Andy Votel’s Top 15 Horror Soundtracks

December 11, 2012

Shock - Libra

Shock – Libra (1977) 

Starring Dario Argento’s partner Daria Nicolodi (Profondo Rosso) and Cheshire-born BBC actor John Steiner (Tenebre), Shock was Mario Bava’s final ever film, directed with his son Lamberto – who later made the Demons series. For fans of Italian horror, Shock is a film that polarises opinions: some might say that it’s an all-star Italian hall-of-fame blockbuster, others might say that it’s an after-the-event cash-in feeding of Dario Argento’s leftovers. Either way, for me, this is probably my all time fave in the genre, and it’s most certainly the soundtrack that swings it. This phased-bass and close-drum driven monster was played by Italian prog group Libra, who included two members of Goblin (The best band of all time?). Drummer Walter Martino had played on the Profondo Rosso LP and keyboardist Maurizio Guarini had brought the synths to Roller and Suspiria, so you already have most of the ingredients of a killer OST. The use of Turin-born Dino Cappa on bass fills the gap left by Fabio Pignatelli and delivers the record’s greatest attribute with a sound that came to typify late 70s Italian soundtracks. The whole LP is littered with existential electronic effects and contrasting acoustic pastoral pieces, but is dominated by its huge bursts of overambitious prog sports-rock, which match the forward-thinking and classy special effects techniques that earned the film its forthright title. This also contains the early funk ingredients of what might have become Italo-disco, explaining to some degree why the band, confusingly, eventually signed to Motown.

Next Of Kin

Next Of Kin – Klaus Schulze (1982) 

Alongside Stone (1974) and Patrick (1978) this is one of my favourite films from the expansive Australian Ozploitation film genre, and predictably the music plays a big part in my decision. Created in the same mould as films like The Shining, Suspiria and The Innocents, this film – about mysterious happenings in the confines of a mental home – benefitted from a tense, high-profile, synth-fueled soundtrack by Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schulze. In reality, the score was basically culled from two of Schulze’s existing LPs and licensed and edited to scene. But this less than personal approach does nothing to hinder the jaw-dropping effect that it has within the context of this rare film (especially in the slowwww-motion scenes and the bizarre dream sequences), which has still never made the jump from pre-cert VHS to DVD.

The Shout

The Shout – Tony Banks, Rupert Hine and Mike Rutherford (1978)  

This film is perhaps one of the most unnerving pieces of British cinema I have ever seen, and the music offers very little in the way of a comfort blanket, as it becomes a key feature in the film’s narrative about a paranoid sound engineer (reverse-echoing that of Peter Stricklands recent Berberian Sound Studio). Contrastingly set in a quiet Devonshire village, this film witnesses the arrival of an intense but troubled stranger (Alan Bates) who possesses the skills of mind-control and the ability to kill a man with a single shout. John Hurt plays a confident sound-expert who rises to the challenge after spending days on end listening to ear-piercing feedback, bowel-moving bass rumbles and marbles on metal trays, all amounting to a fantastic ambient soundtrack that enlists members of Genesis to put these noises into some sort of compositional context. Polanski’s Łódź classmate Jerzy Skolimowski had previously worked with Komeda (for Le Depart) and the mighty krautrockers Can (for Deep End), so here we find another great director with good music taste and the perfect union for great filmmaking.

Blood On Satan’s Claw

Blood On Satan’s Claw – Marc Wilkinson (1971) 

In my mid-teens, this film was basically the post-pub tonic for anyone suffering from Wicker Man withdrawal symptoms, and includes a very twisted, acidic folk score that the alternative rural-thrillers Witchfinder General or Straw Dogs just couldn’t compete with. The first records I ever released in the mid 1990s used huge samples of both Blood On Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, which basically stands as an early indication that horror soundtracks would play a big part in my broadening music taste. The fact that both these scores combine traditional elements and inquisitive minor key changes – as opposed to all-out tension and down-yer-throat terror – make them all the more beguiling. The film still ticks all the right boxes, apart from a ritualistic monster-rape scene that I was worryingly desensitised to as a youngster but now kinda freaks me out. It was pastoral horror films like this that opened me up to films like Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders and the films of Borowczyk and Jean Rollin in my 20s.

