Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Denis Klotz from The Horror!?, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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When David asked the interested members of M.O.S.S. to send him a commented list of their five favourite movie soundtracks, I found myself even more confused and exasperated than is my usual state of mind, for how could anyone reduce his favourite movie soundtracks to a list of only five instead of – say – a hundred?

After much hemming and hawing, I came down with this list. It’s as close to the experience of giving birth as I’ll ever come, I suspect. Obviously, there’s no particular order to things.

1.) Halloween (1978): John Carpenter’s soundtrack to the film that created the slasher sub-genre stands exemplary for all those soundtracks of low budget productions that make a virtue out of the fact they can’t afford an orchestral score and won’t just take library music. It’s minimalist – possibly primitive – and tense and much better at evoking the primal emotions its film thrives on than anything more orchestral could have been. For me, this particular soundtrack also points forward and backwards in time to all those other composers of soundtracks that use minimal arrangements, synthesizers, sounds you’ve never heard before and repetition to set a movie’s rhythm, from Goblin’s work in Italy to the BBC Radio Workshop.

2.) Gojira (1954): Quite on the opposite side of the musical spectrum stands Akira Ifukube (or Ifukube Akira if you prefer the Japanese way of writing names). It’s orchestral, it’s as maximalist as befits its monster and it’s made by someone standing with both feet in the tradition of classical music. However, Ifukube’s score is just as adept at evoking emotions and setting the film’s rhythm as Carpenter’s, another demonstration that completely different approaches to art are equally fruitful.

This soundtrack was followed and preceded by many another fine Ifukube soundtrack for kaiju movies, Kurosawa, and in between, all of them made with the same care as this one, how ever minor the film itself turned out to be.

3.) “(Do) The Jellyfish” from Sting of Death (1965): From the sublime we come to the ridiculous, a jaunty – and more than just slightly horrifying – little pop number from a local man in a suit horror movie made in Florida. It’s a prime example of all the times when a low budget movie suddenly breaks out into song for no good reason except that its producers actually thought anyone would want to buy the horrific thing. Plus, this sort of pop song advert makes for a cheap enhancement of production values.

It is however only very seldom that a song is picturized quite as traumatizing as this one, with a gloriously painful dance scene that will burn the song forever into your brain. Once it was there, it was only a small step for it to worm itself into the part of my mind that genuinely enjoys this sort of thing.

4.) The One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine aka Master of the Flying Guillotine: The soundtrack to Wang Yu’s piece of Weird Fu cinema isn’t actually the soundtrack to it. In fact, most of its sound queues are borrowed from films and LPs from less permissive copyright cultures. But Flying Guillotine’s case is a special one, for Wang Yu (or listed composer Frankie Chan, who knows) used such peculiar, mostly non-orchestral, music – German Krautrock masters Neu, for example – in such an idiosyncratic way that it enhances the weirdness of the whole affair it belongs to a hundredfold. It also adds another argument to the case against copyright.

5.) Ennio Morricone (1928): Last but not least, and because I like cheating in lists, it’s not actually a film, but the whole body of work of what I think of as the greatest film composer of all times, with a body of work so rich I find it impossible to just pick one movie from. So obviously, I just take all of them. It’s Morricone. What else is there to say?

Denis Klotz, whom you might also know as houseinrlyeh, is the owner of The Horror!?, your one-stop shop for all writing about movies you never heard about but should have. He also makes a nuisance of himself on Twitter as @houseinrlyeh, and is a member of that most venerated company of bloggers and podcasters, M.O.S.S.

Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs MegalonCountry: Japan
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, Robert Dunham, Kotaro Tomita, Wolf Otsuki, Kanta Mori, Shinji Takagi, Hideto Odachi, Tsugutoshi Komada, Kenpachiro Satsuma
Writer: Jun Fukuda
Director: Jun Fukuda
Cinematographer: Yuzuru Aizawa
Music: Riichiro Manabe
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Original Title: Gojira tai Megaro

As a highly paid professional writer – you believe that don’t you? – I am expected to do a modicum of research before I present a film review.  But there is one huge gap in my cinematic knowledge that needs to be rectified. Now don’t get angry at me – don’t throw anything at your monitor – but I have only seen three Godzilla films. Firstly, a hacked version of the original (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Godzilla: 1985, both watched as practically a kid. Then of course, the American 1998 version – but it is probably best that we ignore that. What I am clumsily saying my knowledge base of kaiju eiga is quite poor. So taking the bit between my teeth, I ventured out of my darkened hovel, shielding my eyes from the sunlight, and made my way the largest shopping centre in the area. As I scoured the multiplex, I found (ignoring the American version once again), only one Godzilla film – Godzilla Vs Megalon.

