Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Wojciech Kilar

bram stokers dracula ost cover

In 1992, Frances Ford Coppola gave us a new take on the Dracula myth, low on the “I vant to suck your blud” and high on seductive romance and gothic tragedy. It was well received, winning awards, and presenting the viewer with a feast for eyes and ears both.

Returning from war to discover his beloved tricked into suicide and condemned by the church, Vlad (Gary Oldman) curses himself into the eternal life of a vampire better to get his vengeance. Centuries later, he discovers his wife’s double in the form of Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), and the movie mainly follows his attempts to win her heart – while an intrepid band of would-be vampire slayers try to stop him.

For the soundtrack, it makes a certain kind of sense to hire an eastern European composer given the tale’s roots. For a horror movie, it also makes a lot of sense to try to find something that bit different from the norm, to unsettle the listener. And there is a chill factor here, woven well with yearning love themes. Menace mixes with sorrow, seduction with fury.

We start with pure menace, strident horns and a chilling chorus with almost disturbing whispers underneath. But then we get to Lucy’s Party with its almost childlike, twinkling chimes – all light and lovely… but there’s a creeping disquiet to the piece, too. Then the mood switches again with the seductive feel of The Brides – but again, that sense of danger. The rest of the score follows that same kind of mix of moods switching and keeping us on our toes.

My favourite tracks tend to be the highly wistful love theme ones, such as Love Remembered and Mina/Dracula. The underlying motif is just gorgeous – yearning but never saccharine.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, so I’m not picturing scenes with the tracks, but it still works to conjure the mood. I don’t think anything has ever captured the pathos of the vampire myth quite so gorgeously.

I don’t watch much horror these days, and to be frank most horror movie scores are brash and obvious and I don’t find them pleasant to listen to. This, on the other hand, is hugely atmospheric and very listenable. I’d even recommend turning the volume up (a few of the tracks are particularly quiet) and immersing yourself in the lush layers.

My rating: 8/10 – I didn’t realise I liked this so much until I sat down to write this review, but there you go! 🙂

Genre: horror
Released: 1992
Length: 0:30:41
Number of tracks: 16, although an extended version with unused tracks is available (and I’d like to get my hands on, tbh!)

Track listing:

  1. Dracula – The Beginning
  2. Vampire Hunters
  3. Mina’s Photo
  4. Lucy’s Party
  5. The Brides
  6. The Storm
  7. Love Remembered
  8. The Hunt Builds
  9. The Hunters Prelude
  10. The Green Mist
  11. Mina/Dracula
  12. The Ring of Fire
  13. Love Eternal
  14. Ascension
  15. End Credits
  16. Love Song for a Vampire – Annie Lennox

The Allingham Minibus – Margery Allingham

allingham minibus cover

“Dornford killed Fellowes somewhere in Australia.”

I’ve written before about being a fan of Campion and the period-gentle kind of mystery. Here we have a collection of short stories, some with the famous detective, others a little more random. All in all, a rather good mix!

We open with a foreword from Agatha Christie – what better stamp of approval can another mystery writer of the time get, really?

The first story surprised me, as I didn’t know the author dabbled in horror. This is a perfect mystery-come-terror story, which I can wholly imagine being told around a campfire. And, despite the age (so much is reused, and loses something from the familiarity) still gave me a fun little chill. The rest of the stories mix this kind of ‘ghost story’ with mysteries, and a large dose of whimsy.

The strength of the writing is clear. There’s a lovely mix of cosy period elements, throwbacks to more genteel times, but with mysteries that genuinely kept me wondering where it was going next, whether they involved ageing, publicity-hunger actors, or church men who aren’t very godly, haunted parrot cages (!), or a more domestic tale of a couple’s last evening before an agreed divorce.

The Campion stories are scattered between, few of them and one I’d read before (in Campion at Christmas), but always a pleasure to imagine the character as portrayed in the TV series I loved.

Overall: an old-fashioned but nicely so collection of mysteries and light chills, perfect for the season – and beyond!

NetGalley eARC: 269 pages / 18 short stories
First published: 1973 and most recently rereleased October 2019
Series: Campion and other non-series stories
Read from 7th-27th October 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

Gemini Man (2019)

gemini man poster

An aging assassin (Will Smith) runs into trouble with his government bosses when he decides to retire. The best there’s ever been, who could hope to take him down – except, perhaps, the younger version of himself. Just as well a shadowy figure cloned him 20 years before, hmm?

Actually, that time gap is one thing I approved of in this movie: I’m fed up of the sci-fi trope of ‘instant clones’, where people have a double there and then. This part of the science is closer to real, with the cloned child raised at the normal pace. Let’s not delve too deeply into the cloned personality, tastes, abilities, etc etc.

As a premise, it’s not too awful, if you’re minded to suspend disbelief for a bit. As an action movie, this works pretty well, with some cool rooftop and motorbike chases and Will Smith fighting with himself. The CGI for the de-aged duplicate is so-so: occasionally pretty darn good, sometimes so dreadful as to look unfinished (I imagine the DVD release will see improvements!).

However, the story is bland to the point of forgettable, which is a lot of a shame. It starts okay – who is chasing Will, why does he look like him (except, the audience already knows, so zero tension), etc etc. But, character motivations are murky, some change for no real reason, and the baddy ends up being totally one dimensional. I suppose there is a bit of ‘what if’ – how would you interact with your younger self, could you change their path, that sort of thing.

Overall: I think this is only about the special effects, which aren’t so impressive as to make up for the lack of interesting story. It’s well enough made, just lacks any real… anything, tbh, apart from action. Still, inoffensive popcorn fluff, the no-longer-so-fresh Prince adds a certain degree of quality – and he’s aging pretty well, I have to say!

