A record label that has been very industrious in recent years is Howlin’ Wolf, the labels soundtrack releases are predominantly of horror scores with a few exceptions, and although most of these scores are synth or electronically realized they are of a high quality and are also highly entertaining. I am going to look and a listen of course to a handful of releases on the label, some old some new. I thought I would start with the score for Silent Night Deadly Night, which is a two compact disc set, and contains music by Perry Botkin on disc one and a selection of the original songs from the movie on disc two which are by Morgan Ames, this set is the 35TH Anniversary edition of the soundtrack from the movie which was directed by Charles E Sellier.
Botkin composed a typically 1980’s sounding electronic score for the movie and fashioned a menacing and apprehensive sound that accompanied and enhanced the storyline to great effect. The composer utilised a child’s voice to open the score which for me straight away sends those shivers creeping up the spine, Botkin also utilised sinewy and dark sounding musical textures to create a forebodingly uneasy atmosphere, with piano playing what is a surprisingly melodic and somewhat romantic musical theme for a horror movie, the opening cue sets the scene for much of what is to follow, with Botkin employing half heard hints of themes and a menacing collection of sounds and electronic stabs throughout that relay a sense of the sinister, madness, and frenzied interludes. In many ways the score resembles the work of other composers such as Brad Fiedel, Jay Chattaway, and to a degree the sound that we associate with Wendy Carlos in particular the mood and atmosphere that is conjured up within her 1980 soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The music for Silent Night Deadly Night contains various levels of malevolence, that become unnervingly intense and even more sinister and chilling as the work develops, but at the same time it has to it a beguiling and attractive style, which does become melodic and Vangelis like as in track number five Caught in the Act, which for the majority of its duration is shady and threatening, but it does take a short break where the composer introduces a lighter and more ambience, yes it is short lived but is something of a welcomed respite to allow ones heart rate to get back to something that resembles normal. Track number ten Erotic Dream, is also slightly less urgent with the composer introducing a floaty sounding style that introduces the track but soon segues into a more tense and fraught sounding composition, I love the way in which the composer utilises familiar festive tunes such as Joy To The World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, to establish some kind of calm and add a sense of ease and familiarity into the proceedings, but these are short lived and essentially lull one into a false sense of security before once again returning to a tense and chilling musical persona, with jangling effects and ominous bass punctuation.
It is an inventive score, with orchestration becoming quite complex at key points within the work that heightens the already tense and edge of the seat atmosphere. The soundscape is like a swirling whirlpool of sounds that drag the listener in and eventually overwhelm their senses and put their nerves on edge. A great horror score and an interesting soundtrack. The film benefits greatly from Botkin’s atmospheric and earthy sounding score, as it underlines and adds a searing and harrowing dimension to the unfolding storyline on screen. The compact disc release is presented well, with informative liner notes by the composer Botkin, the co-executive producers Scott Schneid, Dennis Whitbread and screen writer Michael Hickey. The second CD is also well worth a listen and is a must have for fans movie music macabre.
A homeless war-veteran with a chequered past must rely on a side of himself once thought buried when he and his companions are targeted by three vicious psychopaths wearing Santa suits on Christmas Day. That’s the plot for the 2016 movie Good Tidings, Which has a score that is credited on the compact disc release from Howlin Wolf Records to Jean Michel Noir, which is an alias for Liam W. Ashcroft, who is an actor as well as a composer and has a role in the movie as Moe. The score is highly charged and filled with a unsettling and chilling ambience, the composer adds a breathing sound to the proceedings which certainly does the trick in creating a sense of unease. Again ,this is a synth and electronic based score, containing highly atmospheric and affecting sounds both musical and otherwise. The composer essentially adds layers of sounds that build and go onto become part of the action that is unfolding on screen, at times I was reminded of the style and sound that the band Goblin employed in many of their scores for the Italian horrors of Argento and others. And there are also some cues that have to them a Kraftwerk like sound as in track number five Festivities, which starts out up-beat before altering into a more sinister mode. Like Perry Botkin in Silent Night Deadly Night, the composer on Good Tidings integrates a Christmas standard The Carol of the Bell in this case, into his score, but it is an arrangement of the tune that is very different to what we are used to with dark and guttural voices adding to its fearsome persona. Another effective horror score that probably would not have been released if it were not for Howlin’ Wolf. Presented well with eye catching cover art and a scattering of stills throughout the booklet that also includes liner notes from the composer. Check it out.
