Musings About Music In Film

Please Release Me: Black Christmas (1974)

By Moxie McMurder blackxmas

Black Christmas is one of my favourite horror films. Made in 1974, it predates Halloween and is believed to have created the template for the slasher genre. Part of the success of Black Christmas, as far as I’m concerned, is the score. It perfectly matches the tension on screen and the unusual sounds mirror the killer’s fractured mind.

For your average viewer a film’s score is largely ignored, the score being there to bolster what you see on screen but you cannot ignore this strange soundtrack. The score is quite understated, but is punctuated with dark rumblings of a discordant piano and sharp bursts of enhanced foley from within the film. All in all it adds up to being a highly effective strategy for scaring the shit out of people!

The man behind the score was Carl Zittrer, who also created music for Murder By Decree, Prom Night and Dead of Night. I’ve read plenty about Zittrer using forks and other objects to create new sounds for Black Christmas but here are his words on the score :

"Some of the sounds were - this was in the day, as everybody here will know, before samplers, before synthesizers, so much of these sounds came from a piano that I destroyed. I scraped it with combs and brushes and forks, and recorded it as many ways as I could think of -- reversed it, put it through reverb, sent it to a recording studio, had other things done to it -- that any of it survived all that mangling is really quite surprising. But they were mostly concrete sounds that you find anywhere, and then, we manipulated them. And much of it was voices, sometimes -- ...vocals sung into the piano to excite the strings of the piano, recorded backwards -- anything you could think of, we did to the sound."

Horror has a great history when it comes to musical score; The Exorcist, Candyman, and Halloween to name but a few all have memorable themes and you could hum them right now. The score for Black Christmas takes a different approach and to be honest I really couldn't hum any part of the score right now, but it manages to deliver the same creeping dread that Carpenter’s Halloween theme delivers. The music sets the tone from the outset and even traditional Christmas hymns are given the a new treatment by Zittrer and take on a darker meaning.

Unfortunately, Carl Zittrer's score for Black Christmas has never been released, which is a real shame. While it’s maybe not something most people might listen to for fun, it would make a fine addition to any horror fans collection and would be a popular release, especially with the scores that are making it onto vinyl at the moment.