I thought before writing the review for the new recording of DRACULA and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN by Tadlow records, I would have a look at Horror scores or at least soundtracks from them. When you think about it, music from horror films has come a long way. By this I mean the actual release of the musical score from a horror movie has come on leaps and bounds. Music in horror movies is in most cases an important and integral part of the film making process, the music tells the audience that something unspeakable could be about to happen and it also underlines the something when it does happen. Cast your mind back if you will to the late 1950’s, the decade was coming to an end and a bright new decade was about to dawn. Ah yes the 1960’s, but let us not forget the 1950’s because if it were not for studios such as Universal in Hollywood producing a plethora of what we now call B monster movies then the horror movie as we know it probably would not have come into being or evolved in the way that it has. So, the 1950’s was a fruitful time for movie makers, as they enticed audiences into theatres with tales of both horror and sci-fi. Many now classic films were released during that decade and in the following years movie makers and writers dipped into this rich heritage of mad scientists, creatures from black lagoons and giant ants on the rampage to create even more terrifying abominations. However, the music for these productions and many that followed although being very good and working as a wonderful background and support to the monster/horror flicks was largely overlooked and albeit ignored. A few soundtrack collectors had noticed the scores for these movies but alas were to be denied hearing them unless they went to the cinema or maybe caught a movie late on TV.
There was an LP record released on Coral records in 1959 by Dick Jacobs and his orchestra, which at the time was welcomed by fans of horror film music, this was a compilation with a handful of themes and pieces of music from various movies, one being THE HORROR OF DRACULA by James Bernard. Hammer films in the UK had been making movies for several years before they decided to turn their attention to the Gothic Horror market, and what better way to begin in this genre than with a classic tale FRANKENSTEIN. The studio based their THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN loosely on the writings of Mary Shelley, and wanted to make the picture something that was removed stylistically and appearance wise from the Universal Boris Karloff films of the 1930’s. It was not only a ground-breaking move by Hammer but also a brave one. Hammer decided to place the film in the more than capable hands of film maker Terence Fisher, who brought to fruition a tale of terror and fear and in full colour too.
Released on May 2nd, 1957, the films screenplay was fashioned by Jimmy Sangster and starred Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein with a powerful performance by a heavily made up Christopher Lee as the Monster. NO ONE WHO SAW IT LIVED TO DESCRIBE IT, was one of the films taglines, IT WILL HAUNT YOU FOREVER being the other.
This first foray into the realms of horror needed a strong musical score, and Hammer’s musical director John Hollingsworth turned to composer James Bernard to create a score that matched the horror and the fearsome action. Bernard had worked on two films previously for Hammer THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1955) and X THE UNKNOWN (1957). Which he recalled when I spoke to him in the late 1980’s after he had returned to England because Silva Screen were planning a recording of Hammer film music, the majority of which would be his. “It was through conductor John Hollingsworth that I received my first film scoring assignment, John had conducted a number of my works for radio, he was also at this time musical director and supervisor for Hammer films. The film company had just produced a picture called THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, a composer had already been signed, but unfortunately John Hotchkiss had been taken ill and was unable to provide the score. John Hollingsworth played a tape of my music from The Duchess of Malfi to the director of QUATERMASS, Anthony Hinds, and he agreed to let me write the score. This was my first project for Hammer and more importantly I think my first film score”. For the first three projects that Bernard worked on for Hammer, the composer was only given the use of the percussion and string sections of the orchestra. “I think that John Hollingsworth had decided to see how I got along with just strings and percussion, before letting me loose with a full orchestra.” recalled Bernard. It was not until THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) that the composer progressed to using more than just those two sections of orchestra. Hammer scores always gave the impression of being large scale, and being performed by a huge symphony orchestra, this was in fact not the case. The orchestras assembled for a Hammer film score often numbered a mere 34 musicians, the music budgets on these movies were quite low and did not allow for an orchestra any larger, but the orchestra was often made up of some of the best musicians around at the time, James Bernard said. “I was really rather spoilt, because of the very talented people that the orchestra was made up of – these were highly respected and very distinguished musicians, and some of the most talented at their particular trade, and I was very fortunate to have them perform my music. Hugh Bean was usually leader, and then there was Jack Brymer on first clarinet with Leon Goossens on first oboe.
This was the standard of the musicians throughout the orchestra that had been assembled; all of them were first class performers. “
But even with the movie being popular and attracting much attention at the box office the music was largely ignored and not released on a recording. Was the composer suprised an LP was not issued?
“No, not at all. At the time of the film’s release, not many people were aware that there was such a thing as film music. Even some of the producers and directors were not that interested, the sight of a soundtrack album was very rare. The only soundtracks that one did see were of the Hollywood musicals, and big films such as BEN-HUR. Back in the fifties I doubt very much if anyone in England thought about soundtrack albums.”
