Fan of obscure horror? If so, the names Fabio Frizzi and Lucio Fulci should need little introduction.
But if not, here goes… For fans of niche horror, very little comes close to the cult reverence held for the Italian “giallo” genre of bawdy, gory, hyper-stylized, pseudo-slasher films from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Typified by the likes of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace, the best of the giallo genre eschews tight plotting and believable set-ups for overwhelmingly dark moods and unsettling technical brilliance.
Although the two directors mentioned above deserve credit for a) inventing (Bava) and b) expertly honing (Argento) the genre, for many the ultimate director of giallo schlock is Lucio Fulci. The mastermind behind classics like The Beyond, Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2), City Of The Living Dead, The New York Ripper and many, many more, his scenes of underwater battles between sharks and zombies, of nipples being sliced open by crazed psychopaths, of faces devoured by cannibalistic fake spiders, not to mention his literally eye-popping special effects, are the stuff of horror legend.
Behind every cult horror auteur, there’s usually an unsung soundtrack supremo, and in this case, that man is Fabio Frizzi. Although perhaps not as well known as fellow countrymen Goblin, who set the bar for giallo soundtracks very high with their work with Dario Argento, Fabio Frizzi has still racked up some of the best loved movie themes within the genre. From the intricate, brilliant choral-jazz-funk of The Beyond to the droning, doomy synths of Zombie Flesh Eaters (which, for me at least, is THE definitive zombie film theme of all time) Fulci commands just as much fan respect and admiration as Claudio Simonetti and co.
Which is why I was blowled over to find out that this Thursday, on Halloween night, Fabio Frizzi will be performing live in London at a special concert called Frizzi To Fulci, celebrating his numerous themes for Fulci with the help of a large live group called the F2F Orchestra. For horror soundtrack buffs like myself, this gig is the holy grail, possibly even moreso than the recent Goblin live shows, as the chance of seeing Frizzi perform live seemed even more remote.
Unfortunately, what with Halloween being Gay Christmas an’ all, I won’t be able to make the show (ironically, we’re hosting a triple bill of giallo classics, including The Beyond) but I jumped at the chance to interview Fabio Frizzi; to find out more about his background, his inspirations, and, of course, his work with Lucio Fulci. Frizzi To Fulci is sold out (there are limited VIP tickets available) so for those of us who can’t make what promises to be a very special evening, here is my interview with the soundtrack maestro himself:
Dangerous Minds: When did you first start writing and playing music and what was the inspiration?
Fabio Frizzi: I was attracted to music from a very young age, my father used to sing in a very big choir in Bologna, which is where we lived. When I was 2 or 3 my friends and family used to meet and sing together. When I was about 6 I was part of a small choir at school.
But then something strange happened when I was a teenager. I was still in love with music, but I wanted to do other things. I was a swimmer, and while it wasn’t a career, I was pretty good. At 14 I started to have problems with asthma and my doctor told me it would be better to stop swimming for a while. It was a tragedy for me, because, you know, at 14 you are still a baby! But my father had a great idea, he asked a guitar teacher to give me lessons, because he knew I still liked music. So I began and, day by day, I got better, This was at the same time that The Beatles were gaining popularity, so we were all listening to that.
At 15 I had my first group, which was classical, but after a while I moved from classical guitar to acoustic and electric, you know how guys are! But I kept going and it became my real love. I always say that my first girlfriends, when I was about 17, they had to come with us to the rehearsals, because for us Saturday and Sunday was dedicated to the music!
When I finished school my dad wanted me to become a lawyer, and I started studying that, but it was always secondary. I met a very big Italian publisher called Carlo Bixio, he believed in my talent and helped me as I put together my first group, Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera when I was about 23. But you have to remember that my father was already working in the cinema field. So it was easier for me than it would be for other people; I knew Italian actors, I would go to premieres and screenings, so it was easier, yes, but I was passionate. I studied, because, after all, it takes a while to get good at making music!
DM: How did you get started making soundtracks/working in the film industry?
FF: Well Carlo Bixio, the producer and publisher, came from a family that made soundtracks. The first thing he offered me was for a comedy TV show, something from the 1920s that was a bit like Laurel and Hardy, and I had to do that kind of music, which was fun. Then Carlo found me a movie to score called Amore Libero (Free Love) which was a comedy shot in the Seychelles Islands. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go there though! It was a really good time for Italian cinema - not the best, but very good - and as you know genre cinema was really growing. So we had a lot of opportunities.
DM: How did you start working with Lucio Fulci?
FF: We started a group with Carlo Bixio’s younger brother Franco, and also with Vince Tempera, who was also a good conductor and musician. So the opportunity came up to do a Western, and at that time Italian Westerns were popular and quite different from American Westerns, and I appreciated that opportunity. I was very young though, like 24 or 25, and we went to see a rough edit of the film which was called I Quattro Dell’Apocalisse (4 Of The Apocalypse) which had a great cast: Thomas Milian and many other American actors. So we were in this cinema screening room with the producers, and the director, which was Lucio Fulci. Fulci was not an easy man to work with, he wanted the score to be very big. So they started the screening, and the only song they had put to the movie to see how music would work, was “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan! So I turned to my friends and said “we’re screwed” - cos if you have to compete against Dylan you have already lost! So it took us a long time to write that score.
