Dark Tones : A Soundtrack For Halloween

We’re a mere day from Halloween. It’s time to have your costume figured out, the Fun Size candies bought for the trick-or-treaters, all the proper movies picked out to finish out the month with, and most importantly you need to be spinning all the appropriate Gothic-related albums to keep the eerie vibes humming along.

In honor of my favorite time of the year I thought I’d make a list of some of my favorite Gothic and generally dark mood records. Really, these records are spun by me year-round, but October benefits greatly from their maleficent vibes. Turn down the lights, light up some candles, and drop the needle(or hit play on the iPhone) and get a little weird with me.


Pentagram Home Video : The Satanic Path & Who’s Out There

I think one of my favorite musical finds in the last year or so has been the UK’s Pentagram Home Video. The band consists of one guy that makes hypnotic, dark songs that lie heavily in lo-fi electronic vibes. Synths that wail eerily over top simple dance beats. Most of his records are put together as “soundtrack & cues sourced from a parallel reality“. He’s a master of the imagined soundtrack. I picked up Who’s Out There last year, and earlier this year The Satanic Path was released. Both are very low key listens, but after they play in the background a bit you sort of feel yourself falling into those parallel realities. Who’s Out There soundtracks the tale of “a soldier sent back from a future war to 1986 to prevent an alien bounty hunter from tracking and destroying his target. A relentless pursuer emanating a powerful telekinetic wave of hallucinogen that frighteningly alters reality for anyone within its range. The story unfolds over the course of one night, across the streets & through the underground bars & clubs of New York.” It’s a very hypnotic record, full of old school synth tones of subtle beats. It’s a perfect listen for those cold, fall nights when you want to chill out or summon a demon.

The Satanic Path is a much more extroverted listen. It’s more bombastic, as a soundtrack that deals with the occult and the Prince of Darkness himself should be. There’s still the subtle beats and classic synth sounds, but the songs are more in your face. The story, if your interested, was interpreted by yours truly. Check it out right here, if you dare.

Both albums are exquisite and ooze dark moods and vibes. They’re the perfect spin for a dark and stormy night.

The Cure : Seventeen Seconds 

Sure, at a glance Pornography seems to be the ultimate Halloween spin. It’s dark, gloomy, the proto-Goth album, and even the opening line is “It doesn’t matter if we all die”. But for my money, Seventeen Seconds holds more darkness. It’s subtler, quieter, and it feels like more of an album that would be playing in your head as you walk a path lined with falling leaves and dark, overcast skies. Robert Smith hadn’t fully committed to all black attire and zombie makeup just yet. He was in manic-depressive ghoul transition, so Seventeen Seconds comes across more grounded in everyday horror. That existential dread was permeating songs like “A Forest”, “In Your House”, and “A Reflection”. “Play For Today” comes off like The B-52s going full Bauhaus. It also hints at what The Soft Moon would be up to in a couple decades.

Seventeen Seconds is really the ultimate doomed soul sadsack album.

The Night Terrors : Pavor Nocturnus

Miles Brown has taken the art of theremin playing to a new level. When he performs live or on records by his band The Night Terrors he truly emotes with the strange box with an antenna sticking out. He captures both the eerie vibes and melancholy sadness that comes from playing the instrument correctly. Three years ago he and The Night Terrors recorded a live album at the Melbourne Music Hall with one of the world’s largest pipe organs. That album is the Gothic and beautiful Pavor Nocturnus, an album that oozes with otherworldly vibes and doomed romanticism.

All you need to do is drop the needle or hit play on this record Halloween night to create the ultimate dark mood. It’s like Phantom of the Opera just ran headlong into Forbidden Planet. “Pavor Nocturnus” will make your blood go cold, while “Megafauna” sounds like Suspiria, had it taken place in a European discotheque. “Kuceli Woke Up In  Graveyard” makes good use of that giant pipe organ, as this song permeates with the melancholy of the undead.

Seriously, if you’re a fan of the creepy and a lover of Halloween then this record is a must.

Slayer : Reign In Blood

So if you were an adolescent in the 80s then “Satanic Panic” should’ve made some kind of impression on you. Not just the kids that went to church 3 times a week and twice on Sunday, but the kids that weren’t raised ultra-religious eggheads. It was also kids raised in a household that taught them good from bad, that being polite and having manners were attributes, and that true crime was far scarier than anything you’d watch on Creature Feature late on Friday night. It wasn’t the ghouls that hid under the basement stairs you should truly be afraid of, but those gangly punks with the studded dog collars, stringy mullets, and t-shirts that donned pentagrams, Iron Maiden’s “Eddie”, and nearly every cassette they owned had an “Explicit Lyrics -Parental Advisory” sticker. Kids that decided killing a suburban family would be cool because Rob Halford, Dave Mustaine, or Tom Araya told them to in a hidden message on a song. Those were the true monsters.

