Soundtracking Italian Horror Films

Italian horror soundtracks

Italian horror films and their directors have garnered a cult following not just on home turf but across the world, amassing audiences all the way to Hollywood and setting new standards for the genre. Fundamental to these movies are their soundtracks. Italian composers like Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Gaslini setting a new tone for horror films through experimental music. Ultimately, none were more influential in this field than the Italian prog-rock band, Goblin.

Originally named Oliver, then Cherry Five, Goblin found their calling when they made their first contributions to the soundtrack for 1975’s Profondo Rosso, the cult Italian horror directed by Dario Argento. A band in constant flux, the core members at that time were Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Massimo Morante (guitars) and Fabio Pignatelli (bass), and the trio were asked to produce a song or two for what would go on to be seen as a horror classic. Originally working in tandem on the score with the iconic Gaslini, they were set a challenge by Argento to write and record the entire soundtrack alone in the space of one day and one night after a disagreement between director and composer. Channelling something dark and mysterious, they accepted and excelled, rising from the challenge reborn and adorned with a new moniker. The soundtrack was an immediate global success, and like their contemporaries Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, it was as though Goblin had a direct line to Lucifer, bearing the weight of his dark message through their instruments.

Cherry Five died a very sudden death as Goblin went on to revel in their newfound purpose. In the age of prog-rock, they combined their classical musical training with haywire guitars and otherworldly electronics to create a new kind of intellectual music for the 1970s – a Rock IDM, if you like. With no literal accompaniment to their music through lyrics or vocals, Goblin garnered a sense of mystique and intrigue through the power of both their music and shadowy identities. Playing on the dichotomy of music tradition and its bad practises, dissonant minor seconds and sevenths are prominent features in their music, alongside the diabolical Tritone chord.

Arguably their greatest statement to the world was the soundtrack to Argento’s Suspiria. The cult classic propelled Goblin into place as the de facto horror film soundtrack band. Their legacy is cemented in that music, which today stands on its own as a remarkable album. From there, they went on to work with Lucio Fulci on his series of Zombi films, many foreign directors and even attempted other genres of film, but Suspiria remains their magnum opus.

It’s as if their fate was sealed in that music, a kind of strange death knell that called in the end of their time together. Shortly afterwards, they fragmented into various different factions, never to return collectively as Goblin. Even when the three founding fathers, Simonetti, Morante and Pignatelli, reunited for Argento's Tenebre in 1982 – the title track probably most familiar today as the sample from Justice’s “Phantom” – they were instead credited individually. The name “Goblin” remains buried in a shallow grave, gone but never forgotten. Curiously, no other band or composer has ever really come close to acquiring the same cult association with the horror genre – today, Goblin still inspire countless musicians, producers and artists working in many different fields. None, though, have really shown the same aptitude for conjuring up that fiendish blend of suspense, mystery and evil that made Goblin their name.