During the 1990s, there seemed to be a glut of spooky romance across various media platforms. Movies like The Addams Family and Nightmare Before Christmas shared eerie love stories on the big screen, while authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton provided supernatural intimacy on the printed page. At record stores, there was no shortage of music with themes of Gothic adoration, and video games were starting to come into their own with telling stories of otherworldly love.
While I would hardly consider Grim Fandango to be a horror game, its story and subject matter certainly revolve around death. Our intrepid hero Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent for recently departed souls entering the Land of the Dead. As he begins to uncover a plot of crime and corruption within his employer, the Department of Death, Manny meets a virtuous soul named Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.
At first, Manny merely thinks of Meche as his ticket out of his dead end job. If Manny can score a client with an honorable life such as Meche’s, he believes this will work off his debt so he can move onto a true afterlife of rest. But when Meche’s chance at a golden ticket to the Ninth Underworld is stolen from her, Manny begins a quest that will ultimately lead him to fall in love with Meche.
Over the course of the game, a certain piece of music pops up as Manny and Meche begin to show feelings for each other. The exact instrumentation varies in each scenario, but the basic melody calls to mind a haunting dance between two souls. Soft strings resonate feelings of love and sorrow; the struggles of a romance that has been tested by difficult circumstances.
Composer Peter McConnell created a beautiful piece of music to encapsulate the feelings between Manny and Meche, and the remastered performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is both heartwarming and haunting at the same time. There is a sense of sad uncertainty to the music; as if the dancing couple may not get to enjoy each other’s company once the song is complete. But just as Manuel Calavera said, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”