Eerie Listening: 31 Great Euro Horror Scores, Part III
10. Terrore Nello Spazio aka Planet Of The Vampires (1965) by Gino marinuzzi Jr This fantastically cool Mario Bava movie is perhaps best known as one of the two movies that most influenced Ridley Scott’s A L I E N, directly or otherwise. It’s got a good atmosphere to the movie and a big chunk of that is because the score is so amazing. It hovers between the kind of "electronic tonalities" which Louis and Bebe Barron invented for Forbidden Planet, but in a much darker mode, and some slow dread, lurking terror style scoring which is more traditional in its nature. This is also punctuated with occasional bursts of wild action horror that wouldn't sound out of place in an episode of the old Star Trek TV show from the 1960s.
9. Dracula AD 1972 (1972) by Mike Vickers Arguably Hammer's greatest Dracula movie (and you can argue all you like until you're blue in the face, it's got Caroline Munro in it... I win) the score starts off with quite a lot of rhythm and melody for the opening pre-credits fight scene between Van Helsing and Dracula. Despite being pretty much in B-movie territory as far as the way these Hammer scores are mostly put together, there's some nicely subtle sounding cues and orchestration here midst all the horror stingers and shifting notes. It also has a flamboyant main title theme with some fierce bursts highlighting the bass line to hang the melody from. The Devil's Circle Music by David Vorhaus is guaranteed to raise more than a few hairs on the back of any errant trick or treater’s necks. There’s also some nice, funereal drumbeat based tracks, what I call “stalking music” (no, not that kind) that may make you cautious, before splashing back into that “oh so funky” main title melody at the seemingly least appropriate but most fun moments. The funk eventually gets so overpoweringly orchestrated that it turns into full blown, “in your face horror funk” too in a few cues.
8. Quatermass And The Pit aka Five Million Years To Earth (1967) by Tristram Carey Is it sci-fi? is it horror? Well it's definitely a game of two halves when it comes to the third Hammer Horror remake based on Nigel Kneale’s amazing Quatermass serials. While all the supernatural shenanigans are revealed, scooby-doo like, to have a basis in science fiction, and a central concept that was actually pretty brilliant at the time, it doesn't change the fact that this is a horror movie and a horned demon monster, no matter what your take on the story, does appear at the end.
Like the movie itself, Tristran Carey's always entertaining score takes two very different approaches. For most of the movie it's a see saw between quite eerie, subtle unease and, for the most part, a very heavy handed old school dramatic score which somehow just seems to work in the mix of the movie, possibly more effectively than it does as a stand alone listen when it comes to how appropriate it is. This is counterpointed by Carey's more familiar, Radiophonic Workshop sound. Think early Doctor Who ambient sound design.. but if that sound design was trying to scare you to your very core and send you fleeing to the nearest tube station for shelter.
Any of your Halloween guests who are listening in will have their very soul and life-force sucked from them as they listen... until they are nothing but a crumbling husk of a human being turning to dust on yer living room carpet. This score has been represented quite well on an earlier Cloud Nine release but the one to go for here is Hammer's own The Quatermass Collection. The one fault of this album is that it treats the blisteringly scary electronic material as source music and separates it out for the end of the disc. Personally I'd have preferred this stuff to be kept in track order but I suspect it was chopped up and used needle drop in certain parts of the film anyway and maybe this really is the best presentation of this thing. Either way, a very entertaining and scarifying Halloween listen.
7. Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi aka City Of The Living Dead by Fabio Frizzi Great album if you get the recent, expanded edition. “Introduzione” is a quick lesson on slow build tension before going straight into the whole “big beat” territory that you’d best associate with composers like Frizzi and Simonetti. The opening track is stupendous and makes you wonder just what’s going to come crawling out of your speaker next. And the answer to that question is an earf*ck of high pitched sonic tones which feel just like a drill carving into your cranium. Stick this on for any candy craving horror visitors to your house on the 31st of the month and they’ll probably be regurgitating said candy back into their hands faster than you can say “I am going to eat you!” And then, after that, the album starts to get downright funky in places. Is that Zombie John Shaft I see strutting down the street there? I think it might be.
6. The Satanic Rites Of Dracula by John Cacavas I think I’m right in saying that this is the only European Horror score here composed by an American composer? Be that as it may, this has got one of the funkiest, catchiest, kick ass opening title music pieces in horror scoring history. It’s like a late sixties to mid seventies British crime busting score by the likes of Laurie Johnson except... Dracula! That being said, it’s still something which fits the Hammer house style of that period like a glove and this one really is a fun romp of a score all the way through. Some nice, weird orchestration highlights thrown in when called for. Definitely one you can toe tap to and run around the room flapping your arms and pretending you’re a bat.... um... you know... if you were so inclined, of course.
