TRICK OR TREAT.
Its that time of year again, when the nights draw in and its dark by four in the afternoon, the wind seems chilled and there is a definite musky smell of leaves in the air, pumpkins are harvested and people turn into demons for just one night, Halloween is a fun time for most, but it can also have a more sinister and dark side, especially if you run out of goodies for the trick or treaters, (does anyone know how to get eggs and flour off windows?) Here is SOUNDTRACK SUPPLEMENT TWENTY FOUR, I know its not Halloween just yet, but I thought I would post this so you can decide on your listening requirements for the night.
IT’S JUST A BUNCH OF HOCUS POCUS!
So where to start, maybe with something that is not so scary, and does not take the meaning of Halloween too seriously. A film and also a score I love is HOCUS POCUS, a thoroughly entertaining romp, suitable for children of almost any age. A great looking film with a storyline that at times sometimes seems it could happen. Well, a talking cat, three witches back from the dead and three kids that make sure the witches do not get their evil way and basically save the world on all hallows eve. Yep its credible certainly.
The score for the movie is by John Debney, and it was this soundtrack that first alerted me to the talents of this gifted Maestro. When I first saw the trailers and also publicity posters for HOCUS POCUS I was under the impression that is was just another of those Disney kids Halloween movies, which in a roundabout way I suppose it is, but on going to the cinema to see it the first thing that struck me was the infectious and also powerful music that opened the film and the subsequent score itself. In the impressive opening sequence, we see the silhouette of a witch in flight on her broom reflected upon the coastal waters of Salem as John Debney’s exciting, sweeping and flyaway sounding theme gets proceedings underway. The short but highly effective main title which becomes one of the central themes of the score establishes itself quickly and conjures (forgive the pun) up a fantastic atmosphere that is filled with urgency and also mischief and an impish ambiance. The energetic theme subsides as the Witch lands in the autumnal and colourful countryside near a farm and the audience see that we are in fact in the late 17th Century and not in the present day.
The Witch entices a young girl Emily from her home and Debney laces the beginning of this sequence with the composition entitled, GARDEN OF MAGIC, a haunting and delightfully melodic theme that is introduced on piano and mirrored by glockenspiel and touches from triangle, this is further enhanced by woodwind and a light dusting of strings which then rise to develop the theme fully with horns creeping into the composition changing its mood and atmosphere to something that is far more urgent and dramatic as the abducted girls older brother realizes that she has been taken by the witch and sees that a green smoke is rising from the woodland where there lair is, he sends his friend to summon the elders of the village for help and then follows the witch and his sister into the woods in a desperate attempt to rescue her. The cue, GARDEN OF MAGIC was actually composed by James Horner. Horner had been the composer originally commissioned to write the score for HOCUS POCUS, and had penned GARDEN OF MAGIC when the movie was in pre-production because the character portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker had to sing it in the movie. Due to schedule clashes Horner found himself unable to continue working on the composition of the score and he had to pull out. Disney then had to find a composer and Horner and producer David Kirschner suggested John Debney to the studio. Debney utilized Horner’s theme and integrated it into the fabric of his own score, arranging it in a number of different ways and also combining it with his own original thematic properties. In fact track number 2, GARDEN OF MAGIC and THACKERY FOLLOWS EMILY are credited to Horner with Debney acting as arranger and conductor.
Debney’s score for HOCUS POCUS is in a word huge, it is performed by a 92 piece symphony orchestra with choral support and is filled with wistful and grand sweeping musical passages that at times give a gentle nod of recognition to John Williams or maybe in the real action set pieces a hint of Wagner. The work literally overflows with dramatic sounding compositions, and oozes poignant segments which are tinged with melancholy, these are perfectly complimented by and interspersed with comedic undertones that at times can really be filed under the Mickey Mousing style of film scoring simply because of their little nuances and strategically timed and placed appearances add much to the screen action and events. This I think is demonstrated to great effect in the cue, WITCHES LAIR, where one of the Witches Winnie Sanderson (Bette Midler) floors Thackery Binx with one gesture of her finger, Debney effectively underlines this action with a synchronized two note stab.
