Frizzi and Fulci. Fulci and Frizzi. However you pair them, these two iconic names in horror cinema roll of the tongue as if they were always meant to be stated in tandem. It’s a special and unique thing when a director and a composer return to one another repeatedly and Director Lucio Fulci and composer Fabio Frizzi did just that. Over time, a creative and established working dynamic was developed resulting in an immersive and well rounded cinematic experience unlike any other. While each of them was able to achieve success independently, it was the fruits of their combined creative endeavors that would help define, influence and establish Italian horror in the 70’s and 80’s.
Fulci and Frizzi first crossed professional paths when the two worked together on Fulci’s 1975 Western, The Four of the Apocalypse. At this point in time, Fulci was a director still finding himself and his style, but with a healthy amount of films under his belt. Frizzi had been collaborating with fellow musicians Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera since the mid 1960’s, but by the mid 1970’s was looking to strike out on his own. After a successful first collaboration, Fulci returned to Frizzi for his follow up film, 1975’s Dracula in the Provinces. This was merely the beginning for the pair and it was during these first two films that a life-long friendship was established.
During their years working together, Fulci would produce some of the biggest and best of his career. Zombie from 1979, Manhattan Baby from 1982 and the first film in Fulci’s ‘Gates of Hell Trilogy’, 1980’s City of the Living Dead. However, it was in the second installment of the trilogy that both Fulci and Frizzi would truly hit their stride and combine to create a powerhouse of gore-y, cosmic, otherworldly horror. I’m of course talking about 1981’s …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà aka The Beyond.
A young woman, Liza Merril, inherits an old hotel in Louisiana where after a series of supernatural ‘accidents’, she learns that the building was built over one of the entrances to Hell.
The film begins with a bit of backstory taking place in 1927 Louisiana. An ominous drone punctuated by strategic piano chord stings plays underneath a sepia-drenched scene. As we witness poor Schweick being murdered (and unintentionally sacrificed) by an angry horde of townsfolk for an unknown reason, the score is traditional in style. Very reminiscent of old school Hollywood, airy flute trills are played over classic instrumentation and executed in a way that is neither new or particularly interesting. All of this though is intentional as it helps place the events unfolding on screen firmly in the past. It’s not until Schweick‘s ultimate demise that we get a glimpse of Fulci’s intense gore aesthetic as well as Frizzi’s true capabilities leading us away from the backstory and into the film. With the direction of the film clearly evident, one of the most beautiful songs in the film is played during the opening credits complimenting the intense imagery preceding it.
In this opening title track, ‘Voci dal Nulla’, Frizzi treats us to a layered fugue-like tune rich in melody and reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s infamous The Omen track, Ave Satani. While one of his more classically oriented tracks, we are introduced to some of Frizzi’s hallmark sounds and the unique way he blends traditional and modern instrumentation. Here’s a quote from Frizzi on this exact subject taken from the 2015 Death Waltz Records LP release:
The distinctive aim of the film’s soundtrack was to achieve an old goal of mine. I wanted to combine two different instrumental forms I had always loved: the band & the orchestra. When I had started writing music some years before, I had learned to combine these two sounds; but for many reasons, the roles of strings and wind instruments were mainly created via keyboards. This time I decided to get serious.
‘Voci’ begins with a saturated mellotron melody over plodding drums, electric bass, guitar, piano, and synthetic horn. Next, are layered in a choir of chanting voices and string section as each voice takes turns with the spotlight while weaving and working together with remarkable beauty. Throughout the film, this main theme will return time and time again. Similar to the dead that will come to haunt Liza, the theme never returns quite the same. Slight variations in tempo, instrumentation, execution, and arrangement allow a familiarity to become established, but still remain specific and unique to each specific scene it accompanies.
“Throughout the film, this main theme will return time and time again. Similar to the dead that will come to haunt Liza, the theme never returns quite the same.”
One of the greatest things about The Beyond is the way Frizzi’s score works hand in hand with Fulci’s visual aesthetics and the overall sound design. You don’t simply watch a Fulci film, you experience it. As Joe the plumber discovers one of the hidden rooms beneath the hotel, you can almost feel the grimy, wet wall dissolving beneath his fingertips as the murky water beneath begins to seep through his pants and into his boots. As the sweat accumulates on a character’s brow, it’s as if the humidity level around you is intensifying. Even something as simple as the cutting of fabric becomes rich in feeling as you can almost feel the cloth resisting beneath the semi-dull scissor blades. All of this is intentional. The exaggerated sound design gives a heightened sensory experience to match the overall visual accompanying any specific scene. To further investigate this, let’s take a look at the untimely demise of young Jill‘s mom Mary-Ann early in the film.
