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.
While the genre had a few precursors of note, the cannibal film was largely an Italian product that began with Umberto Lenzi’s Man from the Deep River in 1972 and, some would argue, reached perfection with the infamous release of Ruggero Deodatos’s Cannibal Holocaust eight years later. Between these films there were numerous attempts to cash in on the craze, which saw many of Italy’s most talented genre filmmakers taking a stab at it to varying degrees of success.
After Man from the Deep River, Lenzi would not abandon the genre but he did take a lengthy break, during which he worked on some of his best crime films and even dabbled in gialli and Macaroni Combat films. Just following the release of Cannibal Holocaust, however, Lenzi would return to the genre he largely bore. It’s tempting to try and write a history to say that Lenzi returned to the genre as a way of proving his worth in the face of the hysteria surrounding Deodato’s more controversial and talked about film but that would largely be inaccurate. In actuality, Lenzi’s second foray with cannibal cinema, Eaten Alive, would be released only one month following Deodato’s. That Deodato’s film would inspire such worldwide interest is largely coincidental.
Intentionality aside, Lenzi’s cannibal films almost never had the same impact as Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Personally, the cannibal genre is a mode of filmmaking that I have very little predilection for. A large percentage of them — especially Lenzi’s — feel shoddily and hastily made. At their best, they open up a somewhat interesting dialogue about Western expanse but often this message is eclipsed by the savage violence. Even the violence, however, is not always as fun as some of the other Italian genres, making the final products a bit more uneven than one would hope. Perhaps the stakes are too high, or perhaps it’s just not my genre, but whatever it is, it has just never totally connected for me.
While the films do not always connect with me I still appreciate the role they have played. And, interestingly enough, some of my favorite Italian scores come from cannibal films. Riz Ortolani’s work on Cannibal Holocaust is simply stunning. The main theme, filled with idyllic acoustic guitar work, is one of best sequences to emerge from his vast catalog. Likewise, Lenzi’s films are blessed with shockingly beautiful work.
Following the mesmerizing release of the soundtrack to Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon, Private Records are back with a release of Roberto Donati’s score for Mangiati Vivi! aka Eaten Alive!. Donati is probably better known for working on Lenzi’s more popular follow up to Eaten Alive!, Cannibal Ferox aka Make them Die Slowly but he would begin working with Lenzi (who he collaborated with three times) on this film. The soundtrack is released as part of Private Records’ Stella Edizioni Musicali imprint, which focuses exclusively on Italian scores, and has seen the release of other great works by Fabio Frizzi and Stelvio Cipriani.
To be frank, Donati’s contribution to Eaten Alive! is probably the single best feature of the film. Lenzi’s direction is not without merit but it is also not Lenzi at his best. It is easy to classify Lenzi as a hack — I have been guilty of this myself — but he has plenty of strong titles, with his best work appearing during the poliziotteschi cycle. There is a strong lack of interest in these films that shows on screen — and Lenzi has been quoted in stating that he does not think too highly of his cannibal films and that beyond Man from Deep River, he only did them for the money. Beneath the cannibal aspects, Eaten Alive! does have an interesting story and there are a wealth of beautiful travelogue-esque imagery, but the film doesn’t amount to greatness.
Donati’s score, however, does. The Italian musician-turned-composer’s contributions here are sprawling; from the synth-laden brooding tracks that feel inspired by Goblin’s work on Dawn of the Dead to disco-tinged blowouts to the more low key psychedelic numbers, it oscillates moods quite seamlessly. One of the best features of the score is just how listenable it is; this is the kind of record you can pop on your player and enjoy listening to from start to end. Because the film doesn’t conform to the genre trappings of horror, Donati is really able to open up his work, granting listeners a taste of the best of almost all Italian genre films. While certain pieces are undeniably the result of the jungle atmosphere of the film, the psychedelic rock sequences are more reminiscent of Lenzi’s earlier crime films, which is a nice treat for fans. Further, as many already know, five tracks from Cannibal Ferox (Another Donati score) also appear on this LP release, along with a few previously unreleased tracks, making this a quintessential compilation of Donati’s stylings.
Private Records originally released Donati’s score in 2014 (the first ever release for this oft-overlooked soundtrack), but after selling out they decided to reissue it in anticipation of an upcoming Blu-ray of Eaten Alive! (purported by Private Records, although I have not seen word of its release). Overall, this edition is pretty similar, with the only differences (one instead of two poster, English title donning the front cover, blue instead of green color vinyl) being mostly superficial. Those who missed out the first time around should be pleased with this new release and would be smart to act quick. While this release may not be quite as extensive as some of Private’s previous ventures, it still represents the top-notch quality the label strives for. Donati’s work on Eaten Alive! is a bit like a synthesis of Italian genre composition, combining over two decades of style into a single, cohesive whole. Regardless of one’s personal tastes on the cannibal genre, it is hard to imagine fans of Italo disco and the likes not connecting with Donati’s riveting work on Eaten Alive! and packaged and presently in beautiful form by Private Records, this release is a sure-fire pleaser.