One of the hottest collectibles in recent years for fans of horror films have been the numerous limited edition re-issues of classic horror film soundtracks with new cover art and deluxe packaging. This trend also sent many fans back to their local record stores and ebay in search of some of their favorite films that were immortalized on black plastic.
Two fellow fans (and journalists for Rue Morgue), Jeff Szpirglas and Aaron Lupton, decided to take it one step further and have just released a gorgeous book dedicated to the subject and it is clear that there is much to learn about the previously undocumented world of horror vinyl. In this exclusive interview, HNN speaks to Szpirglas and Lupton about their new book, which is bound to keep you spinning through numerous undiscovered gems and old favorites.
Horror News Network: What was the genesis of Blood on Black Wax?
Jeff Szpirglas: Like all good books, it began with a party. Rue Morgue holds an annual holiday party, and that was where I had spoken to Aaron, who was (and is) the magazine’s music page editor, about doing a special digest issue of the magazine devoted to soundtracks and film scores. When Rue Morgue dropped their library issues, we decided to approach various publishers about the project. It was actually then-editor Dave Alexander who brought us to 1984 Publishing. Thanks, Dave!
Aaron Lupton: I liked the idea of doing a book on horror scores because it is something I am so passionate about, I just didn’t think it would work as a collection of soundtrack reviews because the average fan wouldn’t sit down and read them all. Still, horror soundtracks are more popular than ever before right now, so I knew the time was right. When I looked around I realized that it’s because of the current reissue trend. Waxwork and Death Waltz made horror soundtracks cool via their deluxe treatment of the medium. So I honed in on that and thought we should make a book revolving around horror soundtracks on vinyl, that way the book would be as accessible as vinyl soundtracks themselves have become. We landed on an idea that was akin to the old record album books of the 60s and 70s. We wanted a book that would appeal to horror fans, record collectors, and horror art enthusiasts.
HNN: What were your first experiences with (and memories of) vinyl soundtracks?
Szpirglas: I’m more of a CD guy than a vinyl guy, and that comes from growing up with (sigh) audio cassettes. My soundtrack collection took shape during the late 80s and early 90s, when the initial vinyl releases were beginning to be reissued on compact disc with extra tracks, liner notes. CDs then had the excitement of digital preservation, portability, and a lack of tape hiss! But I did listen to vinyl, and often went crate hunting and to my local library in search of soundtracks, which is how I discovered things like Phantom of the Paradise, in part, due to its eye-catching art. Thanks, Dundas Public Library, for that one!
Lupton: I think I started buying records more in university (in high school I had no money for anything) and I can remember getting a signed copy of the Friday the 13th television series by Fred Mollin off ebay. When I started working I started collecting more and I havegreat memories of buying stuff like the Halloween III soundtrack LP for $10 and not even batting an eye. Those were the days where youwould walk into a store with $20 and walk out with The Thing and Return of the Living Dead on vinyl. In 2012 I think I was in Las Vegas over Christmas and I saw some label called Death Waltz reissued Zombi 2 on vinyl so I picked it up. Who knew that this was just the beginning of a major movement (which unfortunately lead to soundtracks becoming extremely expensive and basically impossible to find in stores).
HNN: You mention in the book how essential music and sound is to a horror film. Why do you believe the score is more important to a horror film than other genres?
Szpirglas: There’s that old saying that you can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears. But it’s true. Turn the sound off in a horror film, and you substantially diminish its impact. I don’t think this isthe same for comedy, although both flourished during the silent era. Nevertheless, the techniques that synchronous sound allow for in the horror film are notable, and often exploited by inventive filmmakers, which is why horror can do so well on a low budget – it’s the use of light, shadow, and sound that it draws fuel from. The genre’s aim is to disturb and scare, and so much of this is achieved through the rhythms of the editing, and the interplay between sound and image.
Lupton: Horror often deals with an insane array of images of situations and images, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer. Music can go a long way to selling those moments and creating a greater emotional impact that isn’t always required in other genres. But remember that horror isn’t one thing and often doesn’t even exist to be scary. Horror can be scary, gross, funny, or just atmospheric and suspenseful. Depending on what kind of movie it is, there is a lot of room for musical creativity.
HNN: Do you see the collectible market fueling this revival and the prevalence of reissues from companies such as Mondo?
Szpirglas: Absolutely. These companies have, in some ways, legitimized soundtracks that were relegated to the lower rung of soundtrack releases (how many horror films win big at the Oscars, traditionally? There’s but a handful, such as Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen). But go into a record store today, and start flipping through the soundtrack section; the proportion of horror scores to the other genres can be quite staggering.
