Movie score media spotlight reviews.

Just as I finished soundtrack supplement Movie Score media continued to surge forwards and onwards and upwards with even more great soundtrack releases, so rather than wait till the next Soundtrack Supplement, I thought that I would review the releases in this special MSM review article. In my opinion Movie Score Media is one of the very few labels that gives soundtrack collectors what they want, as in great film music but maybe it’s not from the normal well-known composers, or usual suspects as it were, thus this industrious and groundbreaking label are always alerting collectors to composers new. Plus, every now and then they uncover and issue a score that has not been released before by an established or known composer.

Amongst the latest batch of soundtrack superb-ness is Space Truckers a movie that was released back in 1995 with a brilliant score by composer Colin Towns.  Directed by Stuart Gordon (Robot Jox, Fortress, The Pit and The Pendulum, Re- Animator, From Beyond and Dolls) who sadly passed away in 2020 and to whose memory this world premiere release is dedicated. Following his success with Fortress the filmmaker was given a larger budget to work with on Space Truckers, which allowed him to create a compelling and larger than life road movie that just happened to be set in space. The movie features actor Dennis Hopper in the role of a space trucker John Canyon who along with his new bride Cindy portrayed by Debi Mazar and apprentice space trucker Mike (Stephen Dorf) set out on a trip carrying believe it or not a shipment of sex dolls. Their trip is watched with interest by space Pirate Captain Macanundo played by Charles Dance who plans to relieve the trio of their unusual cargo. The score which in my very humble opinion is far better than the movie by Colin Towns is a riveting and entertaining listen, the composer combining electronic elements into a score that is largely symphonic and sounds quite grand in places. Movie Score Media should be congratulated for resurrecting this score and bringing it to collectors, it is now available digitally, but a CD and vinyl release is scheduled soon on Quartet and Svart records respectively. 1995 and 1996 were remarkably busy and productive years for the composer because in the space of less than eighteen months he worked on a plethora of projects for TV that included The Buccaneers, The World of Peter Rabbit and friends, The Crow Road, The Wind in the Willows, Bodyguards, The Willows in Winter and for the big screen on Space Truckers.

Towns is one of the UK,s busiest and in demand composers even today, and has penned the soundtracks to many popular contemporary TV shows, including Doc Martin for the ITV network. Space Truckers is I think an essential purchase and will be a score that you will certainly return to after your initial listen. It is a score that is filled with numerous   action laced cues but it is a case of the thematic not being sacrificed for action here with the composer relying heavily upon the string and brass sections of the orchestra to achieve a vibrantly grand and pulsating sound for the movie. Throughout the score there are several themes or fragments of thematic material that sweep in and out of the proceedings making it not only entertaining but memorable as well, with anthem like pieces complemented by a rich and slightly romantic adventurous style. Towns even including a kind of Ho Down square dance theme which has a Copland-esque musical persona in the track Evacuate the Area. The composer also at times drifting into a comedic and lighter mood with cues such as Do You Mind, which is verging upon easy listening/country sound with a tinge of Opera, but also at the same time having to it a mysterious and dreamlike edge. This is a release that I know is welcomed by many already converted devotees of the composer and is also a release that is long overdue. Highly recommended.

The Syfy TV series Van Helsing has been received with mixed reaction from audiences and critics alike. The series which debuted in 2016 has it seems according to who you are either improved or become steadily sillier. But hang on it is a fantasy/Horror series we are talking about here, so maybe the way forward is not to take it too seriously and seeing as we are now in the fifth and final season of the show you would think that viewers would have kind of worked this out. The fantasy horror series stars Kelly Overton as Vanessa Helsing, a distant relative of famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, who is resurrected only to discover that vampires have taken over the world. With the unique ability of turning vampires into humans, Vanessa must fight through an apocalyptic wasteland to fight the Elders, the group of vampires that are now in charge. At last, the dramatic and atmospheric music by composer Rich Walters has been released on a soundtrack album which is representative of the composers work on the series.