5. Drammi Gotici by Ennio Morricone More people should know about the absolute fear and dread Morricone can conjure up when he’s being at his most atonal and experimental. Twisted, raving voices, somebody blowing bubbles in water and all manner of strangeness alien to the world your ears are used to inhabiting. Since it’s also Morricone, there’s also some beautiful melodic content and some subtle rhythmic work as well but it’s all given an other worldly hue as the maestro transports you to a place where you maybe wouldn’t mind visiting but... you wouldn’t want to be a victim running scared for your life in a miasma of fear there. Um... I mean... there’s a lot discover in this a score which bears a passing resemblance to some of Morricone’s works in the giallo genre in places... it’s actually quite a diverse album once you give it a good listen.
Nobody’s going to mistake this as anything other than a full blown exercise in blind terror and, with the gentle and not so subtle application of a few choice tracks, your trick or treaters are going to be back out your door again before you know it.
4. Schock by Libra The score for this Mario Bava movie about ghosts causing problems for Daria Nicolodi is absolutely brilliant. Libra was a fairly short lived progressive rock group who’s compositions for this film certainly give Goblin a run for their money. Some really great tracks here, some more scary and sinister than others. The opening even has some moments that feel like they could have been ripped out of the score for Dario Argento’s giallo Tenebre. Not so much running in panic music as much as toe tapping away in terror music. A really great, consistent album which is great to listen to as a companion piece to some of the work of Goblin and Simonetti.
3. Demoni aka Demons by Claudio Simonetti I have no idea why, whenever I see people talking about cool Italian horror scores, Demoni doesn't get a heck of a lot more recognition than it does. Goblin's figure head Claudio Simonetti gives us an opening horror tune which is every bit as iconic and catchy as anything he composed for Goblin... or anything Fabio Frizzi knocked out of the park. A classic opening theme which really encapsulates the sprit of what Halloween is all about, in my opinion, and which references Grieg's Hall Of The Mountain King and just a snatch of Bach's Toccato And Fugue In D Minor and combines them into a refrain (with thanks to @katrinjenny on twitter for the technical lingo of a chorus in an instrumental work) that will definitely bring a smile to the lips of even the most jaded horror fans.
Don't overlook the rest of this short but effective score either. It's full of pulsing, driven terror anthems and hidden, lurking menace. If you want just the main theme then Simonetti's band Daemonia do a couple of really nice covers of it on their Dario Argento Tribute and Daemonia… Live Or Dead albums. It's an even more accessible version, if that were possible, then the original piece. However, if you do want to experience the full power of the theme and get all the horror stuff, then the expanded version put out on Simonetti's Deep Red label has a load of extras with versions of the main theme, including both another Daemonia version and demo versions of it, that will knock your socks off.
2. Suspiria (1977) by Goblin What's that? How dare I not put Suspiria as my number one horror score? What sacrilege is this? Yeah, okay. I grant you that Suspiria probably should be the number one pick here, just for its influence and status as a well loved slice of musical terror. But, since this is MY list I'm relegating it to the number two spot because, basically, there's a score I like even better than this. It wasn't always the case but, once that other one started growing on me… well, more than that one in the next entry. Meanwhile… Suspiria.
You can't fail to be moved by the creepy witch theme which kicks off this movie. A genuinely catchy melody rendered simply at first before detouring into all kinds of weird siren effects… like somebody is backing their monster filled lorry up into your face while the opening titles are still playing. This is followed by some of the scariest sounding music used in film… and apparently Argento had this pre-recorded and played back to the actors on set to influence their performance.
A really interesting pursuit of finding the beauty in the inherent ugliness of the cacophony of horror presented in this score. Guaranteed to freeze the marrow in the bones of any lingering trick or treaters in your dark, musical domain. Expanded editions of this score including extra versions of that great opening theme would be the one to go for. And being as this is my number two entry, this finally leads us into my number one pick for a horrifyingly good time with your favourite speakers…
1. Inferno (1980) by Keith Emerson Well, now you’ve gotten over your shock that I didn’t put Suspiria as number one on the list, I submit to you my favourite Euro-horror score to date... British composer Keith Emerson’s absolute ear worm of a score for Dario Argento’s second part of The Three Mothers Trilogy... and the direct sequel to Suspiria.
This soundtrack is amazing and grabs you with a beautiful opening title theme right from the start which does turn up again in other guises throughout the course of the score. In addition to that it has the infamous taxi ride music, where Emerson was instructed to use a Verdi theme but used it in a much more frenetic time signature and arrangement than you would expect to hear it played and, last but not least, the always amazing Mater Tenebrarum song. This song is one of the highlights of great horror music and the original but short version of it here is brilliant... as are the various cover versions over the years... not least the ones by Daemonia.
So there you have it. My top 31 horror scores. So will I be playing all these this Halloween. Nah, I just played them all to death researching this article. And since I’ve already listened to them again this year, I’m gonna stick on some of my favourite American horror scores and a bunch of Elvira songs too... before revisiting some of the stuff in this article in style with a Fabio Frizzi concert at the Barbican on Halloween. Have a good, spooky time this year, whatever you’re spinning... just don’t make too many blood sacrifices and don’t let any trick or treaters out of their alive. And if all else fails, just remember, the music you seek is beneath the soles of your shoes...
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