Belladonna Of Sadness

Belladonna Of Sadness – Masahiko Satô (1973) 

I’ve been a fan of this psychedelic proto-manga witchcraft film for years, but having actively done my research with Japanese dealers, I vigorously denied the possibility that a soundtrack LP existed. Wrong! The Italians did it again! Record fair rumour has it that Japanese composer Masahiko Satô actually used Italian musicians to record this LP, which would explain why the music sounds more like Morricone’s Feed-Back as opposed to Flower Travellin’ Band, but then it also includes Japanese vocals and also sounds a bit like Alain Goraguer’s French/Czech La Planete Sauvage record! At the end of the day, it’s amazing, and alongside Godiego’s soundtrack to Nobuhiko Obayashi’s AMAZING Hausu film and the freakish JA Seazer soundtracks for Shuji Terrayama’s haunting films, this record stands up as one of the best Japanese records in my collection... and possibly the rarest!

Dahshat – Bappi Lahiri (1981) 

The seventh film by the incredible seven-brother-strong, self-made Indian film company Ramsay Brothers sees them recalling favours from Mr Bappi Lahiri, after previously giving him his earliest soundtrack breaks before he reached Bollywood superstardom as one of the country’s leading composers – alongside RD Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal. Hindi horror is where the Indian composers go to try out their terrifying new ideas without scrutiny, and this soundtrack is a badly-stiched, Frankenstein-esque patchwork of desi discoid wonderment and import synth bravado. This is the closest Bollywood comes to its poorer but more streetwise sisters Lollywood and Kollywood, but there’s no expense spared on the drum production, which kicks harder than the stomping feet of a big weird Indian Godzilla rip-off monster.

All The Colours Of The Dark – Bruno Nicolai (1972) 

This Rosemary’s Baby cash-in is one of those films that I just couldn’t get hold of in my 20s before DVDs became popular, but it didn’t stop me from sampling the film’s imagery via Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohills seminal Immoral Tales book. The image of Edwige Fenech waking up screaming was used as a logo on one of my early singles (an over ambitious Black Sabbath cover), and later resurfaced as the logo for our Pre-Cert label. In a wonderful twist, Sean Canty used clips from his original VHS for the Demdike Stare backdrops a few years ago, and the bulb came back on.

This soundtrack is basically the best work of Morricone’s right hand man Bruno Nicolai, and embodies many of the same watermarks that authenticate Ennio’s soundtracks, like Cold Eyes Of Fear and Four Flys On Grey Velvet, as some of the best experimental film music/avant-pop-jazz to ever come out of Europe. This choice was a toss-up between Morricone’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (also orchestrated by Nicolai), which frankly features some of the best non-horrific pastoral Italian film music EVER MADE, but the awkward sitar twangs of Alessandro Alessandroni and the floundering moans of Edda Del Orso on All The Colours Of The Dark places this soundtrack between records by Italy’s manufactured lost pop groups Braens Machine and Pawnshop and the American zygotic jazz threesome The Sound Of Feeling. Released on Nicolai’s own Gemmelli label and hidden in a fairly mute and deceiving library sleeve, the original LP sadly misses off some of the best cuts... but that problem can still be rectified!!!

Fangs (Snakes) – Suzanne Ciani (1974)

Made for specific scenes in a film about a woman who likes to have sex with snakes, this music makes up a third of a score which was split with two other contrasting musicians. Pioneering electronic composer Suzanne Ciani (fondly known as ‘the American Delia Derbyshire for the Atari generation’) was already used to sharing film score workloads – having been double-billed with Michael Small for The Stepford Wives soundtrack, which features Small’s delicate acoustic pop in contrast to Ciani’s robot-breakdown sound effects. This unreleased and lost music comes in short bursts during the snake-attack scenes and blends the stylings of Morton Subotnick with the modern synth sounds of John Carpenter/Alan Howarth, while still retaining her own characteristic meditational ambient krautrockisms for the silhouetted x-rated scenes. Still only available on videotape, this is one of many remarkable electronic achievements for Ciani, who was later distinguished as the first solo female composer of a major Hollywood film with her music for The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue

Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – Giuliano Sorgini (1974)  

This Spanish/Italian film is especially close to my heart, due to the bizarre fact that it was filmed in Manchester and areas around where I live on the Derbyshire border. The infamous stepping stones scene was filmed near the house of late Twisted Nerve artist Dave Tyack, and some close friends got married in the Owl pub in the film. Most of the opening shots feature pre-locations of Manc landmarks, like Atlas Bar and both the old and new Piccadilly Records buildings, so it has always made hilarious viewing for anyone who grew up in Manchester.

