Let’s Score Todd To Death: May 2021

We're re-animating this column celebrating all things horror music!

By Todd Gilchrist · @mtgilchrist · May 7, 2021, 10:11 AM PDT
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JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989).

When I first launched this column about horror scores and horror-related music for FANGORIA more than a year ago, my expectation was that it would be self-perpetuating — every month a record label I love would release or reissue or uncover a bit of music that I would thrill at discovering or revisiting or otherwise adding to my growing playlist of genre classics, and I’d share and champion that library with readers. And then something, I don’t want to say what, but something interrupting supply chains and pressing plants and distribution arms occurred, undermining not only the opportunity to share these releases, but experiencing these releases at all. Next thing I knew, I was waiting six months instead of three for Coming Soon From Empire Pictures​ International (Empire Movie Trailers 1983​ - 19​89), and half of the other records I ordered were delayed indefinitely.

None of this, of course, was the fault of companies at whose “submit order” button I worship. But it’s only now, as vaccines are being delivered and pressing plants are getting back into their groove, that I can confidently renew my efforts to explore the scores, soundtracks and other records that cater to discriminating horror fans. As always, individual affection for a certain film or composer may adversely affect one’s interest in a certain release, as last year’s Alien 2 Sulla Terra LP mesmerized me, while many others had never heard of the film at all – much less its soundtrack. But with an embarrassment of riches as we re-launch our exploration of the genre’s eclectic and unpredictable musical accompaniment, check out just a few of the records, CDs and digital releases worth your attention.

There are few labels more committed to releasing a wide spectrum of soundtracks in their most complete form than La-La Land Records, from the 1978 Superman to Cobra Kai. After releasing Friday the 13th parts I-VI in a deluxe CD box set in 2012, they followed up this spring with parts VII –The New Blood and VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan, with just as much detail and quality as before. To be honest, even as a fan of Friday the 13th over other competing franchises, the music is good but not altogether diverse in its complexity; the great Harry Manfredini created a musical foundation for the franchise that’s nothing short of iconic, but it’s also a series where you want to hear “the hits” (namely, “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma”) whether you’re watching the films or listening to the music by itself. But working in collaboration with Fred Mollin on Part VII and then yielding the reins completely to him on Part VIII, these single-disc releases showcase less the growth or evolution of the series than the sometimes reductive (or let’s say it, cheap) way that their music was assembled for each successive chapter.

Notwithstanding the shift to synthesizers or other electronic accompaniment, the music here is decidedly more focused on general ambience than truly shaping the tone or mood of the storytelling. Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan further embraces that synthetic sound as Mollin takes over, no doubt with fewer resources than Manfredini, his predecessor and collaborator; but the disc features several of the rock & roll power ballads, including two versions of “The Darkest Side Of The Night,” and even a hip-hop song, “Livin’ In The City,” recorded expressly for the film. The Friday the 13th films featured surprisingly little diegetic music over the course of the franchise – Pseudo Echo’s “His Eyes” from Part V – A New Beginning is possibly the most noteworthy – but collecting these tracks makes this a worthwhile addition to your collection, and La-La Land does a consistently good job creating CDs that match and occasionally surpass their previous work.

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Mondo, as always, is no slouch in the reissue department, but this spring they released the complete soundtrack to a film that fits comfortably and easily among many of the better known of its era: Stelvio Cipriani’s score for Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata, aka Nightmare City. Also released as City Of The Walking Dead (not to be confused with Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead, whose score was composed by Fabio Frizzi), it shares in common with Frizzi’s music a love for synthesizers, and a handful of primary, propulsive themes that repeat in different variations across the score. Additionally, the way this release differs and builds on previous (extremely limited) editions is that it includes the tropical theme song, “I’ll Find May Way To You,” sung by none other than Grace Jones. Over two LPs and 28 tracks, this release manages not only to exemplify the gold standard for vinyl reissues, but features almost more music than a newcomer to a film or its score can process.