It is largely a synthetic realized work, with dark and racing cues that add layers and textures to the action that is unfolding on screen. The score is tense and at times foreboding and apprehensive. It also has to it passages both musical and atonal that are affecting and highly effective within the series, horror is a genre that literally cries out for musical support and in this case I feel the composer has answered those cries providing the series with a score that fully supports yet also has a life of its own, the cue I am Sam for example starts out with a dark and thickly atmospheric drone like sound, but this alters as it gathers some pace and the composer also adds elements to it, finally transforming into a cue that resembles a piece that accompanies a showdown situation. Although an electronic score, it still has to it thematic qualities, the composer developing certain themes and utilizing them effectively. Fighting the Elder is a taught and menacing cue, with sharp and ominous stabs accompanied by an up-tempo percussive background. Certainly, the music from Van Helsing is worth a listen, it is a fusion of inventive styles that evoke both Vangelis and the Carpenter/Howarth partnership. Available on digital platforms.  

Another score to look out for is Cloudmaker, which is scored by Dutch composer Matthijs Kieboom, and follows his successful scores to the re-boot of the TV series Van Der Valk, plus Pirates down the Street, Bloody Marie and the brilliant score for the documentary Wild, which if you have not yet heard is highly recommended and also available on MSM. Cloudmaker, is an animated short and has two cues available on digital platforms, both being enchanting and haunting, the score will be represented on the upcoming Movie Score Media compilation Short Cuts 2020 which is due for release at the end of May 2021.

Back to full scores that are now available on digital platforms and we go to Sasquatch, which is a documentary that follows investigative journalist David Holthouse as he attempts to solve a bizarre triple homicide which took place twenty-five years ago and was said to be the work of a mythical creature.

The film has music by the talented and chameleon like American composer H.Scott Salinas, (Rust Creek, Cartel Land, The Ivory Game, A Private War, The Banker, Warrior). His music for Sasquatch is interesting as in the composer integrates a varied handful of styles into the score, using acoustic instruments as well as numerous electronic elements Salinas creates an atmospheric and wonderfully supportive work, which enhances and adds greater depth to the story as it unfolds in front of us. Salinas manages to create affecting cues for the documentary, raising the tension but without the watching audience realizing that there is an actual musical score, his music underlines and punctuates the discoveries of the journalist and enhances the scenario without overwhelming it. It is a masterful soundtrack and a worthy addition to the MSM catalogue.

And that is not all, there are so many more interesting and great titles to come, watch the MSM website for upcoming releases there are so many and all quality items.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.

There can be truly little doubt that the Dracula cycle of movies as produced by Hammer films have been the most successful or at least the most popular when it comes to audience reaction. Of course, there have been many other filmic incarnations of the infamous Count, but none seem to have even touched the look or the appeal as the Hammer productions. Most Hammer productions that involved the Lord of the Undead have starred the wonderful Christopher Lee in the titular role, but of course the studio did produce The Brides of Dracula (1960) with David Peel taking the central role, even though his character was had certain affiliations to the Count created by Bram Stoker,

Hammer I think wanted to create their own vampiric character and at the time of the films release I felt personally that maybe Peel could have gone onto make more appearances as the blood sucking as he was excellent in the role, but sadly it was not to be as Christopher Lee once again donned the black cloak and Dracula ring to walk the halls of castle Dracula in Dracula Prince of Darkness some six years later.

 Brides of Dracula was Hammer’s sequel to Dracula or The Horror of Dracula as it was titled in the United States, and as well having a different lead actor the film also had a musical score that was by Malcolm Williamson and not James Bernard who had created the infamous and now familiar Dracula theme, Williamson’s score was at times softer than the style employed by Bernard, but it also had to it an edgy and malevolent sound which suited perfectly the films storyline and assisted in fashioning a malignant and foreboding air. Bernard however returned in 1966 to score Dracula Prince of Darkness, and two years later realized a fearful and unnerving soundtrack for Dracula has Risen from the Grave.

Which in true Hammer tradition began where the previous movie had finished, well to a degree anyway. All three of Hammers first Dracula themed movies had been directed by Terence Fisher, who also helmed The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, which was I suppose the film that began Hammer’s links with Gothic horror. Dracula has Risen from the Grave was directed by Freddie Francis, who was already a respected cinematographer and had worked on movies such as A Town Without Pity, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers, and Never Take Sweets from a Stranger. Dracula has Risen from the Grave, is in my opinion an underrated Hammer movie, and I am also of the opinion that it was probably the last credible gothic horror involving Dracula that Hammer released. With Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Scars of Dracula paling in its presence.