The soundtrack has never received an official release, the score was issued on a promo compact disc, but this is now ultra-rare and has a high price tag attached to it. The original release contained 19 tracks whereas this excellent expanded release from Intrada has a whopping 27 cues from the score and a further 5 labelled as EXTRAS at the end of the CD, it also contains the vocal SARAH’S THEME which has to be a bonus in any ones book of spells. The original promo, ran for 43 mins, here we are treated to 74 mins and 25 seconds of gloriously entertaining and effervescent music. Debney’s score is in my opinion just as entertaining as the film itself, the music being larger than life and as over the top at times as Bette Midler’s highly entertaining performance and as quirky as Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy’s brilliant characters, the music works with the movie and also has an identity of its own away from the images it was written to enhance, it is an imposing and attractive work that is even more impressive because it was the composers first work for the big screen. I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough, my suggestion is that you grab this very quickly, it will be gone before you can say “Trick or Treat” or “I am going to flour and egg your house”. Wonderfully presented with numerous stills from the movie and a thorough set of notes which are a delight to read.
The Halloween theme in movies has been paired with comedy storylines on many occasions, and for the most part these have worked, remember ABBOTT AND COSTELLO meet FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLFMAN or DRACULA or indeed any monster or creature that Universal deemed it was ok for them to liaise with. There have also been a number of Haunted house comedic excursions, which are paired with a Halloween setting, but lets now focus on the scarier side of Halloween, So, who’s up for apple bobbing? I warn you I am extremely competitive. But seriously, this time of year we do tend to concentrate on the horror genre, and on all hallows eve many of us sit down to watch the best and at times the worst of this genre for our entertainment, but maybe we should. As I said the tradition in our house is to watch HOCUS POCUS, but maybe we should not be so light and flippant about this time of the year, Halloween is after all a time to be on our guard, it is a time that the dead the evil and the demonic have the upper hand and we are told once again walk the earth. So lets be careful out there, be cautious when you answer your door to trick or treaters, that cute little demon in a pumpkin suit, might be the kid from number thirteen, or is it actually a little demon with designs on taking over your soul and dragging you screaming to Hades.
It’s a season or holiday that we do make light of, even to the extent of the Pound shop in the UK selling Ouija boards, I kid you not, and they have sold out. We humans are pretty stupid when it comes to the unknown, the occult and the world of demons and spirits, so I know lets go to a pound shop buy this thing and conjure up some demonic individuals shall we?
Composer Christopher Young, has as we all are aware of composed his fair share of scores for Horror related movies, HELLRAISER being I think his most popular and well known, and his score for the sequel being equally as famous. The first soundtrack for the HELLRAISER series has remained within my top horror score line up for many years, this year however it has a rival and a recent score too.
It’s the Newton Brothers elegant and unnerving score for the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR, which I reviewed recently in Soundtrack Supplement twenty-three. Suffice to say it is a score you must own, no arguments. Another score I have been listening to recently is from a 2019 movie entitled THE LAST HEROES, it is an Italian production, and mixes a half comedic scenario with serious levels of horror, that are a homage to the many Italian horror movies that have been produced over the years.
The musical score is by composer Aurora Rochez, who recently wrote the atmospheric music for the horror picture CALEB, she employs an array of musical elements including samples, synthetic instrumentation and also uses conventional instruments throughout, each section supporting and embellishing the other to create an at times pop orientated work. However, there are some genuinely interesting moments of dark and sinister scoring present, and I have enjoyed returning to this score a few times during the past weeks. The film is an enjoyable romp and like the score has some genuinely affecting scary moments that are paired with just as many lighter sections. The film draws on the rich heritage of Italian made horror flicks, and begins in a very serious mode, but I would say around mid-way through I became a little confused as to if this was a real scary horror film or a spoof. But the score is effective, and also is a work that one can listen to away from the images and storyline.
