There are in cinema many collaborations as in writers, directors, producers, special effects etc. But there are many important collaborations between directors and composers, of course the obvious ones do tend to leap out at you as in Williams and Spielberg, Jackson and Shore, Leone and Morricone, Edwards and Mancini, Brooks and Morris, Lean and Jarre, Herrmann and Hitchcock, and also Forbes and Barry. Its sometimes annoying because the collaboration between Barry and Forbes, never seems to be discussed at any great length, but Bryan Forbes was responsible for many great British movies and more than a handful of these were scored by the incomparable John Barry. So, I thought I would explore and delve into the area of director/composer collaborations, but as I say let us steer away from the obvious. Michael Reeves was a rising star in the world of film, sadly he left this world far too soon.
But he made his mark upon the world of cinema with movies such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL and THE SORCERERS, both of which were scored by composer Paul Ferris. Reeves made just three movies, the other title being THE SHE BEAST, also scored by Ferris, but the score was removed when the movie was released in the United States and replaced by another by composer Ralph Ferraro. This was something that also happened on WITCHFINDER GENERAL, when the movie was released in the United States not only did they change the title to CONQUERER WORM ? but after a while the film was re-scored for a DVD release with a largely synthetic score, which for me just did not gel with the story on screen, the new score being instantly forgettable when compared with the Ferris original work. Ferris provided a romantic score for the now classic horror and based his central theme upon the traditional tune GREENSLEEVES, Ferris and Reeves were friends, and I suppose this is why the director turned to the musician to write the scores for his movies.
Ferris too appeared in WITCHFINDER, but you probably are aware of this fact, it is a great pity that both Reeves and Ferris died so young. They both had a bright future and Reeves in particular, had been hailed as the genius of British cinema. Out of the three scores for the movies mentioned only WITCHFINDER has been released, and this took over forty years to come to fruition. Hopefully, the music tracks for both THE SORCERERS and THE SHE BEAST will one day be uncovered in some dusty archive and released for all to hear, in the meantime we have to be content with hearing the music within the film.
Composer Paul Ferris was born Richard Paul Ferris on May 2nd, 1941 in Corby, Northamptonshire, England. Ferris had acted previous to beginning to score movies, and was a regular in television shows such as the police series, NO HIDING PLACE and DIXON OF DOCK GREEN as well as a small part in the 1967 James Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE. He also became a regular in THE BARON in which he portrayed David Marlowe, who was John Mannering’s assistant.
During the 1960, s Ferris also penned the hit VISIONS for Cliff Richard, and his theme for MAROC 7, was performed by The Shadows in 1967. His career as a composer continued in 1970, when he scored CLEGG but after this he worked mainly on shorts until 1973 when he wrote the soundtrack for THE CREEPING FLESH, two years later he worked on PERSECUTION and that is the last movie he scored. I was told by actor Nicky Henson a few years ago, that Ferris, worked as many things after this, at one time he was a sea captain and also drove articulated lorries for a living, he even sold fish and chips, “Paul always worked, and whatever he did he did well” recalled Henson. Ferris became ill and was diagnosed with the debilitating and depressing disease Huntington’s Chorea, which meant in his last few years of life that he was unable to work. On October 30th, 1995 the composer was found dead in his Bristol flat, at an inquest which was held on January 30th 1996, the coroner arrived at a verdict of suicide by drug overdose he was 54.
To attempt to break into the movie making business, Michael Reeves began by carrying out various minor duties for his favourite filmmaker, Don Siegal and then he worked with Jack Cardiff and Henry Levin on films in Europe such as THE LONG SHIPS and GENGHIS KHAN which were both Yugoslavian/UK/GERMAN co-productions and had mild success at the box office. Reeves got his first break onto making films himself when he travelled to Italy to work with Paul Maslansky, firstly on NIGHTMARE CASTLE in 1964 and then two years later on LA SORELLA DI SATANA (THE SHE BEAST) where he not only co-wrote the screenplay but directed the film.
THE SHE BEAST was a low budget horror movie but saying this it was a robust and entertaining production, with an inventive script and Reeves displaying his maturity as a filmmaker for one so young. The films witch hunt scene was particularly impressive and watching it now one can see that this was a precursor or the inspiration for the opening sequence of WITCHFINDER GENERAL as there are marked similarities. He died on February 11th, 1969, he had been asked to direct a movie entitled THE OBLONG BOX for A.I.P.(eventually scored by Scottish composer Harry Robinson) but sadly died before filming begun.
Composer James Bernard is well known to any fan of Hammer Gothic horror, his scores for the studios DRACULA cycle being most prominent and popular. Bernard collaborated with another master of horror many times, Terence Fisher was Hammer’s star director and brought the now classics DRACULA and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN to the screen. Both scored by Bernard, Fisher was also responsible for Hammer films such as THE GORGON, THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, FRANKENSTEIIN CREATED WOMAN, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL and the sublime THE DEVIL RIDES OUT all of course containing the music as penned by James Bernard.
