In a (widely accepted as) post-pandemic landscape, record collecting is in a bit of an uneasy place: vinyl is more in demand than ever, pressing plants are overworked, PVC — the stuff they're made from — is increasingly expensive, and yet our collective desire to backfill all of the artists and titles we missed, out of inexperience or availability, feels like it's at an all-time high. This confluence of forces may explain why the album you wanted was only pressed in a severely limited quantity and therefore sold out immediately; it also may not, but certainly, it's not making things easier to get. Certainly, I'd love it personally if there was a plant that worked around the clock to reissue Goblin scores, but even in my imagination, that facility is also shooting out little black orbs with jazz, hip-hop, pop, and more on them. Something must, and will, give, even when, say, Rihanna's Anti is involved.
Forgive my advocacy for a bit of patience with a process and an industry that, like so many others, is being impacted by a lot of outside forces it cannot control but must adjust to. This is actually a preamble to a necessary declaration that I'll be putting Let's Score Todd to Death on an indefinite hiatus, for a number of reasons — all good, notwithstanding the continued absence of a record factory that exists purely to fulfill my personal orders. In this final (for now) installment, however, I'm grateful to have a collection of absolute bangers to showcase, including the release, which for all intents and purposes, catalyzed my interest in collecting horror soundtracks in the first place.
First up, however, is Simon Boswell's score for Deliria, better known to most as Stage Fright. Released digitally and on vinyl by the wonderful folks at Rustblade, a label that vacillates between four-square classics, tribute albums, and Goblin-related ephemera (concert recordings, etc.) Boswell's music is the second of his soundtracks, after first resurrecting Demons 2 — not quite the all-timer of Simonetti's music for the first one, but very good — a few years ago. For Michele Soavi's 1987 slasher film, he starts with the familiar sound of late '80s synthesizers and slowly incorporates samplers to create an occasionally discordant but always interesting piece of music.
"Drama Queen" is by far the most fun track, starting with a clip of James Brown's "Funky Drummer" beat and then adding guitar stings that sound like they were stolen from Rick Rubin's work on Beastie Boys' License to Ill. But "Drill" throbs like an early Nine Inch Nails instrumental where John Carpenter sat in on keyboards, and the rest of the record is beautifully haunting and just plain fun to listen to. Though Stage Fright may fly under many fans' radar, it feels like the real-deal version of the scores people are trying to replicate now using computer plug-ins and filters — so don't miss it.
Next up is Ennio Morricone's Le Foto Proibite Di Una Signora Per Bene, also known as Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion, newly rereleased on CD by Italian standard-bearer label Beat Records. I feel like anyone who has ever bought a compilation of Morricone's scores has at least heard the title theme, which for me at least set a template for giallos and horror of the 1960s and '70s where the music stands in stark contrast to all of the violence and danger by being mesmerizingly beautiful. I mean, don't get me wrong; on cues like "Qui Ci Scappa Il Morto," he delivers all of the suspense and unsettling atmosphere one expects from Luciano Ercoli's film. But in a score that's this gorgeous, those are the outliers. Featuring the almost postcoital vocals of Morricone's longtime collaborator Edda Dell'Orso on the title theme, the rest of the album folds in cheerful bossa nova ("Second Intermezzino Pop"), sumptuous romanticism ("Amore Come Dolore"), and even jazzy funk ("Allegretto Per Signora") to tell the film's sordid tale. Again, you've probably heard at least a few of these cues on some of those "Morricone Romance/ Lounge" compilations, but in context, they convey such a wonderful sense of the composer's versatility — even on a single film.
Klaus Schulze's Next of Kin exists a bit like Wake in Fright — not simply because they're both Australian, but because they have come by their cult status honestly and have in recent years gotten a well-deserved boost on platforms like Criterion Channel, which programmed the former in October last year. The Roundtable Label first reissued Next of Kin in 2019, and they've come back for another pressing in 2023. It's a magical time capsule of early synthesizer work thanks to Schulze's amazing work across thirteen unsettling tracks.
Cues like "Rhythm Fugue" have a propulsive energy that feels almost separate from the film, with chugging percussion and pulsing electronics, while the cascading melodies of "Diary Theme" or the icy ambiance of "Watching Theme" evoke, respectively, Philip Glass and Brian Eno, creating musical backdrops that are haunting, unforgettable and somehow seem to exist purely within the listener's subconscious. And the Schulze pulls it all together with "End Theme," featuring processed vocals that exist in a continuum with Kraftwerk, Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos, and French band Air — metallic, creepy, and disturbing all at once.
