Sunday, 24 November 2013

Maniac Music

I'm just fresh from a screening of William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac and not having seen the film for some years now, I had forgotten just how good Jay Chattaway's electro-acoustic score is. By the late 70's, early 80's seemingly every low budget Horror film was outfitted with an electronic soundtrack. By then synthesizers had become more affordable, and cash-strapped film producers were more likely to seize the talents of a one man bedroom boffin than a composer with an orchestra in tow. This was an era when electronic music was still relatively new and exotic and many Horror films of the day featured little more than bargain basement knob twiddler soundtracks (Inseminoid and Don't Go In the Woods come to mind). Jay Chattaway's music for Maniac is something else entirely, a dark gloomy work which really compliments the urban menace of Lustig's visuals. This being a slasher film, Chattaway's music comes with its fair share of requisite stings - a tradition already well established in the wake of John Carpenter's music for Halloween, but it's the score's quieter moments which really impress - like the extremely unnerving music that accompanies Spinell's maniac tending to his mannequins, or the thick brooding drones in the sequence where Spinell sets his sights on the couple making out in the car.

It's difficult to think of another contemporary American Horror film with a score similar to Maniac, the music in fact sounds closer to a European tradition, falling somewhere in between Ennio Morricone, Tangerine Dream and Goblin, the opening theme music in particular is augmented with a melancholic flute refrain and a fretless bass sound that might have strayed from an ECM record. Chattaway's score did earn an official soundtrack release in 1981 on the Varese Sarabande label in the US and releases followed shortly in France and Italy. Since then the soundtrack has surfaced at various times on CD and vinyl in limited edition runs, but fortunately the entire score can be listened to here


  1. Hey Wes, did you see the remake? The score was very much a throwback to the 1980s synth soundtrack but worked really well, I thought.

  2. I haven't seen the remake yet Jon but as soon as it comes my way, I'll definitely grab a screening of it. Thanks for the link, it's actually very good, I must investigate further. I see that Death Waltz records have put out their own limited collector's edition of this soundtrack. Very slick it is too...

  3. Hey J. great to hear from you ! I'm listening to a lot of electronics at the moment and if I heard this music removed from the film I might have expected to come from the minimal synth or early 80's Industrial cassette movement. I love that stuff...

  4. It's a sad and lonely score, very chilling, works well on its own I thought. The theme is memorable. Will check out the remake score too. Good to read your piece on it Wes. Hope you're well.

  5. I'm very well Paul, many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - always nice to hear from you...

    Please check out Paul's darkly beautiful Super 8 films All the Colors of You and After the Heartbreak Horror

    1. No sweat Wes, I love your blog! Many thanks for the link to my films!