Lupton: Absolutely it has. In the past, most horror fans would say they love horror soundtracks if you asked them, but I think the obsessive interest has really come from these labels creating cool products that horror fans just need to buy. I mean, did people really ever talk about Chuck Cirino’s Chopping Mall and or the Slumber Party Massacre soundtrack before Waxwork and Death Waltz put them out? Like I say in my intro, I am sure people are buying these records primarily as art pieces, but along the way the labels have created an interest in the music that simply was not there on the scale that it is now.
HNN: The original artwork on the covers/sleeves is another major factor in the popularity of the soundtracks (and they are displayed beautifully in the book). Which covers stood out to you once the book was finished?
Szpirglas: I do like the older covers, which I grew up with, even though they just sometimes adapted the poster art (Jaws, Re-Animator, The Howling). I love that they get to share space with fabulous art from people like Gary Pullin and Phantom City Creative. These new interpretations of classics are at least half the selling point for some of the reissues. Still, rather nerdily, one of the albums that I’m pleased made it to the book was our Bride of Frankenstein album cover, which was from a compilation released by Varese Sarabande back in the day. It uses a famous photograph from the movie, but there’s a use of font and color which is representative of other Varese compilations from the era, which to me, deemed inclusion.
Lupton: Well my opinion on the artwork did not change once the book was finished, my favorites remain the same! I don’t even know where to begin. I love the Hammer Presents Dracula LP because it just screams something that you would order away for in the back of an old monster magazine. I love The Nightmare on Elm Street LPs which used alternative poster art, or the psychedelic weirdness of The Dunwich Horror.
One of the painful parts of this book was what we didn’t show. There are some mind-blowing alternate and foreign pressings for Return of the Living Dead. Plus the vinyl itself, like the blood splattered 12-inch single for Captain Zorro’s Phantasm disco remix.
HNN: You also interviewed many composers for Black Wax. What was most surprising detail that you learned from any of them?
Szpirglas: We were instructed not to ask Lalo Schifrin any questions about The Exorcist, a film he composed a rejected score to (which you can hear on CD, but not LP – ha!). Nevertheless, when Aaron got on the phone with him, he went for broke and asked. We got a good quote!
Lupton: John Carpenter spoke to us more than he usually did. He got into stuff like Vampires which doesn’t get talked about that much. We also asked him about Alan Howarth which I know can be a touchy subject. After the interview, he invited us to meet him backstage at his upcoming Toronto show which we did. That was a dream come true for sure! I brought my soundtrack LP of The Thing which he signed for me.
HNN: Aside from orchestral scores, many of the soundtracks are well known as punk and metal compilations. Do any of these albums stand out to either of you, and why are punk and metal so synonymous with horror?
Szpirglas: I think metal’s outsider status marries well with horror. Both genres do flirt with the mainstream – which is why I have such a soft spot for glam metal – but at their core, they deal with emotions like fear and anger in cathartic ways that other genres (musical or otherwise) don’t explore. Metal and horror flourish in a hyperbolic realm that you have to embrace wholeheartedly, which might explain why both fan bases are so devotedly passionate.
Lupton: With metal, it’s because it got into dark stuff and became a focus of concerned parents groups, just like horror did. I would say heavy metal and horror movies were the two major “threats” coming out of pop culture in the 80s since both were rebellious and rotting kids mind and obviously influencing them to carry out violent acts. All of that said I think horror has more to do with punk than heavy metal. Horror doesn’t want to be mainstream because if it was, it wouldn’t be any good. That’s why the general attitude back in the day was Near Dark (featuring The Cramps on the soundtrack) was cool, Lost Boys was not. Hardcore horror fans embrace their outsider, anti-everything attitude. But of course that was the 80s and things are different now. Nobody hates Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 or The Lost Boys. As long as it’s an 80s horror movie, it’s good.
HNN: Do either of you have any other projects upcoming? Articles that you are working on for Rue Morgue?
Szpirglas: This fall there’s a horror anthology for kids coming from Orca called Tales From Beyond The Brain ,along with a few other projects for the same publisher that are in progress. Much of my writing is geared for younger readers, and it’s been slightly liberating to write for adults. I also work as an elementary school teacher full time, and am dad to a set of twins, so my days are pretty busy.
Lupton: Jeff and I have a cool idea. We’ll see.
(Left to right: Aaron Lupton, John Carpenter, and Jeff Szpirglas)
Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks on Vinyl is currently available online and in finer book stores everywhere.