Less than a year later James returned to the Hammer recording stage to score the studios version of DRACULA or THE HORROR OF DRACULA as it was titled in the United States. Released in June 1958, the movie was again helmed by director Terrance Fisher, and re-united actors Lee and Cushing, this colourful and terrifying movie was soon packing audiences into the theatres and was a re-sounding success for the studio and the British film industry. James Bernard is without a doubt the composer who is mostly associated with Hammer, with his absorbing and vibrant music for the DRACULA cycle being most prominent. Actor Christopher Lee made many an entrance as the Prince of darkness accompanied and heralded by James Bernard’s vibrantly chilling chords. The Dracula theme as it is now widely known is a simple three chord phrase that musically actually spells out DRA-CU-LA. The three chords conjure up perfectly the atmosphere of dark foreboding, and a tense and urgent sense of impending doom. The music composed by Bernard is fearful, and the theme is as familiar to collectors of film music and cinema goers as Rosza’s ‘Paranoia’ from SPELLBOUND and almost as famous as Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking and manic strings from PSYCHO. I can recall when first discovering the DRACULA story as retold by Hammer being far more anxious by the music playing on the soundtrack, as opposed to the film itself. The sight of Christopher Lee as the infamous and evil Count standing at the top of a flight of stairs with piercing, blood-shot eyes and bloody lips was frightening on its own, but with the music of James Bernard punctuating and enhancing the scene it reached another level, that literally scared the life out of you. James Bernard was to Hammer what John Barry was to James Bond and what Ennio Morricone was to the movies of Sergio Leone. The DRA-CU-LA three-note motif is a genius way to introduce the dark and gaunt figure standing in the shadows wearing the black cloak and it works in a similar way to the John Williams JAWS theme. As soon as you hear the beginnings of it, you know instinctively something is not quite right and that something sinister is going to happen.
I am pleased that at last both the scores for these two Hammer classics will now be heard in their full glory, and Tadlow music should be congratulated for persevering on this project to breathe life back into the chilling and virulent music for the infamous Vampire Count and the lumbering and tormented creature created by Baron Frankenstein. It was announced sometime ago, but then things went a little quiet because the label were busy with other re-recordings. However, let us not forget the sterling work that was done by Silva Screen when they re-constructed at least part of the DRACULA score for their MUSIC FROM THE HAMMER FILMS collection, which was first released on a beautifully done gatefold LP then also onto compact disc. If it were not for Silva Screen, fans would not have heard the striking tones of James Bernard without having to watch the movie.
Originally released back in 1989 by Silva, MUSIC FROM THE HAMMER FILMS was indeed a ground breaking 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 The HAMMER presents 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. 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 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. 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. So yes, we have been treated to the Counts music before, but not in a complete form, there have also been excerpts released on GDI when they released a number of scores and compilations of music from the Hammer studio, again It’s a mystery why the original DRACULA score was not on their list. Maybe the tapes were damaged, or there was some copyright problem at the time, who knows?
The Tadlow re-recordings conducted by Nic Raine and performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are probably the most anticipated and talked about by film music collectors, and finally we have them.(well I do). I am of the opinion that James Bernard would have been very pleased with the performance on this recording, to be honest it is a fairly faithful re-creation of the glory days of Hammer film music, and once again I am experiencing chills down my spine as I hear that formidable DRA-CU-LA theme, however, is it really a faithful recreation of the music?
Well I will let you judge for yourself, maybe prior to listening to the recording you might want to sit and watch the movie, and then compare it to the re-recording. It would be unfair of me to say that this re-recording is marvellous or wonderful, yes it is great to hear the Dracula theme again and in stereo with a crisp sound to it, but is it the ultimate re-recording, again I leave that up to you my friends, as a reviewer it is obviously my own personal opinion that I am giving to you here, so please go ahead and listen for yourself. In recent years we have been given so many new recordings and releases of scores that maybe have never seen the light of day, some I think probably were better off staying in the dusty archives in which they were stored. Re-recordings we have had a few and maybe then again too few good ones to mention, so when one is announced the hype is obviously heightened by each collector who hears about it,(Chinese whispers) the consequence is often that when said re-recording finally arrives everyone is so hyped with it that when they actually listen to it, it is somewhat disappointing, maybe that’s my problem I expect too much, or I anticipate too much? Well again, I have to say take a listen and arrive at your own decision. There is I suppose the argument or opinion that if you are a James Bernard fan you will love anything that is released which was written by him, but and there is always a but isn’t there, if you are not that keen on James Bernard then this is probably going to be another mediocre score that maybe should not have been re-recorded. I like the music of Bernard, there is just an atmosphere and a sound and style to it that resonates with me personally, it always has. I can remember hearing his music for the first time on an 8mm film of the end sequence to DRACULA where Van Helsing and Dracula fight to the bitter end, with the Vampire being dispatched via sunlight and a pair of candlesticks making the sign of the cross. The print I had was in black and white, and I used to show it on a hand cranked projector onto the white door of my bedroom, the music and sound effects were on a floppy single record and it was very difficult to get the music and sounds lined up in sequence with the images, it was at times like a badly dubbed foreign movie, or a film that had gone horribly wrong, but the music I was hearing was urgent, and racing, exciting and powerful and I was attracted to it straight away, it had an enticing aura to it. I never knew this was James Bernard, and in those early days I did not realise that our paths would cross and we would become friends. So, my connection with James went back a long way, I think this was in around 1967 when I was 12 years of age. My obsession with his music and the music of Hammer films grew from there and has endured many years as I am still in awe of it now.
