It was dreadful news when I heard about film maestro composer Ennio Morricone’s recent passing. He was one of the greatest film soundtrack composers of all time with his scores lending the sonic landscape for so many cinematic masterpieces.
My favourite soundtrack by Morricone is the score he composed for John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982. He didn’t even get to see the completed film when he wrote and performed the soundtrack as Carpenter was in the midst of editing the film and so it was from this incomplete state that Morricone came to write and realise his musical accompaniment.
Just as the film starts slowly and builds in intensity, so does the soundtrack with the beautiful Humanity- Part 1 with it’s underlying menace as almost a warning of the full-on dread and horror to come. This is followed by the cello-heavy warnings of the track Shape as the music starts to build up as do the film’s events.
The sudden change in the film’s events are expertly captured on the next track Contamination as random discordant sounds multiply layer upon layer whilst getting faster and faster whilst becoming more mutated until the track is akin to aural insanity. Just as certain irreversible events within the film (I’m being ever so careful not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it!) leave the audience feeling that this is completely uncharted territory for both horror and sci fi, the music feels the same- a piece of music like this has NEVER been heard on a film soundtrack before and the effect is startling, disorientating and brilliantly effective.
The next track Bestiality is full of sturm und drang with it’s slabs of cello building up and up, again layer by layer until it reaches a shocking conclusion. It perfectly mirrors the action within the film. The Antarctic research unit has been rocked by events that will make sure that it’s never the same again.
A major theme within the film is that of the ominous silence and deafening quiet as the members of the research unit have to wait it out to see who will be the next to manifest signs of being the next host of the alien intruder, contemplate what can be done when this happens and how they will determine who the next will be. This disarming sense of silent and disquieting dread is also captured on the soundtrack and effortlessly conveyed in Morricone’s music. The stirring Solitude, the electronic pulse and distress signal of Eternity (here Morricone shows that he can excel not just when writing for an orchestra), the underlying dread, menace and claustrophobia of Wait, the heartbeat of Humanity- Part 2 that slowly builds into a low simmering manifestation of underlying menace and the impending terror of events to come.
This is all stellar stuff and completely revolutionary for the horror genre and film in general. This is music that has been conceived by a composer who has dared to think outside the box to accompany a film made by a director who has dared to do the same. This is a big reason why The Thing is a masterpiece and still beloved by fans and critics alike today.
The edition of the album that I bought was the 1991 CD by the ever brilliant Varese Sarabande (pictured below).
The album has now actually been remastered from the original master tapes and this edition will be next on my purchase list.