Like many a horror fan raised in the VHS age, Schlockmania obtained an education in Italian horror and cult fare at the local video store. The boxes and ad copy might have disguised such films to make them appear like domestic product but they exuded a distinct Neapolitan vibe that became apparent in the first few minutes of viewing. The casts were different despite the occasional familiar American name, as were the approach to bloodletting, the casual rejection of realism and the disinterest in straightforward or ‘plausible’ narratives.
However, the first way that Italian vibe communicated itself was in the musical scores, which usually announced their singular style with the opening credits. Schlockmania’s first taste of the Italian genre music style came with a viewing of the Lucio Fulci classic Zombie: Fabio Frizzi’s main title theme started with minimalist drum-machine rhythms and gradually piled on an array of similarly subtle but obsessive synthesizer textures, including a haunting mellotron “vocal” sound that sounded like a chorus of the damned.
This sound was instantly addictive, the kind of thing that makes one want to rewatch the film for the score as much as its shocking sights. Anyone who has ever felt that craving is directed to check out Vault Of Horror: The Italian Collection, a new 2 L.P./1 CD set from Demon Records. It’s a tidy, nicely curated little collection that offers a potent nostalgia trip for veteran Video Nasty addicts and a fascinating, easily accessible excursion into Italian genre soundtrack approaches of the late ’70s/early ’80s for neophytes.
Italian genre fare from this era would often borrow a conceptual hook from something internationally popular and then weave in elements that appealed to local tastes and the filmmakers’ own imaginations. Fittingly, the music on Vault Of Horror does the same, offering a heady witches’ brew of funk, jazz, lounge music and analog electronics all mixed in with elements of conventional orchestral film scoring.
For example, the main title theme from Cannibal Apocalypse layers militaristic drums, strings and horns over a pulsing disco rhythm section and the theme from Riz Ortolani’s score for The New Gladiators starts as a galloping, synth-layered rock track and ultimately works in some surprising jazz horn charts. Another fun surprise lies in a Carlo Maria Cordio cue for Absurd that starts off like a gothic-ized Italian approximation of John Carpenter’s synth scores before erupting into a flurry of baroque prog-rock flourishes worthy of a Goblin soundtrack.
The aforementioned highlights barely touch on all the genre-blurring fun this set contains. There’s a theme from Blood And Black Lace that sounds like Perez Prado at half-speed, a jaunty cue from Tentacles that is drenched into “watery”-sounding guitar effects, the slinky vocal-driven funk track that opens Beyond The Door and a block of Fulci themes that not only includes Zombie but also hypnotic cues for The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. And that list of highlights doesn’t even include the charms of Roberto Donati’s coked-up “speed-disco” themes for Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox!
If you love these films, chances are you love the music, too… and that makes Vault Of Horror: The Italian Collection a guaranteed delight for Italian genre movie mavens.