As it turns out, no heavy metal song ever made a half wit teen murder anyone. It was usually because said teen was already seriously damaged(usually by seriously damaged parents), but lousy adults needed a scapegoat for their lack of parental skills or empathy in general so Slayer seemed like as good as one as any. And let’s be honest, as far as bands go that really tried to walk the walk in the early days of thrash and speed metal, Slayer wore those shoes well. It took me many years to get into Slayer because of their reputation as Satan-worshipping psychopaths. Turns out they were just California punks that liked to incite people and drink themselvies into oblivion. They were happy to keep the whole Satan ruse going. Though, I do think there was a general interest in the dark side, at least as far as Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were concerned, and Reign In Blood was their first true masterpiece.

It doesn’t matter where you hit play on this album, each song will take you on a journey into darkness and bloodshed. This is the ultimate boogeyman album. “Angel of Death”, “Necrophobic”, “Jesus Saves”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Raining Blood” all work their dark magic on you. This is the ultimate “Satanic Panic” album. Just don’t play it backwards, or Tom Araya will beckon you to watch The Golden Girls and double check your algebra homework.

Fabio Frizzi : City Of The Living Dead S/T

I think this is one of the great Italian horror film scores. Frizzi’s City Of The Living Dead S/T has all the eerie vibes, slow-churning dread, and melancholy feel you need to get in the mood for the witching hour. He’s done amazing work for decades(and continues to perform), but for me this album is a shining example of just how much was put into these old horror film scores. I think in many ways, these scores far outlive the films they were created for. This record is proof of that.

Turn the lights down low, have the candy at the door, and crank this on the home stereo. Those trick-or-treaters won’t know what hit ’em.

Walter Rizzati : House By The Cemetery S/T

Of all the great Italian horror film scores, Walter Rizzati’s House By The Cemetery is probably my favorite. It was the one that stuck in my head for over 20 years before I revisited it. It’s creepy, haunting, melancholy, and for me stands as an example of just how great the scores were and the passion put into these pieces of music. I think it also reminded me of the NES game Castlevania, with its baroque organ work. I think that helped to solidify it’s longevity in my sponge-y subconscious for so many years. Listening to it I could just as easily be fighting ghouls and vampire bats in a castle as I could be running from the undead in a Fulci film.

Rizzati went above and beyond with this score. It’s perfect and perfectly eerie.

Wojciech Golczewski : End of Transmission

Golczewski has been doing amazing film work in the last few years, but his own personal albums are where it’s at for me. Lots of intergalactic doom going on with albums like Reality Check and The Signal, but if you want true, old school space doom you can’t get any better than End of Transmission.

End of Transmission is an all analog affair that feels like Blade Runner on a budget. It’s like this little 30 minute album that takes you on a dark and mysterious journey into the graveyard of the milky way. Each “Transmission” is a heady exploration of analog synth and existential space doom. You can’t go wrong with this one blasting through your headphones on a cold, Halloween night.

The Soft Moon : Zeros

Luis Vasquez knows how to build Gothic doom. His work as the Soft Moon has always tip toed around both the dance floor and the dark corners we attempt to avoid. Imagine a cross between Bauhaus, NIN, and Depeche Mode, then mix in tribal elements and you’ve got a good idea of what’s happening. All of his records are great, but Zeros feels like the most October of them all.

From opening track “It Ends” on there’s a propulsive doom. Industrial at heart, but more singer/songwriter than anything Skinny Puppy or Ministry ever did, Zeros feels like a walk thru some dark and dilapidated house long since abandoned by the previous owners. “Machines” visits some old school Cure territory, while “Die Life” feels like Def Con 4 on the panic level.

You’d be remiss if you didn’t play this at least once on Halloween. Then hit up all of the Soft Moon’s discography and get lost in it the rest of the year.

John Carpenter : Halloween S/T

Of course this is on the list. Why wouldn’t it be?


So there’s a few to get your Spotify Halloween playlists started. There’s plenty of other great Halloween-appropriate albums out there for you, so if you don’t like my suggestions go find some for your own damn self.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

John Carpenter : Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998

I believe we’ve entered the John Carpenter renaissance. Five years ago the man was on the bitter end of a film career that had seen better days. To those in the know the man was and is a filmmaking icon. His subtle nuances, patient tension building, exquisite camera work, and of course his film scoring has gone on to inform and influence the genre of horror for the last 40 years. But by the mid-90s his films were suffering from both lack of creative source material and from the man’s own creative burnout. In later interviews Carpenter sounded fed up and tired of the whole industry. It seemed one of our greats had hung it up for good.

