Dan delves once again into his collection of cult movie soundtracks with two iconic horror classics from Italian maestro Fabio Frizzi…
Fairly or unfairly, for most movie fans the musicians that first leap to mind when discussing Italian horror soundtracks are the members of Goblin. The iconic status of their work for Dario Argento during the 1970s has sealed their position as Italy’s highest profile cult movie composers – even those with only a passing interest in such things will be familiar with the dazzling music for the likes of Suspiria and Deep Red. But it would be a huge mistake to think that film scores of equal quality weren’t being made elsewhere in Italy at around the same time. Fabio Frizzi may not be a ‘household’ name in quite the same way Goblin are, but the music he composed and performed for the films of the late, great Lucio Fulci is every bit as skilled, audacious and inventive as those of Simonetti and co.
For decades, the Italian film industry was kept wealthy and vibrant by the ability of its key directors to move quickly and efficiently between genres, capitalising on whatever cinematic trend was popular with audiences before moving onto the next. Similarly, the most successful composers had to be able to adapt their skills quickly – unlike in Hollywood where many film musicians developed signature sounds by sticking to the same sort of movies, their Italian counterparts often produced huge, disparate bodies of work blessed by a wide range of styles. By 1979, Fabio Frizzi – still only 28 – had already worked on more than two dozen soundtracks in just five years, encompassing everything from horror movies and crime thrillers to softcore sex romps, spaghetti westerns and bawdy historical comedies.
Fabio Frizzi, 1981
Zombi 2 (aka Zombie and Zombie Flesh-Eaters) wasn’t Frizzi’s first collaboration with Lucio Fulci – he had previously scored The Psychic, Four of the Apocalypse and Silver Saddle as part of a trio alongside Carlo Bixio and Vince Tempera. It was however the work that cemented his reputation, giving him (and Fulci) a wide international audience for the first time. Fulci’s movie was, of course, made as a quick cash-in on the success of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a film which was itself co-financed by Italians and boasted a Goblin score. But just as Zombi 2 had a very different flavour to Romero’s picture, so to is Frizzi’s soundtrack a world away from Goblin’s slick Euro-rock stylings. The music succeeds in sounding both modern and ancient, mixing then-futuristic synth sounds with something raw and primal that perfectly captures the film’s queasy, sun-drenched tropical atmosphere.
The Zombi 2 soundtrack has had a number of different releases over the years, including a CD pairing with Frizzi’s Cannibal Ferox score, but the recent vinyl-only edition from London-based Death Waltz Recordings is certainly the best sounding and packaged. Curiously, this version doesn’t kick off with the distinctive, sinister title music but a bit of deceptively jolly cod-Caribbean funk that, while not exactly setting the mood, does at least evoke the film’s West Indian setting. Sequence 2 is where the real fun begins. Aided by Giorgio Cascio and Goblin’s keyboard maestro Maurizio Guarini, Frizzi conjures up a hypnotic, pulsing synth showcase, chiming xylophones merging with layers of bubbling, wailing synths. Sequence 6 – also known as ‘Eyeball’ on earlier releases – takes things even further, rattling percussion and shrieking guitar driving the music towards the film’s most famous gore sequence, as unlucky Olga Karlatos gets a foot-long shard of timber driven into her peepers.
Elsewhere Frizzi focuses on evoking the claustrophobic atmosphere of the jungle; sequences 3, 4 and 7 are heavy on the tribal percussion and moody ambient sounds. But it’s the title track (Sequence 8 on the Death Waltz release) that provides Zombi 2 with its signature piece. A dull, insistent thud that sounds like a primitive drum machine but is in fact nothing more than Frizzi tapping a mike carries a strangely beautiful melody that is both haunting and melancholic. Using a mellatron – essentially an early, analogue sampling device – Frizzi creates a melodic bed of disembodied voices, producing one of the key pieces of Italian horror film music.
Over the next decade Frizzi continued to collaborate with Fulci, composing music that was actually often superior to the films themselves. But for me, his finest horror soundtrack came in 1981, for Lucio’s gothic masterpiece The Beyond. While much of Zombi 2’s score was hypnotic and sparse, The Beyond – recorded again alongside Maurizio Guarini – saw Frizzi work with a wider palette, matching Fulci’s beautiful, bloody, surreal imagery with equally bold music.
With one notable exception, The Beyond’s score feels very much one piece, the same themes and types of sound recurring throughout. The soundtrack album kicks of with the doom-laden piano of Verso L’Ignoto, which builds around the creeping, repetitious motif as drums, bass and keys slowly enter the mix. Track 2 – the oppressive Voci Dal Nulla – revisits the mellatron-created voices from Zombi 2. This time the disembodied vocal sounds are less undead and more funereal, and at the halfway mark, human voices break through the gloom, providing the track with a grand, operatic sweep and driven by a nimble electric bass.
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In fact, for a score so soaked in evil, The Beyond is often weirdly funky. The use of insistent, edgy live bass and drums lends the music a head-nodding quality – these elements shouldn’t work with the layers of menace that Frizzi establishes through his ominous use of chants, strings and electronics, but they really do. Tracks like Oltre La Soglia and its sister piece Sequenza Ritmica E Tema clearly take an influence from the then-current sounds of disco; only this is a disco located on one of the circles of hell, the dancefloor packed with zombies and Satan himself behind the decks.
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The only track that feels out of place is Giro Di Blues, a slice of laid-back Dixie jazz that acts as background music in a bar scene (the film being set in Louisiana). Frizzi wrote it, so I guess it belongs on the soundtrack album, but it does break up the demonic mood somewhat.
For many years The Beyond has been one of the harder Frizzi scores to track down on vinyl or CD. It was reissued on both formats in 2000 by the Italian label Dagored, but unlike their repressings of many of Goblin’s soundtracks, it remains rare, certainly at a decent price (I was very lucky to find a copy of the gatefold vinyl earlier this year at a not bank-breaking cost). Thankfully, movie art specialists Mondo have recently released a new, remastered vinyl pressing, boasting typically gorgeous new artwork. It’s limited to 1,500 copies, but as of writing copies could still be found at sensible prices online. So snap it up kids – no horror-loving soundtrack addict’s collection is complete without some primo Frizzi in there.