Sounds of Terror: Dracula vs. Frankenstein Soundtrack
In this age of collector’s edition DVDs for almost any film imaginable, it is amazing that audio counterpart compact discs are not more prevalent. The good people at Elysee Productions are out to change that though with some impressive original motion picture soundtracks that are loaded with extra features. Their inaugural disc is from one of the most schizophrenic films of all time, Independent International’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, but it also boasts a unique score by Hollywood legend William Lava.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein began life in 1969 as a film called Blood Freaks with neither of the famous monsters in sight. This story, which changed titles early on to Blood Seekers, concerned a mad scientist and his ghoulish henchmen kidnapping young girls for dubious scientific experiments. Starring in these roles were three horror film heavyweights, J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr., and diminutive actor Angelo Rossitto. Always trying to keep in touch with the current trends, director Al Adamson added a subplot involving motorcycle gangs and drugs that featured displaced child actor Russ Tamblyn. Rounding out the cast were western actor and future Dallas star Jim Davis and the hard working Anthony Eisley who always seemed on the brink of something greater.
As Blood Seekers neared the end of shooting, everyone involved began to feel that it was unmarketable. The Independent International crew moved on to a, more or less, straight violent biker film, Satan’s Sadists, and Blood Seekers ended up on a shelf for the next year. Producer Sam Sherman finally rescued the footage and sifted through it for some inspiration that might salvage it as a feature. Based on one line of dialog regarding the mysterious identity of the mad scientist, Dr. Duryea, Sherman hit on the idea of making his character the last of the Frankensteins and added both his famous creation and Count Dracula into the mix. This would give the film the flavor of the Universal “Monster Rally” series from the mid to late 1940’s.
The title of the film was changed, once again, to Blood of Frankenstein, anticipating a never realized plot twist in which Dracula bites the monster and makes him a vampire as well! Against Sherman’s preference for casting another veteran horror icon, John Carradine, as Dracula, Al Adamson hired stock broker Roger Engel, rechristened Zandor Vorkov, to play a curly haired goateed Count! J. Carrol Naish returned to film new scenes with Dracula and the monster to tie in the existing footage, almost all of which was used. Even props created by Kenneth Strickfaden for the original Universal Frankenstein and other films were used to recreate a classic atmosphere. Unfortunately, as round two of shooting was wrapping up, it still did not appear to be a sellable feature.
Sam Sherman went back to the drawing board in an attempt to assemble a Frankenstein’s monster of his own, the motion picture his company had been working on for close to two years. Distributors, who had been bombarded by press releases, were anxious for a new Frankenstein film and Independent International had nothing to deliver. This led to the acquisition of the Mexican werewolf film, Mark of the Wolf Man, and its misleading re-titling to the infamous Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, just to buy the company some time. Sherman finally managed to stitch the patchwork movie together and filmed a new ending that actually did feature a battle between the two titans of terror and justified the final title change to Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
With classic monsters, actors, and even props, it’s no wonder that Sam Sherman wanted the film to have a classic score as well. While shooting was underway for Blood Seekers, he contacted William Lava, a thirty year veteran composer who had done scores for everything from movie serials to Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny cartoons. Lava was provided with the soundtrack to an earlier film Sherman had distributed, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, and was told to deliver something similar for a monster picture. He produced a strange and dark symphony of heavy bases tones that bore little resemblance to the Mad Doctor score and was almost too dark for Blood Seekers.
Sadly, Dracula vs. Frankenstein would be the final film score William Lava composed. He passed away while the movie was in the middle of its troubled production. The music he composed for Blood Seekers could be used for the remaining footage and recycled elsewhere but it still was not enough to score the entire picture including the two re-shoots. For this, Sherman licensed a collection of science fiction and horror music, including cues from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that pop up rather surprisingly in the final act of the film. In attempt to level the uneven mixture of music, Sherman also re-edited Lava’s score to brighten up the foreboding tone. The final auditory product as heard in the film is unusual to say the least.
For the Dracula vs. Frankenstein soundtrack, Elysee Productions secured the original William Lave session recordings, including one unused track, plus the re-edited cues done by Sam Sherman. Also included are some outtakes that contain the original studio count downs and intros. The sound quality is excellent on all these recordings and together they form an excellent auditory compliment to the film but the real gems are yet to come.
Over thirty minutes of additional material is included at the end of this CD on two bonus tracks. The first is a montage of Independent International radio spots for many of their films. This gives an incredible overview of the forgotten art of radio promotion, when a film could be sold as much by sounds and dialog as by a poster or trailer. Following this is an entertaining and informative dissertation from Sam Sherman. He discusses the origins of the Dracula vs. Frankenstein soundtrack and follows this up with a brief education on the history and considerations of radio advertising. Both of these tracks are cult movie gold and a sad reminder of the experience seeing a movie in a theater used to be.
The Dracula vs. Frankenstein soundtrack is highly recommended to fans of cult and exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s. My only minor complaints are that the radio spots should have been given individual tracks for easy access and the Sherman commentary should have preceded them since he provides an introduction at the conclusion. So far, Elysee Productions has released both this and a soundtrack to Mad Doctor of Blood Island, without any extras, on CD. Hopefully these will be the first in a series of movie soundtracks and audio documentaries to supplement these often overlooked cult films.