Then something sort of amazing happened: A younger generation of talented filmmakers began paying homage to the man thru their own films. Guys like Nicolas Winding Refn, Adam Wingard, David Robert Mitchell, and Jeff Nichols were putting out amazing films like Drive, The Guest, It Follows, and Midnight Special that had obvious visual and soundtrack nods to the “Master Of Horror”. The guy that seemed to have been put to the side in favor of schlocky horror and cheap thrills was finally getting the respect he deserved. Somewhere in there Carpenter began recording albums with his son and Godson. Those albums were Lost Themes and Lost Themes II. He toured for those albums as well and seemed to have found that creative spark once again.

John Carpenter, along with his current collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, have returned to the recording studio to create Anthology: 1974-1998. Where the Lost Themes albums were music pieces that never got used in Carpenter’s films, Anthology is reimaginings of John Carpenter’s most beloved scores. The result is a striking look at just how diverse an artist Carpenter truly is.

If you happened to pick up Carpenter’s single series thru Sacred Bones a couple of years ago then you already have an idea of the serious cool collected on this LP. That series had the themes from Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog, Halloween and Escape From New York. They’re all included here, but we’re also treated to the rocking “In The Mouth Of Madness”, which has some all-out guitar crunch. There’s a Dokken/Queensryche feel in the metal-ish vibe. “Porkchop Express(Big Trouble In Little China)” also has a strutting 80s rock swagger, complete with DX-7 synth fun going on. You can almost see an aged and grizzled Jack Burton(Kurt Russell) driving down the highway in his big rig looking for new adventures as this one plays. “They Live” is a little bluesy and a little late night jazz, with both some serious blues harp and moody guitar.

Though there’s some mildly dated rock mojo here, I think these versions fit the films and the characters that reside in those films rather well. Carpenter and crew also take a stab at Ennio Morricone’s excellent “The Thing”. He turns it into a dread-filled slow synth burn. This one is great. “Starman” is another big surprise here. It’s sweeping keys and melancholy vibe are quite stunning. It’s an underrated piece(as well as an underrated film, too.) “Dark Star” puts me in mind of current day synth wizards like Videodrones and Slasher Film Festival Strategy. It may be updated, but it still holds a nostalgic vibe to those early 70s. “Prince Of Darkness” is all Gothic stabs and dread-filled synths.

One of the big highlights is “Christine”, which sounds like it could’ve come off a new S U R V I V E album. John Carpenter shows why he truly is the “Master” on this track. Rock guitar comes rolling in and the song almost morphs into something resembling “Moving In Stereo” morphed into 80s Tangerine Dream.

John Carpenter sounds like a guy renewed and reinvigorated. His work on these albums over the last two years show a man with a newfound passion for creating. Anthology : 1974-1998 is further proof that you can’t keep a good man down.

8.1 out of 10

Michael Myers and Trent Reznor

It’s Friday The 13th, so I should be talking about Jason Vorhees. But you know what, I don’t care. Michael Myers has always held a special, darkly-lit place in my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Halloween growing up. It was on TV at least once a year(edited, of course) and I’d always watch it. Even prior to seeing the unedited version on videocassette, it was a very scary, visceral experience for me. The initial murder of Vorhees’ sister, the escape from the institution, stalking of Laurie Strode, and the murders at the end of the film all filled me with such dread that even the most goriest of films can’t come close to that angst I felt lying under a blanket on my parent’s couch in the living room as a sticky little kid.

Even years later that iconic theme music would stick with me, showing up in various forms(Halloween toys, plunking out the theme drunkenly on my best friend’s piano, and various viewings over the years), that I never thought someone covering this theme would affect me as much as the version I just heard today did. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a version of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme and released it today, on Friday the 13th, 2017.

It’s actually pretty amazing.

They take their time with it. They savor the nuances and tease the theme generously before going full Carpenter, with some generous Reznor/Ross vibes. They toy with the main theme with lots of distortion and chaos lurking in the background for a good 5 minutes before close to the end when a Reznor-approved beat comes crashing in to make Carpenter’s iconic theme become some sort of dark and sultry remix. It’s really rather stunning.

