Late last year, our genre-lovin' pal Tim Ferrante inaugurated his DIY outfit Elysee Productions with a yummy treat in the form of the remastered soundtrack to camp monster classic Mad Doctor of Blood Island – complete with unused cues and rehearsal cuts. Truly a labor of love from a genre fan, that CD was like dialing a way-back machine to a simpler time, when my bony eight-year-old butt was parked in front of the TV to watch all-night horror movies on Creature Feature, my Evel Knievel pajamas smeared with the spoils of my trick-or-treat adventures.
Well, as Linus once said to Charlie Brown, another Halloween season is upon us, and the Elysee crew are back again with their latest sugary confection for your goodie bag – the complete score to another Sam Sherman production that I remember all too well from late-night TV, the totally bonkers Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
I adored this movie as a kid (thanks to gore and boobs-a-plenty), and although I have no illusions about how utterly crap-tastic it is, I still have a soft spot for it today – I especially dig Dracula's afro and his voice that comes with built-in reverb. Playing the music takes me right back to those innocent days... well, relatively innocent, anyway.
Composed by the enviably-named William Lava (whose music credits include the classic series F Troop and Warner Brothers cartoons), the score for this ultra-low-budget oddity was never meant for an official album release. But like his quest for the Blood Island tapes, Ferrante's obsession was all-consuming, and he devised a plan to recover the original elements from the vaults at Sherman's film distribution company, Independent-International.
“[Sherman] knew he had the music tracks in storage, but the actual content of the tapes was unclear,” Ferrante recalls. The real challenge, however, was finding and identifying the tapes, some of which had never been heard intact since they were first recorded.
“Most of Independent-International’s film elements are in secure storage facilities – the kind where you don’t get in unless you’re expected and have already stated what it is you‘re retrieving,” Ferrante says. “A few boxes had been pulled for my inspection and inside one were three reels of Dracula vs. Frankenstein’s music. An exciting moment, I can tell you.”
The actual composite tracks used in the movie only amounted to four cues, which Sherman assembled himself from Lava's originals. But the composer's first recording sessions were also available, as well as a slew of rehearsal cuts and outtakes featuring markers, pre-rolls and background studio chatter – a fun nuts-and-bolts feature Elysee also provided for Tito Arevalo's Blood Island recordings.
There's a great classic monster-movie feel to Lava's cues – most of which are not named, only numbered – complete with lurching horn sections, trembling pianos and that ever-lovin' staple of countless '50s sci-fi flicks, the theremin. There a lot of dynamic range within every track, as low bass rumbles with shimmery percussion give way to explosive horn stingers, eerie electronics, thundering timpani... and I think I even heard a mandolin. Lava's definitely a no-nonsense composer, with a solid grasp of broad, attention-grabbing arrangements, and his work seems aimed at a much more sophisticated production than this one.
Thankfully, it's not over when the music ends. Elysee sweetened the pot with some really inventive extras, including over 13 minutes of awesome radio spots from various Independent-International releases – a must-have for your Halloween playlist. “Living breathing terror chills your flowing blood and shocks your nervous system cold!” Oh yeah.
“I had raided Sam’s office one day and grabbed as many radio spot records as I could find,” Ferrante explains. “I did it for my own listening pleasure... the tape laid unplayed for at least 20 years, but it acted as the master source material for the radio spots on the CD!”
On top of that, Ferrante opted for something really unique: a complete commentary track by Sam Sherman, essentially the audio version of liner notes. Clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, it's an insightful peek into the process of scoring a film. “It occurred to me that DVDs have commentary tracks,” he noted. “Why not a soundtrack CD? Why not give the listener a 'living history' of the CD they own?”
More sprinkles on top include a classy booklet containing candid shots from the movie set, including the putty-faced Frankenstein monster enjoying a smoke break, Lon Chaney Jr. and hot co-star Regina Carrol playing with cute puppies, and a charming color shot of J. Carrol Naish's decapitated head. There's even a shot of Naish doing a read-through with good old “Uncle Forry” Ackerman.
If you're nostalgic for the cheesy drive-in horrors of yore, or feel like geeking out to a small but entertaining glimpse of exploitation film history, give this CD a listen. But don't think about it too long – the pressing is limited to 1000 copies. Get yours at the Elysee website.