Originally released back in 1989 by Silva Screen Records, MUSIC FROM THE HAMMER FILMS was indeed a groundbreaking release, the compilation which was firstly released on long playing record in a gatefold cover later received a compact disc issue and has remained an iconic and popular release amongst collectors of fine movie music. Remember this was in the days before any of Hammers film music had been released in full soundtrack editions by GDI/BSX records and I think I am correct when I say that the only music that had been released was in the form of background music to story version from Hammer movies such as THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES and CHRISTOPHER LEE,S DRACULA album on EMI, which did have four tracks on its flip side that were promoted as THE FOUR FACES OF EVIL, these being the romantic and haunting SHE by James Bernard, the sensual and malevolent sounding THE VAMPIRE LOVERS by Harry Robinson, the gloriously dramatic and romantic DR JECKLE AND SISTER HYDE by David Whittaker and the jagged and chilling FEAR IN THE NIGHT by John McCabe all of which were conducted by Philip Martell.
Hammer films from the 1950,s through to the late 1970,s always boasted strong musical scores and it was something of a surprise to many when the scores were not issued onto any recording format whatsoever. James Bernard’s iconic and fearsome sounding DRACULA theme surely deserved an entire release to its self, alas not. So when SILVA SCREEN announced this re-recording fans of Hammer went into raptures. The compilation features mainly the music of Hammer’s almost composer in residence Bernard and also boasted David Whittaker’s powerful music for VAMPIRE CIRCUS and Christopher Gunning’s beautiful but at the same time unsettling music for THE HANDS OF THE RIPPER. The music was performed by the world renowned Philharmonia orchestra under the baton of Neil Richardson, the whole thing being supervised by Hammer films MD Philip Martell. Silva Screen had obviously put a lot of time thought and effort into bringing the re recording to fruition and presented the release with glowing art work and informative liner notes, giving collectors a chance to see James Bernard, at the recording sessions with engineer Mike Ross Trevor and producer Eric Tomlinson at the mixing desk, the booklet also featured pictures of David Whittaker listening intently to the playback of VAMPIRE CIRCUS and Neil Richardson conducting the orchestra. The compact disc opens with THE DRACULA SUITE, which is such a fitting way to start any compilation of Hammer film music, James Bernard’s foreboding, dark and evil sounding DRA-CU-LA three note motif setting the scene for the Prince of chaos.
The suite which is in five sections is made up from music that is taken from the original 1958 DRACULA and also DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS from 1966, the opening is instantly recognisable and still strikes a little terror into the hearts of anyone who hears it, Bernard’s simple but highly effective musical motif is as recognisable as Monty Normans, JAMES BOND THEME, as terrifying as Herrmann’s PSYCHO and as menacing as the JAWS theme by John Williams. After the familiar and dramatic opening the suite segues into the music that Bernard used to accompany Jonathan Harker on his investigation of the lofty hallway of castle Dracula, where he encounters a young woman, unbeknown to him she is one of the undead and attempts to turn Harker into one of her kind, this is interrupted by the appearance of Count Dracula who ferociously attacks the girl and also lashes out at Harker. Part three of the suite THE KISS OF THE LIVING DEATH is a piece of masterful scoring by Bernard his music acting as a hypnotic and alluring background to Dracula’s attempt to seduce his victims. Part four of the suite is FUNERAL IN CARPATHIA, which is a slow but menacing piece for strings woodwind and subdued brass that are all punctuated by a slow and deliberate sounding drumbeat. Part five is the finale sequence music from DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, which takes place on a frozen river, where the infamous Count is dispatched by Father Shandor (Andrew Keir) with a single gun shot into the ice that releases pure running water, the vampire lord falls into the icy depths and is destroyed, but I think we all realise at this point that he will return. Bernard’s music is dramatic and feverish in places, supporting and underlining wonderfully the confrontation between good and evil and the Counts demise. The next section is from the 1971 Hammer production HANDS OF THE RIPPER, this starred Eric Porter and also Dora Bryan, with Anghard Rees as the beautiful but deadly Anna, who is supposedly the daughter of Jack the Ripper and is from time to time possessed by his spirit and goes on a killing spree, the movie was actually very entertaining and the score by British composer Christopher Gunning had within its make up a kind of James Bernard sound, but also had at its core a mesmerising and haunting theme for the films central character Anna that is luxurious and affecting. In my humble opinion this is probably one of Hammer’s best non James Bernard scores, Gunning unfortunately did not return to work on any other horrors for the studio, which is a great pity. For the next section we return to the music of Bernard and also to DRACULA. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE was the third in the Christopher Lee DRACULA cycle of movies, and for this outing the Count becomes locked in a battle of wills and also stamina with a Monsignor played by the excellent Rupert Davies.
The glamour in the movie was provided by Veronica Carlson who took the role of the Monsignors Daughter who was a prime target for the Count. Bernard’ s music was just as dramatic as his two previous works for Dracula but on this occasion the Dracula theme did not seem to be used as much the composer opting for an arrangement of the theme on which he based the remainder of his score.
VAMPIRE CIRCUS comes next in the running order a vampire movie with a difference and one that took the traditional vampire tale and twisted it slightly to come up with an ingenious and also an entertaining movie. The opening pre credit scene is one that must go down in Hammer history as being one of the most exciting and dramatic. Helped along by the powerful, sensual and mesmerising music of composer David Whittaker. The music for this compilation and re recording is represented by a near 10 minute suite that is just glorious. Whittaker’s darkly rich and evil sounding waltz like theme weaving its way through the suite and acting as the basis of the work, effective use of cimbalom that is strategically placed adding an authenticity and giving the music a greater depth and increasing the atmospheric effects of it within the film, bombastic sounding brass that is supported by thundering percussion and punctuated by strings making this a candidate for the best Hammer vampire soundtrack ever penned. I hope that one day the entire score will be released as only sections have since made it onto compact disc, within the excellent GDI series. For the final section on the compilation we return to the master of the Counts music James Bernard, for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA the composer was asked by producer Aida Young to provide a more romantic sounding score, I remember Bernard telling me in interview that initially he was a little cross at the request, but then could see that the movie did need a love theme for the two young central characters in the story, thus was born the beautiful and quintessentially English sounding pastoral piece THE YOUNG LOVERS, which has endured over the years as one of the scores most haunting themes. In fact it ranks along side the composers romantic and mysterious theme for SHE, which was his own personal favourite. Of course Bernard utilised his DRA-CU-LA theme within the score and because of the presence of the love theme this already familiar and fearful sounding theme seemed even more threatening and ominous. The suite of music contained in this re-recording runs for just over 17 minutes, with ROMANCE AT DUSK being the highlight cue, beautiful and subdued woodwinds open the track that are underlined by a light strings, the central theme is then taken on by the string section who give it a more sustained working, the theme gradually builds and emerges into a poignant and attractive composition.
The final cue THE VICTORY OF LOVE is a triumphant sounding version of the love theme the composer adding brass and percussion to the proceedings, telling the audience that evil has once again been defeated and love and good has prevailed. This is a collection that you as a Hammer fan should not be without, and yes I know these are not the original recordings, but they were arranged by the composers and also supervised by Hammers own Phil Martell, the compilation which was deleted was soon after resurrected with alternative art work the only difference being that the suite from HANDS OF THE RIPPER was a shorter version on the re release, if you can find a copy of the original release it would be far better, but if not settle for the re-issue an essential purchase.