Chances are, if you’ve spent any time watching old Italian zombie movies then you’ve heard Fabio Frizzi.
You might not even be aware of it, but the dusty analogue synthesizer themes that in recent years have come to signify the horror genre (thanks for that Garth Marenghi) were more often than not Frizzi’s doing. He was often found at the right hand of cult director Lucio Fulci (he of Zombie Flesh Eaters fame) and his influential compositions are now arguably just as much of a draw as the visuals themselves.
Frizzi’s musical career began in earnest in the mid 1960s when he was introduced to musicians Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera. The three formed a trio with the primary objective of creating music for films and television, and over the next few years they would pen the scores to countless low-budget Italian movies. In 1975, they worked on Spaghetti Western Four of the Apocalypse, and Frizzi became acquainted for the first time with Lucio Fulci. It was the beginning of a long-term friendship, and when Frizzi decided to embark on a solo career in 1978, he got the call to work on Zombi 2, and the stage was set.
Using an arsenal of vintage equipment such as legendary tape-loop keyboard the Mellotron, the Yamaha CS80 (a favourite of Vangelis), Prophet 5 and Jupiter 8, Frizzi crafted haunting scores to many of Fulci’s best loved films, turning obsessive young viewers into die-hard electronic music devotees in the process. It’s hardly surprising that in recent years his sound has seen a massive resurgence. As the children of the ’80s have grown up and developed a taste for nostalgia, it makes sense that we’ve witnessed the emergence of acts like Zombi, Umberto and Xander Harris. Even Boards of Canada’s last album Tomorrow’s Harvest bore many of Frizzi’s unmistakable hallmarks, and it makes sense that his music has been used as a veritable grab bag for hip-hop producers over the last decade.
It’s timely then that Frizzi should be making his return to the world stage – he’s finally performing his seminal catalogue of scores, and capitalizing on his newfound notoriety. For many years the soundtracks have been almost impossibly tough to obtain, but thanks in part to the Death Waltz imprint, they are now gradually making their way to homes.
As a taster of Frizzi’s extensive catalogue, we’ve compiled a selection of his most important cuts, from the naïve exotica of ‘Coconut’ to The Beyond’s terrifying ‘Hotel Lament’.
Note: This list is a part of a series of Halloween-friendly beginner’s guides. Also profiled so far: the essential tracks by the almighty composer/director John Carpenter; the work of video nasty legend Richard Band; and the output of storied horror trailblazers Goblin.
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(FROM AMORE LIBERO, 1974)
Fabio Frizzi was only 24 years old when he put together the score for Pier Ludovico Pavoni’s Amore Libero (aka Free Love), and assisted by Vince Tempera (who would later join Frizzi in Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera) he managed to craft a minor exotica classic. There aren’t many signs here of exactly what was to come, but the unwieldy synthesizer sounds juxtaposed with clunky ethnic instrumentation was at least a fairly prescient look at Zombi 2’s influential themes.
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(FROM VAI GORILLA 1975)
Smooth and decadent, ‘Vai Gorilla’ was a product of its time, and sums up Frizzi’s mid-70s run well. It’s jam-packed with the layered synth textures that would become a calling card for the composer, but eschews any eerie quality in favour of mimicking the U.S. cop movie funk of its day. It’s hardly surprising that Frizzi takes a wrong turn and ends up about as funky as a cucumber sandwich, but it pays off – this is funk re-imagined as synth-drenched psychedelia, and it’s great.
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(FROM GODZILLA, 1977)
Now we’re talking – this theme was made for Italian director Luigi Cozzi’s notorious made-for-TV re-edit of 1954’s Godzilla, a hacked-up re-edit of Japanese movie Goijra. Cozzi colourized the film to bring it up to date, adding in footage from The Day The Earth Caught Fire, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and, more worryingly, from wartime newsreels of Hiroshima, and decided it needed a new soundtrack too. Here’s where we get to hear all of Frizzi’s traits in one place, maybe for the first time: the thudding electronic percussion, the detuned synthesizers, the haunting pads, marshalled into a symphony of crumbling analogue goodness.
