I do not think that I have ever been what you call a real a fan of Zombie movies, maybe it’s the memories of those Abbot and Costello Universal comedy/horrors that put me off this genre of films within an even bigger genre of Horror flicks. I probably dismissed the Zombie movie as something that was comical rather than being horrific because of these movies which were fun but not exactly the best of Universal.
As the years passed the Zombie has evolved and become ever more gruesome, gory, and brutal. I for one found that this was not really entertainment but just a blood fest because filmmakers could make things more graphic for the sake of doing so and invariably and did if you know what I am saying. Apart from the Abbott and Costello films I really had no or truly little experience of movies involving flesh eating blood crazed Zombies, except of course for The Plague of the Zombies from Hammer films and snippets of The Day of the Dead, The Night of the Living Dead, and their like. But in recent years it has been hard to avoid movies that have focused upon Zombies in one form or another, and even TV series such as The Walking Dead too brought these unfortunate and psychopathic crazed creatures more and more into the public gaze.
And of course, we were also treated to Shaun of the Dead, and I use the term treated loosely here, as I was also not a fan of this, although many were and apparently still are.
But with the release in recent years of movies such as The Evil Dead in 2013, which was a remake of the original film of the same title which hit the screens in 1981 that itself spawned sequels which became ever more outlandish as the cycle progressed, so maybe it is time to start taking this blood soaked, brain spattered Zombie carnage filled genre a little more seriously. But really The Evil Dead was not a Zombie movie or was it?
The story concentrated upon a group of people who unwittingly find the book of the Dead and are one by one possessed by demonic entities, so it is a possession movie, right? Ok, maybe a possession Zombie, horror movie? Anyway, my focus in any movie is the musical score, and I have to say that Zombie tales have contained some very inventive soundtracks. The score written by Spanish composer Roque Banos for The Evil Dead, is probably one of the most accomplished and effecting contemporary soundtracks for a horror film that I have heard in recent years. It is somewhat complex and certainly more developed and involved than scores for previous movies from past decades as in The Plague of the Zombies by James Bernard, which was effective but was also quite simple, with the composer arriving at his opening theme by spelling out musically “Zombies, Plague of Zombies”, as he had done previously on his “Dra-cu-la” soundtracks for Hammer.
The score for The Evil Dead was in a word malevolent. The visceral, virulent, and sinister music did much to enhance and support the harrowing scenes that were appearing on screen and the music too created an atmosphere that was highly apprehensive and filled with dread. The composer providing a sound and a style of music that fitted the production like the proverbial glove, his score at times alerting the audience to a moment of violence or a scene of horror before it had even occurred, it was the music that at times scared the audience, with the use of a menacing off key horn sound (shades of James Horner) or the integration of a hand cranked siren being particularly gut wrenching and foreboding, because this is a sound that tells you that something is out there and its getting closer and it is coming for you.
We are a long way from the music of Hammer gothic horrors and the black and white Universal horrors of the 1930’s now and although the music for those classics were of a high standard and still remain so to this day. I think as the horror film has developed and become more violent and realistic so too has the music for them evolved and dare, I say become far more complex and a lot more integral to the various plots and scenarios unfolding on screen. The score for The Evil Dead, is operatic in parts, grandiose, lumbering, chaotic and melodic in both a melancholy and emotive fashion. Banos created a meticulously precise and innovative work, with choir and icy sinewy strings setting the scene or at least adding layers of tension to every scene within the movie. His choral pieces are magnificent and realise a dark and ominous sound that at times outclasses Jerry Goldsmith’s Ave Santani from The Omen but also pays homage to its shadowy and guttural sound. Combining the choral work with the urgent sound of strings, rasping brass flourishes, wailing siren, and driving percussion was a master stroke by Banos.
The choir at certain points becoming a mad and chaotic cacophony of discordant screams and shouts, which made things even more formidable and gloriously disjointed and terrifying.
