Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don Post Mask Not Included

Music for Zombies: Grave Music for Brave People
The Phantom of the Organ/The Vampyre at the Harpsichord

(Electric Lemon)
If a well-intentioned adult played Music for Zombies at a children's Halloween party today, kids likely wouldn't respond to its vintage radio-drama sound. They might laugh and ask if they can watch Hostel 2 instead, or simply wonder why minor chords on a theater pipe organ are supposed to induce shivers. [Also: If that Frisbee lands in my yard again, it's mine. -- ed.] We call those kids chumps.

Verne Langdon -- a hidden treasure of mid-20th century Hollywood -- plays piano, calliope, and Hammond and pipe organs on these nine tracks he composed. The music is bookended by the sound of a crypt door opening and closing.

"Zombie Sonata" taps a Beethoven vein, if Ludwig had been listening to broadcasts of Inner Sanctum, and ends with a man's agonized screams. "Flowers of Evil" is all classic pipe-organ moodiness, and a guaranteed way to end a bad first date. The three part "Zombie Suite" feels a little too lush, but you do get a calliope-mad recording of Langdon's "Carnival of Souls" -- a tune he liked so much he recorded it on nearly every keyboard available to him at various points in his career.

Barely cresting the 30-minute mark, Zombies is just long enough to get you through a dramatic reading of W.W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw. (Hint: Program the tracks so "Tombs Egyptian" syncs up with Sergeant Major Morris' visit.)

Now, if you want to send the kids crying into mom's apron, Langdon's double-shot The Phantom of the Organ/The Vampyre at the Harpsichord will do.

Phantom has Langdon helming a genuine theater pipe organ, extracting the iciest chords he can. Really, there's not much more to it than that. The listener's appreciation for pipe organ and being serenaded by a disfigured obsessive who lives in the sewers below the Paris opera house will dictate how much you get from this disc. ("Sound Trip through the Catacombs" has some nice sound effects, including sicko giggling and terrified ingénue screams.)

Likewise, Vampyre features Langdon going solo on the harpsichord. It starts out at a dirge pace, and even drifts into a pleasant, almost Bach-like place for "Eternal Life Suite." "Carnival of Souls" appears again, far spookier on the plucked strings of the harpsichord, followed by the short, dizzying "Flight of the Vampyre." If Daniel Ash of Bauhaus didn't learn some of his guitar vamps from this album, then we're returning our black nail polish.

This music will at least scare the kids by virtue of the fact that you own it. Point your speakers out the windows on the big night, turn out the lights and dramatically decrease the odds of having to give away any candy.

Reference materials: If you like the incidental music from old horror shows on television and radio, or have a jones for odd organ LPs found at thrift stores, these records will make you quite happy.

Bonus fun fact: Phantom and Vampyre were played for years in haunted-house attractions at various theme parks in Southern California, and all three of these albums were originally available to order from the back pages of Famous Monsters magazine. FM founder/editor Forrest J. Ackerman wrote the hilariously purple liner notes for Phantom and Vampyre. Read them aloud and you'll sound like a villain from the Batman TV series:

"That doomed avatar of evil, brother-in-blood ... the Count: Draculon!"