Tag Archives: Harry Robinson

THE HAMMER VAMPIRE FILM MUSIC COLLECTION.

Notes for the Hammer Vampire film music collection, released on GDI records in 2001 © John Mansell and Marcus Hearne

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KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.

Bavaria 1910,honeymooning couple Gerald and Mirianne Harcourt are stranded when their motor car runs out of petrol. The Harcourts finding lodging as the only guests in a run down hotel, and accept a dinner invitation from Dr. Ravna, the owner of a nearby chateau. That evening Ravna’s son plays a bewitching piano rhapsody that has a profound effect upon Mirianne. The following day the Harcourt’s return to the chateau to attend a masked ball, but Gerald is drugged. He awakens to find that his wife has vanished and that all her possessions have disappeared from their hotel room. The mysterious stranger Professor Zimmer presents Gerald with the uncomfortable truth: Dr Ravna is the head of an obscene vampiric cult, and he has claimed Mirianne as his latest victim. James Bernards score for THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is arguably more impressive than the ground breaking work that the composer carried out when scoring DRACULA for Hammer, this was after all the film that initiated the publics love affair with the various blood suckers that the house of horror would introduce during the years that followed. The score for THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE combines both virulent and romantic styles, one of the undoubted highlights of the score being the piano piece that is seen to be performed by Ravna’s son, Carl. In later years the composer arranged the popular piece into a concert work entitled VAMPIRE RHAPSODY, and performed a section of it in the closing moments of the 1987 BBC documentary HAMMER THE STUDIO THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

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“ I decided to give (Carl’s) music a sort of perverted Lisztian flavour” remarked Bernard. John Hollingsworth, Hammer’s musical director at the time, called the piece ‘THE TOOTH CONCERTO’. John was always fun to work with but sadly KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was the last score of mine that he conducted. On KISS OF THE VAMPIRE I was asked to write a sequence of waltzes which wee to be used in the scenes of the masked ball, these had to be in the Viennese style, and also had to be composed in advance of the main score so they could be played whilst filming of the scenes took place. My deadline was tight, so I asked John to get somebody else to work on the orchestration of these. He engaged Douglas Gamley, who not only did a marvellous job on the orchestrations but also performed piano on the score.

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LUST FOR A VAMPIRE.

Reincarnated vampire Carmilla Karnstein poses as a debutante called Mircalla and is enrolled at Countess Herritzens exclusive girls’ boarding school. Researching legends associated with the nearby Karnstein Castle gothic storyteller Richard Lestrange falls under Mircalla’a mesmeric spell and tricks his way into a teaching post at the school. Fellow schoolmaster Giles Barton becomes similarly fascinated by the girl, and covers for her when she satisfies her bloodlust by murdering a student. Barton’s research into the occult leads him to believe that Mircalla is Carmilla Karnstein, and when he confronts her about her true identity his suspicions are horribly confirmed.

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Composer Harry Robinson gained a reputation at Hammer for being able to score films quickly and efficiently. Robinson had already worked on the 1968 television anthology JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN and scored THE VAMPIRE LOVERS IN 1970 by the time Hammer turned to him to work on LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. “ Lets just say that this was not exactly a great movie” recalled the composer. “ Certainly the other two movies within the Karnstein trilogy were for the most part very good, but LUST was the weakest of the three. I regard LUST FOR A VAMPIRE as one of Hammer’s ‘tits and bums’ productions-it relied more upon the uncovering of flesh than the unfolding of the story! Basically worked the same sort of formula on LUST as I had done on THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, although I did attempt to make LUST sound slightly more romantic. I hope I succeeded”. A sense of continuity with THE VAMPIRE LOVERS was further strengthened by the inclusion of music within LUST from its predecessor. “The music budgets were quite minimal at Hammer during this period”. said Robinson. “But we adapted things to suit each individual film. A score could be made to sound grand, even if we were only using , say 30 musicians. I think on LUST I used approximately 50 players, and reduced the numbers as we progressed”. Robinson went onto score the third and final instalment of the Karnstein trilogy, TWINS OF EVIL., and his work on this collection of movies is among the most requested by soundtrack collectors to be released.