They haven’t rebuilt the Halloween theme more than they’ve reimagined it into something modern and dystopian. I think it’s genius. You may think it’s shite. That’s okay. Give it a shot and see what happens. I’m fanboying right now. I think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are two of the most exciting film composers working today. The NIN stuff is still good to my ears as well(we can’t keep recreating the past now, can we dear?), but their film work is absolutely stunning. If John Carpenter decides to not score the new Halloween, I know two guys perfect for the job.

Happy Friday The 13th, lovelies.

6 Must Die : Revisiting John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’

There’s certain things in our lives we hold dear because we experienced them when we were young. Maybe a certain food or a song. Maybe it’s an old bomber jacket we were given on some nondescript Christmas morning when we were 7-years old. Maybe a special time with a loved one on a holiday when we were 10. For me, all of those things apply. My mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner”, a leather bomber jacket I got for Christmas when I was 15-years old, and a Memorial Day picnic with my grandma and grandpa Hubner at Ox Bow Park when I was 5. All of these things I will carry with me as long as the synapses are popping off in my head. Regardless of how significant or insignificant they may seem to the person outside looking in, for me they’re things that will always stay with me.

Same could be said for movies we saw in our childhood. There were certain films I saw as a kid that have stayed with me. Movies that I can’t necessarily say they’re great movies, but they moved me regardless. Audrey Rose, Phantasm, The Neverending Story, and The Road Warrior were movies I saw growing up that had a profound effect on a adolescent JHubner73. Of those movies, I still rank Phantasm and The Road Warrior up there, while the others not so much. John Carpenter’s The Fog is another movie I remember watching a few times when it was shown on network television that put me in a very specific place. It was scary, for sure, but it also had a very specific look to it. There was this overwhelming feeling of isolation in the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse radio station, or with her son on the beach finding the driftwood. The drive Barbeau took to get to the lighthouse felt endless and almost magical. All these things stayed with me as a kid and the movie became this pinnacle of scary movies for me. Every time it was on TV I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and camped out on the living room couch. I wanted to be scared. I wanted to be transported to Antonio Bay for two hours. It’s a film that worked its magic on me when I was young. As an adult the soundtrack has become one of my favorite scores to get lost in. It evokes in me all those feelings I had as a kid bundled up on the couch waiting for a commercial break so I could go get a bowl of ice cream or go to the bathroom.

One thing I hadn’t done in years was sit down and actually watch the movie again. I recently picked up a limited edition 3-pack of Carpenter’s The Fog, Escape From New York, and They Live in steelbook case Blu Rays through Shout! Factory. Friday night my son and I popped in The Fog as he hadn’t yet seen it and I watched the film that sort of defined for me what great horror is supposed to be.

For the most part, my memory served me correctly.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the Cliff Notes version:

The scenic ocean town of Antonio Bay is celebrating their 100th anniversary. The night before the celebration things go crazy in town; car alarms go off, dogs start barking towards the ocean, windows and clocks shatter, and out in the ocean three drunk fishermen are slaughtered by beings that appear out of a glowing, ominous fog. That same night the local alcoholic priest finds a hidden journal in the wall of the church that was written by his grandfather who was one of the founding fathers of the town. It seems the town was founded on lies, deceit, and murder. Back in 1879, a colony of lepers approach the small village now known as Antonio Bay and ask if they can settle and form a town just a few miles from the village. They offer gold as payment for this proposition. 6 conspirators, including the priest’s grandfather, decide to doublecross the lepers by leading their boat at night right into a bank of rocks which sinks their ship and kills all the men on board. The conspirators then retrieve the gold from the wreckage and with it founded their town, Antonio Bay. On the town’s 100th Anniversary the leper pirates have returned and want revenge. 6 must die in place of the original conspirators, plus they want their gold back. 

As a kid I loved this movie for the scares and creepy glowing fog. As an adult I find myself more mesmerized by the beautiful shots and Carpenter’s keen eye for forming scenes. The story isn’t complicated. This is basically The Blob, but with fog instead of a giant, man-eating ball of snot. In anyone’s lesser hands this would’ve been a movie that the sands of time would’ve devoured and spit out like so many other B-movies of the day. Carpenter made this with a$1,000,000 budget. With screw ups and re-shoots it ended up being closer to $1.1 to $1.3 million. Still, that’s peanuts in the scheme of things. His decision to shoot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen made his low budget horror flick look more like an arthouse film. It’s simply gorgeous. There’s some truly effective acting here, as well as some not-so effective. Let me go over the good and meh.

