Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by Denis Klotz from The Horror!?, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.
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When David asked the interested members of M.O.S.S. to send him a commented list of their five favourite movie soundtracks, I found myself even more confused and exasperated than is my usual state of mind, for how could anyone reduce his favourite movie soundtracks to a list of only five instead of – say – a hundred?
After much hemming and hawing, I came down with this list. It’s as close to the experience of giving birth as I’ll ever come, I suspect. Obviously, there’s no particular order to things.
1.) Halloween (1978): John Carpenter’s soundtrack to the film that created the slasher sub-genre stands exemplary for all those soundtracks of low budget productions that make a virtue out of the fact they can’t afford an orchestral score and won’t just take library music. It’s minimalist – possibly primitive – and tense and much better at evoking the primal emotions its film thrives on than anything more orchestral could have been. For me, this particular soundtrack also points forward and backwards in time to all those other composers of soundtracks that use minimal arrangements, synthesizers, sounds you’ve never heard before and repetition to set a movie’s rhythm, from Goblin’s work in Italy to the BBC Radio Workshop.
2.) Gojira (1954): Quite on the opposite side of the musical spectrum stands Akira Ifukube (or Ifukube Akira if you prefer the Japanese way of writing names). It’s orchestral, it’s as maximalist as befits its monster and it’s made by someone standing with both feet in the tradition of classical music. However, Ifukube’s score is just as adept at evoking emotions and setting the film’s rhythm as Carpenter’s, another demonstration that completely different approaches to art are equally fruitful.
This soundtrack was followed and preceded by many another fine Ifukube soundtrack for kaiju movies, Kurosawa, and in between, all of them made with the same care as this one, how ever minor the film itself turned out to be.
3.) “(Do) The Jellyfish” from Sting of Death (1965): From the sublime we come to the ridiculous, a jaunty – and more than just slightly horrifying – little pop number from a local man in a suit horror movie made in Florida. It’s a prime example of all the times when a low budget movie suddenly breaks out into song for no good reason except that its producers actually thought anyone would want to buy the horrific thing. Plus, this sort of pop song advert makes for a cheap enhancement of production values.
It is however only very seldom that a song is picturized quite as traumatizing as this one, with a gloriously painful dance scene that will burn the song forever into your brain. Once it was there, it was only a small step for it to worm itself into the part of my mind that genuinely enjoys this sort of thing.
4.) The One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine aka Master of the Flying Guillotine: The soundtrack to Wang Yu’s piece of Weird Fu cinema isn’t actually the soundtrack to it. In fact, most of its sound queues are borrowed from films and LPs from less permissive copyright cultures. But Flying Guillotine’s case is a special one, for Wang Yu (or listed composer Frankie Chan, who knows) used such peculiar, mostly non-orchestral, music – German Krautrock masters Neu, for example – in such an idiosyncratic way that it enhances the weirdness of the whole affair it belongs to a hundredfold. It also adds another argument to the case against copyright.
5.) Ennio Morricone (1928): Last but not least, and because I like cheating in lists, it’s not actually a film, but the whole body of work of what I think of as the greatest film composer of all times, with a body of work so rich I find it impossible to just pick one movie from. So obviously, I just take all of them. It’s Morricone. What else is there to say?
Denis Klotz, whom you might also know as houseinrlyeh, is the owner of The Horror!?, your one-stop shop for all writing about movies you never heard about but should have. He also makes a nuisance of himself on Twitter as @houseinrlyeh, and is a member of that most venerated company of bloggers and podcasters, M.O.S.S.