Armagideon Time

I may not be feeling this spooky season as strongly this year, but it’s not for a lack of trying. As part of my not-quite-successful attempts to kickstart the chills and thrills, I recently purchased a pair of a seasonally appropriate soundtrack releases on glorious, overpriced vinyl.

Both should be familiar to anyone who has been followed previous Halloween Countdowns, though they’ve been gradually relegated to the backbenches because of cyclical changes in my listening habits and an unwillingness to dip too many times from the same well.

The first of the pair is a recent release which falls into the “what took them so damn long” file — instrumental/choral score to Candyman by Philip Glass. Previously relegated to the ethically shady realm of fileshare networks, it can now be savored with a clear conscience.

The film was a welcome (if overlooked) anomaly in 1992. Its late-cycle slasher trash marketing campaign concealed a very effective adaptation of Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden” which shifted the urban folk horror from the council estates of Thatcherite Britain to the Chicago housing projects of Bush the Elder’s America. It also leaned more heavily into the mythic implications of the story than the source material did, making it a more satisfying experience in many ways.

Warren Zevon once described “Werewolves of London” as a “dumb song for smart people,” and that also applies to Candyman. There’s no shortage of guts and gore and dumb decisions going on in it, but also a sense of striving for something higher than the genre boilerplate it could’ve settled for…and Glass’s score exemplifies that vibe.

What Candyman tried to do for 80s template slasher flicks, Silent Hill attempted to do for “survival horror” videogames. Eschewing the Romero-template zombies and prerendered (i.e. “flat”) backgrounds which Resident Evil established as standards for the genre, Konami went fully polygonal and extremely Lynchean with its interactive tale of diabolism and dreadful secrets in a small tourist town.

To do so, they reworked the Playstation’s hardware limitations into integral parts of the experience. Dismal draw distances were masked by omnipresent fog and darkness which gave amped up the psychological dread and provided greater heft to audio cues and ambiance. Monsters and other life-threatening abominations still abound, but the real terror comes from the overall sense of disorientation in a world which abruptly shifts from creepy to the stuff of raw nightmare.

The soundtrack naturally plays a large role in that, alternating between hauntingly melodic string arrangements and full-on sonic assaults of industrial ambiance. It was compelling enough to convince to to spring for an extortionately priced import soundtrach CD two decades ago, and remained compelling enough for me to pick up a slightly less expensive double-LP domestic reissue it last week.

While both soundtracks met my “essential records” criteria, neither have done much to boost my Halloween spirit so far. Maura has been digging their return to household rotation, though, which is great.

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