Zombie movies or movies that included Zombies can range from the sublime to literally the ridiculous, Zombies on Broadway for example, or even the Return of the Living Dead trilogy and what about Cockneys Vs Zombies? This, 2012 British made zombie comedy was directed by Matthias Hoene and written by James Moran and Lucas Roche. The plot focuses upon a group of Cockneys who arm themselves to the teeth to go and rescue their grandfather and his friends from their retirement home as a zombie apocalypse takes place in the East End of London. Its offbeat, and highly implausible but it’s also funny and thoroughly entertaining, and is I suppose a fusion of the dark comedy that we experienced in Shaun of the Dead with elements of films such as 28 Days Later, the movie never quite takes itself seriously even though there is a large body count as the story moves forward and develops (which puts Django to shame). Even the score by Jody Jenkins (son of Carl Jenkins the composer) provides the movie with a soundtrack that is upbeat and at times spaghetti western flavoured. Jenkins told me about the score and the movie.
“The film is really a mash-up of several genres and it doesn’t take itself too seriously dramatically, so we thought it would be fun to make various homages to key ‘B’ movie score genres. When the project came along there was a temp track attached that already quite a diverse set of pieces in the cut. When you see the cues within the context of the film, they all have some reasoning for their various pastiches. I had even more ingredients in there initially, but we went through and toned it down a bit before recording. We used plenty of live elements but often recorded at different times over the scoring period. We did a small string session [20 players], some trumpets and a guitar band. The choir was recorded out in Latvia where I often visit to take advantage of the really great choir. They are basically the state radio choir, and they sing together every day. Some of the basses go incredibly low [bottom D/C], as in the Eastern European tradition so it seemed a logical step to give them these demonic zombie chants”.
Cockneys vs Zombies was a real rollercoaster ride of horror, action, and comedy. It was a low budget production but remained a bit of fun that in the end was entertaining. The score by Jenkins is one that I return to regularly as it evokes many other composer’s styles and pays homage to music from past horrors and even westerns, with the references to Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West wailing and menacing Harmonica theme being the most prominent. But it also has within it an inventive and vibrant originality.
I am certain that first Zombie movie proper was White Zombie which was released in 1932, and things have come a long way since then, so we now move from comedy/horror to something more in the classic horror tradition and to the Hammer production The Plague of the Zombies, as with all Hammer films from this time (the early to late-sixties) the film was a classy one and contained great sets, vibrantly coloured photography, credible performances from all the cast, a solid script, a thundering and driving musical score, plus creative make up for the Zombies with spine chilling and at times quite brutal scenes of horror and violence.
Directed by John Gilling this is in my humble opinion one of Hammers finest, and an anomaly in the studios output being the only Zombie movie that they produced, Hammer never again returning to this sub-genre of horror film. The score by James Bernard in the opinion of many rivals the composers work on other Hammer classics such as The Curse of Frankenstein and the early Dracula productions that were made by the British studio.
The music literally exploding and driving its way through the storyline, adding a fearful and harrowing atmosphere to proceedings. I think if I were asked what ten Hammer film’s I would take with me to a desert island or a haunted house, The Plague of the Zombies would be one of the first that came to mind. Set in the early 19th Century, (1806) the movie focuses upon a mysterious epidemic which breaks out in a small village in the county of Cornwall. The doctor in the village is overwhelmed and unable to find a remedy for so many cases of the strange illness, so he contacts a colleague professor James Forbes for help.
The professor and his daughter Sylvia travel to the village but as soon as they arrive things take a turn for the worse, with sightings of people who are known to have died from the illness being sited near an old mine. Forbes soon realises that this is the work of powerful black magic that is being used to resurrect the dead via a voo-doo ritual which transforms lamented villagers into mindless Zombies who serve their power crazed Master.
The film was shot on a set that was soon after re-used for another Hammer horror directed by Gilling entitled The Reptile, which was shot back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies. Zombies being released in January 1966 and Reptile making it to cinemas in the March of that year. The Plague of the Zombies has a particularly chilling and sinister air to it, and although at the time of the films release it was meet with something of a tepid reception from critics and audiences alike, the film went on to become a cult classic.
The dream sequence is stunning and contains some real shocking apparitions, with Zombies bursting out of graves to attack Professor Forbes which was effectively filmed by director Gilling. It is a masterpiece and a classic horror movie.