You asked me about my influences, and I always say I have two loves: Beatles and Bach. But I have another love - my last band, when I was in my twenties, was a vocal four piece, kind of like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Simon and Garfunkel, that kind of West Coast sound. I always loved that way of composing, so it was actually quite easy for me to write like Bob Dylan. So we wrote 6 or 7 songs in that style and they liked it a lot. We hired a vocal group, which were English language singers from Holland, and I have to tell you, in this Frizzi To Fulci concert, we will have a moment where we do 3 or 4 of those songs. I actually have great memories of that film and the people we worked with, and of course Lucio. He appreciated the music and trusted us, so I began working with him more.
DM: Fulci is perhaps best known for his use of violence, which is often very brutal and gory. How did you find working on those films, which feature some of the most famous violence in horror history?
FF: I think Lucio and I always had the same point of view, we were professionals. Nowadays, you can take a movie home with you and work on it, but back then you had to go to the studio and watch it, so I would see the effects, the cuts, and the eye obviously wasn’t the eye of the actress. So you get in the habit of seeing every movie, every horror or giallo, with another point of view. You know my youngest son is 8, and sometimes we see a crime on TV, on Sky Crime, which is good crime TV shows from America and England. And sometimes he sees some blood or something, and I tell him “Nico, if you go back and look again you’ll find a cut, and you’ll see it’s not a person it’s a mannequin”.
Lucio had the capability to work very well in that direction. He was a creative man and like many of us in this industry he had two sides. He was a friend, but when it came to work he could be hard, it wasn’t always easy working with him. And I do think that some of this violence was him expressing himself. Sometimes I think people who can express that in their work or their writing, it means they are not going to do it in real life! They can express that violence in their work.
DM: Do you like horror films yourself?
FF: I like horror films, I mean I am not a huge fan, but I like them. I mean for a person like myself - I have done a lot of different things but my main work has been scoring movies - when you love making music and scoring so much, then horror and giallo are the best genres, because you can really express yourself. It’s amazing doing comedy too, but horror is easier. I mean a love theme, I can go to my piano over there and in 3 minutes it’s done! But horror it might take a whole weekend to get a good idea. So yeah, I love working on horror. Also, very recently, a couple of months ago, I have been working with a younger director and it has been magic. I shouldn’t say that, but you can see I’m not a man with a big head.
DM: You said that horror films give you more room to express yourself, and I guess you have more freedom to experiment. I have heard that the bass drum in your theme for Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) was you tapping a turntable - is that true?
FF: No that’s not correct, it was something different. Nowadays you have samplers, but back then to be different you had to do something very special. We needed a bass drum for that “dum dum dum’ part and Maurizio Guarini, who is a genius and a very good friend who I worked with a lot, was an experimenter. He loved to experiment with sounds. When I first brought him that theme he said we can try doing it without a real bass drum but instead using a microphone [very simple beatboxing]. At first it didn’t sound very good, but we did a little work on the high and low EQs. Now when I listen to it, it sounds like a bass drum, but it was just a microphone.
I remember, on another movie called L’Ultima Volta (Born Winner) with Joe D’Alessandro (not one of Lucio’s), there was a guy who was killed on a motorbike. It was a very slow scene with him skidding on the road in slow motion. We wanted to put a big sustained piano crash at the end of the piece, but it was so long. A piano takes about 15 seconds to ring out, which was not long enough, so I told Vince (Tempera) that we had to work out how the Beatles made the piano crash at the end of “A Day In The Life” last so long! So we worked out that if you recorded the piano at double speed and played it back at half-speed, the 15 seconds would become 30. So, it’s always fun and interesting to try things like this.
DM: What are your own favourite scores and composers?
FF: My all time favourite movie is Blade Runner. I have seen it many times, and every time I watch it I find something new. Vangelis was the composer and I think at that time he was at the top of everything. Obviously I love many, many composers, and many Italian composers, like for instance Nina Rota. I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone yet: at the end of this concert, there will be a little tribute to Nino Rota. Rota was the composer for Feliini, but he worked all over the world because he was great, and I wanted to bring with me a little Italian musical history. I also like James Newton Howard, who is an American, but I love many composers. If I listen to too many soundtracks it becomes hard to work because there are so many geniuses around!
DM: So what else can we expect from the Frizzi To Fulci show?
FF: This concert is important to me, and I hope it will be important for everyone who comes too. You know I realised, about ten years ago, how do you put this… when you get a gift from a distance? Lucio was a friend, he was a good person, and towards the end of our friendship we got very close, but I couldn’t imagine that because of him and our work together, I would have so much love from fans and viewers, so many people from all over the world. So it was almost 8 years ago that I had the idea to do something like this. This is a new interpretation of everything i wrote for Lucio - there’s maybe 1 or 2 things missing, but this is nearly everything I wrote for him. It’s now thirty years later, so it’s like looking back on a part of my life. I think you’ll be able to feel a lot of love and a lot of emotion. For some songs we will have some images from the movies. It has taken almost two years to put together, because I have re-written some new scores and I have lots of people working with me, so I really hope it’s going to be something special that people will like.