The noted film maker did also make movies that were not scored by Bernard, but it seemed the Fisher/Bernard collaboration worked and worked well. The images on screen being perfectly complimented by the music, the sight of Frankenstein’s monster made even more disturbing and terrible by Bernard’s growling and virulent chords and the sight of the gaunt looking Count Dracula being so much more threatening and foreboding with that familiar DRA-CU-LA motif. I am not sure if Fisher had any say in what composer he actualy got to score his films as they were after all Hammer productions, and the studio did have a music supervisor or supervisors such as John Hollingsworth and then later Phil Martell. But the results in the end when Bernard was on board were always memorable and effective.
Terence Fisher went to sea as a young man, it was thought by his Mother that after the death of his father in 1908 this career would be the making of him and stand him in good stead for what life might throw at him, however Fisher never stayed at sea and after a period of some eight years he decided to return to dry land. He began to work in the textile or clothing industry and became an assistant display manager at Peter Jones. Whilst pursuing this career Fisher began to think of going into films at first he could not decide in what area he wanted to work but eventually became a film editor working his way up the ladder at Shepherds Bush film studios from clapper board operative to the editing room where he began to work on the films of Will Hay. Fisher then changed studios and went to the Teddington Studios which were run by Warner Brothers. In 1947 Fisher was invited to take up a position at the Highbury studios by the rank organisation who were offering an apprenticeship of sorts for aspiring young filmmakers. Fisher made a handful of shorts whilst there and was picked out by Sidney Box, who gave him a chance to try his hand at directing a full-length feature.
The rest as they say is history. Born in Maida vale, London on February 23rd, 1904, Terence Fisher died on June 18th, 1980, I know that we will never see his like again in the British film industry.
James Bernard was born in the Himalayas, the son of a British army officer. He spent much of his early life on the northwest frontier. His career as a film music composer began back in 1955, when he scored the QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, for Hammer. The movie which was re-titled THE CREEPING UNKNOWN in the United States, was a very successful picture for Hammer, and it was this initial encounter with the studio that would lead Bernard into a career as a composer of film scores and an association with the house of horror that was to last some nineteen years. In 1947,
Bernard left the Royal Air Force and enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London. Bernard had met Benjamin Britten during his last term at school in 1943, and Britten had advised him that if he wanted to write music as a career, he would have to get a proper grass roots musical education. To get this, Bernard would be advised to enrol into one of the better music colleges, so when the time of Bernard’s de-mobilisation was approaching, he contacted Britten, who suggested the Royal College of Music,
Comingup to date for the next collaborative partnership and we look to America and the work of both director Stuart Gordon and composer Richard Band. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, CASTLE FREAK, are just a few of the titles that the director and composer worked upon together. Band’s music in my opinion is of a high quality, the composer often creating effective and grandiose sounding musical accompaniments for low budget movies, and not only enhancing and underlining the stories up on the screen but in many cases fashioning music that is appealing, interesting and rewarding away from those stories and at times disturbing or menacing images.
CASTLE FREAK is one such title where this applies, no, not the 2020 remake but the original from 1995 which Stuart Gordon helmed. It’s a creepy tale of a man who attempts to protect his family against an evil that is resident in a castle that he has inherited. The composer did a brilliant job for this fairly low budget movie with an evil and spiky sounding violin solo weaving its way through the score, a dark and mischievous sound that is enhanced and supported by equally devilish sounding strings, malevolent brass and strategically placed percussion.
I always have thought that his music for this production was quite evocative of Jerry Goldsmith’s menacing, unsettling and virulently disturbing score for the MEPHISTO WALTZ. Plus, I am of the opinion it also has to it elements that resemble Carol Anne’s theme from Goldsmiths inventive work on POLTERGEIST. Amongst all the atonal and creepy sounding material Band has created a score that aids the movie greatly, but it is also one that like so many of the composers works for cinema goes further and rewards the listener when heard on its own, it is an accomplished and interesting score, and one of Richard Band’s more accomplished works for the Horror genre. THE PIT AND THE PENDLUM, in my opinion is probably one of the composers most outstanding scores and is certainly in his top five best scores, the film however I did not like, it was a typical cheaply made gruesome and gory tale, but as a horror it was serviceable, having a few moments that might be of interest to some.
Probably one of the best bits was that Oliver Reed made a brief appearance. The score is moody and at times almost epic, with period stylised pieces, and grand symphonic themes that are sweeping and lavish in their sound and construction. The movie went straight to video or DVD but that was no surprise for me personally. But the quality of the music and the scale of the score is magnificent, and it is a work that has endured with many film music collectors marking it as a thrilling and amazingly dramatic soundtrack. So that is a brief look at the Gordon/Band collaboration, a partnership that yielded many a fine moment on screen and also in the music department.