Another score worthy of a listen from Aurora Rochez is THE WICKED GIFT, which like CALEB and THE LAST HEROES, are available on digital platforms. Do yourself a favour have a Rochez, Halloween/horror fest. Also look out for the interview with her which is coming soon to Movie Music International.
Lets go back to the 1980’s in fact to 1985, DAY OF THE DEAD is an American made zombie horror film written and directed by George A. Romero and produced by Richard P. Rubinstein. The film was to be the third in the directors NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD series. Romero described the film as a “tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society. Music was by composer John Harrison, who also performed the music, it is a surprisingly effective score, and the composer manages to not only purvey a tense and nervous atmosphere, but also includes some foot tapping eighties stylised synth tunes along the way.
It’s a score I have always liked, mainly because of the up-beat moments, but it also has some great mood and action cues, which Harrison fashioned on keyboard whilst throwing into the mix short and urgent sounding crashes and stabs for added effect. It is a soundtrack that is easy to listen to, which is rather odd seeing as its from a horror movie. Its still a good one to pop into the CD player or seek out on digital sites and just let it play. Harrison was also responsible for writing the music for CREEPSHOW again a score which he performed.
A STEP TOO FAR?
CANNIBAL HOLOCUASTwas released in 1980, it achieved notoriety because of the graphic use of violence within it. The movie was banned in Italy and all copies were seized by Italian Magistrates, the director Ruggero Deodato was also arrested, initially on obscenity charges but later was charged with multiple counts of murder, because he had said that a number of actors were killed on camera during the filming. Although the director was later cleared of these charges, the movie remained banned in Italy and many other countries. This being due to sexual abuse and cruelty to animals. It’s not a film I would choose to watch and personally I am of the opinion that all copies should be destroyed.
The score by Riz Ortolani has achieved a certain amount of popularity, simply because of the infamous persona of the movie. Its not his best, and it is a score that I have but to be honest do not really listen to, I am surprised that a Maestro if his standing would have even considered scoring this, the composer providing the project with a lacklustre soundtrack, its only saving grace being a lilting central theme, which is in my opinion a direct rip off of Michael Holm’s sugary sounding theme for MARK OF THE DEVIL, which was written a decade before Ortolani supposedly penned this. Other than that, no thanks to the score and the movie, the music be vastly overrated and underwhelming in all departments, the film being a sickening and worthless piece of celluloid, which I would rather forget. In fact, when trick or treaters knock the door, trick them and give them this movie and its soundtrack, they won’t be back. But that is just my opinion.
LISTEN TO THEM THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, WHAT MUSIC THEY MAKE.©.Bram Stoker.
DRACULA is a character that has featured in numerous movies, he is also a character that has inspired the creation of numerous other Vampiric Lords and Ladies, Vampires I think are probably one of the most popular creatures associated with Halloween, alongside Werewolves and monsters. The first official film to be based on the Stoker story, was as far as I know, the Universal Pictures version from 1931 which starred Bela Lugosi as the Count. Directed by Tod Browning the part of the films central character proved somewhat difficult to cast. Bela Lugosi had already played the infamous Count on stage and had been given rave reviews from theatre critics. But this did not assure Lugosi the part in the movie as Universal were already looking at several actors who they thought were more suited to the part and possibly would bring more to it. However, Lugosi was not one for giving up, he was on tour with the stage play in Los Angeles at the time that the studio was casting for the film and presented himself to the producer continuously putting himself forward for the part. Against all the odds, including the actor not being fluent in English, Lugosi was given the part, it was probably something to do with the actor taking a pay cut and agreeing to be paid just 500 dollars a week for the duration of filming.
The film’s producer Carl Laemmie Jnr instructed his writers to take their lead from the stage play and based most of the films screenplay upon it, he also told them to study the unofficial silent movie from nine years previous and create sets similar and get inspiration for the script from this. He wanted his vision of DRACULA to be something of a sensation when it was released, however things did not quite turn out that way, the normally meticulous and highly organised director Tod Browning seemed to be devoid of any of his normal down to earth organisational skills and also was rather lack lustre in his approach and attitude towards the project often passing directing duties to Karl Freund who was Cinematographer on the movie, Freund more or less took over the directorial duties and it was more like Browning was his assistant. The film never had an original score instead it was tracked with classical music, which was at that time nothing unusual, but seeing as this was supposed to be a landmark film, maybe the studio should have at least considered investing in an original score. It did however get an original soundtrack when it was restored and re-issued in 1998 when composer Philip Glass wrote music to accompany the movie.
