Sunday, 20 July 2014

Witchfinder General | The holy grail of horror film soundtracks is out now!

Regarded as the holy grail of horror film soundtracks, Paul Ferris’ haunting score to Michael Reeves’ celebrated 1968 film Witchfinder General has been released in its entirety in a new re-masteredalbum on CD.

Apart from the cult classic’s Greensleeves-inspired Peaceful Interlude, which was released in various forms in the past 45 years, the film’s other tracks were presumed lost and cult film fans only ever dreamed they might actually exist. But when the original quarter-inch master tapes were found filed away in the De Wolfe archives, 33 tracks were uncovered, with two of them previously unheard and unused.

The September 2013 De Wolfe CD release features a re-master of all 33 tracks from these precious reels, and includes liner notes by Tony Tenser biographer John Hamilton, plus stills and photos. Like the equally revered Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, Paul Ferris’ score is a haunting melancholic homage to British folk music and a bona fide must have.

Having already composed the music for director Michael Reeves’ Revenge of the Blood Beast (aka The She Beast) in 1966 and The Sorcerers in 1967, Ferris was called on to create a score for the young director’s latest project Witchfinder General that would match the film’s glorious visuals, lensed by cinematographer John Coqullion. Left to his own devices, Ferris conjured up a lush romantic score that beautifully matched the countryside visuals while providing a counterpoint to the violence that would ultimately rile the British censor.

In the end, Ferris fashioned the most memorable of all of his soundtracks (which also include The Creeping Flesh, The Blood Beast Terror and Persecution) and sold the publishing and recording rights to De Wolfe, who issued the tracks on a library album attributed to London Studio Orchestra under the title Strange Location (DW/LP 3150). This album, which was coupled with composer Peter Knight’s score for Curse of the Crimson Altar, has since become a collector’s piece. Cues from Ferris’ score would also turn up in other films and TV shows, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Jabberwocky (1977), which used In the Shadows.

Ferris admitted his inspiration for Peaceful Interlude, the film’s most recognisable track, was Greensleeves, but only in terms of the ‘shared folk memory that the tune evokes in audiences, a comfortably familiar sense of Medieval England’, according the liner notes.

Originally Ferris wanted to use traditional Elizabethan instruments, but Tigon said no. Nor did they want to pay for a 55-piece orchestra, so Ferris paid them out of his own pocket. But he was eventually reimbursed the costs when executive producer Tony Tenser saw and heard the final cut of the film. When Witchfinder General was finally released on video in the US in 1987, MGM/UA refused to pay royalties to Ferris, so a synth score by Kendall Schmidt was used in its place.

While soundtrack aficionados can now appreciate Ferris’ career high, the composer however is sadly no longer with us. He committed suicide in 1995, aged 54, after a long battle with Huntington’s Chorea. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Monster Mag | The long-lost second issue of the cult British film magazine with Vincent Price on the cover is back in print!

Deemed unsuitable to an all-age market due its provocative images, the entire English language print run of the British film magazine Monster Mag was destroyed by HM Customs & Excise back in 1973, which resulted in the German and French editions becoming highly sought after.

Now, 41 years later, series creator Roger Noel Cook and relaunch editor Dez Skinn have produced an authentic limited edition full-size digitally-remastered reproduction of what must be the word's rarest horror film magazine.

You can purchase them now (while they last)
by cheque or postal order by post,
payable to Quality, to:

UK: £9.95 each + £1.25 postage (add 25p for each additional copy).
International, click here: MM#2


Published between 1974 and 1976, the British horror magazine Monster Mag was unlike anything else being produced in the era – it folded out into a large pin-up poster, featuring a suitably salacious image from a horror film (usually Hammer) or a horror star (like Vincent Price). It was made by Top Sellers and edited by husband and wife team Roger and Jan Cook.

But the outrageous images got the magazine into trouble with the second issue. As Monster Mag was published overseas, it had to be approved before getting back into Britain. Issue one escaped Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise, but the second issue didn’t (hopefully not on account of the great pic of Vincent Price as Dr Phibes on its cover, which ended up as a poster in Issue 10). The entire run got seized and destroyed, making the English version the most covetable horror zine ever (and makes its digital reprint worth hunting out - especially for those wanting to complete their collection).

After that early hiccup, the magazine continued until issue 14, when it was finally cancelled. During its run, the magazine size changed constantly, which was very confusing for collectors (I could never get my head around the numbering system). The early issues turned into a poster that was ‘Over 2 feet by 3 feet’, according to the taglines, before it went down to A4 a couple of times, then bounced back to a larger size.

Three further issues (known as Volume Two) were produced in 1976 by Dez Skinn (prior to House of Hammer being launched, another of my all-time favourites). These had a much more professional look, and had two images for the main poster image. But the much-promised Double X Special issue wasn't produced – until now. Dez Skinn never finished that issue but, hot on the heels of the Issue 2 reprint, he has returned to 'the beige folder that he used to collect pics' for the XX issue and has come up with a brand-new issue that’s very much like the Monster Mags circa 1976, and in the original larger format. 

For anyone growing up in 1970s Britain – and Australia (like me) – there was an illicit thrill in purchasing a copy of Monster Mag. There was something naughty and forbidden about them – the fact they were next to the girlie mags in my newsagents might have something to do with that. There was also something tantalising about those blood-splattered images and overly-hyped articles (badly laid out for the most part), that made the films seem way gorier – and sexier  – than they ought to have been (Rocky Horror was one of them). Monster Mag was indeed a unique piece of marketing that certainly gave me a thrill in my impressionable youth. The new digital reprint of Issue 2 and the all-new XX issue have only resurrected those feelings. Now, I want to find the one I have hunted forever for – Issue 10, with the poster of Vinnie as Dr Phibes. Do you have a spare? Maybe Dez can reprint this one as well (hint! hint!)

You can read more about Dez Skinn’s memories of Monster Mag here.

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