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VAMPIRE CIRCUS.

Schettel, mittel-Europe; Anna Mueller leads a young girl to the castle of her lover, Count Mitterhaus. The girl is then murdered by the vampire Count, and professor Mueller gathers together a horde of angry villagers to help him take revenge. Mitterhaus is eventually impaled upon a sharpened stake and curses his assailants; “Your children will die to give me back my life!” Fifteen years later the disease ridden village is in quarantine. A mysterious gypsy woman crosses the blockade, bringing with her the convoy of vehicles that comprise the Circus of Night. While the circus prepares to entertain the local children the gypsy woman who is in reality Anna uncovers the castle crypt, Mitterhaus’s bloody vow is about to be fulfilled. Composer David Whitaker, studied at the Guildhall of Music between 1947 and 1949,and began his career in film music in 1966 when he scored the Jerry Lewis comedy DON’T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER. Although his arranging work has included commissions from such diverse artists as THE ROLLING STONES and LISA STANSFIELD, it is probably true to say that Whitaker is best remembered for his two Hammer horror scores DR JECKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and VAMPIRE CIRCUS. “ After seeing VAMPIRE CIRCUS I decided it needed a big score,” said the composer. “At that time the Hammer formula for an orchestra line up comprised around 120 musicians, and it was really up to the composer how these were utilised. With the guidance from Hammer’s musical director Philip Martell I spread them as I saw fit. I think we used around 60 musicians per session. Phil was quite serious, and although we hit it off very well there weren’t many light moments with him. I do remember however, being rather amused that the vampire at the start of the movie seemed so camp”. Whitaker subsequently scored Hammer’s comedy from 1973 THAT’S YOUR FUNERAL.

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THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES.

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Transylvania 1804,Count Dracula rises from his tomb and assumes the physical form of his Chinese disciple Kah. A century later Professor van Helsing lectures a class of cynical students about the legend of Ping Kuei, a remote village plagued by marauding vampires in golden masks. One of the professors students His Ching takes the story seriously and begs his tutors help in the vanquishing of the creatures. Van Helsing joins his son, Leyland, wealthy widow Vanessa Buren and His Ching on an expedition to the village. They travel with His Ching’s five brothers and his sister, Mai Kwei, all martial arts experts. Following an arduous journey the party arrive at the besieged village, and Vanessa and His Ching die in the ensuing battle. The last remaining vampire kidnaps Mai Kwai and takes her to their temple, where their foul overlord awaits……..

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For James Bernard’s final feature film score for Hammer he fused his recognisable style with traditional Chinese music. The epic results made for a suitably impressive accompaniment to the company’s last vampire movie, and appropriately incorporated cues from Bernard’s score from the 1970 movie TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Bernard’s work on this project did not however end with the film score, as the composer recalls. “ I Was asked to compose music for a LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES ALBUM that would contain dialogue from the movie with a narration spoken by Peter Cushing, similar in style to the DRACULA album that had been recorded with Christopher Lee. Phil Martell thought it would be a good idea to include a new theme that would act as the opening section of music, similar to an overture, so I composed some music especially which was used to open and close the record. I chose a Chinese sounding march with lots of crashing cymbals, percussion and brass. Philip Martell conducted the sessions and although the LP was called the original soundtrack recording it actually contained very little of the score from the film”.

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Vampire Lovers.

