Day of The Dead Soundtrack
Melodic 80’s synth gold with ghoul-blasting, gut-spilling rhythms to die and return from the grave for
5SRP: £12.39Finally released with the moniker of “Expanded Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” comes John Harrison’s initially camp-dividing synth-laden score for George Romero’s Day of the Dead. But this is actually the complete score as written for the film by Harrison from the project’s very early conception when Romero had famously lofty ambitions for his trilogy end-piece that were, sadly, never to come to pass.
A 2-CD release from La La Land, this contains the complete score on the first disc and the original album presentation, with the truncated music arranged in “suites” over on the second disc. For me this is one of the best score releases of the year, with Harrison going back to the original 24-track recordings and remixing them with Michael Farrow to produce the definitive version of Day’s soundtrack in scintillatingly crisp and clear clarity.
Just why is this score so damn good and so hugely worth your hard-earned cash for this limited edition complete soundtrack double-disc set, then?
Because it is melodic 80’s synth gold with ghoul-blasting, gut-spilling rhythms to die and return from the grave for, that’s why. Although it may have been shied-away from at the time – as was the film, itself – this is actually one of the best synthesized scores from that decade. It contains all the action, rhythms and hypnotic beat that we all love about John Carpenter’s electronic scores from Assault on Precinct 13 to They Live, but it has the power, resonance, heart and soul and sheer atmospherics of Vangelis’ Blade Runner and The Bounty. Clever, sly, innocent, furious at times, and deeply affecting as a musical experience even divorced from the strong visual storytelling of Romero’s movie, it tells the tale of the traumatic last days of a fledgling group of volatile survivors who are massively divided in attitude and behavior and become, as always, the metaphor for the fall of mankind.
John Harrison, long-time friend, collaborator, extra and ally to Gory George A. Romero composed and performed a superb Caribbean flavoured score describing not only the end of the world and man’s inevitable turning upon himself in the mad desperation of a civilization irrevocably lost, but the sunny optimism that can still be fostered in the hearts of some lost and beleaguered souls in spite of the most nightmarish situations unfolding around them. There is hope and despair here. There is melodic beauty and skin-crawling atmospherics. There is also pulsating action with an infectiously catchy vibe that is simply irresistible. Whereas Night of the Living Dead had musical cues devised by Romero and Dawn of the Dead had that unique combination of Goblin and extensive library tracks, Day is completely original and written specifically for the film and follows its onscreen action and moods with sublime and affecting efficiency.
Harrison had a screwdriver rammed through his ear as a zombie-extra in Dawn of the Dead. He also appeared in Romero’s chaotic motorcycle revamp of the legend of King Arthur and Camelot in Knightriders. He assumed greater command of the scoring duties on Creepshow than was originally intended, providing grand and over-the-top music in a thick but still traditional style, and when the call came through requesting that he supply the music for Romero’s long-awaited finale to the zombie trilogy in Day of the Dead he leapt at the chance. History knows that Romero would make three more movies in this cycle, but the Pittsburg auteur would lose his way quite catastrophically in the subsequent yarns, so we are best forgetting them for now. Day of the Dead was always meant to be the concept’s curtain-call. But for budgetary reasons, the original Romero vision for “The Darkest Day of Horror the World has ever Known” was curtailed, shortened and robbed of its epic grandeur. Whilst Harrison was on-board right from the very start, in the sort of luxury that most composers do not find themselves blessed with, and composed ideas for the larger story, he adored his time working on the film, even relocating to the Pennsylvanian mine/bunker that the film was mostly staged in with the rest of the cast and crew for a spell of almost five months to get the full mood and tone of what was happening and how his original ideas could evolve with a screenplay that had now been chopped off at the knees, and would suffer further revision.
Given the film’s setting down in the Florida Everglades, and the ideology of the affable Jamaican chopper pilot John (Terry Alexander), Harrison had always had the notion of layering-in a Caribbean lilt and a strong percussive beat, and even as the story altered he found this concept impossible to shake. The music would flow with lyrical calypso-like harmonies, odd phrasings and marimbas and pound away with driving, unstoppable rhythms for the dead on the move and the inevitable invasion of the survivors’ sanctuary. The resulting score would take audiences by surprise. People possibly expected something more orchestral for a change and less rock-based than Dawn. They may have anticipated much more in the way of creepy, traditional shock material. What they got was incredibly potent, nonetheless, and tremendously exciting as well as being unmistakably funky at the same time.
Harrison’s themes and driving rhythms take over and this becomes a glorious tour de force of synth, percussion and tonal shifts
Romero’s truncated film finds the military, under the command of the aggressive, fascistic Rhodes (an excellent Joe Pilato), very barely co-existing alongside a small scientific team in what should be the relative safety of a huge underground silo situated somewhere along the Florida coast. Rhodes and his gun-toting goons – Gary Howard Klar as Steel, Ralph Marrero as Rickles and Savini’s buddy Taso Stavrakis as Torrez - being his most trusted trio of confederate cohorts – are immediately at loggerheads with the boffins headed-up by Richard Liberty’s Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan because they don’t see the point of risking their lives to round-up zombie subjects for him to experiment on. With the seeming lack of results – no cure for the plague is on the horizon – tensions are riding extremely high. Lori Cardille’s Dr. Sarah Bowman is in a very precarious position as the only woman in the facility in the company of a bunch of hot-headed, argumentative, fully-loaded redneck grunts forever on the warpath. She has a fragile relationship with distraught, stress-overloaded soldier Miguel (Tony Dileo Jnr.) which is set to combust and set in-motion a chain of events that will see the zombies eventually overrun the establishment. John Amplas (the vampiric Martin in Romero’s earlier movie) as Dr. Fisher hovers on the periphery of the firestorm that is about to erupt. As the situation steadily worsens, Rhodes’ dictatorship becomes ever more deadly, and the battle-lines are drawn. And this conflict between the army and the scientists is further complicated by the world-weary yet affably resigned ideologies of John and whisky-swigging radio-operator Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), who sort of shares his pragmatic and more spiritual view of the situation.