First the good:

Like I said, this film is gorgeous. With Shout! Factory’s clean up of the print the film looks as good as ever. Carpenter is a visual guy more than a storytelling guy. He tells stories, but they’re simple ones. His strength is in putting scenes together and building tension, as well as his keen eye with the camera. Along with cinematographer Dean Cundey, Carpenter takes a little horror flick and gives it serious class in the looks department. His steadi-cam work, his use of light, and long, slow pans all feel revelatory in the field of horror. This film gave the horror genre a serious kick in the pants. It didn’t have to be grainy, choppily edited, and dubbed like a Godzilla picture in order to be a horror film.

The music is completely next level for horror films, or really any kind of genre. Carpenter used the synths for melodic dread creating and also to amp up intense scenes of terror. I think this is one score that stayed with me through my entire life. I always thought back to this music(even more so than his Halloween score) when I thought of great scores. When I started collecting film scores this was one of the first I wanted. Fortunately I waited a couple years till the Silva Screen reissue came out back in 2015. It’s gorgeous and sounds stunning.

There are individual moments of genius here. The opening sequence with John Houseman as the crusty sailor telling the tale of Blake and his comrades dying in the sinking ship to a bunch of kids around a campfire is classic. It sets the stage for what’s to come. And then the move from there into the town where lights flicker, windows explode, and things just get generally strange is exceptional. Carpenter’s use of light and his gorgeous widescreen shots go a long way to making this a classic. For me the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau’s radio station owner/DJ in the lighthouse radio station are some of the best. Her drive through the California countryside to the radio station located on a lighthouse cliff is just stunning. Walking down the long, narrow concrete stairs to the lighthouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even hearing the repeating promos of KAB-radio is poignant. You get this overwhelming sense of isolation. And her play-by-play reports from the radio station to the town regarding where the fog is heading is tense as hell. Besides the fog itself, this is Adrienne Barbeau’s movie for sure.

The fog itself is ominous and creepy. This is a point that could’ve sunk the film had it not been done right and Carpenter and his effects crew did an amazing job here. There are three main players here: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, and the fog itself. These three are what push the movie forward. There’s plenty of characters, but they are all here in order to react to the actions of these forces of nature.

Blake and his leper ghost pirates are done right. You see enough to know you wouldn’t want to run into them on your morning commute, but not enough of them to see this is a movie with a $1 million budget. The ghost ship is effective as it silently moves along the drunk fisherman’s vessel. And the scene at the end in the church with Holbrook is intense as hell, glowing eyes and all.

And now, the not-so good:

Honestly, there isn’t much I can  complain about here. But watching it 35 years on from the first time I saw there were just a couple things that bothered me. For one, some of the characters just didn’t seem fleshed out enough. The Tom Atkins/Nick Castle and Jamie Lee Curtis/Elizabeth Solley characters, while serving a definite purpose here(they’re a pivotal part in one of the most intense scenes in the film) just don’t seem all that interesting. Curtis was amazing in Carpenter’s Halloween as Laurie Strode, basically defining the female heroine in that role. But here, her easy hitchhiker just feels like any other character in the background. Tom Atkins seems like Tom Atkins in every role he’s in. Here he’s fine, but him hooking up with the MUCH younger Curtis(he’s 23 years older) seems more creepy to me now than it did when I was younger. They both serve the film well, but in as simple a way as they can(Atkins played the angry, abusive dad in Creepshow wonderfully, btw.)

Elsewhere Hal Holbrook does the stereotypical alcoholic priest as well as he can(he does resemble Edgar Allen Poe quite a bit.) The local townies all show up in fine form, but nothing really makes me care whether or not the Fog gets ’em or not.

The Fog isn’t any one person’s movie. It’s an ensemble built to serve us some existential dread in the form of a glowing fog that hides inside of it regret, guilt, lies, deceit, and stone-cold revenge(as well as some pissed off leper pirates from beyond the grave.) This is an old-timey campfire ghost story, much like the one we see transpiring at the very beginning of the film. It’s a lesson in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but done up in a nightmare-ish fable by the sea. John Carpenter put a unique spin on a story about ghosts, revenge, comeuppance, and where greed will get you. He made one of the most gorgeous, midnight b-movies ever made.

38 years on, this fog still glows brightly.