The picture was premiered in 1931, but the studio arranged a showing two days previous to its official release, again nothing unusual as studios did this from time to time to get reactions of the audience, but this was something that was done more in advance of the films premiere, Universal used the early showing as an opportunity to orchestrate a publicity campaign, convincing certain reporters to say that members of the audience fainted in shock from the horror they were witnessing on screen. This of course was a shrewd PR move and it created a lot of interest in the movie, with many people deciding to go and see it out of curiosity rather than out of wanting to see the film. Whilst DRACULA was in production an alternative Spanish version of the story was being filmed at the same time as Browning was shooting his. The Lugosi version was being filmed during the day-time, the Spanish version of the film being made during the twilight and night time hours.
It was nothing unusual for an alternative foreign language version to be made in Hollywood at that time, often in Spanish, but also there were versions of certain films made in German, French and Italian. Directed by George Melford, again it is an adaptation of the Stoker novel and based upon the same stage play which starred Lugosi in the role of the infamous Count. Carl Laemmie Jnr was also one of the producers for this alternative version, with the screenplay being provided by Baltasar Fernandez and assisted by writer Garrett Ford who was not credited for his efforts. The part of Dracula was taken by Carlos Villarias who arguably delivered a more believable performance in the role, the actor being encouraged to look at the rushes from the English language film and to study Lugosi in the role and also to imitate his mannerisms.
A more recent incarnation of Stokers DRACULA came in the form of John Badham’ s DRACULA which was in cinemas in 1979. Dracula was played by Frank Langella and he certainly made the part his own, cutting an impressive and striking figure as the Count. This is probably my own personal favourite of all Dracula movies, there is just something about the film that is believable, plus it has good performances from all the supporting cast with standout performances from Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing and Trevor Eve as Johnathan Harker and Donald Pleasance as Dr. Seward, this was a Dracula film that was not only horrific and graphic in places but it was all underlined with a sub plot that was filled with romance, and I for one was on the side of the Count more often than not as the story unfolded on screen. This is an impressive production that I never tire of. The music is by film music royalty, in the form of John Williams.
The composer providing a windswept sound that is filled with flyaway flutes, booming percussion, snarling brass and surging strings that punctuate, enhance, envelope and ingratiate each frame of the film. The music is filled with a lavish and romantic sound that is urgent but at the same time mesmerising, beguiling and attractive. I cannot recommend the film and score enough. The films screenplay was based on the Stokers novel but also took inspiration from the stage play that had been so successful back in the 1930’s. The storyline was altered as the makers of the film wanted this to be a story that revolved around romance and a love lost, the films tagline, A LOVE STORY says it all and this stylish offering is still enthralling and attractive when viewed today. The locations were also ruggedly beautiful and added much to the overall impact of the picture. The movie won The Saturn Award for best horror film in 1979, with Badham being nominated as best Director and Langella also being nominated as best actor.
The film is photographed by Gilbert Taylor whose camera at times caresses the characters and locations. The movie also has convincing make up created by Peter Robb-King. It is probably because the film was a serious and highly dramatic version of the Dracula story that it was successful and highly regarded by most, as audiences had become tired of the Hammer deviations and examples such as LOVE AT FIRST BITE, NOCTURNA and MONSTER SQUAD which were also released in 1979. Badham’s DRACULA was not popular with everyone, but it has in recent years become appreciated more.
Another big feature of Halloween are monster’s all sorts of them, and one lumbering and violent such monster is the creature that Frankenstein created. Hammer films were particularly active in bringing fresh stories of this monster to the screen, between 1956 and 1972, the studio produced seven Frankenstein films, selections from the scores were made available on a stunning compilation released by GDI records a few years ago.
