Review Summary: R.I.P. George A. Romero (1940-2017)
George A. Romero (1940-2017) left an indalienable mark on cinema, perhaps none more apparent than in his critical masterpiece, "Dawn of the Dead" (1978), from which Goblin's soundtrack album "Zombi" was spawned. Romero's contract with Italian producers Claudio and Dario Argento stipulated that the Italians could produce their own cut of the film for European audiences. Progressive rock band Goblin did not rescore the film, like they did with the Italian dubbed release of the Australian horror film "Patrick" (also released in 1978), but much of the American cut, edited by George A. Romero, avoided using much of Goblin's themes in favor of a stock music score, although several major Goblin themes were used, including the iconic main title music and several eerie synthesizer melodies. The European cut of the film, clocking in at an hour and 54 minutes (as opposed to the two-and-a-half hour run of Romero's cut), used the full Goblin score, in addition to being paced as an *action horror film*, as opposed to the American version which featured more social commentary and humor. (I prefer the shorter European cut of the film.)
Presumably the line up on Goblin's "Zombi" is roughly the same as that on their LP "Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark", released the same year as the "Zombi" soundtrack, which featured Massimo Morante on guitars (electric and acoustic), Claudio Simonetti on synthesizers, pianos and keyboards, Agostino Marangolo on drums and percussion and Fabio Pignatelli on bass guitar (acoustic and electric).
Goblin was not formed to score films; they were originally aiming to throw their hats into the arena of progressive rock giants like Gentle Giant
, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
, King Crimson
and so forth, as "Cherry Five", but became mainstays of Dario Argento productions since being hired to score Argento's "Deep Red" (Profondo Rosso) after original composer, avant-garde jazz bandleader Giorgio Gaslini was fired (though credited as a Gaslini score, Gaslini actually scored very little of "Profondo Rosso" before being replaced by Goblin), and, subsequently, Goblin were continually called upon to score films, including Spaghetti Westerns and police thrillers, though predominately associated with the horror genre.
The two previous iconic film scores Goblin released, "Profondo Rosso" and "Suspiria", pretty much stuck to a mixture of jazz fusion, progressive rock and hard rock, while "Zombi" shows the band at their most varied, providing a masterful score.
"Oblio" shows the band in fairly mellow jazz fusion mode, melding quiet somber electric guitar playing, a consistent driving piano rhythm and smooth jazz saxophone/electric bass. "Risveglio" continues from this approach, showing a classical solo piano; the "sexy" bonus variant of the "Zombi" theme shows more of the band in smooth jazz mode, offering a lounge lizard version of the theme. At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Goblin plays forceful hard rock on the action theme "Zaratozom", and on the more experimental tip of the band's score is "Safari", a combination of African-style drumming and chanting (I can't imagine this is a real African language being sung here; it sounds completely made up). The band also imitates American country on "Tirassegno" and Top 40 mainstream playing on the "Supermarket" variant of the "Zombi" theme, while "Torte In Faccia" has the feel and sound of a silent film, a kind of ragtime style.
Elsewhere, there's some very effective progressive rock themes, a lot of the score being driven by synthesizers. A lot of percussion and drum based instrumentation can be found, as evidenced by the interplay between the synths, bass guitar, ambient vocals and vibes on "Zombi", where it is possibly the vibes and Latin drumming that are most prominent, in a very effective multiuse theme that underlines action and horror scenes throughout the film.
Most repeated throughout the film is the opening theme, "L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi", whose alternate takes appear as variations throughout the film to fit differently factioned scenes (and also as bonus tracks on the CD reissue); these variations are driven by synthesizer melodies, both of the ambient and classically composed form.
Since its release, "Zombi" has become a Halloween mainstay, "L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi" being as iconic as John Carpenter's theme for "Halloween" (1978); several themes popping up in Edgar Wright's comedy "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), but also "Zombi", and Goblin in particular, have been incredibly influential on progressive rock, both Italian and non-Italian; for example, there is a Goblin-influenced prog band that has named itself "Zombi", after this soundtrack, known for emulating the synthesizer-driven rock sound of this album.
Though, sadly, Romero's death echoes the situation described in "The Devil's Rejects" (2005), where a film legend's death is overshadowed by the death of a popular musician (the shameful lack of Romero tributes is baffling), Romero's little-reported death is felt among the legions of filmmakers that he has impacted, a consumate artist whose body of work continues to impact independent filmmakers and zombie fans, the director whose "Night of the Living Dead" created a whole new kind of horror monster, the flesh eating walking reanimated corpse. Take some time to remember one of the beloved masters of horror by popping in the "Zombi" soundtrack album.
Not merely a great horror soundtrack, "Zombi" is a classic progressive rock album of all time; the film that transcended grindhouse success for artistic acclaim also sported a score that was taken, more than merely being a horror soundtrack, but a work of art. Despite the fairly lazy association of horror with heavy metal, progressive rock was and still is, the most appropriate rock style to score a horror film (whenever I hear metal songs in a horror movie, I want to headbang, not jump out of my seat in fear), and "Zombi" is one of the best of this type.