From Hammer to another British made Horror, released in 2002. Directed by Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later, was not considered to be a Zombie film by Boyle, but it did much to rekindle the interest in the Zombie movie genre, depicting zombies as fast-moving creature as opposed to being lumbering and slow moving, which made them even more frightening and threatening. The post-apocalyptic horror drama was written by Alex Garland with the plot depicting the rapid breakdown of society after the “accidental” release of a deadly rage virus that is highly contagious. It concentrates upon the struggle of four survivors who must come to terms with the destruction of life as they knew it, whilst at the same time attempting to stay clear of others who have been infected by the virus. The movie received critical acclaim for its direction and screenplay and soon became a must-see movie and highly popular with cinema goers all over the world. It was in fact one of the most successful horror films from 2002 taking over eighty-two million dollars worldwide, which was a surprise to Boyle seeing as the movie cost just eight Million dollars to produce. There was a sequel made in 2007 entitled 28 Weeks Later (not directed by Boyle) and a graphic novel 28 Days Later the Aftermath with a comic book series also produced under the title of 28 Days Later. The atmospheric soundtrack was the work of a collection of artists some of the score being written specifically for the movie and other cues being utilised or tracked onto the film’s soundtrack. Composer John Murphy I think wrote the majority of the affecting music, which was superbly supportive and well suited to the films plot, but even some of the music from the composer had been composed before and not specifically for the picture, even so the score is wonderfully melodic but at the same time apprehensive and affecting. With Adagio themed pieces adding even more depth, atmosphere and a melancholy to an already alluring and fascinating plot. The 28 Theme is haunting and uneasy with the composer introducing the piece via piano and then adding various elements both symphonic and electronic as the composition develops, at times evoking a Morricone-esque style. Murphy’s score is tantalising and hypnotic at times repetitive but always effective and haunting as in the cues Kiss of Death and Leaving England. John Murphy has composed and produced music for commercials, including campaigns for Reebok, Nike and Apple. He has won a number of awards for his music, these include the Silver Award (1st Prize) at Cannes, a British D & AD Award, and a BMI Award. He has been nominated for an Ivor Novello, an RTS Award, and the BRIT Award for Best Soundtrack. He was born on March 4th 1965 in Liverpool, He began composing music scores for films in the early 1990s, working on several successful British movies, enjoying success with the soundtracks to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). Both directed by Guy Ritchie.
Since the year 2000. Murphy has resided in Los Angeles, where he has worked with several leading filmmakers included the aforementioned Danny Boyle and also the likes of Michael Mann and Stephen Frears.
The name of George Andrew Romero is one that is readily connected with Zombie movies, the American/Canadian filmmaker has been responsible for some of the most successful and arguably some of the most iconic horror movies ever. Romero was a writer, and editor as well as a producer and director. His series of Zombie movies began in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead which was about a zombie apocalypse and is often considered to be a ground-breaking and iconic movie and the highlight of his Zombie series. It is also considered as the film that altered the attitudes of cinema goers towards Zombie movies and the first of a new type of movie that dealt with Zombies placing them in a modern culture. Other films in the series included Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) with Diary of the Dead making an entry in later years.
As well as this successful series the filmmaker was also responsible for The Crazies (1973), Martin (1978), Knightriders (1981), Creepshow (1982), Monkey Shines (1988), The Dark Half (1993), and Bruiser (2000). He also created and acted as executive-producer for the television series Tales from the Darkside during the 1980’s. He died in 2017 aged seventy-seven. The music for Night of the Living Dead was made up from stock or library music, some of which was written by composers such as Fred Steiner and Phillip Green, the use of library or stock music reflected just how tight Romero’s budget was on this now sixties classic horror, with the film having a music supervisor rather than a central composer that was commissioned to write an original score, this was something that happened a lot during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s with studios and filmmakers drawing from vast music libraries that had been compiled by various film companies. With a music supervisor or musical director selecting pre-composed pieces that they deemed suitable to enhance and support the movies in question.
The sequel Dawn of the Dead which was released a decade later in 1978 had a score that was the work of Italian rock band Goblin. Goblin are a well-respected band who like Tangerine Dream were involved in writing music for movies, Goblin are probably better known for their atmospheric music for the films of Dario Argento, front man of the band Claudio Simonetti worked on films such as Proffondo Rosso in 1975 and then in 1977 Suspiria. Initially the band recorded under the name of Cherry Five and had also performed live under the name of Oliver. The band changed their name to Goblin, rewriting most of the Proffondo Rosso score, which was originally composed by Giorgio Gaslini, this included the now iconic sounding main theme from the movie, fans of the film also soon became devotees to the band and sales of the soundtrack album soared.
