STSPC Media Officer Mark Finch covers our presentation of Italian horror composer Fabio Frizzi in his New York City debut at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in October, 2017
by Mark Anthony Finch
Childhood is a strange thing when you think about it. Kids with obsessions of visual and audio media are generally treated as a normal occurrence and in some cases actually encouraged by adults. When your two-year old daughter wants to watch the same episode of Dinosaur Train again and again while she eats breakfast - but ONLY while she eats breakfast, heaven forbid you should try putting on that shit during lunch - you don't really think much of it, it's just the way things are and you get on with it. But if you - as an adult - were inclined to watch the same Scooby Doo cartoon three times every day while sat at your desk in your lunch break then people would be quick to judge you. Even as a teenager, it was easy to listen to the same album on repeat, every day, for months on end and never get tired of it; or watch a movie so many times that your parents eventually went insane.
As it is, the quality of the things we were fanatical about as youngsters are never questioned until we become adults, if at all. That's when you discover that, perhaps, Hawk The Slayer is actually quite silly and The Goonies mostly consists of people shouting for 100 minutes. Of course, that's not to say that everything you liked as a youngster was of bad quality (well, maybe Hawk The Slayer). On the contrary, some of these things are instant loves for a reason: they're actually amazing.
For all of us here at Ship To Shore, the movies of Lucio Fulci were a love affair that started when we were young. Some of us were children, some young teenagers, but the effect was the same: instant adoration. But it was not just the fact that we were watching, as one friend said to me once, "REAL horror films!" or that it was just the surreal visuals, thick atmosphere, occasional ropey dubbing, eyeball extirpation and gooey gore that gripped us. No, although those things were - and still are - part of what makes Fulci's films so damn memorable, it was the music too. And none of the scores used in Fulci's films are more recognisable than those of Fabio Frizzi.
Sergio Leone had Ennio Morricone, David Cronenberg has Howard Shore, and Lucio Fulci had Fabio Frizzi
Fulci & Frizzi first worked together on Fulci's 1975 film The Four Of The Apocalypse, on which Frizzi was one of three composers tasked with creating the score, the others being Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera, a collaboration which had already proved fruitful on several other movies such as Day Of Violence and Blue Belle and would prove just popular enough that a number of 7" records of some of their movie themes were released (one of the most interesting being a double-A 7" single in 1977 on the Cinevox Record label, featuring main themes from Cozilla - the Italian colourized version of Godzilla, King Of The Monsters! - and Day Of Violence, under the moniker Magnetic System. They'd also had a number of releases under the alias Fruit Of The Gum and - perhaps most obviously - Bixio, Frizzi & Tempera, on 7" vinyl). Two years later Fulci and Frizzi's paths would cross again - along with Bixio & Tempera - on The Psychic (aka Seven Notes In Black), a thriller that's probably more keeping in tone with Fulci's previous giallo efforts like Don't Torture A Duckling and Lizard In A Woman's Skin than the gruesome gore extravaganzas he would become most well-known for at the beginning of the next decade. After scoring another movie - once again with Bixio & Tempera - for Fulci (the 1978 Spaghetti Western Silver Saddle, Fulci's third and final entry in that particular genre), it was in 1979 that their names would become far more well-known outside of their native Italy.
Once seen, never forgotten: Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2
Fabio Frizzi had already scored a couple of movies sans Bixio & Tempera in the 70's but his first film score for Fulci without the rest of his Magnetic System chums was Zombi 2 (aka Zombie and Zombie Flesh Eaters), the infamous "video nasty" which proved highly popular around the world thanks to its (at the time) high gore quotient, tight direction from Fulci and its extremely memorable music score (not to mention Dawn Of The Dead being a box office hit the previous year). Contraband and City Of The Living Dead came next with executives eager to capitalise on the success of Zombi 2. Musically, while the previous zombie effort had a much simpler motif as the backbone of its theme, Frizzi wove a far more textured sound into City, all the while retaining parts of what made the score to Zombi 2 so memorable. It is certainly no coincidence that the music performed at the climax of the movie - when zombies attack the plucky heroes - bears more than a slight resemblance to the main theme of Zombie. Contraband had a far more jazzier score in keeping with its Poliziotteschi roots despite being bloodier and more violent than most others in that genre and is notable for containing a pretty funky disco song titled "You Are Not The Same" (why this didn't get its own 7" release is a mystery). The Black Cat - a kind-of adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's short story which Fulci only worked on as a favour to producer Giulio Sbarigia - quickly followed without Fabio on composer duties (this was handed to Pino Donaggio instead). And then...
