Staying Alive: Horror Soundtracks

By Niki Boyle
August 6, 2017

‘My big surprise watching Night of the Living Dead was, in fact, its poignancy.’ So says Ben Singer, half of musical duo Modern Robot and perhaps one of only a handful of people ever to describe a zombie movie as poignant. In fairness, he’s as surprised as anyone. ‘It’s not what I thought it would be, and that’s a reason I now enjoy bringing this film to people so much.’

He’s discussing Modern Robot’s Fringe show, Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead, an edited version of the classic horror film accompanied by a new live score. This Fringe run of the show may end up being even more poignant than Singer originally intended: the film’s director, George A Romero, passed away just last month.

‘With George Romero’s death, I think people will come out of curiosity and with some amused nostalgia,’ says Singer, ‘and I believe many will find the same surprise. If I can bring out this part of Romero’s work, then I think I’ve have honoured his life well.’

The show is also bound to attract at least a few from the film’s cult fan base – some of whom might understandably bristle at the phrase ‘edited version’. Living Dead-heads can rest easy, though – Singer is sensitive to the source material’s appeal, and has made cuts out of pragmatism, not ego. ‘As a practical matter, I knew a 60-minute show would be a better fit for a Fringe performance. That’s a tall order, coming from a 96-minute film. I was concerned that I would lose the pacing, some core parts of it, or disappoint fans of the movie.’

However, while he praises leading man Duane Jones’ ‘excellent performance’, Singer recognises that ‘some of the acting is, indeed, not very good. So these are the parts I began editing out. I removed a section with some aggravated scientists and government officials, a staple and trope in horror films that I felt didn’t advance the plot, and kept going from there.’ The end result, believes Singer, is ‘sharper, and makes more clear the story that George Romero was trying to tell.’ The new soundtrack even incorporates elements of the original score – Singer describes the process as ‘a bit like sampling’ – and he’s taken pains to ensure Romero’s original dialogue and sound effects remain audible.