Song of the Day: Halloween Theme (by John Carpenter)

The penultimate choice for this week’s horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature brings one of the best theme songs ever composed and put on film. I am talking about the Main Title theme for John Carpenter’s classic horror film (also one of the best grindhouse films ever made) and one which launched a whole new horror subgenre with Halloween. This theme would become synonymous with the “slasher film” that when the many copies and imitators of the film came out in droves a year later they would try to replicate this keyboard synthesizer-based theme and fail miserably.

It’s actually a pretty simple theme. Carpenter composed the theme as a piano melody played in a 5/4 meter that even the most novice piano player could play with ease. This theme could be heard throughout the film whenever Michael Myers appears and/or in the vicinity. Some have even started calling it the Michael Myers theme and they wouldn’t be far off. It’s become the film’s leitmotif that Carpenter ends up relying on it to set the mood and tension in the film. Other kids of songs could be heard throughout the film but outside of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” the rest of the score is forgettable until this theme kicks in.

This theme will be the final of the instrumental themes for the week. With one more day left in this special week-long horror-themed week for “Song of the Day” the last one will definitely usher in another awesome Halloween and help kick off the premiere of what will probably be the best thing to ever grace the tv screen past, present and future.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Prom Night (Directed by Paul Lynch)

As I mentioned in another post, my sister Erin and I spent Tuesday night watching the Killer Party Marathon on Chiller.  One of the movies we saw was the original 1980 Prom Night, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by Paul Lynch.  Prom Night, of course, was remade two years ago with cross-eyed dumbfug Brittany Snow as the star.  If, like me before Tuesday night, you’re only familiar with the tepid and bland remake than the original Prom Night is a surprise indeed.

The original Prom Night is an old school slasher film, one of the many that came out in the two years immediately after Halloween.  It even stars the star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis.  Prom Night also stars a lot of Canadians because it was one of the many low-budget B-movies that was made in Canada in the early 80s.  Apparently, Canada was offering tax breaks to film companies willing to shoot up north.  Several web sites have said that the setting is obviously Canadian but I couldn’t really tell.  Of course, I’m from Texas.  Anything above Arkansas looks like Canada to me.

Plotwise, the film is pretty much your traditional old school slasher film.  There’s a terrible tragedy in the past, an innocent man is blamed for it, and ten years later, teenagers end up getting killed at some communal event.  In this case, the tragedy is the death of a young girl who is killed during a truly demonic game of tag.  The children responsible for her death lie about what happened and a disfigured drifter is convicted and imprisoned for her murder.  As for the communal event, in this case, it’s prom night.  The killer stalks the prom, which is what I suggested my classmates call our prom way back when.  They disagreed and that’s their loss.  The Killer Stalks The Prom would have been a story to remember.

Anyway, here’s a few random thoughts about the original Prom:

1) As with all old school slasher films, it’s interesting to see just how much of the early products of this all-American genre borrowed from the Italian giallo genre.   Everything from the elaborate, past tragedy to the black gloves worn by the killer to the attempts to keep audiences guessing who the killer actually is to even the supporting character of the burned out cop simply screams giallo.  The main thing that the Americans brought to the giallo format was the idea of having the murders revolve around a previously innocent gathering or holiday.

2) Especially when compared to recent “slasher” films, Prom Night is a relentlessly grim film.  Prom Night’s killer doesn’t waste any time with comic relief or one-liners.  He’s too busy savagely killing people.  And our victims aren’t the usual collection of bimbos and soulless jocks.  No, this is the type of movie where even the token virgin ends up getting her throat ripped out with a gigantic shard of glass.  There’s not a lot of deaths in Prom Night, just six.  But they all hurt.

3) I usually just think of Jamie Lee Curtis as the crazy woman selling Activia on Lifetime but this movie shows that she’s actually a pretty good actress.  Even working with a script that isn’t exactly full of brilliant dialogue or multi-faceted characters, Curtis is a sympathetic, likable, and most of all, believable heroine (which is all the more remarkable when you consider that she, like everyone else in this film, appears to be far-too old to still be worrying about the prom).  She even manages to make the film’s ending rather touching and even poignant.  And how many slasher films can you say that about?

4) Prom Night is as much about tacky — yet insanely catchy — disco music as it is about spilling blood.  Seriously, if I owned the soundtrack to this film, I would listen to it 24/7 for two years straight.  I’d force all of my friends to listen to it too and eventually we’d all go insane and just spend the rest of our lives wandering around going, “Prom night!  Everything is alright!”

5) One last thing — Prom Night showcases what has to be the most believable, cheap, and tasteless prom ever put on film.  The theme is Disco Madness and the students are all very chic in that way that even they know will be painfully dated in another two years.  Indeed, this is one of the rare films that understands that the perfect prom is nothing less than an unintentional camp spectacular.  For someone like me who, as the result of seeing too many episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, grew up with an unrealistic expectation of what the senior prom would be, the original Prom Night remains a refreshing breath of fresh air even 30 years after it was made.

And always remember: “Prom Night!  Everything is all right…”

…And the Great Cold Death of the Earth: Music for October (part 5)

I don’t think I could have possibly stumbled upon a more appropriate image for this penultimate entry in my music column than the goat Heiðrún feeding on Yggdrasil. (Well, technically Læraðr.) I’ll today be concluding my compilation of songs that, while still being “black metal” in some sense, extend well beyond the boundaries of the genre.

