And Happy Halloween!
Super Terrifying Halloween Spectacular
Do you remember when films relied entirely on music and used title cards instead of actual dialogue??
Neither do I…
In the early days of motion pictures, the filmmakers relied heavily on the story line and used title cards, which is almost unimaginable these days! 1922’s Nosferatu was a silent horror film that depicted a Dracula type storyline and relied largely on the creepiness of the main character’s appearance. There were no special effects, no color and no speaking! But it relied heavily on a concept- a vampire who comes out of the darkness of the night to suck the blood from innocents until they’re bone dry. It played heavily on our fear of the dark & the unknown, and worked largely because, audible effects were not available in the infancy of filmmaking. But it remains a classic and if you see even a few minutes of this film- you will be creeped out!!
With Halloween sweeping into our consciousness, I wondered if the concept would work in reverse. What if a film depended on music?
So listen to this tale of twisted fate, macabre horror and unimaginable…. Just keep reading, ok??
The 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween is continually heralded as one of the landmarks of classic fright. Halloween created its own genre (‘Slasher’ flicks), while producing countless replicas—all looking to out muscle their predecessors with ample nudity, gratuitous and bloody evisceration's and stupid co-eds wandered into the dark looking for what made that ominous noise.
And now you’re double-checking the web address to make sure this is indeed an online bass guitar/music magazine and not www.fangoria.com. So here’s the hook…
The film Halloween was not an instant classic. That’s a horrifying (and stupefying) thought. In fact; it benefited from “word of mouth” and one simple but necessary adjustment to add excess amounts of tension and dread to the audience experience: a musical soundtrack!
Director John Carpenter initially sent the film out to critics as a way of perpetuating word of mouth and building hype. That wasn’t what happened.
After sending out test ‘screeners’, Carpenter realized what was causing disparaging reviews for his film- a film he was convinced would be a success. So he added a simple and understated soundtrack that helped the movie take off! You know the music as much as the film itself!!
The same reviewers, who nixed the film initially, were now converted fans and Halloween would become a horror classic; finding its way in the homes of every living person with a TV each October 31st.
Be very afraid of a giant pumpkin yielding a knife!
Carpenter, learning his lesson well from the 1978 outing, initiated an even simpler bass/cello- driven soundtrack (provided by Ennio Morricone) with his 1982 gore splatter-fest The Thing. The low E- pulsates and keeps pace as the camera follows the listless crew-- the suffocating atmosphere of the film and the subtle music score lends mounting tension with surreal detail. No sci-fi/horror movie has so adequately incorporated the bass with such overwhelming urgency, while remaining SO SIMPLE.
Yes, Seinfeld and Night Court did use the bass guitar in a notable way. But they were intros to TV shows, & no one’s head split in half at any point in time!!!
Coincidentally, not all music of the modern era was written as a collection of random songs. Motion pictures relied on audio for theatrics, but musicians could reference historical events, literature and even film to create an experience. Listeners could visualize the experience as well as submerse themselves in the instrumentation and lyrics. In the case of some of our greatest conceptual rock masterpieces- what if the idea for a whole cohesive recording never occurred to anyone?
Do you even remember popular music before The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon? For my fellow bassists—was there life before Rush’s 2112??
…I don’t recall that much either.
The life cycle of an idea that takes on a life of its own.
Think about this life cycle: a writer can devise a fictitious tale based on the obsession to purge the sea and a pseudo-mythological creature can be the antagonist (use your imagination), then a modern day rock outfit can conceptualize the themes to music and real life becomes a wildly popular prog/metal album!
Mastodon conceptualized an album based on a fictional tale about an obsessed Captain and a seriously pissed off whale, which was actually based on a real life voyage of a hapless crew and a seriously pissed off whale.
Besides, what could be more frightening than the possibility of a real life monster- like a ten ton sperm whale??
Taking a concept and putting it to music or providing a musical soundtrack for a motion picture is no ‘chicken or the egg’ conversation. Both are vital elements to our modern world. Some of our most potent artists have used themes and transposed amazing music to that element, while some films have depended on music to possess their film. If you’ve heard Alice Cooper’s - Welcome to my Nightmare or seen The Shining then you’re there with me.
Do you remember an October without classic horror films being played almost continuously on every channel??
Neither do I…