few Frizzi scores scattered about and only one important Goblin score in here. The partial reason for that is that Goblin scored a lot of giallo and I don’t see any crossover between the giallo and horror genres... they’re pretty much mutually exclusive as far as I’m concerned. That being said, you will find a few Simonetti scores in here... so that’s like Goblin, right?
Anyway, enjoy the following 31 suggestions for additional music you can crank out to intimidate any unwanted intruders... erm... guests, this Halloween. The obvious choice for number one euro horror score is not what I’ve put down as number one so you might get a surprise the closer you get to the end... but hey, that’s why everyone is different... so we can all argue over individual rankings and stab ourselves to death on Halloween. Hope you like... 31. Fascination (1979) by Philip Deram This one’s okay for Halloween if you can take the time to recompile it. Opening with an ornate and jaunty theme as some of Rollin’s famous vampire gals dance to the tune as a visible, musical source from a grammophone, the track employs musical saws to great benefit. There is some nice, atmospheric, dream like synth and voice work on here too. Beware though... the new Finders Keepers “soundtrack release” includes a fair amount of French dialogue on it and, when you tot up the cues without any of this horribly intrusive talking, I think you’ll find that in terms of score (the album is doubled up with Requiem For A Vampire, and this suffers the same fate) there are no actual new cues that weren’t already on the early Jean Rollin compilation put out by Lucertola. No real scary tracks on here but the album does alternate between jaunty, dreamlike and sinister when it can. 'L’Interieur Des Ecurtes' would be particularly good for getting under the skin of any stray trick or treaters who are clinging to your upholstery with a mug of cocoa and a bag of sweets.
30. I Lunghi Capelli Della Morte aka The Long Hair Of Death (1964) by Carlo Rustichelli. This composer employs the use of “death bells” with an overly romantic string sound and some occasional dissonance thrown in for good measure. The score has a very Golden Age sound to it while still feeling suitably brooding and atmospheric. Awash with gothic sounding passages which wouldn’t be out of place in an old Roger Corman AIP picture, scored by Les Baxter. Some unexpected latin chanting towards the end gives some variance to the tone. Not as cool as the same composer's famous giallo score for Blood And Black Lace but... still a really creepy listen. 29. Manhattan Baby (1982) by Fabio Frizzi Love the way this score continues the tradition of Italian “beat sinister” but uses a vaguely Egyptian taint to this approach... some of the sequences at the start of the movie, the more interesting passages in a not so great film, are set in Egypt. Some of this album is quite upbeat, it has to be said, but Frizzi remembers to lay on some tension when required.
28. Malenka, La Nipote Del Vampiro aka Malenka, Niece Of The Devil aka Fangs Of The Living Dead (1969) by Carlo Savini. Slidey violins introduce Guilia Rei’s vocal stylings that open the Malenka album put out by Quartet Records and, while she’s no Elvira when it comes to belting out horror themed dittys, the track easily joins the ranks of my “trashy songs = quality entertainment” list. The actual score itself is intriguing and features soft percussion which gives the impression of leaving you but never quite coming off of the musical phrases this thing hurls at you. It does get kinda hypnotic like that in some places... like you’ve just sat down on a merry-go-round and it’s going just a little bit fast to get off it just yet without spraining your ankle. Just listen to track four, the fantastically titled 'Malenka, La Nipote Del Vampiro seq 3' if you don’t believe me. Guaranteed to put any unwanted guest’s heads in a spin. When that Savina guy gets going, there’s more ostinato than you can shake a stick at.
27. Holocaust 2000 aka Rain Of Fire (1977) by Ennio Morricone Misleading harmonic theme over a grounding piano bass line and some added chorus sounds like it should do the trick but the first track on Seven Seas' presentation doesn’t do too much for me. However, as the second track gets underway, there is a certain driven quality to the score and a stab at unsettling unease by the time track three plays out. As the CD progresses, things get more unsettling with lots of dis-harmony and chaotic writing happening behind the main melody lines... along with some unnecessary similarities to the first of Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen scores, it has to be said.
26. La Cripta e L'incubo aka Crypt Of The Vampire (1964) by Carlo Savini A heady mix of booming and eerie percussion set against subtle strings, xylophones and organ wash/stings.The horror is occasionally diluted by horrible love theme popping up at the wrong moment but otherwise a good addition to your eerie listening collection.
25. Il Plenilunio Delle Vergini aka The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) by Vasco Vassil Kojucharov After the hoofbeat driven bombast of the opening titles (why do so many horror films do that) we are straight into high pitched washes of headache inducing weirdness, counterpointed by organ, before heading back into rhythm territory once more. Stabs of brass overlay the melodies at points where it needs a little lifting. Dreamlike harps are less effective but the dirge like pacing of imaginatively titled tracks like 'Il Plenilunio Delle Vergini seq 4' (yeah, those Italians are mad bastards for coming up with witty cue names) get things back into a more genuine atmosphere of apprehension again (a lot more so than the daft movie this score comes from)... some of the female chorus seems a bit raw though.
24. Amanti D’altretomba aka Nightmare Castle by Ennio Morricone This Barbara Steele classic is one of only three Morricone’s on this list... a mournful piano melody starts off the GDM club edition reissue of this score... with an interesting little chaotic “moment” which distorts the melody at a certain point. As it plays through, the piano eventually gets supported by strings etc to become an almost full blown romantic statement of the theme... before returning to the haunting, solitary piano arrangement and then, again, over various transformations.
While the little distorted stab at chaos in that first track is not enough to secure it a place on this list, the haunting organ overkill stuff that follows it in 'Contrappunto Tragico' conjures up a truly funereal aspect of classic horror in the mind’s ear. Think Carnival Of Souls if Morricone had composed it. Weird vocal whispers, cries, screams and a more “creeping dissonance” rendition of that main piano theme are some of the other delights of this score.
23. Il Castello Dei Morti vivi aka Castle Of The Living Dead (1964) by Angelo F. Lavagnino This score starts off with a really unusual, almost subliminally subtle, opening where percussion seems to transform itself into a harp flourish. It does this a few times with a certain intensity before going into a clippety clop rhythm and melody which wouldn’t sound out of place in a spaghetti western before giving us one, intense harp sting with percussion again at the close of the titles.
Lots of very eerie, reflective music gives many of the tracks an other worldly and dream-like state... perfect for evoking a “one step from the grave” kind of charm in your living room. Very gothic at other times with some harpsichord embellishments to ensure you that you are, indeed, entering olde worlde land.
22. 5 Tombe Per Un Medium aka Terror Creatures From The Grave (1965) by Aldo Piga This has some very boisterous and, possibly, overenthusiastic horror scoring going for it... bombastic is definitely an understatement when used in conjunction with this one. I’ve not seen the movie in question as yet (although I think I might have a copy laying around in the “to watch” pile if I’m not mistaken) but it definitely sounds like there’s a lot of Mickey Mousing going on with this one. It’s not exactly subtle and if anything it sounds like something an old 1930s sound serial might have been scored with. A little like Franz Waxman’s score for The Bride Of Frankenstein in some ways, although the melody lines are not nearly as strong as the ones in that film. Very interesting piece of scoring, however, especially considering it’s era. There’s even a female vocal track, accompanied by some nice harpsichord work.
Come back tomorrow for ten more great euro horror scores!