Cosmic horror author’s tales get terrifying soundtrack treatment
Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote avidly during his brief lifetime, developing a style that was appreciated by a select few, criticised by a further few, and ignored by the vast majority. He died young, having spent all but the last cents of an inheritance without ever achieving the literary success that might have been expected of someone who is now regarded as a godfather of modern fantasy and horror writing.
Lovecraft was heralded – somewhat too late – for a style of writing that found his principal characters compelled into following certain actions, unable or unwilling to deviate from a path that leads to certain danger. That perspective of mounting, pulse-quickening terror is captured on the latest Duke St Workshop album, which finds the Workshop’s Lee Cullen providing tense musical backdrops to two Lovecraft stories, each read by British actor Laurence R Harvey, perhaps best known for his depiction of a sadistic car park attendant in the notorious video nasty ‘The Human Centipede 2’.
Harvey’s readings of ‘From Beyond’ and ‘The Hound’ are delivered in a richly expressive style which perfectly displays that compulsion to observe, moving swiftly from quiet wonderment to tremulous, rising fear. Cullen’s task is to sculpt the tension via a palette of electronic sounds, fixing Lovecraft’s antiquated horror into entirely modern dimensions. When Howard describes the enthralling sight of the menacing machine in ‘From Beyond’, it lends itself perfectly to a rigid, expressive track augmented by grids of beats and tones redolent of John Carpenter’s soundtracks. When the narrative shifts from wonderment to fear, Cullen’s soundtrack is a grinding, ebbing and flowing drone, the listener’s pulse quickening as it becomes clear – even though you knew it was always going to be this way – that this machine is a source of devastation.
It’s so intensely terrifying that it should come with a ‘Crimewatch’ warning telling us not to have nightmares, and even when the sounds shift to a Satie-esque stately piano refrain, the echo of that earlier fear remains. The pitiful, thwarted Lovecraft would no doubt have appreciated the way Cullen is able to manipulate the listener’s adrenalin from intrigue to headphone-tugging fear in what is a thoroughly compelling response to his texts.
This is, it should be said, what horror soundtracks are all about and musicians and composers have been causing abject panic in theatres, with radio plays and movies since a market for being scared out of our wits became apparent. Creating, or recreating, horror soundtracks with electronic scores is also nothing new – in fact exotica artist Les Baxter produced a synth-heavy accompaniment to an adaptation of a Lovecraft story, ‘The Dunwich Horror’, which was considerably more successful than the film itself.
What Cullen seems to achieve that perhaps others haven’t is something utterly entwined with the mood of Harvey’s spellbinding reading through texture, melody, hypnotic synth tones and heavy atmosphere, without ever resorting to the temptation of using hokey sound effects or episodic claptrap, even when Howard ventures into frightened histrionics.