The movie opens with the Warner Brothers Seven arts logo, that is followed by A Hammer films Production in purple, the vivid colors of the opening titles that are near being psychedelic are a combination of a blood red background and purple shapes and images, this vibrant use of color is something that is noticeable throughout the movie, which is probably due to the director being a cinematographer. These vibrant and menacing titles which evoke something from a Bond movie are accompanied by the foreboding sound of composer James Bernard, who for this movie adapted and arranged his original Dracula theme to sound I think even more virulent and contains shades of the composers The Devil Rides Out theme from the same year, or at least evokes the sinister and broodingly evil style within it. It is also noticeable that the end theme for Dracula has Risen from the Grave also shares similarities with the Awakening and Absolution cue from The Devil Rides out.

The story begins in a remote village in Eastern Europe, with a young altar boy discovering a body of a young girl crammed inside the church bell with the mark of the vampire upon her. The priest of the village played by Ewan Hooper has turned to drink because his congregation has forsaken the church and they live in fear of the spirit of Count Dracula who had been destroyed a year before, succumbing to the icy waters of the moat around his castle.

Monsignor Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) arrives in the village on a routine visit, to find that all is not as it should be. With the altar boy being reduced to a scared and mute child in a state of shock because of the gruesome discovery and the priest doubting his faith in God. The villagers tell the Monsignor that they will not attend mass because the shadow of Castle Dracula touches the church, to try and alleviate the villagers fears and restore some form of normality in the village the Monsignor decides that he will climb the mountain to the castle and perform the ceremony of exorcism to banish the evil that emanates from it. The priest reluctantly agrees to accompany him but is terrified and will only go so far before becoming frozen with fear. The Monsignor continues alone and reaches the castle but as he begins the exorcism a storm gathers with high winds and thunder and lightning all around. He manages to complete the ceremony and attaches a large golden cross to the door of the castle before making his way back to the village. The priest by this time is hurrying down the mountain to escape the castle and the storm but he falls and hits his head being knocked unconscious. The blood from his wound is seen to trickle into a frozen stream via a crack in the ice and finds its way to the body of Dracula and to the lips of the vampire reviving him. The Monsignor returns to the village and reassures them that there is no longer any danger, but after being given false information from the landlord of the tavern that the Priest has returned the Monsignor returns home which is in the city of Keinenberg.  

Count Dracula is resurrected by the Priest’s blood, and gains control of him, Dracula is enraged by the cross attached to the castle doors and asks the Priest “Who has done this”. The Priest tells Dracula “It was the Monsignor”, and the Count then forces the priest to defile a coffin for him to lay in and take him to Keinenberg to exact his revenge upon the exorcist.

Dracula soon becomes aware that the Monsignor lives with his widowed sister-in-Law and she has a beautiful daughter, Maria (Veronica Carlson) who becomes the object of the Counts evil attention. As the story unfolds tha music of James Bernard becomes more central and integral to the films plot, the style of Bernard was well suited to the Gothic horrors all’a Hammer, and his thundering and booming theme for Dracula has Risen from the Grave, is I think one of the composers best Dracula scores. Bernard was of course almost Hammer’s composer in residence as he worked on so many of the studio’s releases, his music has supported, underlined and punctuated films such as Kiss of the Vampire, The Gorgon, Plague of the Zombies, She, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Curse of Frankenstein, and so many more.

Bernard was one of the very few composers at Hammer who collaborated with all three of their musical directors, John Hollingsworth, Marcus Dodds and Phil Martell. His score for Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was even more urgent and dramatic than the music he wrote for the two previous Dracula movies he scored, it contained a more pronounced atmosphere of fearfulness with the composer employing booming percussion and rasping brass to a greater degree. He also wrote a closing theme that was hopeful and celebrated the triumph of good over evil. Bernard also scored Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Scars of Dracula, in which he utilised a variation of his original Dracula theme that became the foundation of both scores. Bernard’s music for Dracula has Risen from the Grave has not yet been released in its entirety, however there is a short suite on the Silva Screen release Music from Hammer films and the subsequent spin off compilations that the label released. With a new vinyl double LP set recently becoming available.