The final stretch of the movie sees Miguel lose the plot entirely and perform the self-sacrificial act of letting the zombies topside come down into the facility, getting himself devoured in the process, and the undead then overwhelming the bunker and chowing-down on all the baddies in short, but poetic order. The good guys, in something of a rare humanistic and hopeful conclusion for Romero manage to band together and survive, escaping in the helicopter and finally making it to that fabled island in the sun … to start afresh. Glib? Perhaps. But this was condensed from something that would have been more revelatory, shocking and profound has the backers had the courage to fund Romero’s original vision.
Harrison’s themes and driving rhythms take over and this becomes a glorious tour de force of synth, percussion and tonal shifts that knock the wind out of you, and still manage to then pick you up with a sense of fatigued jubilation and victory. For anyone that decries the use of the synth in 80’s soundtracks – John Carpenter justifiably exempt from any charges anyway – then just listen to how John Harrison blends dread, action, pathos, heroism, promise and dark comeuppance into an unstoppable and instantly addictive succession of pounding ostinato, staunch militaristic folly and haunting, ghostly melancholy all rounded-off with a quirky yet perfect calypso lilt. It is a combination that no other composer would have come up with … and I guess it shouldn’t really work. But, man, it does. After the filming, during which time he came up with many of the ideas and themes that would become signature to the film, he remained in Pittsburgh and locked himself away in a recording studio a few floors down from where Pasquale Buba and George Romero were editing the film, with synths, piano and an electronic drum-machine. They would pass him VHS tapes of the footage and he would barrel through the material like a demon on speed, passing his music back to them and, more often than not, meeting with approval. As Harrison, himself, says, Romero makes a good music editor due to the way in which he would cobble together library tracks and make the stew something new, fresh and unique. Romero is a huge collector of movie soundtracks too, so he has a real appreciation for what a composer – a rare delight for him on this picture – can bring to a film and properly constructive and collaborative ideas. Harrison even had some say on the editing of the film, arguing with Buba that a moment during the opening street-gathering montage featuring a hanged man who had returned as a zombie and was struggling to get free, be cut for timing and practicality. Harrison even watched as the alligator used in the sequence got angry and threw a wrangler into the air.
Whatever dreams Romero had for his third zombie-thon, and however these may have dissipated in the hot air from skittish financiers who halved the budget because the auteur wouldn’t shift from putting out an unrated film and the R-rated feature they wanted, the final act of Day of the Dead is simply stunning, and this is down to every component that went into it. The performances, the action, the stomach-churning FX from Tom Savini, the exquisite editing from Pasquale Buba, the poetic demises of a slew of characters … and, of course, the insistent musical accompaniment from John Harrison.
Let’s study how the score integrates, charges, empowers and ultimately heightens what we see onscreen.
Immediately, you will be struck with the impressive depth and detail and sheer gleaming quality of the sound of this new release. Every note, every chord, every synthesized wobble, jolt or stinger is pin-sharp. The percussion elements are finely separated, the incredible array of effects, emulations and synthetics have warmth and delicacy, enabling every pitch alteration, every spectral shimmer and glimmer to shine with stunning definition.
We enter the film and the score during a surrealistic dream sequence (largely used in the film’s ad campaign) in which Sarah approaches a calendar on the wall only to have a multitude of putrid, blackened zombie hands plunge through it and grope for her, the music hums and sizzles with suspenseful SF sounding synth wisps, bubbling away in an oscillating warble that, quite cunningly, sounds like the rotors of a helicopter. And, of course, Sarah awakens in shock in the back of a helicopter, the impression that the music giving that we have been there all the time, Harrison already dropping hints and foreshadows of the bigger picture. The cue then morphs into what will become the consistent heartbeat of the score – a doom-laden rapid beat strikes up, and this is then embellished with a dazzling reggae vibe, sampled bongos and tom-toms elaborating the sunnier environment that we find the helicopter flying through. There is slight presence of a growling guitar in here as well as plaintiff piano notes and a wall of sampled strings that moves in surges of swelling anxiety, introducing us to desperate people living on the brink of the apocalypse.
