I'm just fresh from a screening of William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac and not having seen the film for some years now, I had forgotten just how good Jay Chattaway's electro-acoustic score is. By the late 70's, early 80's seemingly every low budget Horror film was outfitted with an electronic soundtrack. By then synthesizers had become more affordable, and cash-strapped film producers were more likely to seize the talents of a one man bedroom boffin than a composer with an orchestra in tow. This was an era when electronic music was still relatively new and exotic and many Horror films of the day featured little more than bargain basement knob twiddler soundtracks (Inseminoid and Don't Go In the Woods come to mind). Jay Chattaway's music for Maniac is something else entirely, a dark gloomy work which really compliments the urban menace of Lustig's visuals. This being a slasher film, Chattaway's music comes with its fair share of requisite stings - a tradition already well established in the wake of John Carpenter's music for Halloween, but it's the score's quieter moments which really impress - like the extremely unnerving music that accompanies Spinell's maniac tending to his mannequins, or the thick brooding drones in the sequence where Spinell sets his sights on the couple making out in the car.
It's difficult to think of another contemporary American Horror film with a score similar to Maniac, the music in fact sounds closer to a European tradition, falling somewhere in between Ennio Morricone, Tangerine Dream and Goblin, the opening theme music in particular is augmented with a melancholic flute refrain and a fretless bass sound that might have strayed from an ECM record. Chattaway's score did earn an official soundtrack release in 1981 on the Varese Sarabande label in the US and releases followed shortly in France and Italy. Since then the soundtrack has surfaced at various times on CD and vinyl in limited edition runs, but fortunately the entire score can be listened to here