Four of which were scored by the companies more or less resident composer James Bernard. Bernard was a protégé of the great composer Benjamin Britten, in 1956, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN introduced the composer to the gothic horror, although he had already had an encounter of sorts with this type of story when he scored Webster’s THE DUCHESS OF MALFI for BBC radio.
Bernard went on to score numerous films for the Hammer studio among them was a trio of further Frankenstein’s: FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1966) FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973).
For the 1958 release of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN Hammer turned to Leonard Salzedo to compose the music. Salzedo was born in London on September 24th, 1921, his interest in music began at the age of just seven and he started to experiment with composition at the age of twelve. On leaving school the young Salzedo began to study piano as well as continuing his violin lesson which he had started whilst attending school. He later took lessons in harmony with William Lloyd-Webber and finally enrolled at the Royal college of music in 1940. Whilst there his violin tuition was provided by Isolde Menges, plus he was tutored by Herbert Howells in composition, Sir George Dyson in conducting, Dr Gordon Jacob in orchestration and finally received lesson in Chamber Music from Ivor James.
Salzedo remained at the college throughout the second world war and completed his studies in 1944. Between 1950 and 1966 Salzedo composed a number of works for concert hall performances well as performing as a violinist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was also during this period of his career that Salzedo acted as musical assistant to Sir Thomas Beecham, and it was Beecham who conducted Salzedo’s first symphony in 1956.
Two years before this, however Salzedo had completed his first film score for the Hammer studios, which was THE STRANGER CAME HOME which was directed by Terence Fisher. “I got THE STRANGER CAME HOME because of Malcolm Arnold” Salzedo explained. “I had told him I was very keen to write music for the cinema, so Malcolm spoke with John Hollingsworth who was Hammer’s musical director at the time”. Salzedo continued his association with Hammer for several years but THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN proved to be his final Hammer credit for over two decades. “I was asked to score the Frankenstein movie because James Bernard was not available at the time. It was John Hollingsworth who approached me to work on the movie and he would direct the music, but during the scoring process john became very ill and was unable to work he had been told to rest by his Doctors, so it was Muir Mathieson who conducted my score of course he was another great talent in the film music arena”. Although Salzedo wrote the music for six Hammer movies and one episode of Hammer House of Horror for television the composers music does appear in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1960), which contained an original score by Benjamin Frankel, for some reason a short sequence of the movie contained music by Salzedo for which he was not credited.
“I am not quite sure how this happened” said Salzedo. “I think maybe the producers wanted a particular sequence scored and it was easier to just track my music to the movie rather than got back to Ben Frankel and ask him to provide more music”.
For their second Frankenstein sequel THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) Hammer hired composer Don Banks to write the score, Banks who was Australian had previously worked with John Hollingsworth on CAPTAIN CLEGG and NIGHTMARE, but his foray into Frankenstein territory was his first encounter with Hammer’s new musical director Phil Martell who would conduct a further five of Banks scores for Hammer up until 1966. Born in Melbourne in 1923 Banks began to study piano in 1928. During the second world war he served in the Australian medical corps but found time to continue his piano studies along with harmony and counterpoint. After being demobbed in 1946 banks went to study at the music conservatory at the university of Melbourne. He remained there for two years and studied under Dorian Le Gallienne and Wademar Seidel. During the early 1950, s Banks visited England to receive further tutelage in composition from Matyas Seiber.
He also went to Florence in Italy to study further under the watchful gaze of Luigi Dallapiccola and then finally to Salzburg where he was schooled by Milton Babbit. Banks got into scoring movies in 1957 his first assignment being for a documentary entitled ALPINE ROUNDABOUT, scoring his first feature MURDER AT THE SITE directed by Francis Searle in 1958. His Frankenstein music is probably some of the most melodic in the Hammer series and led to his involvement in the movie HYSTERIA for which the composer provided a jazz score and also to the more conventional music for THE REPTILE, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK and THE MUMMYS SHROUD. Banks was also reportedly responsible for arranging much of Mike Vickers music for the movie DRACULA AD 1972 for which he received no credit. He also worked on the Amicus production THE TORTURE GARDEN in 1967 the other half of the score being composed by James Bernard. In 1972 banks returned to his native Australia and remained there till his death in 1980. According to Phil Martell Banks worked on films to live, the revenue providing a much-needed supplement to the meagre income that the composer received from composing music for the concert hall or serious music.