So to the Tadlow release, how do you review a classic, if you pick up on anything or think you hear something out of place you will be damned by fans who will not have anything negative said, and if you don’t mention any imperfections then you again will be damned by those who have noticed them.
Therefore, I am on a sticky wicket from all sides I suppose. Is the tempo slower, is it too fast, was that really in the score when I saw the movie, is that an oboe? These are all questions that one asks oneself when listening to any re-recording and at times finds oneself re-visiting the original film to try and listen to that specific musical passage. But then invariably I start to become engrossed in the film and forget to listen out for the music. The album is titled DRACULA/THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN but it is music from the latter title that appears first on the compact disc, in many way I personally do prefer the score for THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, I always felt that the music was more aggressive when it needed to be and maybe slightly more developed and in places definitely more melodic. Bernard’s fearsome sounding opening theme is a combination of percussion, brass and strings, the opening of the track is announced by a crash from a gong and a single percussive beat played in unison with sombre and dark sounding piano being added for effect. This is an atmospheric and instantly harrowing sounding statement, and I think it is the opening few notes that set the scene perfectly for what is to follow, it is a visceral and edgy sounding piece, in which the composer was allowed to utilise more than just the strings he had made such good use of in his first two assignments for Hammer and it certainly sounds as if he is making up for lost time in this cue. Track number two, A BRILLIANT INTELLECT/ITS ALIVE, is a more down beat piece and takes the form of a lilting composition that sounds in my opinion very English and a little Regal, strings perform the piece which is pleasantly soothing in its style, but alters towards the end of the cue with the strings becoming more agitated and sinister, but remaining strangely melodious. In track number three THE GIBBET we begin to hear the more sinister side of Bernard and his trademark style starts to shine through, a style which would further establish itself in his scores for DRACULA, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE to list but a few. The strings create a sound that is filled with anguish and foreboding, they are threatening, tense and virulent and are enhanced via brass and percussion to elevate the more unsettling aspects of Bernard’s score. THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is without a doubt the more romantic sounding work on the compact disc, or at least it has a calming and lighter musical persona within it.
But, of course it also has to it its fair share of shocking and startling moments, that at times just jump out of nowhere, or gradually build with tantalising strings that lead to jagged crescendos and harsh sounding stabs which when listening to them bring to mind fragments of the DRACULA theme. I think the attraction of James Bernard’s music for film, is that it is for the most part exciting and dark, but then we are treated to a gorgeous sounding melody or a subtle and mesmeric musical passage that is affecting and haunting, which the composer integrated into the proceedings with a consummate ease.
The composer told me he always wanted to write something that was romantic, which he did in SHE and in later Dracula movies such as TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA in his Romance; THE YOUNG LOVERS composition and THE LOVE THEME from THE SCARS OF DRACULA, but also let us not forget the achingly beautiful central theme for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN which acted as the theme for Christina the central character. In fact, one can draw comparisons between FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in its quieter moments, although obviously not identical but I would say there are certain similarities, which makes one ask the question did Bernard base his FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN on certain themes he utilised for THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Which brings us to the music for DRACULA, this is an iconic score, a landmark work for both the composer and Hammer films, foreboding, fearsome, frightening and threatening, this is evil purveyed and personified in music. It is surprising that the quite simple three note motif that spells out DRA-CU-LA has endured for so long and has also become a part of cinema and film music history. I go back to the FINAL BATTLE between good and evil, Van Helsing and Dracula, which takes place at the end of the movie, this is thrilling and powerful scoring, swirling strings underlined with percussion and rattling timpani which is further supported by rasping brass, it is a relentless onslaught of sounds and musical textures and colours, and also a desperate and pulsating composition, which underlines punctuates and gives greater impact to the now famous sequence. A sequence that ends with good being triumphant, and evil being defeated and the body of Dracula decomposing in front of our eyes whilst Bernard scores his destruction with music that is tinged with a religious persona. Again, I say, it is now up to you to listen, to savour and to appreciate, or to listen and be unimpressed, James Bernard fans will be in raptures, others will I suspect be unaffected and indifferent. His music was after all often ignored and overlooked.