By MICHAEL GINGOLD
A giant in the world of film music, who contributed to numerous classic horror films, has passed away.
Various sources have reported that Italian composer Ennio Morricone died early this morning at age 91, after being taken to a hospital in Rome following a fall in which he fractured his hip. The son of a trumpet player, Morricone begin writing music at a young age and composed a number of classical pieces and works for theater and television, as well as songs for numerous pop singers, before getting into the film business ghost-writing for better-known composers in the 1950s. He began scoring movies under his own name at the beginning of the ’60s, with most of his early credits being comedies and costumes dramas. He first achieved fame in the field when he hooked up with Sergio Leone for the director’s classic series of Westerns beginning with 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. One of Morricone’s crowning achievements was THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, whose soundtrack album sold over three million copies worldwide.
Among Morricone’s comedy credits were several early films by Lucio Fulci (including 1964’s I MANIACI, featuring Barbara Steele) before the latter turned to horror, and the composer made his own fright debut with Mario Caiano’s NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965, also starring Steele). He made his first big splash in scare cinema collaborating with Dario Argento on the “Animal Trilogy”: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), THE CAT O’NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (both 1971). Morricone composed for many other gialli as well, among them Fulci’s LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971), Umberto Lenzi’s SPASMO (1974), Enzo G. Castellari’s COLD EYES OF FEAR (1971), Aldo Lado’s SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (1971) and WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972), Massimo Dallamano’s WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972), Luciano Ercoli’s FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1971), Luigi Bazzoni’s THE FIFTH CORD (1972), Paolo Cavara’s THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1972), Tonino Valerii’s MY DEAR KILLER (1972) and Armando Crispino’s AUTOPSY (1974).
As his prominence continued to grow through the ’70s, ’80s and beyond, Morricone scored numerous fright films, among them Michael Anderson’s ORCA (1977), which features one of his most haunting and underrated scores. His other horror credits include John Boorman’s EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977), Alberto De Martino’s HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) and BLOOD LINK (1982), Michael Ritchie’s THE ISLAND (1980), John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), Mike Nichols’ WOLF (1994) and Argento’s THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998). He was Oscar-nominated six times, for Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978), Roland Joffé’s THE MISSION (1986, losing to ROUND MIDNIGHT, which contained pre-existing music, leading to controversy and the changing of Academy rules), Brian De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), Warren Beatty’s BUGSY, Giuseppe Tornatore’s MALENA (2000) and Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015), winning for the latter, and also took an honorary Academy Award in 2006. Morricone leaves behind a body of work, and a legacy that continues to influence film scoring, that will never be matched.