But let’s get to the music. The inane zombie-moaning vocals that appear on this record are the voice of Barcelona-born director Jeorge Grau himself – a switched-on Catalonian director who later collaborated with members of the ‘Rock Laietà’ movement band Fusioon. I reissued this track in 1998 via Fat City after speaking to Mr Grau, and it became a little bit of an anthem due to its rolling bassline and percussion arrangement, taking all the ingredients of afro-rock and Balearic and mixing them with two gallons of fake blood and illegal pesticide. After the producers brought in Italian composer Sorgini (aka Raskovich) in 1974 to write the music, an Italian-only LP was pressed with astounding anti-design artwork, which co-incidentally mirrors the brown and orange colour combination found on 80s Greater Manchester Buses! (The record has since been reissued in full by various labels.) This record also marks an important episode in my late teens, when I bought a box of Italian soundtracks from an ad in the LOOT newspaper: I was amazed when they were delivered by a uniformed pilot who used to buy records with his per diems from Milan Airport!!! I bought this record from him and a few others, but dread to think what I left behind.


Psychomania – Frog (1973) 

This soundtrack has stood as a benchmark for psych-rock soundtracks since I was a teenager. It’s absolutely solid throughout the whole film, and features British jazzman John Cameron (composer for the flutey Kes soundtrack) with all the heaviest UK session-men. This score unites Herbie Flowers, Alan Parker and Norma Whinstone under the mysterious Frog moniker, yet another fake band name rivalling Rumplestiltskin, The Mohawks, Ugly Custard and Blue Phantom (a band who also appeared in Jess Franco horror flicks). Psychomania includes much of the same ingredients as other work by the aforementioned groups, but this session was especially written to picture... and what a picture it is!

Pressed as a promo-only soundtrack on the pop label JAM, this record has left record diggers double-checking every JAM 45 like robots on a Japanese motorcycle QC production line (this is the setting for a zombie biker flick, by the way!). I’ve only ever had two copies of this record pass through my sticky mitts, and my spare went straight to Doug Shipton at Finders Keepers... and that’s how we met! The real scoop, however, was the master tapes that were picked up by Jonny Trunk ten years ago. Jonny, Cherrystones and myself all shared the ritualistic unveiling of the reels and listened in awe in Godsy’s (of Cherrystones) front living room at the music that had soundtracked our individual teenage, post-pub, psych-cinema sittings when late night telly used to be worth staying up for.

Slumber Party Massacre Trailer

Slumber Party Massacre – Ralph Jones (1982) 

For this list, I need to tick a John Carpenter/Alan Howarth box with some 80s stateside slasher synth sounds, but I’d prefer to aim below the Hollywood big budgets and give a nod to one of the many underground solo keyboard komposers who shaped the sound of the early video nasties using domestic synthesizers and electronic keyboards. I always file this next to Tim Krog’s home-made Boogeyman soundtrack (another Pre-Cert favourite), but have opted in favour of this other private press wonder of Casiotone minimalism and household object economy. Composer Ralph Jones was the brother of the film’s young director Amy Jones, one of the very few working female horror directors, and his precise studio set up of just a single Casio MT10 keyboard and some wineglasses is used to deft effect on this seldom offered splatter platter. Think X-Ray Pop meets X-orsist pop.

The Cremator

Cremator – Zdenek Liska / Morgiana – Lubos Fiser (1969/1972)

Out of all the global film industries, the Czech New Wave is closest to my heart, and is hopefully half way to regaining the momentum it was developing when the post-Prague Spring events decapitated the creative medium. Finders Keepers have just packaged up both these unreleased scores for films by Czech New Wave director Juraj Herz. My favourite gothic Czech vampire film score is the music to Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, but I’d file that under surrealism and in a micro-genre of Czech fantasy and fairy tales that were popular amongst experimental filmmakers after 1969, who were trying to operate creatively under the scrutiny of the communist regime. Morgiana also falls into this category, but due to its author Alexander Grinn (the Russian Edgar Allen Poe), it also safely falls under the horror genre – an area that director Herz would specialise in.

Utilising Lubos Fiser, who also composed Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, this music stands up as a Valerie companion piece of sorts, and it even includes some of the same motifs found in its predecessor. For the film, Herz adopts the Argento/Hitchcock low-camera, cats-eye angles at the hands of Czech’s most creative camera man Jaroslav Kucera. To accompany these scenes, Fiser devises his own Hitchcockian Psycho-style signature, which is layered with harpsichords, music boxes and discordant organ swoops against some very Eastern European orchestral flourishes.

