Mention the name of composer John Morris and what do you think of, well Mel Brooks for one and his scores for movies such as THE PRODUCERS, BLAZIN SADDLES, SILENT MOVIE, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and HIGH ANXIETY. Yes, same as me. So, when you come across a Brooks produced film that was released in 1985 entitled THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS one is certainly surprised in a pleasant way about the atmospheric and powerful musical score that Morris penned for this Freddie Francis directed movie. But, there again one probably should not be surprised as Morris did score THE ELEPHANT MAN for Brooks which included a mesmerising and a powerful soundtrack.
THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS itself is a delight to discover and certainly one for any connoisseur of the horror genre. It is I suppose a film shot in the style of Hammer or Amicus or even Tigon and Tyburn with some influences from the AIP stable. Which is hardly surprising considering that it was directed by Freddie Francis. The film boasts a cast that is like a whos who in British cinema, Timothy Dalton, Johnathan Pryce, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Rea, Twiggy and even Beryl Reid. The gothic horror is based upon the antics and dark but true story of BURKE AND HARE who in Scotland murdered some sixteen people and sold their corpses to the shady side of the medical profession for anatomical dissection and experimentation. Dalton played the part of one such doctor Dr, Rock whos character was based upon a real-life person Dr. Knox who was known to be linked with Burke and Hare. The characters that supply the bodies are for this movie called Fallon and Broom and played respectively superbly by actors Stephen Pryce and Stephen Rea. The movie features a screenplay that was written by Sir Ronald Harwood who adapted his script from an unproduced screenplay that was penned by Dylan Thomas.
So, the film has glowing credentials both in the acting and production areas. Dr. Rock is a well respected and talented anatomist who is lecturing in a much-respected medical establishment. He is passionate about discovering new ways to explore and hopefully improve knowledge of the human body and also advancing medical science. The only way he can do this is to carry out research on the human body, but human corpses are shall we say in short supply, So when he comes into contact with Fallon and Broom who are basically grave robbers he sees a way of getting a steady supply of bodies for his research. Rock enlists the aid of his assistant Dr.Murray played by Julian Sands who is given the task of buying the bodies and if the corpse is fresh then a higher price will be paid. Fallon and Broom hear about this and decide rather than dig up the bodies they will actually go out and murder the local’s, so the body is fresh, thus ensuring them a higher price.
It is not long before Murray becomes suspicious and alerts Dr. Rock, but he is too caught up in his experiments to take any notice. Murray becomes involved with a local prostitute Jennie Bailey, portrayed by Twiggy who just happens to be on Fallon and Brooms list of victims. But, Murray rescues Jennie from the grave robbers and they are soon arrested, but Broom turns on his partner and gives evidence against him saving himself and sending Fallon to the gallows. Rock is also named and shamed but because of his standing remains free and can carry on practicing and lecturing. In the final shots of the movie we see Rock looking over Edinburgh from a windswept hill reflecting on his involvement in the horrors and the murders, the last words on the movie are OH GOD I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING. As he walks off the credits roll, and a haunting vocal performed by Irish band In Tua Nua is heard on the soundtrack. The movie is in my opinion well directed and contains several outstanding performances, photographed well with convincing sets and more than its fair share of bloodletting and violence.
The musical score by composer John Morris opens with a theme that is somewhat strange in its overall sound and style, at first I thought straight away that is was influenced by the orient or maybe Chinese sounding in its formation, but on listening to it over and over maybe it is Celtic influenced, performed by woodwind and supported by choir and underlying strings it is a pleasant and rather lilting sound that is realised and is an instrumental version of TAINTED HANDS giving the film a calm and unassuming opening. The main score by Morris is a great deal more powerful and more in keeping with a gothic horror tale, the composer employs strident strings which play out a nine motif theme on track number two of the recording I was given, which although commanding is also melodic and has to it a romantic yet apprehensive sound, the strings are given more depth and power by the addition of brass and percussion, a short lived piece but one that makes an impact upon the listener and also one that sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow.
Track three is a more diluted version of the elements that we hear in track number two the strings being replaced by wood wind which perform the nine-note motif theme, which is the core theme of the composers score and one on which he builds the remainder of the work. The tense woodwinds are underlined by tremolo strings that also add an air of tension to the proceedings. This core theme is prevalent throughout the work and is given a fresh and vibrant sound on each outing via clever orchestration or arrangements by the composer, each time there is a smouldering and dark atmosphere created with the string section on hand on most occasions to give it a fearsome and foreboding mood.
The score purveys an air of the windswept or an atmosphere of dread with the composer relaying his musical notions utilising in the main strings and ethnic as in Scottish/Celtic sounding woods and whistles, but there is a darkness to this work that is unsettling but at the same time alluring, its sinister musical aura unfolding and becoming stronger with each cue. There are three songs used within the film, Tainted Hands performed by Irish rock band In Tua Nua, Whisper and I shall hear, performed by Twiggy and also But and Ben wi’ Burke and Hare(uncredited) which is a 19th-century Edinburgh children’s skipping rhyme. John Morris fashioned a wonderfully atmospheric and mysterious sounding score for THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS. It is yet to receive an official release, which is a shame as it is a soundtrack that deserves to be heard and yet another impressive work from the pen of a much missed and highly talented film music Maestro.