When one discusses the music from Hammer movies, invariably the attention of the conversation focuses upon composer James Bernard, like wise when talking about a particular label or labels that were responsible for championing the music from these horrors, the attention is upon both GDI for their great work bringing entire scores to CD, and Silva Screen who were the pioneers in re-recording these wonderfully lush, grandiose, fearsome and dramatic iconic film scores. It is a great pity that Silva did not extend their re-recordings to include music from Amicus, Tigon and American International, but I suppose that was mainly due to the issue of copyright. Silva Screens 1989, recording MUSIC FROM THE HAMMER FILMS is still for me one of the best releases of Hammer film music, and although it was a re-recording was faithful to the original works as penned by Bernard, Whitaker and Gunning. DRACULA, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA representing composer James Bernard, and VAMPIRE CIRCUS and THE HANDS OF THE RIPPER making an appearance in suite form by composers David Whitaker and Christopher Gunning. The collection was re-released with different art work a few years later in the 1990’s, but the HANDS OF THE RIPPER suite was edited.
After the success of the original release by Silva Screen interest in music for Hammer productions seemed to grow even larger, and it was Silva who stepped up re-leasing a number of re-recordings of themes and suites from Hammer movies, and Horror movies in general, one in particular I found very entertaining, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, featuring THE RETURN OF DRACULA, was a collection of music from 13 movies all of which were about VAMPIRES, not all Hammer productions, the CD, included music by Gerald Fried, Daniel Licht, David Whitaker, Robert Cobert, Brad Fiedel, Johnathan Elias, Chuck Cirino, Lee Holdridge, Cliff Eidelman, Fred Mollin, Mark McKenzie, Brian May, Richard Stone and The Flower Duet which was included on the soundtrack for THE HUNGER which starred David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. Let’s, not forget when this compilation was released most of the music included had not been issued before or if it had the albums were deleted or hard to find, so to have a selection of the main themes or suites of the principal themes was very welcome. The recording opened with a suite from the 1958 low budget movie, THE RETURN OF DRACULA or THE CURSE OF DRACULA as it was known in some countries, which placed Dracula (Francis Lederer) in a more contemporary location than audiences were accustomed to in a lazy American town, where nothing much ever happened. Let’s, not forget this was before Hammer decided to introduce the Count to the 20th Century, in their DRACULA AD 1972 and SATANIC RITES etc. The movie although entertaining was soon eclipsed by the success of Hammers original Christopher Lee DRACULA movie, but it still was and is a credible and interesting addition to the Dracula films directory and one worth seeing.
The Music was by Gerald Fried, who was one of the busiest men in film and TV music at one point, writing some memorable scores for movies such as TOO LATE THE HERO, PATHS OF GLORY, THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, THE CABINET OF CALIGARI and a plethora of TV series such as STAR TREK, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, BEN CASEY, JERICHO, WAGON TRAIN and so many more. Fried based his central theme upon THE DIES ARIES and built the remainder of his score around this strong and vibrant core. The Overture from Fried’s score is included here and although brief is a bold and affecting piece. Track two, is the suite from VAMPIRE CIRCUS a stylish Hammer entry into the vampiric chronicles, released in 1971, it was something of an excursion away from the more traditional Dracula tales, and as the title suggests revolves around a travelling Circus which is making its way through Europe in the 19th Century.
The performers and animals are all the undead variety and feast on the blood of the living to survive. This is a tale of revenge, many years before a relative of the members of the Circus who was a vampire was killed by the villagers, in his dying breath the Vampire cursed the village and the occupants swearing to avenge his death and wreak a terrible revenge upon the children of his murderers. In one of the now famous, Hammer films, pre-credits sequences we see the staking of the Vampire and the destruction of his castle acted out and hear the Vampire promise death to all. The music by David Whitaker is superb, it is gloriously macabre and fearsomely melodic, with foreboding brass and jarring chords that evoke an uncomfortable atmosphere that is filled with drama, but at the same time has an attraction to it via the sweeping waltz like passages.
For the third entry on the compilation we move forward in time to modern day American, well 1985, FRIGHT NIGHT, starred Roddy McDowall as a down on his luck TV presenter, Peter Vincent, (see what they did there) who introduces a late night Horror show, he is asked by Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) for help as he is certain that his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a Vampire. Well we know he is, but the police and others are not so sure, but Charley and Peter join forces in a bid to destroy the bloodsucker. The music was written by Brad Fiedel who is probably better know for his work on THE TERMINATOR, the score for FRIGHT NIGHT is an inventive one, and completely synthetic as in electronic, but the composer creates a soundtrack that is hauntingly effective and because of the setting is fully in tune with what is happening within the storyline, creating an eerie and apprehensive accompaniment to the proceedings, Fiedel also worked on the sequel FRIGHT NIGHT 2, which hit the screens in 1989. The films soundtrack also included several songs, that worked well as an enhancement to Fiedel’s score.
Next, we have TRANSYLVANIA TWIST, which was released in 1991, Chuck Cirino’s varied and infectious score is represented here via a near 8-minute suite, in my opinion Cirino is such an underrated composer, he always delivers great themes and music that not only works within the movie but is also entertaining away from the images. For this Jim Wynorski directed horror classic, he had a lot of area to cover, as the director took us on a rollercoaster ride of horror film clichés in this off beat and honestly mad musical. Non-the less although not Oscar material, this is still a movie that is enjoyable, as we all know you must have good knowledge of a genre to be able to send it up, and Wynorski does it wonderfully.
The remainder of the compilation is a great listen, and contains symphonic colours and textures, alongside entries that are completely synthesised, we are even treated to operatic excellence with the voices of Lesley Garret and Lesley Christian from the Hunger, which is a glimpse of calm in a compilation brimming with, action led cues, apprehensive atmospheres and chilling passages. TRANSYLVANNIA 6500, VAMP, TO DIE FOR, SON OF DARKNESS-TO DIE FOR 2, FOREVER KNIGHT, follow as do Daniel Licht’s underrated music from CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, Richard Stones vampire western score SUNDOWN-THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, Brian May’s THIRST and the powerful music of Robert Cobert for the Jack Palance TV movie DRACULA which is now thankfully available in its complete form on compact disc. This is a very entertaining collection, and maybe now sadly deleted still worth seeking out. I wish Silva would start once again to un-earth musical gems from the vaults of horror. But maybe we won’t have to wait too long, as I hear that maybe we are in for a treat soon, from a prominent recording label.