 

 

Sounds of the Seethin’

I think it’s come to that point in my record-buying life that I need to look back and reflect a bit. This isn’t just a mere hobby to pass the time. This isn’t a phase I’m going through. Music has always been a part of my life, ever since my first music purchase back in 1984 with Ratt’s Out of the Cellar on cassette. Even before that, really. Spinning KISS records on my red, white, and blue-striped Fisher Price at 5 years old was maybe the point where music became an obsession for me. I’ve always needed a soundtrack to my days. There was always a couple of acoustic guitars at family get-togethers, and I can remember finding a beat up Tele in my uncle’s attic and picking it up and having this jolt of electricity go through me(it wasn’t plugged in, btw.) No, music has never been a sideline for me. It’s always been there, and that has continued well into my middle age years.

With my soundtrack collection growing ever so rapidly thanks to the voodoo spell those fine voodoo priests and priestesses over at Mondotees and Death Waltz have put on me I see no reason not to talk about my favorite soundtrack albums. With us being well into October I thought I’d talk about a few of my favorite horror soundtracks because…well, tis the seethin’.

House By The Cemetery by Walter Rizzati

houseIf this was going to be one of those lists that was numbered from 1 to 10, then House By The Cemetery would be in the top 5. Even as a kid this S/T always stuck in my head. There’s a baroque quality to the music that stays with you(as it did with me for over 25 years.) Regardless of how badly dubbed the dialogue was or how dated the effects can be, the one thing that remains steadfast in Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy was the music. You can throw this album on late at night and get that cold, eerie vibe running through the house.

For me, I instantly go back to when I first saw House By The Cemetery. Sitting in my parents living room on a oddly cool summer night I sat motionless on the couch and watched this grainy, sordid Italian horror film. Despite the gore and the relative cheesiness of what I was seeing on that old Betamax copy of the film, I was struck by the sad beauty in Rizzati’s score. A mix of piano, synth, and what kind of sounded harpsichord, the music masked a b-movie in a shroud of quality chamber music. There was a couple dated disco-ish spots on the score, but that’s to be expected when you’re wanting to add a touch of “modern” sound to a film. It’s not that bothersome, really. Overall, Fulci was smart enough to hire the right guys to turn his sordid Italian gore features into something more by way of a hell of a soundtrack.

Excavation by The Haxan Cloak

haxanThe Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is not a horror soundtrack but it should be. It sounds like cold, dead air escaping a dilapidated, rotting domicile. It creaks and beats like a black heart pumping foul dreck through the body of the undead. It’s the sound of synthetic blood running through a metallic death machine. Electronic music for the end of the world. Bobby Krlic’s musical world is a dark one. One that could easily score a night of demonic delights, or a walk through skull-lined catacombs. Excavation is an intense musical vision. If you want something to play for a late night tryst with a Succubus or Incubus, look no further than this 2013 record.

Phantasm by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave

phantasmDon Coscarelli’s Phantasm has to be one of the most bizarre horror films I remember seeing as a kid. Staying up late one night with my dad watching it till nearly 1am when it played as the late late show on WSBT channel 22, I can remember thinking it all just felt so dream-like. It was also really creepy, thanks to the estute scoring work of Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave. The electric piano work mixed with the nightmare sounds of synth and organ really went far to make the film’s hallucinatory vibe go the distance. The film was made in 1979, so the score can be dated at times. But if you’re like me, then you know this music is never out of fashion. The electric piano holds a very nostalgic place for me, and it’s used very well here. Plus, there’s some honestly eerie passages here that will make your Halloween season all the better.

The Fog by John Carpenter

fogIf there is a legitimate horror soundtrack masterpiece then I think Carpenter’s The Fog could be it. The mood, vibe, and overall frigid fear of the film wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it weren’t for this masterful score. The piano motif shadowed by the synth; the heavy, looming bass notes; the distant electronic moans and baroque feel are immediate and never let go. The film is a masterpiece itself, but no other piece of cinematic music has ever felt so right in a film as this. John Carpenter was the real deal filmmaker. He had an overall vision in his films and music was one of the key elements.

As a side note, about two weeks ago my wife and I along with our two younger children were on our way back from going to see our oldest perform in her first band concert of the year. We were about 10 miles from home when we ran into some seriously dense fog, just after sundown. The fog bellowed over the valleys in the recently harvested cornfields we drove through. In typical fashion, I knew what needed to soundtrack this last stretch of road home so I grabbed my iPod and brought up John Carpenter’s “The Fog Theme” from his recently released single series from Sacred Bones. It was magnificent, and I got a good chuckle out of the wife.

