Back in the 1970’s the BBC released a load of albums of sound effects. Initially these were conservative affairs which were full of effects created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for television and radio. So there’s wind, water, trains, cars, phones ringing, that sort of stuff.
Then in 1977 with Volume 13 of their sound effects records, the BBC released Death & Horror, an album of sound effects of a more horrific nature. It was a welcome addition to their library for us demented fans of the macabre seeking chills, thrills and spills.
The cover alone was worth getting it for with it’s lurid images of horror and gore but the track-listing was for any horror fan utter bliss. And looking at the titles, you can tell they don’t leave much to the imagination in terms of their implied content, providing perfect scores for creating scenes your own scenes of terror, murder and mayhem in your head.
Sound effects of arms being cut off, pokers being rammed into eyes, various screams, mad gorillas, and tortures were a joy. Curated by BBC producer Ian Richardson and created by engineer Mike Harding (not the 1970’s folk musician/comedian) using synthesisers, props and lots and lots of vegetables being mutilated, Death and Horror was a massive hit.
Hits of course often produce sequels, even for sound effects albums in the 1970’s; so in 1978 volume 21 of the BBC’s sound effects library was released, titled More Death and Horror, which for me is the pinnacle of the horror albums the BBC produced.
From the opening track “Death of the Fly” to eyes being gouged, or Sweeney Todd slitting throats, to the premature burial, this album went beyond doing just mere sound effects to instead create small snippets of horror. Again, the album has wonderfully lurid cover artwork and if you were any sort of horror fan in 1978 you wanted this album for that alone. This was before the video boom, back when owning films was expensive outwith of the Super 8 boom – and even then getting uncut gory exploitation films was nearly impossible. These albums were the closest we could get to experiencing these bloody films, and they sparked many an imagination, mine included.
A third and final horror effects album was released in 1981 entitled Even More Death and Horror, which went completely and utterly out there in terms of gory imagination.
The track listing for this album is wonderful if you like your horror bloody. “Two Throat Cuts Or Two Throats Cut”, “Wrists Cut – The Blood Drips Into The Bucket”, “Drilling Into The Head – Enough Said ”and the simply brilliant title “Trial By Ordeal – A “Medievil” Practice Where The Accused Would Pick A Ring Out Of A Deep Pot Of Boiling Water – If The Resulting Burns Healed Up Quickly The He/She Was Innocent – Some Chance!”
After that there wasn’t anywhere for the albums to go, plus by 1981 the video boom was gaining momentum, which allowed us gorehounds at the time to see eyes being gouged – and much worse – in films which would be soon be dubbed “Video Nasties.” The sound effect albums eventually passed away, but the albums lived on with fans and continued to be remembered fondly enough. The first two albums are available on iTunes as part of the compilation album Essential Death and Horror, but the third album is a rarity now, and from what I’ve seen it seems to trade for a lot of money.
These three albums are wonderfully evocative examples of what horror fans used to enjoy in the analogue age. Listening back to these albums now and it’s amazing how primitive they are, or how obvious it is that you’re listening to a man in a studio stick a spoon into a melon to simulate eyes being gouged. But when you were a kid, it sounded exactly what you think these things would sound like. But some of the tracks still manage to pack a scare or two; something like the “Premature Burial” still scares me and I still get a frisson at the gory antics.
Most of all these albums are goldmines of creativity that allowed people to be creative themselves, as I’m sure kids used these for radio plays they’d conjured up by their own imaginations. But this was a time when the BBC and the Radiophonic Workshop was full of imaginative genius’ who deserve all the praise they can get. Without them horror fans of the 1970’s wouldn’t have gotten their fix of wonderful twisted treats…