Harrison enhances instances such as this with spooky synth wailings that sound like foghorns that have been dragged underwater, percussive licks and drum-pads
The opening of the film then reveals evidence of the epic scale that Romero was hankering for when the good guys touch down in a Florida town in their helicopter to hail any other possible human survivors that they can lift to safety. All they find, however, is “a dead place” as John informs his comrades as the moaning of the zombies, attracted by the sound of the bullhorn, rises above the whine of the rotors and the chopper’s engine. John Harrison delivers this barren, dangerous world to us in a suitably extended first track, Day of the Dead Main Title. Brilliantly cut with the visuals, the beat now slows down and gains weight and intensity. A heartbeat on synth-pads, cranked-up with more tones and pulses. We see ominous signs of the town’s collapse and traces of its last days – a newspaper is lifted by the breeze to reveal the headline The Dead Walk! Harrison enhances instances such as this with spooky synth wailings that sound like foghorns that have been dragged underwater, percussive licks and drum-pads. The infamous Dr. Tongue, a super Tom Savini animatronic zombie with its lower jaw entirely removed and its fully exposed tongue curling about in the morning air suddenly shambles into view, obscuring the sun as the film’s title is displayed on the screen. A sound like a dying siren accompanies him.
Then we hear the score’s main theme motif played apprehensively on synth. It is a gorgeous lament for three notes repeated, which are then extended to five and subsequently rise in pitch, giving an earnest quality of hopeless courage. Harrison has shimmering chimes fall in behind this, slow metallic clashes and deep bass rumbles too. As the group now realize that there is nobody left alive here and decide to re-board the chopper and head back to the underground silo, the catchy Caribbean beat returns, but with a slightly darker tone, suggestive of disappointment and the futility of these rescue missions.
This large opening track has delivered lots of motifs and ideas that will be repeated and expanded upon, plus it has delivered the main theme that will return, with vigour, during the final act. It is a stunning introduction to the musical mood of Romero’s film that totally assimilates and exemplifies the hopes and fears, psychological tension and dread, and the sense of the inevitable that the characters all share.
A gong, whispery flutters and quasi-exotic percussion percolate around a sensitive rendition of the main theme as Sarah Sees Graves upon their arrival back at the silo, meaning that they have lost the outpost’s leader, Major Cooper. Zombies gather outside the fence that rings the facility off from the outside world. Droning synth mysterioso accompanies the group’s descent into the base on the huge elevator in First Cave Entry, signifying the strange microcosmic world that lurks below.
In Zombies Approach/Capturing Zombies, the undead are summoned from the deep, dark caverns to the corral, where the soldiers can tether and trap them, gathering specimens for Dr. “Frankenstein” to work on. The first part of the track has Harrison evoking the vast and echoing eeriness of the caves with glacial tones and dislocated, ghostly synth. The size of the place and its cold danger is stunningly captured by this ominous treatment of watery percussive tones and oppressively forlorn notes, and glimmering layers suggestive of the dampness and the dripping rocks. The second part, as the soldiers’ obscene hullabaloo attracts the dead, has deep, clangorous wallops suggestive of the shambling gait of the zombies. This fantastically crisp rendition now really enjoys the clarity of the chimes that echo alongside these stark percussive thuds, creating a truly jangling frisson. Good stereo separation here too.
When Miguel loses control of an ensnared zombie and it almost gets free to attack them, the strong synth beat and foghorn wail return with added aggression and urgency. In You Almost Killed Rickles, the brutish Steel attacks Miguel for his error, and this stark military aspect of the film is then borne by snare-like rolls that snap against organic-sounding beats and a ringing bell effect that seems to marking time as Sarah gets the embittered Miguel back to their quarters. Harrison then softens things with drifting tones of melancholy in Sarah Dopes Miguel as she manages to inject the traumatized soldier with a tranquiliser. Although lovers, we can see the writing on the wall for these two, and the track fades away with regret and discontent as Miguel goes into a dejected meltdown.
The softer, lyrical version of the main theme gets the reggae treatment, and we are grateful for the lull in the aggressive, demonstrative attitude
In the next track, three cues line up as we encounter Dr. Logan and his bizarre experiments in the lab. Long tones glide over odd tinkles and quirky swirls as Sarah goes to find the errant scientist in Where’s Frankenstein? Celebrated central zombie Bub (a terrific performance from Howard Sherman) suddenly looms out of the shadows at her to clattering synthesized cymbals in Bub Scares Sarah and further shocks come her way when she discover that Logan is actually conducting warped brain-work on the barely identifiable body of Major Cooper – “He’s serving us more now than he ever did when he was alive,” Logan justifies – and another test subject breaks its bonds and rises from an operating table, its innards falling to the floor with a slop in Zombie Spills His Guts. Logan casually puts a drill through its skull, and Harrison maintains an aura of stunned darkness and confusion with high-pitched wavering synth. Bub has his own quaint motif and it is briefly heard here.
“Sit down, or so help me God, I’ll have you shot!”
Rhodes’ paranoia and unpredictability escalate in the tense meeting he has everyone attend. Informing them how things are going to be run from now on, and how he wants results, the foul-mouthed despot infuriates Sarah with his attitude and attempts to leave. In fury at such insubordination Rhodes order Steel, Shoot That Woman. When Steel jokingly points his finger at her and goes “Bang! You’re dead!”, Rhodes pulls his own gun on the guy and threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t carry out the order.John intervenes and implores Sarah to sit back down, knowing that the soldier will indeed kill her if she doesn’t comply. This heart-stopping sequence is genuinely powerful and Pilato, who constantly reminds of me U2’s Bono, reveals a depth of psychosis that is marrow-freezing, albeit brilliantly asserted with a slight hint of camp. A difficult trick to pull off, but one that Pilato excels at. Snares back up Rhodes and his tyrannical campaign, a sizzling tone retreating in the wake of each of these flurries. Tense, high tones glisten over the top. The track ends with a dark, somber phrase for deep sliding synth as Rhodes rams home his threat that anybody messing with his command will be court-martialed and executed. “You better believe I mean it too, people.”
