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Three years after creating the score (as well as acting as assistant direcror) on CREEPSHOW for George A. Romero, John Harrison would once again team up with the ringmaster of the unearthed in 1985 on DAY OF THE DEAD. In addition to again helping with directorial duties, Harrison was asked to revisit his role as composer on the third in the by-then-legendary DEAD series.
What started out as a much grander and wide-ranging follow-up to the 1979 smash DAWN OF THE DEAD ended up taking a page from 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and what resulted was a much more confined and claustrophobic picture than its predecessor. Harrison (pictured below in red on the DAY location) revisits the origins of his unique score for the film, which is now considered a genre classic, in the second part of this Fango chat—the first section of which (covering CREEPSHOW) can be read in issue #298, on sale now.
FANGORIA: How did you end up with the scoring duties again on DAY OF THE DEAD?
JOHN HARRISON: George called and said, “I have this film up, so come on and do it with me.” I was his 1st assistant director again, and he wanted me to do the score. It was the same kind of thing as on CREEPSHOW. Once we finished the film, I moved my things back into the editing room in Pittsburgh and had my own place downstairs. I had a little better equipment at this point.
FANG: Did Romero have any direction or guidelines for what he wanted in the music for this entry in the DEAD series?
HARRISON: There was originally a different script for DAY OF THE DEAD that was much bigger. Some of the concepts ended up in LAND OF THE DEAD, in fact. It involved the same military and scientists, but there was going to be this big Caribbean fortress where they all hung out and were being attacked by the zombies. I started thinking that I didn’t want to write another horror score; I had spent some time in the Caribbean, and I wanted to have that kind of steel drum and marimba thing going on to contrast the horror of what was happening. I sketched out a couple of themes for George that he ended up really liking.
We didn’t make that movie because of budgetary reasons, but because we were starting off in that southern Florida area with the underground caverns and so forth, it seemed like those themes would work, so I just stuck to them. We wanted it to be much more rock ’n’ roll, kind of like a rock opera. It’s wall-to-wall music, almost from start to finish.
FANG: Your compositions are obviously very different from what Goblin, Simonetti and others did for DAWN. Was this a conscious effort? Were there ever discussions about revisiting some of the themes from the previous movie?
HARRISON: There is that one iconic piece of music called “The Gonk” that George used a lot in DAWN. There a re a couple of places in DAY where you hear it, but other than that, no.
FANG: In addition to the score, the film had several vocal pieces (“If Tomorrow Comes,” “The World Inside Your Eyes”)—which is rare in a Romero film…
HARRISON: That was because the record company that put out [the DAY soundtrack] wanted to do some songs based on my music. That was their deal. I didn’t have anything to do with that production, other than writing the music.
FANG: So that isn’t you singing on those songs?
HARRISON: That is not me; you wouldn’t like it if I was singing. Frank Sarsaseno was his name. He was part of a group called Modern Man that the record company was trying to promote. In the movie, it only shows up at the end for the tail credits. I don’t think George was a big fan, to be honest with you. It was kind of forced on him because they made the deal with the record company, and that was one of the things we had to do.
FANG: Any chance we’ll see another DAY soundtrack CD? What happened with the rights to this music?
HARRISON: The album came out on LP, and a company came along in the ’90s and released it on CD. They wanted to include more tracks, but unfortunately we couldn’t find the original master mix elements. I have the 2-inch master recordings, but they haven’t been mixed down; they’re just the raw tracks. All the rest has gone into storage, and nobody can find it. The film has been sold to different companies a couple of times, so nobody really has a good chain of title to find this stuff.
The soundtrack for CREEPSHOW, which also contains music composed by Harrison from TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and other projects, can be ordered from La-La Land Records. Harrison can be found on-line here.
And be sure to pick up FANGORIA #298 for another interview with Harrison as he talks about composing the music for Romero's CREEPSHOW!
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