It Follows by Disasterpeace

followsLast year’s It Follows was one of the most dividing film experiences in recent horror cinema history. You had one group saying it was one of the best horror films of the year while the other group said it was terrible. Most of the folks that said it was terrible were hardcore horror fans that found the film boring, confusing, and not the least bit scary. The folks that loved the movie considered it to be just as much an arthouse film as anything. They also saw a heavy David Lynch presence. For me, I didn’t think it was the best horror film of the year, mainly because I didn’t consider it a horror film. To me it was more like a psychological thriller. A f****d up coming-of-age story that was equal parts Halloween, Blue Velvet, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you were looking for solid narrative, obvious antagonists, and an ending that wrapped everything up you were doomed from the start. What you got was a noir-ish hallucination of a film. Solid acting, dream-like mood, and a score that hit it out of the ballpark. Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, is known for creating some pretty iconic video game scores. He mainly deals in indie games and in the chiptune variety of music. With It Follows he creates a moody set of pieces that bring Carpenter to mind, as well as many other 70s horror films. In my opinion, Disasterpeace has created a modern classic with the It Follows S/T.

The House Of The Devil by Jeff Grace

devilOne of my favorite horror films of the last 10 years was Ti West’s The House Of The Devil. There were so many tips of the hat to guys like Polanski, Hitchcock, Friedkin, and even some lesser guys that put out solid horror in the early 80s. West made a modern film look like it came out in 1981, and if you’d come across it late one night you’d think you’d found some lost classic. Jeff Grace’s score is restrained, eloquent, and utterly horrifying. He takes a more classic approach, putting the electronics aside and going for more of a chamber music feel. Piano and strings take up the bulk of this one(with the exception of the opening track being a rock instrumental that feels like it was born from an all night binge on The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo”.) The score stays peaceful with an undertone of dread, which if you’ve seen the film would know that’s the genius of Ti West’s ode to “things that go bump in the night”. This one is a brilliant late night listen, and will surely curdle the blood at just the right moments.

Maniac by Rob

maniacThink what you will of the film, but Maniac was a truly disturbing experience. The remake was prettied up and given a modern lean, taking away that late 70s street trash look of the original by William Lustig. Going from New York to Los Angeles Franck Khalfoun’s version of Maniac is a different beast altogether but seedy and disturbing nonetheless. I think the most riveting thing about the film was actually the score. Film composer Rob avoided the usual tropes of horror and stylized films by not filling the film with flashy tracks of disco and techno-heavy music. Instead he made a soundtrack that was overwhelmingly melancholy. Heavy synth score that, in my mind, reflects the serious illness and overall malaise of the lead character and psycho Frank Zito.

The movie overall is trashy(especially the original), but don’t ignore this soundtrack. It’s stunning, original, and something that can be enjoyed out of the context of the film.

So these are my desert island horror soundtracks. If I was stuck on some sandy patch in the middle of some Godforsaken stretch of blue these would be the records I’d have to have to play on my turntable made of coconut shells, bamboo, and hollowed out logs. These records, to me, define generations of music composers and their unique approach to scoring the movies that made us all look under our beds and check our closets before the light went out in our bedrooms. There are so many good horror scores out there, but these have been staples in my record listening diet. I hope you look into a few of them and see for yourself.

What? You want more? Well, then consider this part one. I’ll get started on part two immediately.

John Carpenter : Lost Themes II

I’m not sure what you’d call this, a second wind? Third wind? Dust in the wind? Whatever wind it is, it’s a mighty one for JohnJohn-Carpenter-Lost-Themes-2-Album Carpenter. In a few print interviews I’ve read with Carpenter over the last few years he’s sounded a little on the bitter side regarding films. He was to the point of making movies for a paycheck(nothing wrong with that…gotta pay the rent somehow), just going through the motions so he could sustain himself for another couple of years until something else lackluster came along that he could force himself to make. If John Carpenter were a longtime hack filmmaker then I’d say whatever, but Carpenter is not a hack filmmaker. He had a visual style that was unlike anyone working the horror genre. He could create mood and tension as good as Hitchcock. His films were very much his own, whether he penned them or not. So to hear someone as iconic as Carpenter disenchanted with the art of filmmaking was kind of disheartening. But then early last year John Carpenter put out the album Lost Themes, a collection of music he’d created over the years but never used. It was an astounding collection of heavy synth and electronic music, with bits of rock thrown in. He seemed rejuvenated artistically and creatively. I mean, it was no surprise the album was great. His films were distinctive not only for their visual style, but for their scores which Carpenter penned, both on his own and with Alan Howarth.

Now, just a little over a year since Lost Themes was released Carpenter has released Lost Themes II(through Sacred Bones once again). Second time around Carpenter uses subtlety in his compositions, and with the help of his son in the studio fashions a sophomore record that feels like the master at work once again.