Hammer’s penultimate Frankenstein movie was released in 1970. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN contained a score by Malcolm Williamson who had previously worked on THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and CRESCENDO for Hammer. Phil Martell had always wanted to utilise Williamson more on Hammer productions, but the composer’s other commitments made this impossible.
Another Australian, Williamson began his studies in 1942 at the age of eleven. He attended the Sydney Conservatory where he studied piano, violin and French horn. His tutor for composition was Sir Eugene Goosens. In 1950, Williamson visited England where he continued to concentrate on composition, this time under Elizabeth Lutyens and Erwin Stein. He decided to settle permanently in the United Kingdom in 1951, Williamson had his first two works for concert hall performance published under the guidance of Benjamin Britten and Sir Adrian Boult. In 1960 Williamson was asked to score Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, “ I remember after I was initially asked to score the Dracula move being sent along to see a handful of movies that had been scored by Jimmy Bernard, I feel that he is faultless, really polished. I would love to be able to compose in the way he does for horror films. I also went on set and watched David Peel in action and I was very privileged to meet Peter Cushing, a very dedicated man, loved and respected by all who knew him”.
After BRIDES, Williamson became involved in writing music for many films and documentaries as well as symphonic music for ballets, culminating in 1975 with his appointment as Master of the Queens music. His second Hammer assignment was for CRESCENDO (1970), after which Phil Martell asked him to write the score for THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. “I have to say that working on the Frankenstein movie was not enjoyable at all, it was a feeble attempt to re-create the original Hammer Frankenstein, but it sadly lacked the presence of the original film. It was criticised by most people who saw it and at the time I felt that I had not provided the film with an adequate musical score. I used a tuba to represent the lumbering of the monster, but it just seemed to make the monster more clumsy and awkward; in fact, I would say that it was a ridiculous and ludicrous combination. It made the horror element somewhat farcical. But having said that I have recently watched the movie on the TV and it seems to have improved with age, the music and the film both, It doesn’t seem quite so awful now “.
DON’T GO IN THERE!
NO, I mean it do not go in there, don’t go into the unlit cellar, venture into the dark woods and as for opening that door, well just don’t do it. But guess what we always do, and in films you would think they would know better because the music is saying to them, run get out of here, do not go any further, or you will be sorry. If only they could hear the music, but there again they would probably still carry on the path they had set out on. There is just no telling certain people is there? Films that go in this kind of direction as in jumpy movies where the killer or the ghost jumps out at the central characters are not in short supply, I suppose the SCREAM movies could be put into this category of film, as well as being placed in the category of slasher movies. The SCREAM series of films were popular amongst a younger generation of horror fans, maybe because they were in a contemporary setting. WHATS YOUR FAVOURITE SCARY MOVIE? Well she should have said SCREAM, don’t you think? There have been four movies in the series plus a TV series. The music for the movies was the work of composer Marco Beltrami, it is probably true to say that it was Beltrami’s music for SCREAM that got him noticed by fans and also critics, it was because of the way in which he scored the first SCREAM film that he began to become much in demand, firstly on horror movies but then this extended to all genres.
The composer wrote a score that was at times almost operatic, it was an integral component of the movie, and lent much to the storyline that was unfolding on screen. The SCREAM series in my mind created an interest in horror movies, but this is the thing is it a horror movie, ok yes murder mayhem and a demented killer/slasher on the loose. But is it a horror or a thriller, mystery? Either way and whatever you think, its exhilarating and Beltrami’s scores have stood test of time, and who does not love wearing a SCREAM mask at Halloween?
VAMPIRES OR VAMPYR’S?