The band decided then to focus more upon soundtracks and changed their line up a little to accommodate this, but firstly releasing a fully instrumental progressive rock album entitled Roller.
Other film soundtracks and a concept album Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark followed and led to them working on the European edit of Dawn of the Dead for Romero. In both this and the opening titles for Suspiria they are credited as “The Goblins with Dario Argento”. With their music featuring in the American version of the movie as well as the European release. Day of the Dead followed in 1985 and had a score by filmmaker, writer, and composer John Harrison, who had begun his career as a director of Rock Videos, as well as working as first assistant director for George A Romero on Night of the Living Dead and later would collaborate with Romero as assistant director on Creepshow in 1982as well as writing the score. He also wrote and directed numerous episodes of the later TV series Tales of the Darkside for Romero between 1983 and 1988 and in 1990 directed the big screen version of the series which was released by Paramount. In 2006 Harrison and Romero re-united on the movie Diary of the Dead, with Harrison taking on the role of producer and the score being provided by Canadian born composer Norman Orenstein (Robocop the Miniseries and American Psycho 2). Harrison’s atmospheric and unsettling synthesised score for Day of the Dead has recently been made available on digital platforms, this edit of the score containing just seven instrumental tracks by the composer, whereas previous releases also included vocal tracks by various artists.
Phantasm is another movie that delves into the depths of Zombie tales, the first movie introduced us to the gaunt and mysterious Tall man, who converted the dead he was dealing with as an undertaker and transformed them into dwarf zombies which he sent to his distant planet to become slaves. Released in 1979, this American production had the look of an Italian horror and could easily be mistaken for a movie that could have been directed by the likes of Fulci or Argento.
The score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave too, was very much in the style of Claudio Simonetti, Goblin, and Fabio Frizzi, blending electronic elements and textures with that of conventional instrumentation to achieve a nightmarish and harrowing ambience that becomes an integral part of the picture. The central theme could be seen as a variation of Goblins core theme for Profondo Rosso from 1975 or indeed evocative of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which was released in 1973. When first in cinemas the movie was greeted with a mixed reception, this was mainly because of the way in which the movie was filmed, it had a surreal and dreamlike appearance with many critics returning negative reviews. However, the movie has since attained a cult status and has been the inspiration for no less than four sequels.
The original movie is like a bad dream, with stabbings, metal spheres drilling into people’s brains, hooded figures, a mysterious lady in lavender, dwarves, and so much more, it is the stuff that nightmares are indeed created from. Directed by Italian/American filmmaker Don Coscarelli who went onto direct all four sequels and the sword and sorcery Conan-esque The Beastmaster in 1982. Coscarelli performs most of the duties on Phantasm, the remainder being executed by amateur or semi-professional filmmakers. In fact, it is something of a surprise when we see the music credit is not down to him as most other things were. The movie is one that has grown on many after their initial viewing and is on many horror fans lists of the best of the genre. The score was issued onto LP record at the time of the movie’s release on the Varese Sarabande label. In later years Silva Screen licensed the score for release in the UK on compact disc. The release soon became deleted and is now highly sought after at times selling for more than three hundred pounds on selling sites on the internet. It is a score that is crying out for a re-issue, and hopefully it will not be too long before we are treated to one.
The sub- genre of the Zombie movie within the horror genre has in recent years thrived and become even more popular. In this article I have literally scratched the surface and highlighted a few that I thought were worthy of a mention. As the genre has evolved has it improved? I am not sure about that, but one thing is certain cinema audience’s appetite for gore, bloodletting and crazed creatures that feed on human brains and other body parts shows no sign of curtailing and whilst the demand for these movies is there, Zombie’s will continue to walk the earth (even if it is only on screen in a cinema). With films such as World War Z adding to the Zombie movie obsession and new productions like Army of the Dead, Brain Freeze, Zomblogalypse, and the ultra-low budget Steel-Man released this year, plus Outbreak Z and 86 Zombies on the not-too distant horizon it looks as if Zombie fans will always have new productions to feed their addictive appetites allowing them to be fully paid up members of the ever growing Zombie Nation. And if those are too gory for you there is always Scooby doo Zombie Island.