His Dark Exotica: Ennio Morricone - “Magic and Ecstasy”

[13 September 2010]

By Jason Cook

Somewhere on the downbeat in The Heretic’s “Magic and Ecstasy” are the ghost notes that the film’s teenage Regan must find alarming, like a Trashmen record played at the wrong speed. One of the coverable tracks on the album, the song tries very little to scare its listeners in the way they may have expected after hearing either incarnation of “Regan’s Theme”. Instead, a drum kit cobbles through a Voodoo Child rock beat, accompanying a fuzzed-out bassline that leads us into Hell.

“Magic and Ecstasy’s” psychedelic tendencies aren’t at all at odds with The Heretic’s imagery. In fact, if one were to excerpt the film’s African possession scenes (yes, Exorcist II has plenty of strange scenes set in an Ethiopian dreamworld, from the perspective of a third-person psy-locust controlled by Linda Blair’s thoughts—see what I’m getting at here?) and contrast them with those of a bandanna-clad Band of Gypsies, add a few wavering King Crimson solos, and, well—I think Ennio Morricone had it right here.  At its most interesting moments, The Heretic is fairly entertaining, and mainly during its dreamworld sidebar. We see stampeding wildebeest, red rocky caverns, perspective-skewed savannah after grassland after dark reddened riverscape. James Earl Jones shows up as an entomologist. At one moment, Blair’s Regan tells us commandingly as she flies in locust-form: “Come; fly the teeth of the wind. Share my wings”. All of this Morricone watched in a mixing room as he wrote “Magic and Ecstasy”.

Elements of the song are given in rock form, appearing elsewhere on the soundtrack and making the track nothing of a departure. A strong coda from the film’s official theme—“Pazuzu”—plays orchestrally, the chord progression from “Rite of Magic” is sparsely there, a helium-dosed version of the choir singing through “Little Afro Flemish Mass” contributes to the track’s close. The mix of strings, choir, rock drums, rock bass, and a wailing lead are the stuff of Goblin, the sort-of rival to Morricone’s `70s Italian horror greatness. In fact, The Heretic is nearly concurrent with Goblin’s prime oeuvre, happening alongside the release of Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977), and Dawn of the Dead (1978). “Magic and Ecstasy” is then nearly proto-Goblin, following the more funked out sound of Goblin’s work on Deep Red by only a few years, but implying the very progressive and atmospheric vibe of Suspiria in the same year. On its own, “Magic and Ecstasy” is very much a giallo song; it is in the sense that its composer closely tied to craft, horror, and experimentalism, three descriptives valid of The Exorcist II soundtrack, of Goblin, and of similar late-‘70s genre releases.

The song was covered by multi-instrumentalist and Residents collaborator Snakefinger, on his first LP, Chewing Hides The Sound. Snakefinger ups the tempo on his rendition, working intensely through the lead guitar part with progressive flair. The cover was released three years after Morricone’s version, making it relevant enough for the era, though one would wonder just how obscure it really was.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/129678-ennio-morricone-his-dark-exotica-p.2/