From a recent horror to something a little more seasoned, and a film and score that I do not recall covering before here on MMI. VAMPYR was released in 1932, its original German title being, Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Gray,( Vampyr: The Dream of Allan Gray’) Directed by Danish film maker Carl Theodor Dreyer. The film was written by Dreyer and Christen Jul based on elements from J. Sheridan Le Fanu‘s 1872 collection of supernatural stories entitled In a Glass Darkly. Vampyr was financially backed by Nicolas de Gunzburg who starred in the film under the name of Julian West among a mostly non-professional cast. Gunzburg plays the role of Allan Gray, a student of the occult who enters the village of Courtempierre, which is under the curse of a vampire.
Vampyr was a challenging project for filmmaker Dreyer, as it was his first sound film and had to be recorded in three languages, thus this is why the movie has very little dialogue and the director decided to resort to silent movie style title cards that appeared throughout. The film was shot entirely on location and to enhance the atmospheric content, Dreyer opted for a washed-out cinematic technique, utilising soft touch lenses and filters The soundtrack was created in Berlin where the character’s voices, sound effects, and the musical score which was especially written for the film by Wolfgang Zeller, were all recorded.
Vampyr’s release date was delayed, and when it finally opened in Germany it was met but mostly negative reactions from audiences and critics alike. The director decided that he would re-edit the film and when he released it in France, the reactions were more positive. VAMPYR was looked upon at the time of its release as one of Dreyer.s weakest efforts, but in more recent years the film has attained something of a following, with much more positive reactions from critics, who often praise the way in which the movie is photographed and its ground breaking visual effects.
The score by Wolfgang Zeller, is a serviceable one and had to work hard to support the storyline mainly because of the decision to keep the dialogue to the minimum. Zeller was born in Biesenrode, which was part of the Kingdom of Prussia and the then German Empire. He was the son of a vicar, and at an early age studied violin, showing great promise and an aptitude for composition. After leaving high school Zeller continued to study violin Felix Bergerin Munich. He also studied composition with Jean Paul Ertelin Berlin. The composer fought in the first world war and after being discharged due to an injury he began to focus more upon music and made a living out of performing violin. From 1921 through to 1929 Zeller became the in-house composer for The Berlin Volksbuhne Orchestra.
His career as a film music composer began in 1926, when he wrote the music for the ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, which was an animated movie directed by Lotte Reiniger. He then scored the first full length German film with sound in 1929, which was entitled MELODIE DER WELT and then in 1932 worked on VAMPYR. During the days of the third Reich and the second world war the composer was employed to write music for a number of propaganda films, After the war, the composer continued to write for the cinema, scoring anti-fascist films such as MARRIAGE IN THE SHADOWS which was released in 1947. The composers last scoring assignment came in 1959, for Bernhard Grzimek’s SERENGETI SHALL NOT DIE. The composer died in 1967.Sadly, his subtle and quite unassuming score for VAMPYR is not available on a recording, although there are selections from a handful of his film scores available on a compilation that is available on digital platforms. There are also short cues from VAMPYR on you tube, which will give you an idea as to the style the composer employed on the movie.
Another classic movie dealing with the vampire in this case was NOSFERATU. This is a movie that is so atmospheric, a silent classic that has over the years been restored and musically re-scored on a few occasions, the most memorable I think is the channel four version which contained a specially composed score by British Maestro, James Bernard. The soundtrack was released on Silva Screen, and contains a romantic sounding score in parts, but there is the unmistakable style of Bernard present throughout and the dark foreboding that he created for the infamous Count Dracula in the 1950’s through to the late 1970’s for the Hammer classics, he manages to fashion and formulate for the evil Count Orlock portrayed convincingly by actor, Max Schrek.
Bernard’s score for NOSFERATU-A SYMPHONY OF HORRORS is a masterpiece, the dark and foreboding chords are complimented by subtle and romantically laced interludes, it is a score to be savoured and appreciated, which it can be both within the movie and away from it. I would say that it is as good as the composers works for Hammer and is a score that sometimes is overlooked by fans and critics.