...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldila
The Beyond is arguably the most accomplished of Frizzi's scores from his collaborations with Fulci, in the same way that the movie is considered amongst many Fulci fans as being the Godfather Of Gore's greatest achievement. Frizzi's score is simultaneously melancholic and terrifying, grandly bombastic yet personal, and richly layered onto Fulci's nightmarish vision. The film feels like a fever dream and Frizzi's work heightens that malevolent ambience. The first time you view the film is an experience you don't forget, and the music sticks to your brain like warm cotton candy.
Alas Frizzi & Fulci would only work together again on a small number of projects but the impact left on their fans, in particular the younglings who now find themselves grown adults running their own record label - that specialises in rare music - from the ground up in NY, was immense. It's impossible now not to recall the librarian getting eaten alive by spiders without Frizzi's nerve-scratching accompaniment, or hear the main theme to Zombie Flesh Eaters without picturing the infamous battle between a Tiger Shark and a member of the undead. It is certainly no surprise that the soundtracks to these films - and Italian genre films in general - are in such high demand, and that their resurgence (on vinyl of all things!) have generally been a huge success for the record labels involved. It's not just a case of rose-tinted glasses: these scores are good. The fact that they're being pressed on vinyl for audiophiles and nostalgia junkies is the icing on the cake. But... is it enough? You've got the deluxe edition CD, and the 180g splatter vinyl in gatefold sleeve, so where do you go from there? The answer is an easy one: live performances!
Fabio Frizzi & band performing 'Frizzi 2 Fulci' at the Williamsburg Hall Of Music, NY October 30th 2017
You may have noticed in the last few years a resurgence of composers touring with an orchestra or band and performing their music. John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, Goblin, John Williams... and then Fabio Frizzi with his Frizzi 2 Fulci show, where he would play selected suites from the films of Lucio Fulci. These have all proved to be very popular, with some fans paying well over the odds to see some of these legendary musicians work their magic live on stage.
After a handful of years touring Frizzi 2 Fulci, Fabio wanted to expand on the idea of performing his films scores live, and The Beyond: Composer's Cut was born. We at Ship To Shore were already aware of the F2F shows and our interest was already piqued at that point, but upon hearing of a Composer's Cut of The Beyond our pulses certainly quickened. A special kind of show, almost tailor-made for fans like us, where Fulci's imagery and Frizzi's auditory skills would meet in the most organic way? Yes! A live performance of the original as-composed score while the movie played on the big screen. Perfection. And the reason it was called the "Composer's Cut?" Well, as is fairly standard when it comes to scoring a movie, not all of the recorded music cues are used, and sometimes the director will even use cues intended for one specific scene in an entirely different part of the film (Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien is a notorious example of this - Goldsmith was enraged when he had discovered that Ridley Scott changed the order of the cues and had done so much auditory tinkering with parts of the music that it bore only a passing resemblance to what Goldsmith had intended. The 1979 LP is more in line with what Jerry Goldsmith wanted than what appeared on the film itself). Knowing there was not only a strong fan-base for the movie but also for the score itself, The Beyond: Composer's Cut was Fabio Frizzi's opportunity to perform his music to the movie as it was originally composed all the way back in 1981. Hence: Composer's Cut.
