Stanley Black was a composer that I feel was sorely overlooked when it comes to film music. Many associate Black with the numerous film music albums that he released back in the 1960’s and 1970’s which were compilations of popular film themes and not necessarily original music written by Black, although he was responsible for the arrangements on these collections. Many of the albums were released on EMI or labels associated with them such as studio two and also a handful I remember (which were the better ones) were on DECCA or Phase 4. These included the standard film music themes such as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Dr Zhivago etc which were not just associated with films but also had a life away from the movies they were composed for via re-workings of them as popular songs etc. The composer/conductor was also responsible for releasing a number of albums of easy listening music as it was often called, his lounge and exotica albums becoming even more popular than his film music collections. Black however penned numerous film scores himself many of which were released during the 1950’s and surprisingly a lot of these were horror or tense thrillers, BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE for example and also THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, Black also composed an atmospheric soundtrack for JACK THE RIPPER and was capable of creating jazz orientated music for films such as HELL IS THE CITY which contained an upbeat and gritty sounding musical score. His credits were many and they were also for films that were mainly considered as B features but were still of a high quality as was Black’s music.
HELL IS THE CITY had to it a big band sound and a style that was in my opinion ahead of its time for a film score. MANIAC from 1963 also had an upbeat and infectious sounding soundtrack, again Black employing a jazz or big band style to the proceedings but adding to these elements’ strings and heavier more raw sounding brass flourishes to elevate the dramatic content that was required, in many ways I suppose one could say that the style employed by black within thrillers such as the aforementioned and also movies such as THE MAN IN THE BACK SEAT (1961) was influential in Italian thrillers because the big band and orchestral or symphonic fusion was present in the work of composers such as Bruno Nicolai on THE INSATIABLES, and also within works penned by Maestro’s such as Piero Umiliani and later in the 1970’s Franco Micalizzi.
But there is another side to the film music of Stanley Black, take his score for the 1949 movie INTERRUPTED JOURNEY as just one example, this is a highly dramatic work and sounds positively lush and sumptuous as if it had come direct from the pen of Max Steiner, Alfred Newman or Franz Waxman. Which was also the case for his tense and powerful soundtracks for the 1956 thriller PASSPORT TO TREASON and the 1957 production THE VICIOUS CIRCLE. But let us focus upon two of the composers Horror scores. One of these movies is probably well known for all the wrong reasons, as it was not exactly one of the best horrors produced.
BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE was released in 1958 and was met with mixed reaction from critics and fans alike, many look at the movie as a poor mans Hammer production, as it was clearly influenced by the films that had been produced by that studio. But, it was lacking in a number of areas, and did not quite make the grade as a fully-fledged Gothic horror, although entertaining, it was not a vampire movie in the true sense, It is set in the 1870’s in Transylvania (where else) we see a Dr Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) put to death by villagers who believe that he is a vampire, However after his death his loyal but terribly disfigured henchman Carl played by Victor Maddern takes the body of his Master to a surgeon who performs a heart transplant and revives Callistratus, after which both Callistratus and his henchman take refuge in an asylum which is located in a remote area, but soon the Dr, notices he begins to have a taste or thirst for blood, thus he feeds off the inmates of the asylum.
Directed by Henry Cass with a screenplay by Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster the movie was released via Universal studios and although failed to impress at the time of its release it is now looked upon as something of a cult movie, that along with Hammer classics such as DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN has influenced a number of films within the horror genre that have appeared since, It had an impressive cast which included. Barbara Shelley, Bernard Bresslaw, John Le Mesurier, Vincent Ball and Cameron Hall. Black’s score aided the tale greatly, with urgent brass flourishes and swirling strings, the composer producing a James Bernard sounding work, the scores rumbling percussion and driving themes being relentless and impressive, the composer also enlisted flyaway sounding woods and these were enhanced and bolstered by the at times frenzied and ferocious performance of the string section. I would not say that the score was particularly innovative in its overall sound and style, but it worked well within the movie and when listening to the suite that was re-recorded by Chandos records it also has a great listening value to it without the images it was intended to support. So why was the soundtrack never released, well I and others often ask this, the main reason was that music for Horror movies such as this and even the now classic Hammer horrors were not released because at the time they were in cinemas maybe audiences or even film music collectors at the time were not interested in scores that were seen to be non-thematic and mostly action/atonal driven. But collectors now crave scores such as this, and their enthusiasm and craving for them was displayed when the likes of GDI and Silva Screen began to make Hammer horror scores available, sadly it stopped with Hammer.
A Year later in 1959 Stanley Black returned to the horror genre when he scored the Peter Cushing chiller THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (aka-MANIA in USA). Produced by Triad Productions and directed by John Gilling, the film was another version of the tale of Dr Knox and his relationship with grave robbers Burke and Hare. This story has been filmed several times and in many different guises, but in my opinion THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS and THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985) are the most interesting. Set in Edingburgh in 1828, Knox being a skilled and respected anatomist who has many students flocking to his lectures. But because of the laws at the time there were very few bodies available to experiment on, this frustrated Knox who decided to procure fresh corpses from where ever he could, enter then Burke and Hare played by George Rose and Donald Pleasance respectively, who have discovered maybe a body is worth more dead than it is alive.
The later movie THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS borrowed heavily from this production; in fact the storylines are basically the same but names etc have been altered. When reading the synopsis for the two productions they are the same, but each movie has its own identity if that makes any sense whatsoever.
The score by Stanley Black, is robust and vibrant to say the least, the composer employing lush but at the same time urgent sounding strings, with brass heralding a dark sounding work that is filled with a variety of moods and ambiances, Black although creating a action led score also fashions a central theme which itself is highly melodic and at times abundantly rich and lush. I would say that this is more thematic than BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE but again listening to it as just music there is something of an entertainment value to it, and also again there are comparisons to be drawn between the work of Black and also the Hammer scores as penned by the likes of James Bernard and Don Banks. A score that would be welcomed along with many others by Black if they were to be released now. Anyone out there listening?