The mood twists around again after the meeting is over and the Caribbean flavor returns when John Warns Sarah about how dangerous Rhodes and the situation is becoming. Part of his philosophy on life comes out here as he tries to inform the scientist that People Got Different Ideas about what they want, and then he and McDermott retreat to their trailer-park hideaway, leaving Sarah with more to ponder on. The softer, lyrical version of the main theme gets the reggae treatment, and we are grateful for the lull in the aggressive, demonstrative attitude. With a brief return to the zombie ostinato and a paralyzing sustain from the synth, Sarah Hallucinates that Miguel rises from his bed, his torso opening-up and his own intestines spilling out, and then, after she and the depressed soldier have another argument, she kicks him out and then leaves for a walk to cool down, and has to be rescued from an ugly fracas amongst Rhodes’ drunken men by McDermott. At his invitation, she joins him on a Walk to the Ritz, the more comfortable and welcoming encampment that he and John have constructed in the trailer park. The tone lifts again with the reggae beat from sampled tom-toms and drums and shakers adding a pleasant jaunt to the trip through the caves. A delightful steel-drum effect plays the hopeful theme for John and his ideas of escaping to an island and starting over. This carries on with a soothing grace in Sarah at the Ritz until a vague hint of Bub’s motif creeps in as John and the scientist seek to find some common ground over their situation. This is to remind that the threat is not only from the renegade Rhodes, but from the zombies as well. We may be in more convivial surroundings but this is still a deep, dark cave they are hiding in.
“He visited a curse upon us … so we might find out what hell is like.”
In John Lectures Harrison weaves a mournful sense of drama and gravity into the softer Caribbean vibe, the synth wailing like a saddened dog, and then in What Hell Is Like these darker tones glisten with foreboding as John details his beliefs that the Lord is punishing Mankind. His opinions and the reggae-style of his Rastafarian outlook echo the words of Ken Foree’s SWAT hero, Peter, about his Granddaddy in Trinidad and the influence of voodoo in Dawn of the Dead. These glistening tones continue until the track fades, providing an elegiac variation on the main theme.
Fans will no doubt appreciate Harrison’s ghostly, playful homage to library track “The Gonk” from the DeWolfe music library that made such a giddily enjoyable and surreal impression in Dawn of the Dead for comical shambling polka of the undead in the mall. Here, it comes in with a semi-ghostlike rendition at the start of Logan Teaching Bub when Frankenstein informs a naughty zombie chained to the wall to think about what he’s done, before turning the lights out on him and locking him away. Then he moves on to his champion zombie, the great and responsive Bub and gives him a razor to see if he can remember what to do with it. Logan, Sarah and Dr. Fisher look on, impressed with his powers of recollection as he mimes shaving his face. Bub’s motif is toned-down in Bub Learning, lending it a more glacial and reflective quality as he picks up a Stephen King book (Pet Sematery) and flicks through the pages, and then picks up a telephone receiver and attempts to repeat a phrase after Logan’s prompting. Harrison gives his motif a panpipe effect, keeping it strangely exotic. The track shimmers with promise until Rhodes and his men enter the scene and Bub stands to attention and salutes him, and the sense of hope and charity evaporates when Rhodes refuses to return the gesture. In the film, the startling moment when Logan hands Bub an unloaded automatic and the zombie points it at Rhodes for his disrespect, with the Captain aiming his own revolver at Bub is scored with tense snares and synth. These elements appear to have been culled from elsewhere in the soundtrack, as they do not feature here.
“But is he alive or dead? Well, that’s the question, these days, isn’t it? Let’s just say that I allow him to exist.”
Later, Logan is forced to defend his experiments and his “progress” with Bub in another group meeting with the military commander. In a daring moment of poignancy, Logan offers the complete antithesis of Rhodes’ beliefs when he asserts that the zombies’ good behaviour must be rewarded. Although a watered-down version of trained zombie army that Romero wanted to portray, this clearly implies two things – one, that they could be used as weapons, servants, pets, and, two, that Bub shows more discipline and morality than Rhodes and his goofball partisans. The long, groaning Backwards Chord then removes to another zombie-wrangling session at the corral. This is where everything goes pear-shaped for the humans in the bunker. In Miller Dies Harrison delivers an aggressive take on the main theme, the scene pounding with chiming percussion, grinding bass and an electric guitar growl. The beat quickens when a female zombie breaks its neck-bond and heads straight for one of the troopers, Miller, and tears his throat out. Miller’s gun goes off and blasts another soldier, Johnson, played by FX-man Greg Nicotero, who is now one of the producers and makeup men on TV’s The Walking Dead. Nicotero was also helped give animation to various dismembered zombies in the lab scenes. The music sours and becomes more tragic as the dying Miller begs Steel to shoot him so he won’t return as a zombie, which Steel does. The synth is jagged and harsh as the odds between the military and the scientific brigade are slightly evened-up.
