Horror Soundtracks, or Why I Like Prog

Those who have spent any time around me know that I have never been a fan of Progressive rock. At first mention of genre stalwarts like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson, I clam up, only to have apoplectic fits of rage later at home, while jamming out to the Dead Boys. And don't even get me started on Rush -- I could write an entire blog post on their fan base alone.

Yet when it comes to horror movie soundtracks, I rave endlessly about the merits of bands like Goblin, who epitomize the genre in every way, except for the fact that they made the music (mostly) for the best Dario Argento films, including Suspiria and Deep Red. Their intelligent and intricate, yet propulsive, themes make these great films even better. In fact, those who question Argento's ability as a director must admit that his choice of music is integral to the horror and suspense he creates. Goblin is a huge part of that. Their pieces move the films along, providing tension and drama at opportune times. Like Hitchcock, he knew how important music was as ultimate audience bait -- he hooked them with a suspenseful theme, and then he delivered on screen. Goblin themes build tension to a frenzy -- In Tenebrae, which contains a partial reunion of Goblin under the name "Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli," the camera pans around the building until we see poor Jane's arm brutally hacked off, spewing blood all over a white wall. One of the most intense and iconic moments ever filmed in horror or Giallo, the stylistic Italian suspense genre of which Argento is a prime player,would not be so dramatic without a similar wall of wailing instruments and complex time signatures.

Halloween creator John Carpenter took inspiration from Goblin to create another of the best, if relatively understated, horror movie themes. Not as progressive, but still propulsive, the theme is instantly recognizable. As with everything in the 1978 movie, the shoestring budget allowed the director little space. He composed the soundtrack himself with a little outside help from composer Dan Wyman, and the theme consists of just simple piano lines played on a synthesizer in 5/4. Creepy, yet elegant, the song paved the way for many similar horror themes.

In the eighties, many of these themes became less symphonic and more metallic. Movies of lesser merit, including such whoppers as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Argento's underrated, Phenomena, relied on metal themes and bands to build suspense to often underwhelming results. These tracks seem quite humorous now in comparison to earlier ones. Others turned to eighties synth pop and new wave. Return of the Living Dead, with its emphasis on Post-Quincy punk commentary, offered a surprisingly refreshing hardcore soundtrack. The nineties offered little in the way of interesting horror soundtracks, often culling from alterna-hits, industrial, or nu-metal to keep up with the times. One interesting experiment, the soundtrack to the movie Judgment Night -- ostensibly not a horror film -- included collaborations between rap/dance groups and metal/alternative bands. These collaborations, though interesting, point to the relative decline of the horror genre and its musical accompaniment throughout the era.

The current state of the horror genre is in question, but there are plenty of soundtracks from an endless age of b-films, exploitation flicks, indie, and Hollywood horror to explore. Many are as interesting or more interesting than the films themselves. For instance, the soundtrack to Paul Naschy's lackluster Vengeance of the Zombies (aka La Rebelion de las Muertas) is far more compelling than the film, but there are many, many more. The Cinefamily Soundtrack Shelf is a great place to hear some of these gems with fun commentary and synopses of films you are unlikely to ever see, unless you are the type of horror film junky who already has a copy of Anthropophagus, or countless other video nasties cluttering your shelves.

In that case, you should check out: http://my-castle-of-quiet.blogspot.com/2009/03/horror-score-of-day-juan-carlos.html for a copy of the Vengeance of the Zombies soundtrack, and Cinefamily for quality horror podcasts at http://www.cinefamily.org/blog/soundtracks/ 


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