If I were to say Polanski and Komeda what would you think of? I am guessing it might be two movies, THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (aka-THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS) and ROSEMARYS BABY, Am I right? Thought so. Both excellent movies, each having their own brand of horror. Composer Krzysztof Komeda penned a very innovative and original sounding soundtrack to accompany the rather chaotic and madcap adventures of the two vampire hunters which the story focuses upon. Komeda’s score is essentially a serious one but does however contain a few more slightly comedic interludes. After the animated intro the famous MGM lion turns into a green vampire character with its fangs dripping blood as this imagery begins so does Komeda’s wonderful choral main title at first it sounds off key or slightly out of kilter but as the credits roll and the drops of blood fall the music grows and develops establishing the core theme for the score which re-appears at key points within the movie, and is especially effective as we see Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) on his way to claim a victim, it is in my opinion a very modern sounding piece and even today sounds like it was written recently and could be the work of Philip Glass, but it is attractive in a sort of weird way.
The composer supports the lead vocalising with harpsichord and percussion which in turn is enhanced further by guitar and a kind of warbling choral sound. On first seeing the movie I must admit I found it a little hard going, I had after all been weaned on the gothic horrors from Hammer and the old black and white Universal tales of the macabre and the fantastic. Polanski’s approach was totally different from anything I had witnessed before and I have to say that it was not until a few years later when I sat and watched the movie again that I fully appreciated the comic and ironic appeal of the picture and the inventive and highly original score by Komeda. The version of the score I have was released on a Polish label THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS or THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES which I think is a far better title, being the second Komeda soundtrack on the disc, the other was his triumph of film scoring ROSEMARYS BABY another Polanski horror movie. THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES contains approx.; thirty minutes of music, Komeda and Polanski choosing to score the project sparingly, in fact after the main titles the film has no music for at least the first half an hour.
It is in this opening thirty minutes of the movie that the audience is introduced to most of the leading players. Komeda’s music does not return until the scene where the hunchback who is the Count’s assistant and bodyguard takes the Vampire to attack the innkeepers daughter Sarah played by Sharon Tate, as the beautiful girl sits in a bath tub filled with bubbles she notices that snow is falling indoors and looks up to see the evil Count coming through the skylight to abduct her. All that is left after he has gone is the bubbles that are now tainted with blood. Komeda’s music is highly effective within this scene and gives it a certain chilling atmosphere which is greatly aided by the utilisation of the Japanese bamboo flute called the Shakuhachi. Sarah’s Father played by Alfie Bass is bereft at the abduction of his daughter and chewing handfuls of garlic sets off into the frozen night to rescue her, in the morning he is found frozen and drained of blood. The vampire hunters decide it would be best to stake him there and then, but the innkeeper’s wife won’t have any of it. The vampire hunters decide to go down in the dead of night to finish him off, but they bungle the job and the now vampire innkeeper escapes and makes a b line for the maid, shocked at her once employer being a vampire and wanting to bite her she shows him a crucifix, the innkeeper laughs because being Jewish the crucifix has no power “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG VAMPIRE” he says. Then there is the obviously Gay vampire who is the son of the Count, who chases Alfred the vampire hunters apprentice in the hope of turning him into one of the un-dead. The chase is hilarious and is masterfully scored by the composer who utilises choir, harpsichord and guitar which are all punctuated and supported by timpani. The timing of the music within this scene is crucial and without it the sequence would probably not have worked again we can hear certain similarities to the music of Morricone.
This is a master class in how to score a movie, the music is certainly striking in places but then at other times it is subtle and understated. Komeda was a great talent and his working relationship with Polanski was a fruitful one.
I have vivid memories of seeing ROSEMARY’S BABY. It was a classy movie as far as I was concerned; it dealt with the occult but was an intelligent and informed take about Satanism and devil worship in a contemporary setting. Polanski’s direction, as always, was good and the script etc all stepped right up to the mark and made it an entertaining experience. One vital component of the movie was the music score. Komeda was a highly original composer who sadly died far too early in 1969 after an accident involving a head injury. Komeda was as they say, in advance of his time in the music world. His combination of jazz, dramatic and mood music within the context of a movie was quite breath-taking and for ROSEMARY’S BABY the composer certainly wrote an inspired and highly innovative soundtrack. One cue in particular “What Have You Done?” has always stood out for me and that comes near the end of the movie when Mia Farrow’s character says those immortal words, “What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes?”
Komeda’s music is chilling and harrowing with a near frantic ambience as he utilizes forceful strings to underscore a mutated sounded trumpet which fades to be overridden by a hypnotic piano solo, backed up by bass and even more hypnotic strings, acting as a backdrop to a chilling soprano saxophone, played in unison with synthesisers. The opening theme or “Lullaby” is also hauntingly beautiful but contains and underlying atmosphere that is warning the listener that maybe all is not right here.; the use of Mia Farrow’s wordless vocal is stunning and almost calming.
This understated rather frail sounding vocal, sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the score and immediately creates the atmospheric style required for the story. We have the innocence of Rosemary but at the same time there is a sense of unease and uncertainty, relayed perfectly to the listener or the watching audience via this cue which tells them that there is evil here. Komeda worked with Polanski on both KNIFE IN THE WATER and CUL DE SAC, but in my humble opinion, the music for the two discussed movies is probably the composers most inventive and appealing.