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‘SEQUENCE 8’ / ‘MAIN THEME’
(FROM ZOMBI 2, 1979)
Arguably Frizzi’s greatest theme, the crumbling, slightly off-time percussion and cascading synthesizer arpeggios of Zombi 2 (known in the U.K. as Zombie Flesh Eaters) would be the blueprint for countless horror movie scores to come. It’s surprisingly resilient stuff and while the track may sound dated now, it’s not in a bad way. The unmistakable Mellotron choir gives the whole soundtrack a bizarre inhuman quality, which is further enhanced by the wavering electronic instrumentation that feels as if it’s about to collapse any minute. If you only listen to one Fabio Frizzi track, you should probably make it this one.
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‘IRREALTA DI SUONI’
(FROM CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1980)
City of the Living Dead is one of Lucio Fulci’s most confusing films, the narrative is purposefully dream-like, and Frizzi’s score complements this effortlessly. The jangle of acoustic guitar that characterizes ‘Irrealta Di Suoni’ is an unforgettable motif, and while it’s an unorthodox choice in terms of its usage (acoustic guitars and horror movies? who knew?) it simply goes to show Frizzi’s versatility and innovation at this time.
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(FROM THE BEYOND, 1981)
On his score for The Beyond, Frizzi allowed himself to go overboard with the choral vocals that so often characterized his work. This time on top of the Mellotron choir he layered real vocalists, and their chants give the tracks a genuine spine-tingling quality that sits perfectly alongside Fulci’s surreal visuals. The story itself detailed the opening of one of the gates of hell, so adding an almost ecclesiastical element was a smart thematic nod and makes The Beyond one of Frizzi’s most consistently rewarding scores.
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‘BABY SEQUENZA 3’
(FROM MANHATTAN BABY, 1982)
The critically reviled Manhattan Baby might not be one of Lucio Fulci’s enduring classics, but it still sports a smashing vivid, hairspray-covered soundtrack from Frizzi. Since the film is focused on New York, Frizzi represents this with light, neon-flared synth moves and slippery basslines. It’s one of his most playful soundtracks, and almost acts as an acknowledgement of Frizzi’s earlier exotica scores.
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(FROM ASSASSINIO AL CIMITERO ETRUSCO, 1982)
Flutes, synth strings and the kind of bass that practically informs you that there’s something nasty waiting in the next room – Assassinio Al Cimitero Etrusco (re-named Scorpion with Two Tails for the English market) is one of Frizzi’s more unashamedly epic scores, but still holds up well in these cynical times. It’s not quite as creepy as his earlier work, but there’s a Giallo-esque sense of mystery which doesn’t find Frizzi relying on tired old tropes – echoing percussive cut ‘Drums In Trouble’ is well worth your time too.
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(FROM A CAT IN THE BRAIN, 1990)
The ’90s weren’t kind to Frizzi, and his final collaboration with Fulci (the director died in 1996) sadly isn’t quit up to the same standard as their previous canon. It’s not without its charms, however, and while the clunky bar-room jazz of ‘Sequence 4’ is avoidable, the film’s eerie opening theme is a clear winner. The analogue synthesizers that characterized Frizzi’s early catalogue may have been shelved, but the cheap plastic-y sound modules are a surprisingly bone-chilling replacement.
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‘THE WEEPING WOMAN’
(FROM THE WEEPING WOMAN, 2011)
Who knew that Fabio Frizzi was still going strong in 2011? It’s not exactly surprising that it was down to director Mark Steensland’s own obsession with the composer. He said in an interview, “I’ve always thought his music was the best thing about Fulci’s movies, and I knew his style would be a perfect match for this film” – and you know what, it’s like Frizzi never left at all. The sound quality might have been upgraded since the late ’70s, but those melodies are pure Frizzi. Creepy glockenspiel, spooky vocals and wailing guitar licks? More please.
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