Musically Lost Themes II seems to mine an array of moods and vibes, but with more of a full band feel this time around. “Distant Dream” jumps into the darker vibes of Lost Themes, but feeling less constricted; looser and more rock and roll. Carpenter sounds more like Zombi than Tangerine Dream on this opening track. “White Pulse” sounds like “Tubular Bells”, but with a more baroque approach to melody, as the track melts into a very Bach-meets-Walter Rizzati thing. Then the song falls into a heavy rhythm and gothic synths, ala Sinoia Caves. “Persia Rising” could’ve been some great theme to some unrealized Carpenter feature. It pulsates and bounces beautifully, very much ready for its cinematic close up.

There’s much less of the forced rock bravado this time around then on Lost Themes. When there is a distorted guitar solo or big drums they feel more natural this time around. But really, the majority of Lost Themes II is melancholy tracks like “Hofner Down”, or “Windy Death” with its Vangelis feel. The gothic “Bela Lugosi” towers over us with doom-laden walls of synth. You can almost see that coffin opening in the distance and Lugosi rising from it. “Dark Blues” is more rock than synth-themed scores, but it still brings the goods. “Virtual Survivor” is reminiscent of Carpenter’s own Escape From New York soundtrack, with updated guitar gruff. Album closer “Utopian Facade” sounds like Nightsatan a bit, but in a more restrained and refined way. It’s like laser metal meets Vangelis.

Am I disappointed that one of my favorite filmmakers is no longer making films? Yes. But the fact he’s found a new artistic outlet in putting out albums of original music makes that disappointment much less painful. Lost Themes II is a perfect late night spin, and a continuation of John Carpenter’s artistic renaissance.

8. 3 out of 10

 

 

The Fog Approaches

I woke up this morning to a thick, heavy fog covering the neighborhood. It was so thick I could barely make out the house across the street. The streetlights made merely soupy, vague circles in the early morning air. Before I left the house I brought my wife her cellphone, just in case she got that alert text from the school saying there was a two-hour delay. I woke up my daughters, but told them to keep an eye on their iPods for alerts. Before I even walked out the garage door the school did their robo-call to the house announcing school was postponed for two hours.

A pardon from an early Tuesday morning.

12833253_960303074076939_1395388910_nYou know the saying, “The fog is as thick as pea soup”? Well that saying was very fitting for this morning’s drive to work. Stop signs sneak up on you, as do taillights of cars you’re following. If there had been a herd of antelope crossing the road I’d a plowed right into them. I’d a plowed into an elephant with this morning’s fog. Fortunately nothing came running out in front of me, nor did anyone slam me from behind as I sat at the stoplights. I made it to work fully intact.

Of course, though, the drive in got me thinking about John Carpenter’s The Fog. I’m hard pressed to think of a film that captured dread and tension any better than that12825541_960303070743606_1076384622_n 1980 classic. People trapped in their homes with a glowing fog hanging ominously all around them, staring blankly out windows that are completely covered in that ghostly vapor. The scene with Adrienne Barbeau’s son trappped at home with the old lady babysitter. The knock on the door arrives and that old bag sends the kid to his bedroom to hide while she answers the door, sticking her head out into the ominous cloud. BAM! The hook gets her, and the kid is saved just in the knick of time by Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis. The guys out on the fishing boat that gets consumed by the fog, each taken out one by one. Adrienne Barbeau’s Stevie Wayne climbing to the roof of her lighthouse/soft jazz radio station as Blake’s ghouls slowly make their way to her, only to disappear at the last second when Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone hands over the golden cross to the leper ghost pirate Blake. And of course, the very end after the fog disappears then reappears in the church along with the ghost pirates to give Father Malone his final wish: to be the sixth life taken.

Yeah, what a great movie. And what a great soundtrack. I think in the history of horror/suspense films, The Fog is up there with the best. It hits all the right notes. The pacing is perfect, the acting is solid, and it ages like a fine wine. It’s 36 years old, yet it doesn’t feel dated or stale. I think the beauty of Carpenter’s work is that none of his films feel like time capsule fodder. They worked thirty years ago, and they work now. Not all of his films were great, not by any means. But his films that were great were really great. Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, Christine, The Thing, Starman, Big Trouble In Little China, The Prince of Darkness, and In The Mouth Of Madness all carry the Carpenter signature visual style. Some better than others, but that’s a hell of a lot of decent cinema right there.

That fog is hanging on, despite the sun attempting to burn it off. The sun has its work cut out for it. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and the President will be held for ransom on the prison island of Manhatten and I can talk about Escape From New York.

Until then, have a good one.