Phone calls were made, venues were booked. And for the fans: those childhood memories of years of obsessing over these grisly images and hypnotic music scores were suddenly fresh again, as vivid in the brain as a splash of red paint on a white wall is to the eyes. A most exciting prospect: to watch something that was so familiar but in a completely new way. "Experience The Beyond as never before!" Fuck yeah!
Fabio Frizzi had already toured in select parts of the U.S. with his Frizzi 2 Fulci show, mostly on the West coast, but had not yet performed in New York. This was an amazing opportunity for us to be a part of Fabio's NY debut and as such we did something no other venue were doing: we arranged performances of both The Beyond: Composer's Cut AND Frizzi 2 Fulci, to be played on consecutive nights: something for the hardcore fans to really get their teeth into. To help commemorate the event we pressed a limited edition 7" slice of vinyl which was simply dubbed "The Double-A Side" between us in the office - a cheeky throwback to the Magnetic System Codzilla / Day Of Violence perhaps - but affectionately titled "Zombi 2 Beyond" for official purposes. Featuring two of our favourite pieces of Frizzi magic - the main theme to Zombie on one side and the main theme to The Beyond on the other - we decided to make it available in two different variants based on the two movies: "Zombie Vs Shark" and "Morgue Acid Bath."
The two variants of The Double A-Side "Zombi 2 Beyond," with "Zombie Vs Shark" (Zombi 2) and "Morgue Acid Bath" (The Beyond)
The records were to be made available as a limited edition exclusive at the two shows: The Beyond: Composer's Cut was booked for October 29th 2017, with Frizzi 2 Fulci the following night, at The Music Hall Of Williamsburg, NY. As an additional treat, a special 35mm screening of City Of The Living Dead was arranged at the Nitehawk Cinema for November 2nd, with the promise of a Q&A session with Fabio preceding the movie.
And so we waited, and promoted...
and then we promoted some more...
...and then Fabio Frizzi, with his daughter and band in tow, arrived in NYC. And we got to meet him. We actually got to meet Fabio Frizzi!
They say you shouldn't meet your heroes. We say bollocks to that. Fabio Frizzi (middle) bookended by the founders of Ship To Shore Phono Co. trying not to completely geek-out.
To say that Fabio Frizzi is a genuinely warm, friendly guy with a very infectious personality would be an understatement. It became apparent very quickly that he was humbled by the whole experience of playing live to fans - despite having done so for a couple of years already - and was excited to tour the East Coast as well as break ground in NYC. What can I say, we were excited too!
The Beyond: Composer's Cut was a marvel, an incredible delight for the senses (strong stomachs a must, of course!). With his 8-piece band and backing singer, Frizzi managed to turn a movie we were all so familiar with into a fresh, far more intense experience. You could feel the drum beat in the centre of your stomach, to the point where you actually felt like you were part of the orchestra; you could physically feel the instruments being played, as though you were a natural extension of the performance.
The Beyond was presented uncut in its English dub format from a digital projection - provided by Frizzi's team - and had the original Italian opening and closing titles (Photo by Brian Varney)
Of course, being an 8-piece band meant that certain instruments were not available to be played as they were back in the recording studio in the early 80's. To compensate for this, synthesizers were used for the string sections. Extreme purists may have been disappointed with that but in all honesty the effect was excellent and was barely noticed after a couple of minutes. There were some changes to the score compared to the regular cut as to be expected - more noticeable for those of us who, perhaps, have watched the film too many times (if that is at all possible) - the opening of the movie being a great example. Fabio Frizzi had originally composed music for the entire opening (pre-credits) scene and, with this being his show and all, the music was presented as originally intended. It was certainly an experience having previously unheard music played live while the ill-fated character Schweick gets whipped with chains, crucified and then has boiling White-Out shovelled into his face. Aaah Fulci, you are sorely missed.
Frizzi actually composed over 50 tracks/cues for The Beyond and experiencing them like this was a dream come true. Maybe one day there will be a "deluxe" edition of the score featuring every single cue, but whether that will ever happen or not remains to be seen.