It is not exactly angelic, but it is weirdly beatific
After it has all gone badly wrong at the corral, with several men dead and Miguel Bitten desperate measures must be taken. Miguel has run off in a blind panic. John intercepts him and takes him to the ground, where his struggling is cut short by Sarah lovingly smacking him over the head with a rock. Calmly, swiftly, Sarah takes John’s machete and hacks Miguel’s arm off to help stop the infection spreading. She then cauterizes the stump with a flaming torch. Harrison scores all this with that steady beat. Gentle, at first. The beat struck up on glimmering gongs, but as the mercy act proceeds, other tones join in and the track becomes heavier, ultimately grinding with the electric guitar entering, and things turn sour again as the soldiers, now with Rhodes, show up with intentions of executing Miguel. The track ends with a long undulating hum as a game-changing standoff ensues.
“We’re getting to make this a habit, ya know … pointin’ guns at one another.”
After making a frantic plea to Rhodes, promising that Miguel will be kept in the wagon park and that she’ll take care of him if he turns, Sarah Breaks Down. Melancholy tones glide, and a fragile, glassy rendition of the main theme is heard.
The dream/hallucinatory motif returns in Logan’s Lab as Sarah and McDermott investigate what the good doctor has been doing. They find a soldier’s severed and zombified head, Johnson’s by the looks of things, kept alive with electrodes, a ghastly illustration of science gone crazily awry. This oscillating phrase then moves into dark and dreamy tonal plateaus as further discoveries yield the bodies of other soldiers kept on ice and regularly hacked-up as Beef Treats to reward test zombies who have done well, namely Bub, the star pupil. A middle cue entitled Logan’s Madness reinforces the extent of Frankenstein’s experiments, although there is a suggestion of charity, ethereal transcendence and success as we observe how Bub responds to hearing Beethoven through a pair of headphones. We can see the bond between Bub and Logan, and we know that Bub is something pretty special – he doesn’t want to eat Logan, for a start. When you contrast Logan’s attitude with the one-eyed scientist seen on the TV in Dawn of the Dead, it is apparent that real promise is shown down here in the forgotten silo at the end of the world. Romero had such grandiose plans for all of this … you could weep for what could have been. A nice touch here, as well, is the vocal-like effect of a wordless female choir. It is not exactly angelic, but it is weirdly beatific. We aren’t supposed to agree with what Logan has accomplished, but we can’t help being mesmerized by his attachment to Bub, and the zombie’s own burgeoning emotions, rekindled from beyond the grave.
Things rapidly go from bad to worse when Rhodes, with typically crucial timing shows up and finds what Logan has been up to when Rickles opens up the freezer to reveal the bodies. In Those Are My Men, the renegade captain, with perhaps some understandable justification this time, executes Dr. Frankenstein with machinegun-fire, the scientist ending up alongside the chopped-up corpses.Shocked tones for the synth bend over a sustained bass line, and a brassy emulation squalls out at the end as Rhodes turns his aggression towards the rest of the civilian team. They now have Sarah, McDermott and Fisher in their clutches.
A doomed, glassy interpretation of the main theme, in minor mode, accompanies Miguel’s Decision, as the soldier realizes that he has only option left. The brief cue ends with the dream/hallucination motif, suggesting that perhaps he doesn’t really comprehend what he is doing at all.
“This is a great big, fourteen-mile-long tombstone. With an epitaph on it that nobody gonna read.”
We can all point to the likes of Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Alan Silvestri and Michael Giacchino, and many other composers from much earlier in the golden and silver ages of film scoring who have ignited passions and emotions in even the most threadbare and corny of films with their beautifully constructed and performed scores. But no matter how many players they were writing for and, in some cases, conducting also, you cannot raise their endeavours above the heart and soul, pumping aggression and synergetic dynamism and hypnotic power and grace that Harrison gathers from Track 20 to Track 27, in which he marshals a nonstop fusillade of rock-based action, Caribbean beat, swirling spookiness and heroism and bleak, yet long-awaited retribution. How he fuses heartbreak with catchy, full-throttle slaughter is nothing short of miraculous.
“Chopper can’t hold us all.”
“Us all ain’t going.”
There are ominous SF tones and a veil of ghostly, ethereal ambience
If you listen to Chopper Can’t Hold Us All, you will hear a little reflection of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music in there at the half-way mark when the main action motif kicks off. Something in the tempo and beat and the sound of the cymbal being brushed. But, regardless of such similarities, this is the beginning of the pulsating zombie ostinato that will consume the majority of the rest of the score, albeit with development, evolution and a few deviations along the way. Drum-machine, taps, shivers of synth and the watery percussive rendition of the main theme flit and dance about the score as Rhodes try to force John into flying them out them of there. He executes Fisher with a shot to the head, and he has Sarah and McDermott locked inside the corral as the zombies approach. When John tries to bargain for their lives, Rhodes has Steel start knocking him about to persuade him otherwise. Sarah and McDermott are forced to run for their lives into the caverns. The main theme begins to pound with even more urgency and deliberation as John takes a beating, a piano-enhanced beat accompanying Steel’s obvious enjoyment at putting in the pain. Suddenly, the siren indicating that the main elevator to the surface is in-motion alarms the group. Miguel has opened the breach to the silo and is going to allow the zombies in. Rhodes sends off Steel and Rickles to find out what is happening. Whilst the beat remains steady, Harrison allows high-pitched accents to shiver across the top in panicky blurts. These elements will go on to play a major part in the forthcoming bedlam. Bub’s theme returns at the end of the track as the zombie-with-a-soul frees himself from his chains. A tremendous track of muscle, might and menace.
