Sometime between the 1960s and 1990s the so-called “death of vinyl” was supposed to have occurred. With the 8-track, Compact-Cassette, and the CD all being introduced as cheaper and more accessible alternatives to the large and expensive vinyl record, sales were suspected to halt; factories to shut down. But, here we are post-2000s and vinyl sales are still strong (relatively speaking). In fact, new plants specializing in vinyl production are opening and sales are up 900%. Record Store Day, an annual event used to promote the production and sale of vinyl, is stronger than ever. And, now with the introduction of numerous labels focusing on vinyl soundtrack releases (both reissuing classics and releases modern scores), vinyl soundtrack records seem to be as popular as ever. As horror fans, genre fans, film fans we have an affinity for nostalgia, for the “good old days” of analog, and that is what this column is about. This column is a dedication to those days; it’s a celebration of the vinyl soundtrack (both old and new) and the companies that keep putting them out; and, if for nothing else, this column exists because artwork just looks better bigger.
If I live another 100 years I will probably come no closer to fully understanding the cult of Jess Franco. Franco is a filmmaker that I have frankly always had a problem with, although this is admittedly lightening as I become more acquainted with his work. It is neither a personal nor political but aesthetic problem, many of his film have often felt rushed or simply disinterested in form. I was first introduced to Franco in my teens. My love of Romero’s Dead trilogy — like many others — pushed me towards Zombie Flesh Eaters, which in turn had me seeking out more Italian Cinema as well as a sea of European zombie and horror flicks. One such film was Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies, a dreadful film he directed in 1981. However, Franco is far from the schlocky hack that some would love to peg him. Some of Franco’s films are fantastic — I was recently acquainted with the wonderful Eugenia and Justine thanks to Blue Underground’s fantastic Blu-ray releases (and there are a plethora of his 100-plus films that I still need to see).
If there was anything that I have generally admired about Franco, however, it is his musical tendencies. Prior to finding his calling as a filmmaker, Franco’s art of choice was music (something that is clear in his films, where music often plays a more important role than the visuals). He began orchestrating his own pieces at an early age, leading him to enroll at the Madrid Royal Conservatory to study piano and harmony. Eventually, Franco found cinema through his composing, then assistant directing, and finally directing in 1959 with the comedy We Are 18 Years Old. If Franco began his career with music, it could be said that his first love never left him. Riddled throughout the entirety of Franco’s career is a deep appreciation for melody. A product of the oppressive Franco-era Spain — the dictator Francisco Franco, not to be confused with the director — Jess seemed to exercise this former repression through lewd (and often crude) imagery; one thinks of the voyeuristic zooms and fixation with nudity. Yet even some of the most inept of his cinematographic exercises reveal a beautiful score to elevate the imagery.
Music, then, can be seen as another way that Franco rejected the repressed country of his childhood and Franco’s music of choice was typically of a jazzy and funky nature. In the same year of the aforementioned dud Oasis of the Zombies, Franco made the far more enjoyable (yet, potentially nearly as inept) Bloody Moon. On the surface, Bloody Moon is clearly Franco trying to capitalize on the recent boom of American slasher films — much as Oasis was for the zombie genre. However, regardless of how good or bad you believe the film to be, it is very hard to deny the film its soundtrack. Composed by Gerhard Heinz (composer of The Pussycat Syndrome — featured in another column post here), the record is a whopping 85 tracks, that range from classical Spanish-styled guitar work, to quick eerie and ominous beats, to upbeat funk or disco hits (sometimes combining all in a single track).
If there is one thing to note about the record it is that it is very exhausting trying to really decipher the 85 tracks from each other, only amplified by the inclusion of multiple variations on the same track. The motto here seems to be: if Heinz recorded it, it is included. The tracks tend to blend into one another, there are the funk tracks, the acoustic tracks, the ominous tracks but really the only ones that stand out greatly are those that contain lyrics. But this isn’t really a critique — and is something that can be said about many different scores, it is just amplified here by the sheer number of tracks. There is something nearly schizophrenic about the soundtrack as well, something that compliments Franco’s vision. If Franco could be characterized as a director who reveled in uneven tonalities, the collection and ordering of the tracks here pays homage to Franco in perfect form. Its messy, it doesn’t always work from beat to beat, but as a whole there is something undeniably infectious about it.
Bloody Moon has often been criticized for Heinz work. This is most likely due to the unconventional nature the music has within the Slasher subgenre. Carpenter’s synth-laden work was a major influence (as was his visuals) on the genre, and most filmmakers followed suit. Franco’s funky predilections were more suited towards his sexploitation films, and perhaps this is why some people find the film so disconcerting. However, listening to the music divorced from the imagery really only works to heighten Heinz’s real talents as a musician. Like Pussycat Syndrome — which Heinz would compose two years later — the film is completely at home in the world of funk. However, this soundtrack is a bit more diverse than the former, and gives the German-born director a bit more to work on. It’s really a fantastic listen that even some of the most livid of Franco-haters may be drawn to because of its utmost musicality. If there is one major gripe — and certainly this is a reflection of writing for film — it is that the songs could be longer. The often minute or less run lengths create a sort of fleeting connection. Much like The Pussycat Syndrome, Heinz could be said to be most capable when he is working from disco roots.
One of the reasons that Private Records should come up more in recent conversations surrounding the ‘Soundtrack Vinyl Revival Era’ is because they, more often than not, take risks with their releases. As much as I love many of the labels going today, Private have been far more prone to put out records that are not sure-fire wins, instead they are concerned with releasing records that otherwise have not seen the light of day. Bloody Moon is one such record, and this release marks the soundtracks first ever pressing. As we have come to expect from past Private Record releases, the packaging is fantastic. They boast this to be the first ever 3xLP soundtrack, and further its one of the few double gatefolds I’ve seen. I for one have always loved the gritty looks of Bloody Moon’s imagery and Private Records have excellently coopted it for the release (another aspect that many will appreciate about the label is that they do not commission new artwork like many of their contemporaries). Further, the record includes a full sized poster, something that sadly many labels opt out of including. All in all, this is a stalwart effort from a label sadly still overlooked. Bloody Moon is (for better or worse) a schizophrenic whirlwind of harmonies, one that challenges its listeners to brave the stark changes in tone and pace. However, those that are willing to invest their time towards it, I believe are rewarded for their efforts through Heinz moving him. Private Records have paid this soundtrack a great service, putting forward an immense amount of care and dedication into every facet on production.