In the "soundtrack of the future" category, there's also The Dead of Winter from Antoni Maiovvi, the creator of Giallo Disco Records, who has carved out a lovely little niche as a music creator for films both real and imaginary. This collection evidently was originally conceived for a real one but, for reasons undisclosed, was not used. It's eclectic and very evocative, acknowledging Maiovvi's forebears with a loving wink — from Christopher Young's score for the original Hellraiser on "Deathrocket (To The Sun)" to Danny Elfman at his gothic best on "Dreams Inside The Witch House" to Brad Fiedel's The Terminator score overlaid with an electric guitar that sounds like it just got back from a party with Hans Zimmer's Inception theme on "Haunted."
Maiovvi makes creating danceable horror themes feel like it's effortless, so hearing him grow artistically, experimenting with more traditional sounds while incorporating a lot of experimental, even musique concrete-adjacent elements, is fun and almost educational for his fans — without feeling like they're getting their vegetables, even if they really are. (I'd argue that at least part of the point of listening to music is for it to expand our artistic horizons and uncover new things we didn't know we liked.) But ahead of its formal announcement on March 9, The Dead of Winter is exactly this kind of work, combining disparate elements in unexpected and welcome ways to both satisfy our existing appetites and cultivate new ones going forward.
Finally, Waxwork announced plans at the end of 2022 to release the complete theatrical soundtrack library music cues from George Romero's 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. Covering this title somewhat brings my collecting full circle. The amazing, enduring Italian record label Dagored released a copy of Goblin's score for the film back in 2000 when I was really just getting started collecting soundtracks in the way I do now; the single LP, housed in a gatefold sleeve with evocative but by today's standards almost nondescript artwork, felt in my hands like an unearthed artifact. But it did not feature any of the library cues that Romero applied liberally to his film to flesh out (so to speak) Goblin's score, and it definitely didn't include "The Gonk," the rousing march used as a comedic counterpoint to the moment when there was no more room in Hell.
Trunk Records' 2004 Unreleased Soundtrack Music From George A. Romero's... Dawn Of The Dead, issued serendipitously around the same time as the opening of Shaun of the Dead (which used "The Gonk" and much more), remedied this absence, but even as an archival masterpiece — finding those random library cues required unimaginable work — it covered the appropriate bases without needing to be complete. The three-LP Dawn of the Dead Original Theatrical Soundtrack Library Music set from Waxwork at long last purports to find everything, offering all of the library material included on CD in Second Sight's 2020 Blu-ray box set — by the home video distributor's count, 52 cues that appear somewhere in Romero's film.
Some of these cues are shorter than a minute, others stretch to four or five, but all of them together feel like this primordial muck where Romero's creativity took root, and now from whence moviegoers' imaginations have grown, mutated and expanded, colliding uneasily but congealing into a universal musical lexicon that says unequivocally: this is horror. Even cuts like Peter Reno's "Cause I'm A Man" take on a menacing edge, thanks to their ironic use in the film. Simon Park's "Figments" burbles over the opening credits of Shaun of the Dead, and it still carries a dyspeptic power. Jack Trombey's "The Mask of Death" has a '70s cop show tinniness that befits Romero's budget production while also merging the mundaneness of mall living with a timeline of melancholy inescapability. And then there's Herbert Chappell's "The Gonk," that iconic cue that has become synonymous with the film, perhaps most of all because of its capacity to reduce the melodrama and seriousness of the end of humankind as we know it to a semi-comic montage of high and lowlights navigated with equal doses of humor and scorn.
Even as part of a continuum of albums that include The Funhouse, Body Double, Crimson Peak and Seven, Waxwork's 2023 subscription is worth the price tag for Dawn of the Dead alone. No score or soundtrack has done more to facilitate the modern era of record collecting, but more than that, none have done more to cover all of the bases of what past, present and future horror movie music can be. And so, to end this column (for the time being) with it feels right and serves as a reminder that no matter how many records you may have added to your collection, it's impossible to remember those first crucial ones — especially because they can continue to inspire and excite, if not you then a subsequent generation of fans. In a land of the Dead, there is always a new dawn — musically speaking, anyway.