Now I may be new to kaiju eiga but the general consensus is that the Godzilla films of Jun Fukuda from the early 1970’s are despised by many hard-core Godzilla fans. But as you have read, I am not a hard-core Godzilla fan – I am a tourist, and when watching Godzilla Vs Megalon, after a protracted opening, at the forty-five minute mark, when Godzilla arrived on the scene to battle Megalon and Gigan, shaping up like a punch-drunk prize fighter, a small tear welled up in my eye. The tear wasn’t because I had been dragged emotionally into the story or at the simple beauty of a monster taking a stand on behalf of humanity – the tear was because I thought ‘what have I been missing?’ Godzilla Vs Megalon is considered one of the worst in the series and there I was thoroughly enjoying myself as the Big G took on two bad-ass monsters. But no doubt I am preaching to the already converted. Let’s have a brief look at the story.

The film starts with another nuclear test. This pisses of the inhabitants of the underground kingdom of Seatopia. You see, Seatopia used to be a continent on the surface of the planet – it is hinted that it may have been the fabled lands of Mu or Lemoria – but an earthquake rocked the planet and sent the land to the bottom of the sea – and somehow beneath the earth. Somehow they managed to create oxygen and manufactured an artificial sun to sustain life. Now they Seatopians live in peace – well they did until us surface dwellers started nuclear testing. The tests have destroyed over a third of their land, and now they decide it’s time to strike back. They choose to send Megalon to the surface to destroy the surface dwellers.

Megalon, like most monsters, is a pretty ugly beast. He looks like a giant cockroach with two huge drills on his arms. On his head, he has a weird antenna, which looks like a five pointed star, which is turned upside down. From this antenna he can shoot energy beams. His mouth is unusual too. He seems to have four lips which roll back so he can fire, or spit out red hot cannon balls.

On the surface, a scientist, Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki ) has been building a robot called Jet Jaguar. Jet Jaguar is a silver robot with a pointy head who is jet propelled – he can fly. The purpose for this robot is never really explained, but the Seatopians send up a few human agents to take control of Jet Jaguar. They use Jet Jaguar almost as a homing beacon to direct Megalon to Tokyo where he can do the most damage.

With a miniature remote control Goro Ibuki takes control of Jet Jaguar once again, and tells him to fly off to Monster Island and get Godzilla. You see, in this film, Godzilla is a good guy. The Big G responds and makes his way to Japan. Meanwhile, Jet Jaguar races back to Japan, but upon his arrival, something strange has happened. He no longer responds to Goro Ibuki commands. It appears that Jet Jaguar has gone into survival mode and become sentient. No his own master, somehow – never really explained – Jet Jaguar transforms himself into a larger robot – the same size as Megalon. While waiting for Godzilla to arrive, Jet Jaguar takes on Megalon. Now the Seatopians are privy to the battle going on, up on the surface, and decide that Megalon needs a little backup. So they send Gigan up to help. Now Jet Jaguar is in an unfair two on one situation. Not only does he have to counter Megalon but also the cybernetic chicken with the buzz-saw belly, Gigan. Natually these two monsters start to give Jet Jaguar a kicking, that is until Godzilla arrives. The last third of this movie is monster fights – and for me that perfect entertainment.

According to Wikipedia, Jet Jaguar was created as the result of a contest Toho studios ran in 1972 for fans to come up with a new super robot hero for them to use. The winning entry was a drawing of a robot called Red Arone. This robot was renamed Jetto Jagā ( Jet Jaguar) and was set to star in his own film – Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon. After much deliberation, Toho decided that Jet Jaguar would not be popular enough on his own, so the film was rewritten to include Godzilla and Gigan.

All in all, I found Godzilla Vs Megalon to be an enjoyable adventure. It is slightly on the childish side – in fact it has often been labeled a kids movie. But in the end we are talking about a giant monster – and is there anything that appeals more to the cult film lover (or a child) than a man in a giant monster suit destroying miniature cities – I think not!

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)