The storyline of Dracula has Risen from the Grave becomes more and more intense as the movie progresses, with the Count enslaving a young girl Zena (Barbara Ewing) who works in a tavern, she is given the task of delivering Maria to the Count and very nearly succeeds but is stopped by Maria’s boyfriend Paul played by Barry Andrews. Dracula then kills Zena and tells the priest to destroy her body in the fire of the bakery under the tavern so that she cannot become one of the undead.

Undeterred Dracula helped by the Priest finds Maria and after making his way over the rooftops of the city enters her room and bites her, but he is disturbed by the Monsignor, Dracula makes his escape, and the Monsignor pursues him but is stopped by the priest who knocks him down allowing the Count to escape. The Monsignor realises he needs help and calls for Paul. He gives Paul a book of rites that are protection against vampires, and also details the way in which they can be defeated he does this as he finally gives in to his injuries.  Paul decides to ask the Priest to help him but does not realise that he is still under the influences of Dracula.

The Priest attacks Paul but being younger and fitter Paul soon defeats him and forces him to take him to where Dracula is lying in his coffin. Where they attempt to drive a stake through the vampire’s heart, but the Priest is unable to say the prayer that is required to kill the vampire and results in Dracula waking and rising from his coffin and removing the stake from his body. Dracula then abducts Maria and makes his way to the castle. Both Paul and the Priest are in pursuit desperate to save Maria and also to finally kill Dracula.

They reach the castle to find that Dracula has forced Maria to remove the gold cross from the door so that he may enter, Maria throws the cross into a rock ravine below the castle where is lodges into the ground sticking upwards. Paul confronts Dracula on the parapets of castle Dracula and the pair enter a desperate struggle to the death, but it is Dracula who is thrown from the castle walls falling into the ravine and being impaled onto the cross. At last, the Priest is set free from the vampires influences and begins to say the Lord’s prayer as we see Dracula gradually turn to dust. Paul is re-united with Maria and both stand looking at Dracula’s remains. Paul seemingly has regained his faith and crosses himself. As the scene comes to its end James Bernard’s driving music becomes almost a religious and celestial sounding work, with strings, brass and percussion joining in a final crescendo of victory.

The movie was filmed at Pinewood studios, in Buckinghamshire, which is why the appearance of Castle Dracula is somewhat different from as it appeared in the two previous Hammer horrors, Dracula and Dracula Prince of Darkness, the moat from the latter is absent as is the approach road and the path on which coaches entered the castle. The two previous movies being filmed at the Bray studios. I mentioned earlier the vivid colour in the movie, and this was due to certain filters that belonged to director Freddie Francis being utilised by cinematographer Arthur Grant for the movie. These were the same filters that Francis used when he shot The Innocents in 1961, scenes of the castle were enhanced with frames that were edged with amber, yellow and crimson, giving the castle a malevolent appearance. Terence Fisher should have directed the movie, but due to ill health he had to step down and Francis was brought in.

Dracula has Risen from the Grave was to be the first Hammer film to be released in Australia that was not heavily edited by the Censors, both previous Christopher Lee, Dracula movies had been banned. But Dracula has Risen from the Grave was only censored slightly and was screened at the Sydney Capitol Theatre for a season in the January of 1970.  The movie met with a mixture of critical comments, one saying that it was Short on Shock Sequences, but did have a Nice Gory opening, and a Suitably horrific finale.

The film however was a winner with audiences, and this is largely due to the adventurous direction of Francis who was to become associated with directing mainly low budget horror movies, in his career as a director working for Hammer, Tyburn, and Amicus. He later returned to cinematography and was responsible for creating stunning photography for movies such as The Elephant Man, Dune and Glory from the 1980’s and The Straight Story, The Man in the Moon and there-make of Cape Fear in the 1990’s. He died at the age of 89 as the result of a stroke.