In the music world, soundtracks are the weird uncles: worshipped by those who take the time to know them, and ignored by pretty much everyone else. Look at almost any “best albums list,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find even one collection of film music. Sure, you could blame that on scores being primarily instrumental affairs — unfairly earning them the “boring” tag — and soundtracks becoming nothing more than marketing devices for that year’s “it” bands.
But while film music may get pushed to the sidelines, you’ll find no shortage of online fanatics dedicated to exhuming long-forgotten, impossible-to-find scores. And for good reason. At a time when listeners’ tastes are paradoxically becoming more homogenized and fragmented, film music is a treasure trove of lost sounds, teeming with some of the most forward-thinking music you’ve yet to hear.
Add in several recently erected vinyl reissue houses devoted to out-of-print soundtracks and, for the newly initiated, you have an untapped well of musical exploration that goes back decades.
Strangely enough, the horror movie genre has undoubtedly produced the most worthy of musical fruits, especially when a bunch of Italians get involved. And while Italy’s progressive rock titans Goblin are commonly thought of as the reigning cult horror score champs, there are more than a few unsung heroes, Fabio Frizzi high among them.
Despite scoring a series of cult classics, primarily in the mid-’70s and ’80s, Frizzi’s Wikipedia entry comes in at a whopping three sentences long, making his life and work a mystery to most. Yet for years he was the main soundscaper of all things eerie for “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci, perhaps best known for his once-banned 1979 picture Zombi 2. However, if Frizzi is remembered for anything, it’s his work on Fulci’s 1981 film, The Beyond, a blood-soaked tale about a women who inherits a Louisiana hotel that just so happens to be built over one of the seven gates of hell.
Representing the composer’s high-water mark, the score couldn’t get any more majestic, standing as one of horror’s most lushly orchestrated and downright beautiful musical companions. And while various “complete” and “expanded” editions exist, it’s the Mondo label’s recently reissued vinyl pressing, remastered by James Plotkin, that proves to be the definitive version, shining a welcome light back on this forgotten gem.
Much like Ennio Morricone, Frizzi injects some serious melodicism throughout The Beyond, all the while keeping just enough of that needed evil. Adding to the score’s perfect balancing act is a split between traditionally orchestrated pieces and those of an electronic-tinted prog-rock nature.
A small handful of key movements and their assorted variations anchor The Beyond, the first being the piano-fuelled creeper “Verso L’Ignoto.” Along with the like-minded “Suono Aperto,” the track is all about building atmosphere, starting off with a sinister, get-lodged-in-your-head piano line that builds into a multi-tiered and progged-out rock effort, complete with a lush backdrop of complex string work, bass slides and ghostly mellotron. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Oltre La Soglia” gives The Beyond its muscle, with the driving rock number and its sharp-edged synths entering more Goblin-like territory.
However, it’s “Voci Dal Nulla” that is The Beyond’s true money track. Standing as one of horror’s most under-appreciated theme songs, it’s an ear-bogglingly intricate piece that loads on a multitude of layers — piano, flute, guitar, funked-out bass — lifting the song up to truly high-reaching grandeur with a choir of voices, both male and female, chanting Latin phrases in a very Omen-like manner. It also boasts some of the best mellotron work ever recorded, hands down.
On screen, Frizzi’s music is used brilliantly in The Beyond, soundtracking key scenes throughout. Among the highlights, you’ll find the slowest, most lethargic zombies ever “giving chase”; tarantulas — both real and painfully fake — dining on human flesh; faces getting literally melted off (more than once); pigtailed gingers being pursued at snail’s pace by blood-coloured ooze; and, as always, Fulci indulging in his obsession with eye mutilation.
The movie itself stands as one of cult horror’s more divisive films, adored by those who love its surreal, B-movie charms and utterly panned by everyone else. Roger Ebert was even kind enough to give the film half a star out of four, once writing, “The movie is being revived around the country for midnight cult showings. Midnight is not late enough.”
That said, you hardly have to be a fan of the film itself to be enthralled by Frizzi’s musical work. Deserving of a place outside the cult underground, the music stands on its own, making The Beyond a truly great album of cinematic rock. And it’s this quality that sets apart a simply good score from a truly great one.