PSHYCO, but without the shower scene.
Often Horror movies old and new mange to instill a fear and dread in watching audiences without the use of gore or buckets of blood. The psychological horror is a sub-genre of film that I for one think are more disturbing than Horror movies showing graphic violence and scenes of copious bloodletting and such like. SAINT MAUD is one such movie, now this is unsettling to say the least and literally released just a few days ago. Writer and director Rose Glass has made a classy and complex psychological horror for your delight and delectation.
It centres upon a young nurse who works in a hospice, and after a deep religious experience and conversion, she takes it upon herself to secure her terminally ill patients salvation.
The musical score for the movie is an intense and mainly atonal listening experience, the music is the work of Adam Janota Bzowski, and I will be honest and say its not the easiest work for a horror movie to listen to, but within the film it is superbly edgy and chilling, maybe music would be the wrong way to describe the majority of the score, because it is more of a soundscape and sound design exercise, but one that works so well for the movie. Listening to the score away from the images and scenarios, is somewhat difficult, but at times there are glimmers of themes, notions of melodies and fleeting nuances that do catch one’s attention.
It is a sinister sounding work, and contains a real foreboding and guttural sound, darkness prevails throughout, and these half-heard melodies and hints of themes make it an even more uneasy listen. So, is it a good horror score, No… it’s an exceptional one, the composer experimenting with combinations of instrumentation and utilising conventional instruments and synthetic elements to create a foreboding and at times totally absorbing sound, the use of various percussive components too makes the work even more interesting, maybe put this on at Halloween, open the door to the trick or treaters and say TRICK!!!! and maybe add a manic laugh to boot.….and watch them run.
Let us go back to 2019 for the next psychic piece of horror, a disturbing watch with an equally disturbing score. DANIEL IS’NT REAL, music by producer and composer Clark, who with every new project seems to alter his style and approach. The score for DANIEL IS’NT REAL is again not an easy work to listen to in places, but I have to say I was surprised in a nice way by the inventiveness and the originality displayed within the score, the composer utilises varying styles, drawing on techno and house elements, to fashion and effective soundtrack, there are also a number of symphonic sounding cues within the score and tracks that I would probably call new-age music, but to be fair its hard to categorise or Pidgeon hole this score at all, there are some realy powerful and driving string effect pieces within the score, one of which SPIRAL CRACKERJACK put me in mind of the style employed by Johnny Greenwood in the film THERE WILL BE BLOOD, specifically the cue entitled FUTURE MARKETS. Which to me was Herrmann-esque to say the least.
The score for DANIEL IS’NT REAL is perfect for the movie, it underscores and enhances the more than unsettling scenario that is taking shape on screen, and because the composer provides the project with such an array of sounds and styles, it is also a soundtrack that remains not only fresh but entertaining in a twisted kind of way. I would recommend a listen, available on digital platforms, also why not try and catch the movie, it focuses upon a young boy (Luke) who is having problems because he witnessed a mass shooting at a coffee shop. Whilst at the scene he meets another boy (Daniel) about the same age and they soon become friends, but adults like Luke’s Mother is unable to see his friend. The boys become good friends and Daniel helps Luke through his parents divorce, the friendship comes to an end when Daniel tells Luke to mix his Mothers medication into a deadly cocktail which he says to Luke will give her superpowers. But, the cocktail of pills nearly kills her, the Mother convinces Luke that Daniel should be sent away and persuades him to lock him up symbolically in a dolls house that belonged to Luke’s Grandmother. The years pass and Luke is now at college but struggling over which way he should go to secure his future, his Mother is ill and has paranoid delusions, including an aversion to seeing her own reflection. Luke is concerned that he will become like his Mother so confides in his therapist. Whilst staying at his childhood home, Luke opens the dolls House and a now adult Daniel return’s. It is a thought-provoking movie, which is aided greatly by Clark’s atmospheric soundtrack. I hope that I have given you a few ideas about what films you might want to watch at Halloween or indeed what musical selections you might pop into the CD player on October 31st.