The only thing scarier this Halloween than a Joe Arapio or Jan Brewer mask is Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale, a dark album of Halloween music devised by Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider.
Anyone who has ever watched a horror film or felt the fear of walking alone at night will certainly relate to the goose bump-inducing, chilling pulse of this "soundtrack." Oculus Infernum alternately races along at heart-pounding speed one minute, drops to a frightening whisper the next and then builds into a climatic horror film-like finale. It generates a battle raging behind the eyes where each listener confronts their own fears.
"As a kid it sort of became a challenge to overcome my fears. I continue to challenge myself. I try and do scary and creepier things to freak myself out," Snider says with a laugh during a phone interview from his New York home. See also: Dee Snider Talks About His New Book, Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, and New Album
"We as people are drawn to the things that scare us. I think that being scared from a distance, not for real, but from a roller coaster ride, a book, or film, but knowing your really safe hiding under the blankets -- like when you are a little kid -- we want that feeling. We want that feeling of knowing mommy or daddy or that special blanket protects us. And the only way to get that feeling is by being scared. You don't get that exhilaration, that adrenaline rush or ultimate feeling of security unless you get a good scare."
Calling his band Van Helsing's Curse after the fictional vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, Snider forged the 2003 album over several years, narrating his original story of a cursed child, the only survivor of a town murdered by an unseen entity. The youth decides to seek revenge and becomes a demon slayer.
Musically, blistering heavy metal riffs and power chords mix with pieces of classical music, horror movie themes, an orchestral choir and what Snider calls "other creepy works," like Chopin's "Funeral March." The spine tingling intro to Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells (from The Exorcist) kicks off the album, picking up giant guitar riffs like deadly spiders before adding a haunting choir and Grieg's "In The Hall Of The Mountain King." There is also Jerry Goldsmith's "Ave Satani" (from The Omen films), Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," Holst's "Mars, The Bringer Of War" and Black Sabbath's classic "Black Sabbath," among other pieces, sprinkled about that give the album a true soundtrack quality.
"I wanted to have a story on the record and then do the music to represent the story," he explains. "The idea was to find classical themes that had built-in creep factors or were just sort of haunting. I mean, we use "Moonlight Sonata" in there and that's not exactly a scary piece by any means. But in the context of the way we arranged it, it became a haunting melody." Oddly enough, Snider conceived the idea during a Christmas program by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Taken with their presentation and concept in mixing classic Christmas songs with rock and metal, Snider looked for another avenue to make this pairing work.
"I always felt there was a void in music for Halloween and every year it is the same damn sound effects tape," he says. "I called up some musician buddies of mine and said 'Trans-Siberian Orchestra for Halloween.' They said, 'We love it.'"
Though the album took three years to complete, and was financed out of his own pocket, Snider is poised to make this "the ultimate" soundtrack for the season, and many years to come. His target audience, he says, is adults, not kids.
"It's darker ... we weren't trying to make it PG-13," he says of the album. "Halloween is the fastest growing holiday not because more kids are going trick or treating, but more adults are getting involved. We wanted to make something that would appeal to adults. It's not the Halloween I grew up with. It's an all ages event now."
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Naturally, he decided to test his theory at his home.
"I thought this would be a great record to put on for a Halloween party. I always had my stupid sound effects tape, but (on) Halloween we set up a boom box with a smoke machine on the porch," he says, uncontainable excitement in his voice. "I'll tell you what, kids were afraid to come to the front door. It was awesome. Awesome! Now that's Halloween!"