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The Thing Ennio Morricone Main

The Thing Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Waxworks Records and Sacred Bones Records

the thing ennio morricone poster large

Composed by Ennio Morricone
1982,
Released on May 5th, 2020

Review:

Ennio Morricone died on July 6th, 2020. In memoriam of the maestro, I’ve written reviews on four of his horror scores (I malamondo, What Have You Done to Solange?, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Thing, respectively). It’s a minuscule look at a mountainous career; a sliver of sound to represent Morricone and his expertise as a master horror-composer.

For these reviews, I tried to pick four scores that showed different sides of Morricone’s multifaceted skill set. I malamondo, What Have You Done to Solange?, and Exorcist II are nothing alike, but they all demonstrate Morricone’s ability to write a tune. The last piece I’m doing for this series takes yet another approach. The Thing is less about melody and more about tonal shifting. It’s a masterpiece of minimalism; a triumph of glacial, ambient scoring.

What happened with music for The Thing? Details of the backstory vary, depending on who’s telling it and when it was said. Some journalists suggest that composer Ennio Morricone and director John Carpenter had a tumultuous relationship. Others give them more harmony. But there are some points beyond dispute. 1) We know that it was the first movie that John Carpenter directed where he hired someone else to score. 2) We know that, as an admirer of Morricone, Carpenter brought the maestro on for the job. And 3) We know that a significant portion of Morricone’s music is missing from the final product.

Carpenter is an established musician in his own right. When putting his film together, he removed some of Morricone’s work and replaced it with horror-synths that he made with his musical partner Alan Howarth. The movie did not suffer for this. The cues they added complimented Morricone’s work and their combined output gave The Thing a tense, cold score.

The Morricone tracks left on the cutting room floor may not have made it to the movie, but through the years, the music has been released on vinyl, cassette, and compact disc over and over again. in 2020, Waxworks Records delivered what might have been the prettiest looking and cleanest sounding pressings of them all.

The opener, “Humanity (Part 1),” is frosty and quiet. Layers of wind and string instruments glide in and out above a base of two long, repeated notes. Until the song’s climax, there aren’t many mid-tones, giving this piece a stark, open feel. Then, as the song comes to the end, it begins to fill, making it heavier and more oppressive. “Humanity (Part 1)” feels like going outside in the snow without a coat. It hits with an immediate chill that only grows more frigid as it goes on.

“Shape” trudges in with a slow, laborious cello. It is the sound of despair. Little by little, more and more instruments fade in to accompany it, creating a growing sense of unease. As the track thickens with sound, an individual piano notes tap over the highest part of the song, offsetting the heavy bottom with a light top. But the shift at the midway point sacrifices it all. From here, the track begins to bend and warp with a mysteriousness that compliments the enigmatic nature of the film.

After these first two tracks, Morricone gets even scarier. “Contamination” skitters and scratches up the listener’s spine with frantic growing energy. “Bestiality” bumps and bounces and marches forward with a threatening demeanor. “Solitude” softens the palate with long, graceful tones.

It’s the last track of side-A where Morricone really unwinds. “Eternity” starts slow. A single note repeats while tonal blips and pulsating synth-bass back it up. A descending organ fades in. The sound is like a haunted carousel. It repeats louder and louder until it crescendos into a climax and dies. As the first side of the record comes to a close, the repeating note from the song’s introduction slowly flickers out.

the thing ennio morricone 02

The heavy use of electronics on “Eternity” isn’t an anomaly. The second track on side-B, “Humanity (Part 2),” is horror-synth at its best. The track mimics “Humanity (Part 1),” only this time it’s mostly synth-driven instead of orchestra produced. The base notes are thinner here, sharper. The top layer warbles and feels insecure. There is an eerie vulnerability to this song, and Morricone takes full advantage of that. Four-and-a-half minutes into the song, Morricone- gives his listeners a jump scare as he boosts the volume with a vicious attack on the keyboard. Those same notes, which feel so naked a few seconds before, now sound harsh and menacing.

The synths skate onward, into the next track. “Sterilization” opens with like a lurching funeral dirge. Higher notes putter in, widening the track’s scope. At the halfway point, ghostly keys float even higher. Bundles of mid-range notes come in punching. Those higher notes, impossible to take down, continue to hover, continue to torment.

The orchestra returns for the closer, “Despair.” The entire record has been chilly, but here temperatures drop to absolute zero. Strings shiver. They billow from the bottom and crawl up. Wind instruments wrap alongside them with doleful moans. The sound is full and dense. As it begins to climax, a single violin is spit from the murk. It screeches and stretches and eventually takes shape as it morphs into a doleful series of anguished notes. Further orchestration joins in short bursts to further the feeling of lamentation. As it goes on, the song slowly begins to lose energy, ending the track, and the score, dispirited and defeated.

For this release, Waxworks and Sacred Bones put out a beautiful-looking product. The story of The Thing takes place in a research facility in Antarctica called U.S. Outpost #31. The album artwork reflects this and uses Antarctica's natural shape as the main focal point. The continent is depicted in glossy high contrast, with blue ice set against dark blacks. It’s a minimal color scheme that matches the music.

A graphic of electricity centers over Outpost #31 and is seen jolting across the land in all directions. Longitude and latitude are measured in blue lines, fanning out from the south pole and over the matte black oceans. The combination of straight lines and perfect circles works well against the rough, staggered edges of the land.

The gatefold is an illustration of a scene from early in the movie where three of the main characters discover something unusual in the snow. It’s a strange choice to highlight this particular scene, as it’s not one of the film’s iconic images. But even if it’s not as visually stimulating as other scenes from the movie, it’s essential from a story standpoint and works here to tie the viewer deeper into the film.

There is also a small illustrated poster included. This one depicts the film’s opening, where a dog is chased through the snow-white landscape by a helicopter. It’s a strong image and, like the gatefold, pulls the physical album closer to the film.

There are a few variants of the vinyl itself. This review is on the Sacred Bones exclusive, a 180-gram “Snowfall” vinyl. It’s a coke-bottle clear wax with a splash of white splattering out from the center. It looks great. Remastered from the original tapes, the vinyl has a polished sound with nice low frequencies. (And well-mixed bass is essential for these particular songs.)

Carpenter said that before Morricone got to work on The Thing, the two listened to the soundtrack for Assault on Precinct 13, a 1976 Carpenter-composed work that was crude, cool, minimal, and effective. Morricone, with his decades of experience and his hundreds of film scores under his belt, took notice of Carpenter’s aesthetic and worked it into his own. The resulting music is what happens when one artistic genius feeds off another.

Did John Carpenter and Ennio Morricone have creative differences or was that exaggerated media hype? It doesn’t matter. Collaboration doesn’t need cooperation. What matters is this: Ennio Morricone’s music for John Carpenter’s The Thing is an icy, alluring work of art. And for horror fans, it’s an absolute classic.

Grades:

Music: Fivestars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Cover
Buy Amazon Uk
Art: Fourandahalfstars
Physical Quality: Fourstars
Overall: 5 Star Rating

About The Author
Richie Corelli
Staff Reviewer - USA
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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