More Cult Movie Soundtracks
A few years ago, I wrote a post about cult movie soundtracks and how many of these movies are often blessed with a high quality score from an established composer. The subject came up again recently when I was visiting the British Film Institute with friends, and several other examples were discussed. Hence, I thought it would be prudent to write a follow up post with another selection of material, as it continues to amaze me how often the most appalling films can still have outstanding soundtracks. With this idea in mind I've collated five films that are for various reasons are labelled “cult” and have suffered the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” over the years. All have scores of interests and note, though for different reasons. I have chosen a track from each soundtrack which I think highlights the musical excellence and integrity of the composers involved. The genres are varied as are the musical styles and nuances of each piece. All clearly demonstrate how a well-conceived score can embellish and enhance a movie, effectively becoming a character in its own right.
I've always found it paradoxical that a movie such as Ruggero Deodato's notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980), features such a haunting score by Riz Ortolani. I won't debate the merits of Cannibal Holocaust here but it’s a very morally ambiguous and controversial piece of cinema. It’s certainly not for those who are easily shocked. Yet its soundtrack underpins the narrative superbly. The opening theme, set against aerial shots of the Amazon rain forest, features a very gentle and haunting refrain. You would think such a piece would be more at home in a romantic drama or even a late seventies commercial. However, it is further repeated at various times during the film, often juxtaposed against scenes of abject barbarity.
Solomon Kane (2009), based on Robert E. Howard’s fictional "dour English Puritan and redresser of wrongs", is an underrated action horror movie. It manages to bely its modest production values to blend atmospheric European locations with a strong cast. The action is robust and James Purefoy carries the story forward and compensates for some of the film’s logistical failings. The tone and spirit of the proceedings is very much in the idiom of Hammer movies such as Captain Kronos. The score by German composer Klaus Badelt is grandiose and focuses on the central character of Kane. The main theme is used with suitable variations to reflect both the bombastic fights sequences and the moments of quiet religious reflection.
How can I possibly write about cult, obscure and trash movie soundtracks without at least one piece by the legendary Ennio Morricone. The maestro seems to have a knack of writing quality material for some awful films. Hundra (1984) is an Italian-Spanish fantasy film co-written and directed by Matt Cimber and starring Laurene Landon. It’s a kind of female Conaneque, sword and sorcery movie with a bogus feminist agenda. Beneath a wafer-thin veneer of gender politics is a generic exploitation movie. The actions scenes are weak, the story is formulaic and the performances are negligible due to the ADR inherent in such international co-productions. Yet the Morricone score stands out. Hundra’s main theme is simple and effective and there’s a chase scene with a whimsical accompaniment.
Lucio Fulci’s first instalment of his “Gates of Hell” trilogy is an atmospheric, off kilter horror outing. City of the Living Dead (1980) features his hallmark excessive gore but unlike his previous movie Zombie 2, the linear narrative is replace with a more dream like story line. Many scenes are visually striking but the plot doesn’t really make logical sense. However there are sufficient maggots raining from the ceiling and actors vomiting up their intestines to keep the audience focused elsewhere. The soundtrack by Italian composer Fabio Frizzi is creepy and uniquely European. The scene in the crypt and the climax of the movie has a great cue that plays as zombies stagger around burning.
If you are not familiar with Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983), then it’s difficult to know where to start. The film is based upon a gothic horror novel by F. Paul Wilson about a group on German soldiers based in a Romanian fortress during World War II, who are picked off one by one by a vampire like creature. Mann’s second feature film took this tale and adapted it into a curious science fiction horror movie. The production was “difficult”, ran over budget and studio executives panicked at the kind of experimental film making that ensued. The movie was taken away from the director, re-edited and released in a very truncated form. It failed at the box office and Mann has subsequently disowned it. It boasts a sophisticated soundtrack by German electronic music band Tangerine Dream. Like the film itself, the score just has to be experienced and digested to be fully appreciated. Similarly, the score has had a troubled life and there has never been an official release that contains all music used. But what remains is intriguing even when listened to outside of the context of the film itself.