Thursday, October 16, 2014

CACOPHONOUS RACKET: 5 Albums That Get Me in the Spirit of Halloween

We're now deep into the murk of the Halloween season, but, for me, it sure doesn't quite feel like it. Living in sunny Southern California- with the added woe of a devastating drought- has made it more difficult to get into the spirit of things. If it wasn't for the pumpkins in front of grocery stores or the decorations at Target, I wouldn't have known it was October at all. So, music has been the necessary tool for me to get me excited about this time of year. Being a fan of heavy metal music and film scores, I have more than enough options to help me revel in Halloween. I thought I would share five albums in particular that I first spin every year to immediately feel the vibe of our favorite holiday.

Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath

I never owned Black Sabbath's ground-breaking debut album in high school, but most of it could be found on my mom's vinyl copy of their 1976 greatest hits collection, We Sold Our Souls for Rock n' Roll. Listening to the song "Black Sabbath" for the first time on vinyl on the giant wood stereo console we once owned was one of the most mind-blowing music experiences of my life. The opening sound effects of rain, thunder, and church bells gave way to the most pulverizing guitar riff ever. The end was nigh, and guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward brought it. Then came the wicked wail of Ozzy Osbourne, and heavy metal was fully unleashed on to the earth. Forty-five years after its release (!), the records brilliant combination of working-class shithole gloom and Hammer horror imagery makes this a no-brainer for Halloween tuneage.

The Crow- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

One album I did own in high school was the soundtrack to Brandon Lee's final film, The Crow. Now, before you say "cliche" or "nostalgia trip", I listened to this album today, and I am shocked by how great it holds up twenty years later. It is incredible that a collection of songs from such diverse artists can sound so fluid and uniform. And it all captures the movie's urban ghost story tone perfectly. From The Cure's classic, "Burn" to Pantera's cover of Poison Idea's "The Badge" to Jane Siberry's beautiful "It Can't Rain All the Time", nothing seems out of place. Well, maybe Rage Against the Machine's white-men-are-evil diatribe "Darkness", but it's smooth-jazz verses saves it from being totally out of place. Another highlight is nine inch nails' rendition of "Dead Souls" by Joy Division, one of James O'Barr's influences in creating the comic book the film is based on. You can listen to that song below:

Misfits- Walk Among Us

I still remember a description of The Misfits I read in an issue of Guitar World back in 1996. I'm paraphrasing, but I'm sure it said, "The Misfits always looked like a zombie football team, ready to crack someone's skull open and eat their brains at the sound of a whistle." I was on the hunt for a group that would be my ultimate Halloween band, and after reading that, I thought I had hit the jackpot. My first Misfits record ended up being the hardcore-infused Earth A.D., but when I put on its predecessor, Walk Among Us, that's when I really felt like I had struck gold. The low-budget production, Danzig's Elvis swagger, the bubblegum hooks, and their Munsters-esque image created an Atomic-Age, b-movie sensibility that made each listen more fun than the next. To this day, Walk Among Us is the first LP I put on to kick off the Halloween season.

Slayer- Reign in Blood

Reign in Blood was not my first Slayer album (That distinction goes to Seasons in the Abyss), but it's the one that left the biggest mark on me. Yeah, like a big, gaping head wound. An unrelenting barrage of evil, reducing weakling humans to mush, but mesmerizing me into its infernal spell. I could not get enough of it. Still can't get enough of it. The surgical precision of drummer Dave Lombardo and guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King makes sure of that. The opening scream of bassist/vocalist Tom Araya on "Angel of Death" is still blood-curdling. The closing track, "Raining Blood" brings the whole album's concept of Hell on Earth to its only logical conclusion: Hell will descent, and there will truly be no escape.

Goblin- Suspiria

As far as film scores go, yes, John Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack is essential for the season, Not only does it conjure images of the film in your head, but also visions of falling leaves, overcast days, and jack o' lanterns. For me, there is one other soundtrack album that perfectly captures the essence of Halloween, and that is the one for the 1977 film, Suspiria. Outside of Dario Argento's masterpiece, the soundtrack album itself has one of the creepiest atmospheres ever caught on tape. Italy's Goblin utilized an array of unconventional instruments and spooky vocals to turn their brand of heavy metal prog-rock into something wickedly unique and spellbinding. Like Carpenter's music for Halloween, Goblin's score for Suspiria evokes not only scenes from the movie, but also images of dark forests, gothic settings, and witches doing dastardly deeds.

