Growing up in a small town in the '80s, it was a common childhood routine to wander aimlessly through the local video rental store for hours in search of a nightly cure for feverish boredoms. We lethargically stared down the same germ-encrusted VHS boxes night after night in the hope of escaping the collective town claustrophobia and vicariously living out our unsatisfied teenage fantasies.
The filthy world of low-budget sleaze films opened up a secret backdoor into a vortex of pain, pleasure, and repulsion inconceivable to the 11-year-old psyche-- an alternate celluloid universe where men and women willfully engaged in whatever acts would please the deepest damages of whoever could get hold of a camera and call themselves a "director."
An essential ingredient in the delivery of these ultra-dark and trashy films were the soundtracks: slightly pacifying, sour-sounding ballads that created the illusion that the empty and cheap nihilisms were worthy of some sort of beginning and end. This music is crucial in painting the perfect nightmare to descend on a soft child's mind. It deepens the wounds inflicted by that nightmare and gets entangled with one's developing maladjustments, so that you leave the theater wondering if you hear something rushing through the bushes in the park ...noticing weird shit like how evil wind can be ...or feeling as though you empathize with the schizophrenic killer..
In the pantheon of haunted scores, the music that accompanied The House on the Edge of the Park still makes for a lasting and unique nightmare. Like that blurred copy of Faces of Death that you had to drive to the next town over to rent, this movie always sat in the distance, reserved only for those who could attain imported/collectable media. To drive home its scarcity and the fetishism around it, its soundtrack was never released. You had to admire its power from a distance, as the tape always had to be returned to its vacuum-sealed world, governed by the kinds of arbitrary things that concerned adults, like "daylight" and "money."
"Sweetly" is the sound of one's worst memories-- a satanic playground chant buried under a cloud of hiss. A perverse dash of optimism in the singer's tone anticipates something much worse to come, setting the scene for misdirected Goths to hide out beneath face paints among their imaginary friends in mom's basement. Unfortunately for those who would paint a highbrow glaze over the hour-and-a-half of trash that is The House on the Edge of the Park, there are really no philosophical rungs to grab hold of in arguing that it's really a conscious commentary on rape and brutality. But that's where Riz Ortolani comes in-- one of the greatest Italian composers in the business of setting pacifying soundtracks to scenes of near-criminal nihilism in films like Cannibal Holocaust. The result is one the most perverse/relatively complex horror-disco songs in cinematic history.
"Do it To Me (Once More)," also from the film, is written from an imagined perspective, embodying at once the darkest aspect of male desire and the feminist's ultimate nightmare. Italian female voices chant "I'll be for you anything you desire," suggesting total subordination and objectification. And while the movie is ultimately pointless for me, it carries the anticipation of experiencing a living hell on earth, which somehow enhances the song's dark power and makes the hook that much more seductive. Just as LSD unveils hidden rooms inside one's psyche, this anticipation of fear and the unknown opens a window into a place inside the brain that is impossible to awaken without a feeling of repulsion, a certain abandoning of the moral plane.
It follows that the creation of strong memories often coincides with the experience of shock, and that we tend to develop a sort of affection for our damages no matter how insidious the occasion that created them. An artist returns to his or her early scars, trolling through gutters to recapitulate or demythologize early experiences that lodged feelings of confusion and fear into the recesses of their unconscious. What once repulsed you becomes a source of seduction, and as the mystique of the world begins to fade as you become an adult, feelings of risk, fear, and intimidation are harder to access.
Now, in these overly convenient times, a tidal wave of digitalism rises to wash away the glorious and tangible boredoms of our past. As a tactile sense of real-life-as-you-are-trapped-in-it gets replaced with faster and easier pleasures and escapes, its hard not to momentarily eulogize the limits of your former prison cell.
Emil Amos is a Portland-based songwriter and drummer whose played in Lilacs & Champagne, Holy Sons, Om, and Grails. Om's Advaitic Songs comes out July 24th on Drag City.