As Jill waits patiently outside the autopsy theater for her mom to dress and prep her dead father (Joe the plumber), an orderly passes by with the squeakiest gurney of all time. Suddenly, hearing her mother’s screams from within, Jill runs in and is confronted not only with the body of her dead dad, but also her mother lying inexplicably on the floor. Above her head, a clear glass container of what we can assume is acid bubbles and spills over the shelf and onto Mary-Ann‘s face. The gurgling jar of liquid is altered with an echo effect that imparts an otherworldly vibe over it. How has Mary-Ann come to be in this state? What has caused this scenario to even happen? None of this is explained. As the acid begins to work on Mary-Ann‘s face, we hear a simple rhythm playing out on a cymbal punctuated by piano chords. Slowly, the funky bass and melody of the track ‘Oltre la Soglia’ kicks in all while the bubbling, hissing liquid eats away at the flesh beneath it. One layer is no louder than the other as they are working in harmony.
It’s often said that a film’s score helps convey character emotion while sound design represents the outside world. In this scene, we see the two working simultaneously to accompany what is happening in front of Jil‘s eyes, as well as what’s happening behind them. As the reality of the situation sinks in and as the bloodstained foam creeps closer and closer to her, Jil‘s horror, confusion and fear rise along with the music. Shock gives way to instinct and the music compliments this transition. The instrumentation comes together forming a more cohesive, recognizable song as pieces quickly fall into place and Jil realizes her mother is gone. Unfortunately for the young girl, what she has witnessed is not of this world, and her brush with this ancient evil will cost her not just her parents, but her eyesight as well.
“As the reality of the situation sinks in and as the bloodstained foam creeps closer and closer to her, Jil‘s horror, confusion and fear rise along with the music. Shock gives way to instinct and the music compliments this transition. “
On a more practical level, what Frizzi’s score does in this scene (and many others) is allow Fulci’s flair for dramatic gore to shine. Fulci’s knack and creativity with practical effects are legendary and they are absolutely not used sparingly. Shots linger on wounds and varied forms of violence are allowed to play out in a shocking manner. The score acts as our guide through these intensely graphic moments, guiding us through and giving us subconscious mile markers. Where the score kicks in, when it leaves, the literal melodic progression of where it’s heading and when it resolves let’s us know what we’re in for. All of this while working with, not against, the heightened and prominent sound design that always accompanies these moments.
Following this train of thought, Frizzi’s score helps us navigate the storyline as well as story moments. For example, the character of Emily is shrouded in mystery throughout the entirety of the film. Shown in the 1927 opening scene, Emily then re-enters the 1981 story in dramatic fashion as Liza finds her literally standing in the middle of the road with her trusty dog Dickie. The haunting, meandering piano melody that becomes ‘Emily’s Theme‘ mirrors her place in the story. Deliberate, small chromatic steps are executed in a way that keeps the listener’s ear on guard. This combination of ascending and subsequent descending melodic progressions represent the duality that resides inside Emily’s character. Frizzi captures and relays the unique way Emily is able to traverse both realms by utilizing a melody that lacks a discernible direction and resolution.
As the mysteries residing in the 7 Doors Hotel begin to unravel, the music evolves as well. Synthetic sounds become more and more prominent and are best experienced in the track ‘Sequenza Ritmica e Tema.’ These artificial sounds replace natural, acoustic instruments as Liza and her reluctant co-hort Dr. John McCabe approach the inevitable Beyond. Frizzi was one of the first true advocates and pioneers of synthesizer technology in film scoring and The Beyond is one of his best examples. His grasp on the innate feelings that synth sounds impart on a score and how to best execute those sensations provide not only an interesting listening experience, but truly adds a surrealistic quality to The Beyond. While the story itself is cosmic, almost Lovecraftian in nature, Frizzi’s score helps us set aside our need for complete and immersive understanding and lets us simply absorb, accept and experience the story. In the final scene of the movie, Liza and McCabe finally find themselves in The Beyond and Frizzi’s score reaches a new and incredible climax. Dreamy, pulsating synth patterns give way to haunting and beautiful strings, flutes and guitars. We are once again returned to the familiar Voci dal Nula, completing the story’s circle and leading us right back to where it all began.
The Beyond is a prime example of what a truly great soundtrack is. Not only does it add depth, understanding, intrigue and texture to the film itself, but it also provides an intensely enjoyable listening experience all on its own. It’s a beautiful exploration of sound worthy of a deliberate and focused listen. Lucky for you, there are several way which you can embark on this journey. Of course there’s plenty of ways to stream it, but for you physical media lovers like myself, Death Waltz Records most recently reissued the soundtrack on vinyl back in 2015. There are also several variants prior to that release available on both CD and vinyl. None of them will come particularly cheap, but if you’re going to splurge on a soundtrack, this is certainly one that is worth it.
Do you dare to “face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored?” Which Frizzi scores are on the top of your list? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook! And make sure to check out previous installments of Terror on the Turntable!