Soundtrack to horror

A scene from Profundo Rosso.
A scene from Profundo Rosso.
  • Fans of Italian ‘giallo’ phenomenon can enjoy the sound and vision of horror when Goblin play Sheffield next week. Film Critic Tony Earnshaw reports.
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For aficionados of “giallo” movies – the lurid shockers that emerged from Italy in the 1970s with writer/director Dario Argento at the fore – it was the combination of shocks and soundtrack that made the genre so progressive and impressive.

Key to the success of the movies was the involvement of Italian quartet Goblin, which used a blend of strings, keyboards, drums and guitars to accompany Argento’s vision for a new form of horror. The 70s prog rockers are somewhat depleted these days, with only Claudio Simonetti still present out of the band’s founder members. But it is Simonetti the fans come to see, given he was one of the leading exponents of the band’s unique sound and was part of that embryonic collaboration that led to the haunting scores for Profundo Rosso (aka Deep Red), Suspiria and Tenebrae.

Until fairly recently Goblin were rare visitors to the UK. But over the last few years they have been touring to huge acclaim from rabid fans. Last autumn they were at the Ilkley Film Festival. This weekend they perform as part of Celluloid Screams, Sheffield’s annual horror film festival. The Ilkley audience heard the score to Suspiria with a screening of the movie. The Sheffield crowd will get Profundo Rosso which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Over those four decades the score to Profundo Rosso has sold four million copies in Italy alone. It gives an indication of the depth of Goblin’s following. But Simonetti is constantly amazed at the longevity of the band’s appeal to fans. “I’m very surprised,” he says. “We never supposed at the time to be so famous after 40 years.”

Simonetti is now in his early 60s. Back in the 1970s he was an ambitious twentysomething with a serious background in music. After studying at the Conservatory of Rome he formed a band, Oliver. At the same time that Oliver was recording an album in Rome Dario Argento was seeking a band to provide the music for his new film Profundo Rosso. “Argento wanted something like Deep Purple or Pink Floyd but our producer Carlo Bixio said to Dario, ‘Why are you looking at these big English bands? Look at these guys. If you like them maybe we can arrange something.’

“Dario arrived in the studio when we were recording and he loved our music. We played gothic music. That’s why he chose us for Profundo Rosso. It was not a very ‘Goblin’ style at the beginning; that was born with Suspiria later. I can’t define the Goblin sound other than we were something different from the other Italian bands.” Goblin and Argento would eventually partner on several films. The band would also provide the score for George A. Romero’s perennially popular Dawn of the Dead.

Much of the band’s appeal comes from its wide-ranging and intelligent use of instruments. In Suspiria much use is made of percussion such as timpani, bouzouki, keyboards and bass. Tenebrae features electronic dance/disco music with recorder and electronic drums. Dawn of the Dead includes mandolin, marimba, and electronic rock with drums and guitars. “I think Profundo Rosso was the perfect marriage between music and film,” says Simonetti. “That’s why people love the music – because the film was very good. And the film was very good because of the music. Perfect collaboration.”

• Goblin play Profundo Rosso, October 25, Celluloid Screams.