The Cremator soundtrack is a contrasting soundtrack by the legendary Zdenek Liska, who was perhaps Czechoslovakia’s finest soundtrack composer and a remarkable editor, experimentalist and concrete music composer. Directors would often allow Liska to strip films of their natural ambient noise in order to re-create and recut films with his rejuvenated vision in mind. Here he enlists the vocal talents of Vlasta Soumarova-Mlejnkova to beguiling effect, on what is perhaps one of my favourite film scores of all time, and most certainly one of the strangest cinematic achievements in the vein of Polanski’s Repulsion and the BBC adaptation of MR James’ short story Whistle And I’ll Come To You.

Possession – Andrzej Korzynski (1981) 

To understand Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s fourth film, you need to accept that it’s not actually a horror film, it’s actually a domestic divorce drama and a political allegory about Berlin. At that point, you can watch it with a level head and experience a girl having sex with a giant octopus that feeds on decapitated human corpses at the hand of a deranged woman who murders-to-feed and expels green exorcist-style gunge from every orifice in public train stations in between bouts of self-harming and general slasher tactics!!!

As a life-long friend of the director, composer Andrzej Korzynski will tell you that he has been obsessed with horror since he first saw the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the cinema as a child – from that point onwards, from within the constraints of communist Poland, he created a series of truly freakish, schizoid, krautish, droney orch-rock, heavy psych soundtracks for Zulawski’s haywire cinematic excursions (which were banned one by one by the paranoid socialist authorities). Elsewhere, he balanced work for other Polish, French and Italian films and wrote a long line of hit songs before setting up Poland’s first synthesizer orchestra and bringing funk and cosmic disco to Warsaw. Possession is a prime example of Korzynski trying to combine all the above influences, then reducing them down to a stark form of unconscious minimal disco which is as grey and concrete as the Berlin suburbs that the film depicts.

This soundtrack was re-written multiple times before a clear vision of Berlin was agreed upon, merging Zulawski’s extradited New York vantage point of the East and Korzynski’s view to the West from within Poland. The schizophrenic results combining orch-rock, avant-garde jazz and minimal electro with drum machines were edited and re-cut, with hours of unused music relegated to the can, later to be released as a complete document of the entirely unreleased score by Finders Keepers. With only a small handful of soundtracks released in Poland, this man is a legend whose recognition has yet to reach its true deserve. File alongside Komeda’s score for Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers from 1970 for another great example of Polish horror composition that neatly bookends the golden era of European thrillers.

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Le Frisson Des Vampires – Acanthus (1972) 

French poet, actor, artist, theatre director and associate letterist Jean Rollin went through literally every Parisian underground movement possible before making his first two-part vampyristic melodrama, which hit French cinema screens in the midst of the student riots of Mai ’68. Basically transforming his erotic avant-garde stage plays from behind the curtain to the big screen, his misunderstood use of sexual liberation and improvisation awkwardly pushed him into the smutty ‘horrotica’ bracket – which eventually engulfed him (leading to his unique and surreal French horror films falling by the wayside in favour of straight-up porn!).

His choice of music, however, has always been top-drawer, and ongoing relationships with artists like Pierre Raph, Phillippe D’Aram and François Tusques stand as evidence. The one-off soundtrack to 1972’s Frisson Des Vampires by a teenage band of French underground psych-rockers is perhaps his finest fully realised score, and is literally bulging with free-jazz-rock commune jams and stoner-psych improvisations. Begging comparison with early Gong and the associated French rock band Ame Son, the group known as Acanthus also secretly went under the names Les Bayens and Unity, recording a totally unreleased album for EMI and two singles that were already sought-after years before Finders Keepers had made the link back to this film.

Daughters Of Darkness (Les Lèvres Rouges) – François De Roubaix

This is perhaps François de Roubaix’s finest film score of all, and was, until now, only available as a scarce two track 45 single. Set in Ostend in Belgium, this femme vampire classic includes a score that re-defines symphonic rock and puts a tuff mid-tempo beat behind loopy harpsichords and repetitive string swoops. On contact the results are undeniably readymade hip hop, but like all Roubaix scores there is much more going on than initially meets the ear. In this rare example of Roubaix-doing-horror, the complete score, hidden quietly amongst director Harry Kumel’s surreal and sultry dialogue, ticks all the boxes and poses the fantasy: “If only Jean-Claude Vannier had made a horror soundtrack.” You never know what’s lurking around the corner.

On a different note