I’ve become somewhat averse to rescores or reimagined soundtracks for classic films. I blame Zane Lowe’s horribly misguided Drive rework and countless others’ subsequent takes on everything, including Blade Runner. They’ve hardened my heart. However, OGRE and Dallas Campbell have again restored my faith in the concept with their brave and exquisite take on the score for George Romero’s classic 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead.
The two producers have collaborated a handful of times in the past, often crafting scores for films that don’t exist. This time, though, they’re applying their John Carpenter- and Claudio Simonetti-inspired fare to a film that changed the way people view the walking dead. You’ll be able to see it on Oct. 28, when Lakeshore Records streams it on its YouTube channel. In the meantime, the album is now on sale and streamable.
Before I get any further into the music, let’s take a look at this film, which arguably introduced the global culture to the way of viewing zombies we’ve become accustomed to: corpses that are reanimated and eat the living.
In Living Dead, corpses start seemingly coming back to life, leaving the cemetery to find humans whose flesh they can eat. A cadre of people end up in an empty house in a bid to defend themselves, and they fall prey to their inner psychology long before the zombies get inside for a snack.
The oft-haunting symphonic score, interestingly, was culled mostly from stock music a division of Capitol Records had on hand. Even the title theme had been used in the show Ben Casey in 1961, according to an interview Living Dead actor Karl Hardman gave some years ago.
This time around, OGRE and Campbell retain the foreboding and terror that permeated the original, but dial down the histrionics and nix the orchestra. As we’ve come to expect from them, they’re all about the synths and, often, subtlety. This isn’t an outright dark ambient score, to be sure. Pulsating arpeggiators, assertive drum-machine rhythms, and memorable synth leads are all there.
Take the “Opening Credits,” for example. A stern bass drum offers a healthy chunk of propulsion, over which a meaty synth bass and choir have a conversation that sets the stage for the horrors that will come. Intermingled is a haunting melody that crawls underneath your skin and burrows its way into your brain.
“High Levels of Radiation” is a fuzzy, analogue meditation that hits home at the point in the film when one scientist offers a compelling explanation for the protagonists’ state of affairs. The supernatural synths and (maybe) Hammond B3 do a particularly moving job of illustrating the preciousness of understanding why zombies abound, while underscoring the apparent powerlessness to do anything about it.
The bad-ass “End Credits” feature in-yer-face spectral synth blasts and soul-slapping acoustic drums. The last few cues on the score transpire this way, energizing the irony and shame of the film’s closing twist.
Even if you never watch the film, all of the cuts mentioned above, and those unmentioned, are a blast to experience. It’s worth popping on some headphones and walking around town at night listening to this score. If you live somewhere in which pedestrians are viewed with the same suspicion as the “undead,” then bump this album while cruising in your car. It’ll be a spooky experience.
To buy the album, you can visit Bandcamp now or wait until Oct. 21 for other options. Remember to watch the movie on Oct. 28.
A note: Because OGRE and Dallas are kind and generous purveyors of sonic fear, the collection includes an EP’s worth of alternate versions of several cues, including the opening credits.