There are ominous SF tones and a veil of ghostly, ethereal ambience in Laugh in the Dark as Sarah and John are forced to move through the dark caverns, besieged by the odd lurching zombie from the shadows. Named after the Savini gag “Laff in the Dark” in which John chops through a zombie’s head with a shovel and sends the noggin, from the top jaw upwards flopping across the ground, where it comes to rest, upside down but with its eyes still moving, this track features unnerving glass-bowl effects and synth hisses to add spooky texture. This undulating, echoing sense of eerie dislocation continues in Fight to Survive in which we hear the actual music that accompanies this unusual beheading – bleating, agonized synth shrieks and dark, paralyzing chords.
Steel and Rickles discover that Miguel has sabotaged the elevator controls, leaving only the handheld operating device in his possession, meaning that they are trapped down there now. Fix It … You Can’t Fix It continues the pounding zombie beat as Rickles implores his friend in vain to repair the controls. The beat intensifies and the main theme takes on a harsher tone as we watch as the gates up-top are opened and Miguel Lets ‘em In, allowing the zombie horde to pursue him back to the elevator, where he lies down and allows them to feast upon him, hitting the handheld control to bring hell back down to those below. Meanwhile, John has managed to knock both Torrez and Rhodes out and arm himself and go after Sarah and McDermott. The two soldiers awaken to the sound of the siren and rush to the elevator deck. The track ends with Rhodes and his men gaping in horror as the elevator descends again … filled with ravenous zombies. Harrison never lets up the funky beat of drum-machine and synth pads drop, but he heightens it all with the main theme’s doomed cadence.
When Rhodes Leaves His Men Behind at the sight of the unwanted guests and takes off in one of those little golf-carts into the warren of passageways, so begins the last stand of Torrez, Rickles and Steele. The three opening notes of the main theme hammer their way in, repeated over and over as the zombies all enter the facility. But in the middle of this, we have Bub finally stumbling across the dead body of Logan, the human he saw as his master, teacher and his friend. In a complete role reversal that is one of Romero’s crowning glories in the series, Bub is consumed by grief – a zombie showing true emotions, and certainly more affection than any of the humans. As Harrison’s mournful synth and sampled strings mourn in distress, Bub drools and wails, but he spies the guns on the floor that were taken from Sarah and McDermott, weapons that he demonstrated he knew how to use. The second cue in the track, Zombie Overrun details a crackerjack set-piece of exhilaration and mutilation as the three soldiers are each separated and surrounded by zombies. Taso Stavrakis’ Torrez gets his head hauled off his shoulders and then carried off like a bowling ball to the full primary theme, the pitch lifting as his vocal chords are stretched and his scream becomes a piercing shriek. This little segment involving poor Torrez, who was never that nasty anyway, is actually one of my favourite cues in the score (as well as being a jaw-dropping moment in horror cinema, as well). I love the way that the theme rises, the pace quickens and Harrison embraces the all-out Grand Guignol of the moment without resorting to standard stingers. He is maintaining the overall momentum with absolute control, the music searing and intense and yet so damned catchy!
The tone changes again as we see Rickles, near hysterical, running around in desperately ever-decreasing circles as the zombies close in. Actually giggling with insanity, he runs out of ammo for his assault rifle and hurls it down, falling back on his automatic for some misplaced and uncoordinated body-shots. Finally converged upon, he is dragged down and his face and head raggedly torn open, and his fingers bitten off. One final shot splatters a zombie’s head into the camera and then Rickles is gone, too. We are watching men getting chewed-up by zombie mobs and yet our foot is tapping the whole time.
“Rhodes, goddamn it, open this door!”
It may be The End of Steel, but the big tough ox is not going to go down without a fight. Of all the characters who run out of bullets, he is the only one who doesn’t simply discard the weapon, knowing that he can still get more ammo. A bit more sensible, that. Mind you, it’s not going to save him, is it?
The music reaches a brazen crescendo for guitar, sampled tom-toms and synth, howling defiance as Steel meets his maker
We get an electric guitar solo from Grant Geissman as Steele retreats from insurmountable numbers of the undead. This accompanies shots of the various lead zombies – the clown, the midget footballer (who actually comes into the complex from two separate ways, the elevator and the corral!) and the lady in the floppy sunhat – as they make their way after him through the corridors into the admin complex. Synth helps wail along with the screeching guitar. Steel rounds a corridor and there’s Bub at the end of it … and the zombie is quicker getting a shot off. Steel is forced to dart into one of the offices. Harrison uses a ponderous drum and synth-pad version of Bub’s motif as the zombie’s silhouette appears behind the screen on the door. Steel taunts him and is about to shoot when another zombie attacks him from behind, tearing a chunk out of his neck. As more of the undead surge into the room, the injured Steel retreats to the corner, places the barrel in his mouth and blows himself away rather than be eaten alive. The music reaches a brazen crescendo for guitar, sampled tom-toms and synth, howling defiance as Steel meets his maker. The scenes changes to the caves and more eerie glacial tones and percussive echoes as John takes out more zombies as he searches for his friends in the dark. In this section Harrison pays homage to Harry Manfredini’s famous chee-chee-chee-a-ha-ha-haaa motif from Friday the 13th. He cites the fully electronic and experimental score to the classic Forbidden Planet (from Bebe and Louis Barron) as being an inspiration for the alien sounds he wanted to use to convey the isolation of those endless caves. Well, in an impressionistic sort of way, I can see where he’s coming from, but his material is definitely a different beast.