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Four Flies Records is a label that I personally love because of their devotion to obscurities, but their releases cover a broad spectrum that ventures far beyond specific genres, including film music, library records and other oddities. After the release of a 7” version of a personal favorite, the track “Make Love On The Wing” from Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals by Nico Fidenco, Four Flies issued a record few are likely to know, but is absolutely worth exploring: Giuliano Sorgini’s Occulto. Although there are no specific dates on these tracks, the composer of the music for The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue recorded them at his studio in Rome for filmmakers like Angelo Pannacciò, Salvatore Bugnatelli, Luigi Batzella and Guido Zurli, delivering some creepy, atmospheric and frequently very funk vibes that are just plain fun to listen to, even if you can’t identify what movies they’re from. Four Flies is what I like to call a real “gateway” label because their releases are so eclectic and provocative without necessarily being material you would know, and this record in particular feels like a skeleton key to open that door.

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Varèse Sarabande is nothing short of a standard bearer for soundtrack releases, issuing titles for decades regardless of commercial popularity (I still remember the CD I bought in 1990 for Leonard Rosenman’s Robocop 2 soundtrack like it was yesterday). In March, they released a comprehensive CD for Brad Fiedel’s score for Wes Craven’s The Serpent And The Rainbow, and announced an upcoming vinyl release for John Carpenter’s score for Ghosts of Mars. Serpent And The Rainbow is by any definition lesser, or less appreciated Craven, as is Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars; but as a completist it’s worth having the former, and Carpenter’s score for the latter is shockingly underrated, thanks to performances on the tracks by Steve Vai, Buckethead, members of the rock band Anthrax, Elliot Easton of The Cars, and Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, not to mention some just plain sizzling themes from Carpenter, even in this later stage of his career. Mind you, there’s no mistaking his early, self-contained work with recording from this more free-wheeling era, especially when he would occasionally quote himself compositionally, but as a listening experience, the cues throb with an energy and musicality that’s irresistible.

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Waxwork has become a major distributor in a narrow niche over the last few years, but there’s a reason that other retailers and distributors partner with them on records – they do extremely thorough, detailed work that satisfies and engages collectors. Their recent release of the Lords of Salem soundtrack is a perfect example of their superlative work collecting not only the menacing score cues by John 5 and Griffin Boice, but the needle-drop tracks that make the film such a wonderfully disorienting experience. In other words, on three sides and an etched fourth, you get terrified by the film’s themes as well as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s “Blinded By The Light” and The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs” among other unforgettable tracks.

Meanwhile, they also recently released Stephen Lawrence’s soundtrack for the 1976 film Alice, Sweet Alice, marking the first time that this music is available anywhere – and this record is a rewarding gauntlet. Lawrence’s cues vary from nursery-rhyme menace to outright terror, emerging from a time and tradition appropriate for the film’s era, with full-bodied arrangements and a variety that showcases his skill in creating different moods. To some extent this is a record that benefits from knowing well the film from which it came, but there are some truly heart-stopping cues on this record, and with all Waxwork releases, it comes in thick, detail packaging that highlights elements from the film in really clever ways.

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Finally, there’s an upcoming release by Rustblade Records, a label not as well-known as, say, Mondo or Waxwork, but doing some extraordinary and very unique work nonetheless. They have worked with former and current member of Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, on a number of releases in the past, which may be why Simonetti appears multiple times on a new, absolutely must-have compilation, The Way Of Darkness: A Tribute To John Carpenter. Tribute records can be hit or miss, but the idea of getting an absolute icon to cover or pay tribute to another icon is pretty brilliant, and his version of the Halloween theme feels like a future classic in its own right. Across ten tracks, artists like Leæther Strip and Motion Kapture remix, reinvent and bend Carpenter’s iconic themes into new forms, giving them a weight and a pulse more digestible for contemporary listeners, while retaining the spirit and energy of the original compositions. If you’ve heard the version by the Splash Band from the 1980s or other covers (including a few done by Carpenter himself), these tracks won’t surprise you, but as a collection, they offer a really respectful tribute that will keep you listening long after you’ve identified the films in which they appear.

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And yet, this is just a handful of the records, CDs, cassettes and digital releases that came out in recent months to meet the needs of horror fans and physical media collectors. Again, I feel compelled to add at least as a footnote We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want’s Coming Soon From Empire Pictures​ International (Empire Movie Trailers 1983​ - 19​89), essentially a white label limited-edition release featuring the audio from 28 trailers, including Re-Animator, Robot Jox and Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, so you can revisit how these films were marketed back in the 1980s. But whether your collection focuses on comprehensive, O.G. releases like La-La Land’s Friday the 13th CDs, or more adventuresome and interpretive material such as Rustblade’s exceptional The Way Of Darkness, there’s more than enough here to get you started as you revive your horror music collection.