SHOCK takes a look at the music of Fabio Frizzi and the films he scored for Italian horror legend, Lucio Fulci.
If youve immersed yourself in the key works of visionary Italian director Lucio Fulci, you know the name Fabio Frizzi. The legendary composer and musician found fame providing the aural component for many of Fulcis most celebrated celluloid nightmares; his work with the late, sorely missed director is as vital and influential as Hitchcocks collaborations with Hermann or Morricones groundbreaking music for Leone. And since none of the films put out by those iconic pairings featured a water logged zombie doing bloody battle with a stock footage shark, Frizzi wins by default
Frizzi is currently marauding across North America touring his epic FRIZZI 2 FULCI live show (the show stops in Toronto tomorrow night) and SHOCK felt the time was right to dive in and look at a handful of his finest works, sophisticated music that lives on forever alongside the gory, spastic visions of Fulci.
FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975)
Fulcis violent and dreamy western stars Fabio Testi, Lynne Frederick and American character actor Michael J. Pollard and its one of Fulcis finest non-horror pictures, a film draped in mysticism and allegory. Takings its cues from Sam Peckinpah, specifically the meditative PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID, Fulci hired the progressive rock trio of Fabio Frizzi, Franco Bixio, Vince Tempera (who worked under the collective banner Bixio, Frizzi, Tempera) to provide the music. Here, Frizzi spoke to me about the score and its specific relation to the Peckinpah film:
As it often happens when you work on film scoring, we had an unpleasant surprise: the producers had put over the first screening Knocking On Heavens Door, the original Bob Dylan version, every now and then, just to give a pleasant rhythm to the first work print. Suddenly, Lucio came out with his idea: the score had to be mostly made of original songs, performed in English, expressively written for the film. And he followed all the process of writing-recording which was a very difficult job due to the comparison with the mythic score by Bob Dylan
Certainly, the songs (credited to the Benjamin Franklin Group) owe much to the folk-washed vibe of the Dylan material, but a closer listen reveals music that is far more akin to early 70s Pink Floyd (think the “Meddle” era), with flanged guitars and acoustic twang and a gentle vocal harmony that is reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Like the Peckinpah film, the musics gentle majesty works against the brutality on screen to create a dreamy, disorienting experience.
Have listen to the beautiful track Was it All in Vain:
THE PSYCHIC (1977, aka SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK)
Fulcis excellent post-giallo thriller owes a bit to Poes The Black Cat (he would later go even further down the Poe-hole by making the 1981 creeper THE BLACK CAT, with Pino Donnagio stepping in for Frizzi). Like APOCALYPSE, the score is once more the work of Bixio, Frizzi, Tempera, their final work together on a Fulci film. Creative differences may have spurred that split (though they remain friends today) but THE PSYCHIC is their terrifying swan song, one of the most sensual and urgent Italian film scores of all time, with ascending notes, deep horns and analog synth washes. Frizzi fanatic Quentin Tarantino would take the main theme from the score for use in the first part of his epic pulp action poem KILL BILL and, while used to great effect in that magnificent flick, its home is still in the house of Fulci.
Have an earful of some of that stirring soundscape below:
ZOMBIE (1979, aka ZOMBI 2)
The film that locked Fulcis reputation as a master of extreme horror cinema, 1979s ZOMBIE is Frizzi flying solo as composer, aided by others like the brilliant Maurizio Guarini, who had just come from a stint recording and performing with GOBLIN (and has since returned to the band full-time). The opening theme is iconic, beginning with a click-track pulse and droning keys before erupting into an evolving loop of percussion, guitar and keyboard; the effect is laced with dread and yet the theme is also overwhelmingly melancholy.
I think that Zombie 2 was influenced by Fulci’s ideas, most of all. Lucio wanted the musical layout to be very connected with images and focused the work in that direction. Maurizio Guarini was always there with plenty of freak. I played the Mellotron, that I love so much
If you saw ZOMBIE as a kid, this theme is hardwired into your soul. Hear it again below and be whisked back to that first time you saw Dr. Menard shoot a ghoul and say “The boat can leave now…tell the crew:
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980, aka THE GATES OF HELL)
Frizzis beloved Mellotron makes a welcome return in this even darker score for what this writer considers to be Fulcis greatest cinematic achievement; a genuinely terrifying and surreal tale of death and dread and filled with stomach turning, operatically designed violence. Frizzis music here is very much an evolution of ZOMBIEs minimalist material, but with more bass and a greasier vibe that suits the films bubbling undercurrent of sleaze and deviancy, beautifully.
Have a listen to the track Mysterys Apotheosis, a grim ZOMBIE-esque cue that ends on a triumphant note, as the piece was used over the climax in which the heroes foil the demon priest and scorch the zombie apocalypse before it starts. Or do they?
THE BEYOND (1981, aka SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH)
Considered by most to be Fulcis creative apex, theres no denying the power of Frizzis towering score including the main theme, Voices from the Void, a nightmarish and romantic work that combines the progressive rock of THE PSYCHIC with the synth hell of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and ZOMBIE with a beautiful, haunting and organic folk sheen complete with flutes, string section and a terrifying chanting choir.
This is certainly one of the greatest horror film themes of all time. Dont believe me? Turn off the lights and have a listen
MATHATTAN BABY (1982, aka EYE OF THE EVIL DEAD)
A middling Fulci film that combines Egyptian curses with sci-fi, MANHATTAN BABY is enlivened by an absolutely gorgeous Frizzi score, one that references THE BEYOND in structure but one that favors romance and majesty over misery. Theres even a touch of funk in the mix, with the snaking bassline that gives the otherwise ambient score some serious groove.
Of course, outside of touring FRIZZI 2 FULCI, Fabio Frizzi is still hard at work making music and scoring movies (check out Todd Sheets HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS for a spotty movie that boasts an absolutely killer Frizzi score) but it is with these golden-era Fulci masterpieces that he first truly found his voice and locked his enduring fan base for life.
For more on the man, feel free to find him via his personal Facebook page.
On top of being a genius hes a really nice dude.