From a fully electronically realised soundtrack to one that is a fusion of symphonic and synthetic. The Prowler whichwas released under the title ofRosemary’s Killer in some countries has a musical score by the much-underrated composer Richard Einhorn, I say that it is a fusion of the electronic and the conventional, but really it is in the main symphonic which calls on a handful of electronic effects that are added to increase tension and bolster the atmospherics of the excellent music. Einhorn created an edgy work for the movie, with the emphasise being upon the string and brass sections of the orchestra. Directed by Joseph Zito in 1981, the movie begins with the return home of a WW II veteran who was the recipient of a “Dear John Letter”. It’s not long after he returns that he swiftly dispatches a courting couple in a Gazebo, the story then jumps forward to the present day where a college celebration becomes a hunting ground for a dark figure dressed in army fatigues, who begins to stalk the people of a small town in New Jersey reliving the murder that he committed thirty-five years previous. Einhorn’s score punctuates and underlines adding musical full stops and commas to the storyline, it is in my opinion one of the great horror scores from the 1980’s and listening to it today it still packs a punch and remains entertaining and innovative, the composer invented fresh and original sounding compositions for the score, and the way in which he combined brass, woods, and strings was totally effective and perfect for the movie. The compact disc released by Howlin’ Wolf is as per usual up to the excellent standard we expect from the label, being filled with stills and illustrations plus highly informative notes from Ian Zapczynski which includes an interview with the composer. This is a must have item.
Another Einhorn score on Howlin’ Wolf records is Don’t go in the House, no I mean it please don’t go in, but as we all know what happens in horror movies when someone says things like this, yes, we do exactly the opposite to what we are told. The score for Don’t Go in the House is more of an electronic affair than The Prowler, the composer I think successfully creates a apprehensive and spine chilling soundtrack for the movie, again I was reminded of the Italian school of horror film scores as in Goblin, Frizzi, Cipriani, Micalizzi, and Nicolai, and there are certain similarities between it and the score for Phantasm which was released in the same year.
Einhorn takes a simple sound or a hint of a melody in this case a six note motif that is somewhat childlike or could be the opening of a sweet melody,and uses this to fashion a piece that plays over and over in the background, eventually entering the subconscious of the watching audience and at times relaxing them and allowing them to let their guard down but all the time the composer is working towards a more sinister and threatening musical crescendo as he adds layers of tense searing synth lines that are punctuated and supported by percussive effects. I love the way in which Einhorn utilises unusual sounds to enhance the storyline and underline that something is not right here. I suppose the movie which was released in 1979 can be categorised as a slasher film, and centres on a victim of child abuse played by actor Dan Grimaldi, who grows up to become a delusional construction worker. Who stalks women at discos, takes them home, chains them up in a special steel-walled room and sets them on fire. Which brings a whole new meaning to the saying hot date. The music is at times frenzied in a laid-back way? I am not sure how to describe it, because it is highly effective within the movie, but its also quite easy to become stressed whilst listening to the score away from the images, its relentless in building tension and the composer repeats and repeats the pattern of the music as in repeating for example the six-note motif, which also becomes harrowing. It’s like at times the track is building but is not really going anywhere, but it’s a masterful score that aids the apprehension and the development of the plot, the music is at times sinewy, dark and has to it an other-worldly persona. It’s also a work that easily fits the category “Ahead of its time” the composer creating sounds and a style that would be imitated and built upon by many other composers when working on horror movies. Recommended.
Other scores released on the Howlin’ Wolf label that I found interesting, and entertaining were the atmospheric and chilling soundtrack for The Witching Season by Randin Graves and Slasher Dave, which I already reviewed in one of last years Soundtrack Supplements.
Semih Tareen’s inventive and pulsating music for Holiday Hell,
Jamie Blanks Storm Warning and returning to Randin Graves for his score for They Live Inside Us. All are well constructed and superbly edgy and chilling horror scores that every horror music fan you should own. I look forward to more from the label in the not too distant future.