10. Hardingrock – Faens Marsj
In 2007, Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel teamed up with Hardinger fiddler Knut Buen to merge Ihsahn’s evolving progressive black metal with Norwegian folk music. If the vocals are the only real trace of black metal remaining in this particular track, I think the appeal is no less apparent.

9. Temnozor – Busov’ Vran’
(Темнозорь – Бусовы Враны)
Temnozor’s 2010 release is easily their best in my opinion, and certainly their most folk-infused. That this Russian band in 2007 released a split with Nokturnal Mortum might be telling. Their ability to harness folk as a sort of primitivism has evolved tremendously, and it herein shows. The gripping dynamics of Russian vocalization are inseparable from the overall sound. It’s no wonder this is a predominantly Eastern European movement.

8. Boris – Luna
Pretty much any obsessive Boris fan will tell you they’re the most innovative band in existence, and I totally buy into the hype. Boris has, over the years, consistently denied all forms of classification, seeming to incorporate a new style of music on practically all of their myriad releases while remaining always recognizably Boris. In 2009 they contributed one track to a split with stoner metal band Torche, and in doing so gave black metal a unique new form. It’s an unfortunate shame that the last two minutes of this song, in which they transition into an Electric Wizard-esque doom metal outro, aren’t available on youtube. But for the purposes of this column, this song’s significance still comes through. Boris eat musical styles and shit roses. This is one of them.

7. Agalloch – Limbs
Where were you the first time you heard Ashes Against the Grain? I think a lot of people can actually answer that. Pale Folklore and The Mantle were brilliant and unique albums, but THIS, this was something innovative on a whole new level. I remember the thought striking me almost immediately: “Woah, post-black metal exists.” Any use I’ve ever made of the term originated from my first listen to Ashes Against the Grain. Isis’s Oceanic was probably my favorite album at the time, and here was everything I liked about it taken to by the best band at creating musical imagery that I’d to that point known. The marriage couldn’t have gone better. Ashes Against the Grain will go down in history as groundbreaking and unique, one of those albums that predicts the future without ever wholly conforming to it. It always was a stretch to associate Agalloch with black metal, but in so far as musical genres are merely generalizations, the most unique bands always seem to fit into all and none simultaneously.

6. Ulver – Hymn VI: Of Wolf and Passion
The first 18 seconds of this song are about a decade ahead of their time. They’re absolutely beautiful–downright uplifting. I guess I never really thought of unadulterated black metal as something that could be triumphant. Sure, bands put it to positive use by incorporating folk and the like, but here you have nothing but blast beats and tremolo, a basic Norwegian breakfast, speaking of something glorious. Perhaps black metal’s origin naturally associates it with the dark and devilish, but very briefly, in 1996, Ulver showed that the same unbridled intensity could turn itself towards any honest end. Of Wolf and Passion. An apt title.

5. Nokturnal Mortum – In the Fire of Wooden Churches
I said you hadn’t seen the last of them. Another NeChrist masterpiece, In the Fire of Wooden Churches is an eclectic, constantly transitioning song that almost never repeats and ends triumphant. This video extends a few minutes beyond the end of the song. Its proper length is about 7:11.

4. Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Les Anemis De La France
Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor got my 2009 album of the year vote. To quote my brief review of it, “This is brilliant, fascinating, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. As has been said, the ambiance of hate is gone. What replaces it is something I can’t quite define, but it’s captivating. If Famine hadn’t coined it “Black’n’Roll” I think the term still might have popped up, but it’s a whole lot more than that. The 60s-70s rock and roll styles it incorporates, while similar in construct, conjure nothing of the sort to mind. Instead, it gives this sort of disturbingly lively essence to a dismal, filthy Dark Age. Track three feels like I’m dancing circles around someone in a torture chamber randomly sticking hot pokers into them and really enjoying it.” You are listening to track three.

3. Krallice – Wretched Wisdom
Listening to Wretched Wisdom while driving through a barren pillar-studded wasteland in Arizona was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This is the gut-wrenching scream of an absolute desolation stumbling hopeless at last into the depths of insanity. And here the term post-black applies more than ever.

2. Nokturnal Mortum – NeChrist: The Dance of Swords
Alright, this is my last Nokturnal Mortum entry. Honest. I’ve very little left to say about this band, but I hope you can see why I chose this as their best song. I said of their first entry “this isn’t just a statement about the past, it is a violent declaration of war on the present.” NeChrist might be the celebratory feast on the night of that declaration.

1. Alcest – Le Secret
In 2005, Neige decided it was time to take a new approach with his black metal project. He wanted to write something beautiful, and that he did. The album Le Secret is 27 minutes long and consists of two songs. Neige himself regarded the work as widely misunderstood, and seems to have concluded since that black metal just isn’t a compatible medium for some things. His next album was more on the order of shoegaze, with little in the way of black metal remaining, and his 2010 release, while significantly heavier, largely distinguished the black metal from the shoegaze elements as a sort of contrast between dark and light.
Souvenirs d’un autre monde and Écailles de Lune are both fabulous albums, make no mistake. But Le Secret is so much more. It’s one of those works that can never be repeated, because beyond musical genius it requires a sort of innocence. Those 18 seconds for which I glorified Ulver… here they stand on their own, independent and beautiful.