So, what albums do you automatically spin when the leaves start to fall and the stores start selling shitloads of candy? Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Five Best-Used Songs in Horror Movies

One thing all horror fans can agree on is that the one aspect that can make or break a film is the music. While there is plenty of unforgettable music created specifically for horror movies, let's not forget there are times filmmakers have also utilized existing works, too. Besides, honestly, aren't you tired of hearing about "Dream Warriors" yet? The five tunes I have listed below are, to me, the best-used songs in horror films. I'm not saying they are the best songs that happen to show up. Trust me, I'd love to include Accept's "Fast as a Shark" (played during the motorcycle scene in Demons) just because it's a kick-ass song. Totally different kind of list. These tracks were picked for a reason. As you'll see, the reasons vary, but the uniform criteria is that these songs worked so well they are forever synonymous with the films in which they were used.

Here, in no order at all, are the five greatest examples of using an outside song to enhance a horror film:

"Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield, The Exorcist (1973)
What mainstream audiences know as the "theme" to The Exorcist, is actually the first five minutes of prog-rocker Mike Oldfield's side-long epic, "Tubular Bells, Part I". It's pretty clear that Oldfield was not thinking "creepy atmosphere" when he came up with the intro, because the rest of the composition resembles nothing like it. William Friedkin, though, thought it was the right choice to add to "the scariest movie of all time." Oh boy, did he hit the jackpot. The melody is so eerily catchy with it's hushed, odd rhythm, ensuring its infamous association with The Exorcist. More importantly, it's so beautifully played, it simultaneously captures the very human drama of the film.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, Halloween (1978)
Hands down, one of the best examples of a song used to enhance a moment on screen comes in the form of Blue Oyster Cult's signature anthem, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", in John Carpenter's Halloween. In the scene, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) are riding in the car with the song on the radio, chit-chatting, smoking pot, and completely unaware of The Shape's existence, let alone the fact that he's following close behind in his stolen station wagon. Off their fourth album, 1976's Agents of Fortune, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was BOC's mainstream breakthrough, their biggest hit single, and is one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever written. It also puts every corny, corporate, kiss-ass hard rock power ballad that followed it to shame with its hauntingly beautiful, even philosophical, exploration of love that never dies. It works in the scene on the surface level of The Shape personifying Death, but the romanticism of the lyrics definitely adds a new layer to the bond between Laurie and her masked stalker.

Of course, an honorable mention goes to The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman", which made its way into Halloween II. Similar to "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" in the previous film, the lyrics to "Mr. Sandman" ends up providing more subtext to the relationship between The Shape and Laurie. This time around, though, thanks to the film's plot twist, that subtext is more lurid.

"The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The most famous piece of elevator music ever. This library track, composed by Herbert Chappell and recorded in 1965, was used as the mall music for George A. Romero's zombie masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. The snappy little number against the backdrop of hordes of the undead shuffling through a shopping center was as black-humored as social commentary gets, making it just as memorable as Goblin's original score for the film.

"Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Next on the list is "Goodbye Horses", an obscure 1988 darkwave song by the group, Q Lazzarus. The track has become famous thanks to Ted Levine's beyond awkward dance in 1991's Silence of the Lambs. You would think a song about transcending the ordinary and mundane would be a joyous listen, but the shadowy music gives the lyrics a rather darkened edge. That's why this underground classic is the perfect soundtrack for Buffalo Bill's subterranean dungeon.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 years after its release, Queen's 1978 anthem, "Don't Stop Me Now" (off their underrated album, Jazz), was given new life after its inclusion in Edgar Wright's legendary horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead. I say inclusion, because Wright didn't just lay the song on top of the action, he made it part of the movie. As you can see and hear in the clip below, the scene is a hilarious blend of sound design, sound editing, choreography, and film editing. In addition, the song randomly plays as the Winchester's jukebox magically turns on during a crucial moment in the film, as Shaun's turn from aimless drone to true hero becomes complete.