The following night was the Frizzi 2 Fulci show. A very different experience to The Beyond but nonetheless just as exciting. To be honest we weren't quite sure what to expect, other than what was already widely known: that Frizzi and his band would perform selected suites from his work with Lucio Fulci while scenes from the movies would play on a big screen behind the band. All well and good, but what tracks would they play? How would these suites translate from the films themselves? And what music would they open the show with?
Believe it or not, they decided to open the show with their very own cover version of "Court Of The Crimson King," highly unexpected and very, very cool. Before long, we were experiencing live renditions of tracks from Four Of The Apocalypse, Seven Notes In Black, A Cat In The Brain (a movie from 1990 which was the last film Frizzi & Fulci worked on together), Manhattan Baby and many others. Contraband made an appearance, and despite a lack of the aforementioned disco anthem "You Are Not The Same" (a track which Frizzi actually apologised for not having arranged a live version of, but assured us that he would make an effort to do so for the next tour!) their performance of the Contraband suite was possibly one of the best highlights of the evening.
Meanwhile, as you would expect, all of the gory highlights from the movies were being projected in the background. The whole show felt like a "greatest hits" performance and was all the better for it. And there was also an exceptional rare treat: Fabio Frizzi's (performing as 'General Master') fun disco-ish dance track from the mid-80's titled "Mastermix" - which was a huge hit in his native Italy - was performed to the rapturous applause of the audience. Even Fabio Frizzi appeared to be enjoying himself, dancing along behind his keyboard.
As the evening reached its climax, Fabio addressed the crowd one last time. You see, there was one particular film he had yet to perform the music from...
"Mama mia!" Fabio exclaims, no word of a lie. "Okay, the night is long and we would play until tomorrow in the morning but tomorrow night we have another concert so we must go to sleep. But we cannot go without playing what...?"
And in unison, the audience shouts "Zombie!"
Fabio laughs heartily.
His band starts to play the "Cruise Island / Cab Ride" track.
The evening, somehow, becomes even more perfect.
No sleep 'til Zombie
Fabio Frizzi and his band enjoy the applause after an excellent performance
A couple more shows out of state and then Fabio was back in NYC for his short Q&A session (he wasn't able to stay long unfortunately as his flight back to Italy was that evening) before the Nitehawk projected a beautiful - slightly faded yes but beautiful nonetheless - 35mm print of City Of The Living Dead. A wonderful way to finish off the week in all its maggot-spraying, gut-vomiting, brain-grabbing glory, and a good way of taking our minds off of saying goodbye to Fabio, as it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.
City of the Living Dead, projected on the big screen via 35mm, the way it was meant to be seen
So, what's next for Fabio? As it turns out, with The Beyond: Composer's Cut being so successful, he's toying with the idea of giving City Of The Living Dead the same treatment. He's still working hard in the film industry as a composer. And there's the possibility of a new compilation featuring some of his work that, despite being popular in Italy, is hardly talked about outside of that country. Fingers crossed for that because his score for Cop In Drag deserves to be heard by everyone.
If you'd said to any of us at Ship To Shore when we were kids, wide-eyed and pretty naive about the workings of the world, that we would not only get to meet the guy who scored the music to that crazy haunted hotel zombie film we'd just watched but that he and his band would also perform the music to said film, live right in front of our faces, we probably wouldn't have believed you. Instead we most likely would have grabbed another Fulci film from our library - the one where the zombie fights the shark or the one where the guy gets his guts blown out by a shotgun blast to the belly? - and sat in front of the TV to be entertained by the surreal, atmospheric imagery and transcendent music for the 90th time. Because childhood is strange when you think about it. Obsessions are formed, heroes are forged, music is absorbed, films become firm favourites and we become fans of the amazing forever.
Although let's just forget that we ever liked Hawk The Slayer, okay?