James Bernard (1925-2001) - the sound of Hammer horror

James Bernard and others - The Hammer Frankenstein Film Music Collection CD cover Whether considered to have successfully carved out a niche for himself or as suffering from the musical equivalent of type-casting, James Bernard is closely associated with the Hammer Horror films and particularly their Dracula series. He managed to give the same feel of unsettling foreboding yet strangely attractive power as also conveyed in the flesh by Christopher Lee in the title role. However Bernard's initial work in the film business was in a completely different direction and, along with Paul Dehn he shared an Oscar for "Best Writer" for the film "Seven Days to Noon" which was scored by the then up and coming composer John Addison.

James Bernard - She plus Mario Nascimbene - The Vengence of She CD cover Outwardly the Hammer film company seems to have been quite a compact community of film makers and artists from the 1950s to the 1970s when it dominated the horror film market. The company's first major success was a film adaptation of Nigel Kneale's television serial Quatermass which was scored by James Bernard. This was followed quickly by a film sequel "Quatermass 2" also scored by Bernard, followed by a string of horror films, many starring Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing and other British acting talent. Behind the scenes James Bernard was one of those unsung heroes who helped to shape what we know as the essence of those Hammer movies. The company released many "Dracula" and several "Frankenstein" films as well as various other horror staples such as "The Mummy". Bernard became so closely associated with the musical sound-world of "Dracula" that he was asked to compose a new soundtrack to the original silent Dracula film "Nosferatu" dating from 1921 as shown as part of the Channel 4 Television series of Silent movies. Other films in this series for television used soundtracks commissioned from Carl Davis.

Film Music by James Bernard:

TV Music by James Bernard:

In addition to scoring "Nosferatu" for Channel 4 in the UK, it is no surprise that James Bernard was involved in the TV series "Hammer House of Horror" most of which were made in 1980.

James Bernard Recommendations:

There are a few CDs with James Bernard's music often as part of various horror collections. Try the following links:

Hammer Films have a website at www.hammerfilms.com which has lots of reference material including cast lists and film clips.

James Bernard Memorabilia:

Writer Steve Vertlieb has written the following about James Bernard.

James Bernard and Steve Vertlieb picture 1 I met Jimmy during a Fanex Hammer convention in Baltimore. He was a warm, gentle soul with not the slightest pretention or affectation. He loved people. We hit it off instantly, and shared dinner and drinks with a group of mutual friends and admirers. Jimmy used to call me from London on the telephone all the time, usually on a Sunday morning. The phone would often ring, and I'd hear his joyful, cultured voice on the other end announcing "Hello, Steve, it's Jimmy calling from England." Our telephone conversations would generally run about thirty minutes, and I'd promise to pay the tab on the next go round by telephoning him. He'd always laugh, and say "No, I'll call you. I get a special rate when calling the states."

I can remember when I first listened to the cd of his music for "Nosferatu." I had tears in my eyes. I wrote him immediately, and told him that I felt, quite sincerely, that this was easily the finest film score of the year. He telephoned me as soon as he received my letter, thanking me for my kindness. He said that it really meant a great deal to him.

James Bernard and Steve Vertlieb picture 2 Jimmy wanted to begin composing again on a more regular schedule, but was frustrated because his agents were having difficulty finding him work. He felt that they were working at it only half heartedly. I contacted Elmer Bernstein who was kind enough to offer some suggestions and references, all of which I forwarded to Jimmy. Bernstein told me somewhat sadly, however, that he didn't hold out much hope for Jimmy because, he said, "the guys out here in Hollywood are just looking for younger people to work with." "He," he explained, "was a lucky exception to the rule," for which he was deeply grateful, "but that the youthful directors and producers had no interest in the older composers, and that they didn't even know who they were."

Sadly, Jimmy passed away not terribly long after that. I was heart broken when I heard the news. I still have many hand written letters from Jimmy, however, and I shall always treasure the memory of his friendship. He was quite a guy.

Our thanks to Steve Vertlieb for sharing the words and photos.

Steve Vertlieb wrote a in-depth article about James Bernard's music which was published on the American Music Preservation website.


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