Another pure standout track comes in Heroes Escape in which John manages to reach the trapped Sarah and McDermott and help them blast their way to the emergency exit of the cavern-silo. With the elevator “Temporarily out of service” they are forced to climb the long ladder to the sunny surface, but zombies still assail them. The zombie action motif is in full swing – and it is impossible to keep still while it is playing. John, the last to take the ladder, is suddenly attacked by a clutching zombie that grabs his legs and drags him back down. He tries to blow it away but his guns are empty. As the thing’s mouth gets ever-nearer to his flesh its head erupts in a welter of gore, even more garish because of the glow from the red emergency light. McDermott has killed it in the nick of the time. “Come on, Johnny,” he says, “we’re counting on you to fly us to the Promised Land.” The percussion, sampled drums and bongos and the heavy, rapid synth beat builds and builds throughout this drama until reaching a euphoric crescendo of Trance-like intensity as John realizes that they can really make a getaway from this hell-hole. As the pilot throws his stolen revolvers back down to the floor, Harrison has this heroic/blissful cadence develop into something gloriously upbeat, yet still insistently propelling the characters and us up into the light. We have had the Night, been through the Dawn and now, in Romero’s most hopeful gesture, we can quite literally as well as spiritually enter the Day. I know that some people instantly despise synth/percussion and drum scores, but I would urge them to give this a shot because Harrison achieves so much within what many consider to be a very limiting and bogus alternative to full orchestral scoring. There is so much warmth and depth and emotion caught up in this.
In the film’s most notorious sequence, the fleeing Rhodes, now alone in the complex, takes up some fresh weapons and ammo and tries to make good his escape. But the vengeful Bub blocks his way. In panic and anger, Rhodes in unable to jam a magazine into his M16 and turns to run as Bub begins to take pot-shots at him. A bullet catches him in the shoulder and he drops the gun and the ammo. As Bub Stalks Rhodes the fascist captain struggles down the corridor, taking another round in the back, and finding only locked doors urges the zombie onwards and calls him names, his own sanity slipping away. With only one door left at the end of the hall, Rhodes has no choice but to go for it. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Well, Rhodes doesn’t … and when he flings open that last door he is confronted by a mob of zombies who all eagerly reach out for him. Bub shoots him one more time but, unmercifully, it doesn’t end his suffering and the Zombies Rip Rhodes. As they take him down to the floor and, in the film’s most outrageous gore-gag, literally tear him in two and haul out his guts, Bub silently and mockingly salutes him. Rhodes still has the last word, though and gurgles “Choke on ‘em! Choke on ‘em!” before expiring in a bloody mess.
Harrison scores all of this with Rhodes’ snares, the lurching, slower zombie beat, dirge-like organ chords and, as the door opens to reveal the nightmare on the other side, stinging belches of electronic that rush and slash in descending order as Rhodes is taken down. Bub’s motif is restated as the zombie flips his antagonist the final salute.
Finally, On The Beach brings in the gentlest, most peaceful and lyrical interpretation of John’s reggae vibe as we discover him, McDermott and Sarah alive and well on the white sands of some island paradise. Tranquility greets us in full Caribbean flava, Harrison adding lots of soothing chimes and jingles to the conclusion.
“Shame on you. There's plenty to do. Plenty to do, so long as there's you and me and maybe some other people. We could start over, start fresh, get some babies...”
stinging belches of electronic that rush and slash in descending order as Rhodes is taken down
Over on CD 2, we have the original album release presentation that John Harrison put together as a series of suites. Lasting for nearly forty minutes and broken down into 3 main tracks with two songs coming afterwards – If Tomorrow Comes and The World Inside Your Eyes – both performed by Sputzy Sparacino and Modern Man to music composed by Harrison, this is still a fantastic tour through Romero’s Day of the Dead, with all the key motifs present, and the set-pieces re-jigged and mixed into a listening experience that is separate from the film, yet fully illustrative of its core action and character. There is also the suite entitled The Dead Walk which is Modern Man’s groovier, more popish take on Harrison’s main theme. This is great stuff again. The synth is more angular, more tinkly at times, and the beat is altogether softer, but this is an enjoyable toe-tapping riff in the 80’s Euro synth band mode.
The track The World Inside Your Eyes is based upon the soft, lilting Jamaican theme that ends the film in On The Beach and it plays over the end credits. The lyrics are actually very touching to this ballad, and if Harrison’s score hadn’t already done so then this is the piece that would really set Day of the Dead apart from its predecessors.
An excellent 24-page illustrated booklet charts the production of the film and the score and how both Romero and Harrison approached their duties, with detailed notes from Jeff Bond. Both filmmaker and composer get to have their say about how it all turned out with Romero being surprisingly defensive and a little bit over-the-top. I recall all too well the reaction to Day of the Dead when it arrived both in American and then eventually UK cinemas, and how fans responded to the score as well. I don’t know anyone that didn’t like the music, although I know plenty who felt let down by the movie. I adored both, and I my affection for them has only grown over the years. The film is not what it was envisaged as being, but it works brilliantly as a parable of Man’s futility, desperation, resilience and indomitable optimism. Harrison’s score embellishes and heightens the situation, the characters, the motivations and the hopes and despair that they all have to absolute perfection. Once again, as regular readers will know, despite my undying fondness for synth scores, I still prefer full orchestral music to samples and electronica … but this is the precisely the sort of synthetic score that turns such an opinion on its head. Like Vangelis and Carpenter and Jarre, Harrison reaches deep into the psyche with his music, finding that secret plateau and teasing it with emotions you simply didn’t know were within the reach of the keyboard synthesizer, drum machine and emulator.