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VAMPIRE LOVERS marked the first time that Scottish born composer Harry Robinson had worked for the House of Horror for a cinema release He had already completed the score for THE OBLONG BOX for American International Pictures in the States, who I suppose were the American equivalent of Hammer in those days. In fact VAMPIRE LOVERS was a Hammer/A.I.P. co-production, and was something a little different for the seasoned Hammer film audiences. More nudity, more blood, more of everything in fact, including the loping off of heads. An intriguing storyline with some pretty gorgeous young ladies including a glamorous looking Ingrid Pitt and some fresh talent in the forms of Hammer starlets Pippa Steele and Maddy Smith. The score by Robinson was a very important and highly integral part of the picture, it was more interwoven with the story that was unfolding on screen than previous Hammer scores, it is true to say that James Bernard‘s DRACULA scores were and still are the most popular and promptly recognised of Hammers musical archive, but Robinsons music brought new life and excitement to this Hammer movie, it was as fresh and different in its style and sound as the movie was different from previous Hammer vampire movies. The score is full of themes and musical phrases that suggest an atmosphere of dread and virulence. The main thematic and atonal properties of the score underline and support the fearful and for want of a better description scary and gory passages within the film, Robinson using the approach of scoring a frightening or harrowing section of film with a piece of music that itself has a melody to it, thus increasing the actual moment of tension or horror because the music does not hint that something terrible is about to happen, so this gives the scene extra weight and impact. There is also a milder almost romantic side to the score, Robinson employing strings to great effect to enhance and accompany Ingrid Pitt’s character Mircalla / Carmilla as she goes in search of fresh human blood, usually from another female. The film was a first thought to be too risqué for British audiences, and the censor expressed concerns about certain scenes, but the movie proved to be a great success on both sides of the Atlantic.Robinson’s soundtrack too was well received and soon made it to the top of many soundtrack collectors wants list’s. To satisfy the demand for Robinsons music, Hammer did release a short track from the score on an EMI LP back in the mid 1970s it was part of a collection of four excerpts from Hammer films, which formed the FOUR FACES OF EVIL on the B side of an album which had as it’s A side a Dracula story read by Christopher Lee which was supported by a specially adapted score by James Bernard. Robinsons score for THE VAMPIRE LOVERS has a presence to it that evokes a feeling of unease. Let us just say if the composer was attempting to style a soundtrack that created a sense of foreboding and evil he succeeded in doing it here. Maybe previous Hammer scores had been a little clichéd and predictable or had become that way because audiences and filmmakers alike were used to this kind of scoring in a horror picture, accepting the simple but effectiveness of for example James Bernard‘s compositions as the norm. Robinson’s music however has a style and sound to it that was not only perfect for the movie but has the ability to be entertaining and interesting away from the film which is no mean feat when writing music for a horror flick. The GDI release of VAMPIRE LOVERS is presented wonderfully, lots of stills, extensive notes on the film, the music and the composer, a striking front cover and sound quality that is dazzling. This was one of GDI’s first releases and set the standard for other CDs within its catalogue. VAMPIRE LOVERS still remains one of its best and most popular titles and also stands as a fitting testament to the music of Harry Robinson. Highly recommended.

Harry Robinson

Harry Robinson
Harry Robinson

Composer Harry Robinson became known during the 1970s for his score to Hammer horror pictures. Films such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and the excellent TWINS OF EVIL became firm favourites with soundtrack collectors. I met Harry some years ago, and eventually got around to interviewing him during the summer of 1994. He was a gentle and courteous Scotsman, who was always prepared to answer questions and give you as much information as possible. The interview I did with Harry was on a Saturday afternoon which was a hot and very dusty day in London. We sat by his pool at his home and I remember him telling me he had managed to get out of going to a wedding reception by telling his wife he was being interviewed by a very important journalist. Which is something I did giggle about for some time.

Harry was born in Elgin in Scotland on November 19th 1932; his real name was Henry MacLeod Robertson. Harry’s career was a varied one. He not only composed music for motion pictures, but acted as musical director on West End shows such as Lionel Bart’s FINGS AI’NT WOT THEY USED TO BE and MAGGIE MAY and took care of the musical duties on show such as OH BOY and SIX FIVE SPECIAL, Harry worked with some of the best known artistes from the 1960s including THE BEATLES, LIZA MINELLI and JUDY GARLAND. Continue reading Harry Robinson