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. 

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