Haunting, reflective, reggae-infused and infernally insistent in its approach to the relentless attack of the zombies, it seems to have everything. Yet, for such a dark and disturbing film, it seems to shimmer with beauty and incandescence. Without his score, Romero’s film would have been an exercise in utter bleakness and brutality. With it, however, the souls of people, both living and undead, are definable and appreciated, and the fate of the human race becomes a tangible and fragile umbilical cord connecting us inextricably with the spiraling cataclysm described in this gruesome saga.
I’m not kidding when I say that since this 2-CD set arrived (three days ago as of writing) it has been playing literally nonstop. Ripped to the hard drive and just repeating itself over and over. I haven’t done that with many scores this year, but this has been such a revelation with its crystal clarity, gorgeously organic and melodic sensibility and its innate toe-tapping, hip-smacking drive and rhythm. It is definitely time to retire the old vinyl and CD releases, and those bootleg copies that contained more tracks. This is the real deal and it could well be one of the releases of the year.
Now remember, this is a limited release of only 3000 copies … so dead-heads, synth-lovers, score-devotees and Romero-acolytes who have not done so already, get your orders in fast.
CD ONE: THE FILM SCORE
1. Day of the Dead Main Title (6:43)
2. Sarah Sees Graves/First Cave Entry (2:25)
3. Zombies Approach/Capturing Zombies (4:05)
4. You Almost Killed Rickles (1:25)
5. Sarah Dopes Miguel (0:48)
6. Where's Frankenstein?/Bub Scares Sarah/Zombie Spills His Guts (1:21)
7. Steel, Shoot That Woman (1:51)
8. John Warns Sarah/People Got Different Ideas (1:29)
9. Sarah Hallucinates (0:38)
10. Walk to the Ritz/Sarah at the Ritz (2:09)
11. John Lectures (1:16)
12. What Hell Is Like (0:48)
13. Logan Teaching Bub/Bub Learning (2:23)
14. Backwards Chord/Miller Dies (2:17)
15. Miguel Bitten (1:58)
16. Sarah Breaks Down (2:05)
17. Logan's Lab/Logan's Madness/Beef Treats (4:54)
18. Those Are My Men (1:08)
19. Miguel Decides (0:24)
20. Chopper Can't Hold Us All (3:48)
21. Laugh in the Dark (1:48)
22. Fight to Survive (1:10)
23. Fix It… You Can't Fix It/Miguel Lets ’em In (3:10)
24. Rhodes Leaves His Men Behind/Zombie Overrun (3:41)
25. The End of Steel/Lost in the Caves (3:42)
26. Heroes Escape (1:44)
27. Bub Stalks Rhodes/Zombies Rip Rhodes (2:12)
28. On the Beach (1:17)
Total time Disc One: 63:45
CD TWO: THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
1. The Dead Suite (19:41)
2. Break Down (3:52)
3. Escape/Invasion (3:56)
4. The Dead Walk (4:49)
5. If Tomorrow Comes* (3:39)
6. The World Inside Your Eyes* (3:38)
Total Time Disc Two: 39:41
* Performed by Sputzy Sparacino & Delilah
Music Composed by John Harrison, Jim Blazer
and Sputzy Sparacino
Music Performed by Modern Man
Recorded at Jeree Studios by
Don Garvin and Rex Burke
Produced by Tom Cosie
Day of The Dead Soundtrack
“Come on, Bub! You wanna learn how to shoot, Bub? I’ll teach ya how to shoot. Come on, you pus-brained bag o’ sh..!”
However George A. Romero’s third chapter in his original Dead Trilogy turned out – and I think it is a triumph – it remains a gloriously gory statement of metaphorical accusation and a powerful treatise on Man’s tenuous hold on supremacy of the food chain. Expectations ran incredibly high for his grand and then-final word on the matter of what happens when there is no more room in Hell and the Dead walk the Earth, yet audiences were largely uninterested. They would rather see Stallone or Schwarzenegger save the world than watch it crumble in the resentful hands of shallow, binkering bigots and self-centred, reluctant redeemers.
But the film would naturally go on to attain its bonafide cult status as a classic of the genre and become a cherished fan-favourite.
Harrison’s indelible Caribbean/rock/funk/Trance score is a thing of inordinate grace and beauty, richly melodic and both moving and melancholy, yet dominated by a pulsating, ever-driving, ever-catchy rhythm that is just irresistible.
Aiding this immeasurably is the unique score from Romero’s close chum and ally, John Harrison, and it is a thing of synth splendor, indeed. One of the best genre scores to come out of the 80’s now, at long, long last gets the treatment it has always deserved in this lavish and definitive 2-Disc limited edition set from La La Land. With the complete now available for the first time, officially, and the original album presentation both cleaned-up, remixed and sounding simply amazing, it is hard to imagine fans not swarming like zombies to grab hold of it.
But this release cements his talents as a film composer and delivers an experience as profound and resonant as Romero’s own story.
I can’t recommend this release enough.
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