Released: 10th October 2019
Viewed: 18th October 2019
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – forgettable, soulless popcorn fluff, but reasonably well-made

Joker (2019)

joker poster

From Cesar Romero through Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger, Batman’s Joker has gotten darker and less comic-book-y as a character. The more recent films featuring Batman (either Christian Bale, or Ben Affleck) have been getting grittier and darker each time. And then we have Joaquin Phoenix, in director Todd Phillip’s new take on the villain’s origin story – which I can only describe as, imagine taking away all of the comic book. Imagine looking for murky reality, a believable, real-world take. Which is what makes it so damn chilling.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) struggles with mental illness(es), with society, pretty much everything. His life is grim and filled with tragic pointlessness. We see him dressing up as a clown for work, only to be brutally beaten by a group of kids. We see the hellish weight-loss the actor went through, each rib on bruised display. We see every human interaction tinged with dismissiveness, or cruelty, or just a sense that things aren’t right.

I was in two minds about seeing this movie: was it glorifying violence? Using mental illness as a scapegoat? Hmm. But those elements certainly add to the disturbing nature of the film, the thought-provoking aspects of it all. And then there’s a performance and a half from the lead actor – as excellent as Ledger was with the character, the unwavering focus here allows for so much more.

I said thought provoking, and I mean it. There is something dangerous about a film that has a person snap and get his own back on all the bullies and horrible people – a sentiment you want to cheer, but not the degree to which it quickly descends. It skirts so close to verite, the backlash against the rich as the poor suffer so much – Thomas Wayne personifying this well, even though the Batman links almost took away from the movie for me. Is it fair to use Fleck’s mental illness as a background to it all – or is it the constant failures and disappointments that break him?

I’m still not sure there aren’t more issues with the movie than good points, but as art and only art – wow. Edge of the seat stuff, even knowing (mostly) how the character turns out. You are waiting to see how far things are pushed, how awful they will get, whether that line will be crossed from ‘entertainment’, not just on screen.

And still – utterly worth seeing. Joaquin Phoenix disturbed me, which was the point – but also because I strongly remember watching him as a child (when he took the name ‘Leaf’) in Parenthood, not much older than me, wearing every line on his face. I spent long moments thinking things were ‘off’, only to realise that yes, Arthur is an unreliable narrator. To be honest, there are a lot of parts of the film – the dancing, for instance – that don’t really ‘fit’, but somehow add to the character even if it’s just a visual awkwardness to match the personality. And, those moments allow a use of music that fits so perfectly, and the oddest moments – the all-over-the-net dancing down the steps, for instance – serve in lieu of the touches of humour we might expect from other ‘superhero’ movies.

It’s so not a superhero movie (which is why the Batman stuff didn’t work for me, I suppose), but as a backlash against the decades of superhero-fluff (even the ‘we’re much darker and more series’ ones), just… wow. Couldn’t have gone much further in the opposite direction! It’s a psychological drama, more Taxi Driver than anything else (almost too much, some suggest?). It’s not an easy watch, it’s not ‘enjoyable’ – but it’s powerful and haunting and worth watching just for the performance.

Released: 4th October
Viewed: 11th October 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Shadow Captain – Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain cover

“‘Tell me what you think you saw.'”

Following on immediately from the events in Revenger, usual warning that even mentioning characters that made it to the sequel can be a kind of spoiler. And my opening lines are definitely book 1 spoilers…!

Okay with that? Then read on!

Having won and renamed The Revenger, the Ness sisters are free of Bosa Sennen – or, are they? Did Adrana’s time being groomed as her successor leave its mark or did Arafura’s rescue come in time? And what of Fura – she had to change to beat the galaxy’s biggest evil, does that leave an even bigger mark? The two have clearly grown up – it’s tough to remember they’re supposed to be 18-ish, even more to remember Adrana is the elder – and their objectives have changed. Not wholly through choice, though, as escaping the shadow of Bosa is harder than they thought…

I’d reread Revenger in preparation for this, and as such it came as a bit of a surprise to find the first person narrative switching from Fura to Adrana. In fact, I found it so hard to switch mental gears, that I put the book down and read something else first!

It is clear from the story why the viewpoint had to change, but it takes a while to feel not-weird. Whether that was my brain adjusting, or the writing developing a more distinctive tone – not sure.

It also helps immensely when the action gets going, and by the time the crew land on-world the descriptions of the decaying, corrupt place were spot on.

Overall, there are enough mysteries to keep you guessing – with a few more explanations for some of the world-building, like the genesis of the Congregation (they did *what* to Earth, Mars, et al?!) – but none more so than wondering about the motivations of the characters.

Still, as enjoyable as this was, for me it doesn’t live up to Alastair Reynolds’ other work. The difference is writing for (I believe) more a YA audience, and something in the tone just didn’t work as well for me. I will look out for the third volume of the trilogy, though, as I’m intrigued enough to see where the Ness sisters end their story…!

Hardback: 488 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Revenger book 2
Read from 1st September – 10th October 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E Harrow

ten thousand doors of january cover

“When I was seven, I found a door.”

January Scaller lives as the ward of Mr Locke, a wealthy collector of fantastic items from other cultures, while her father roams the world in search of these objects. She’s not unhappy, exactly, but on the other hand her life is as restricted as one of the items in Locke’s collection: she is a singular oddity, reddish skinned, out of place wherever she goes.

One day, January finds a book entitled The Ten Thousand Doors. Instantly appealing to her huge imagination, it’s not long before she starts to wonder… what if this isn’t fiction?

Usually when a book comes with as much hype as this, I’d tend to shy away thinking it could only disappoint. But, the lure of the portal fantasy is strong, and I am so glad I went for this!

First, the few things I didn’t like: given the period setting (turn of the previous century), the treatment of women and those of colour is not good. I know it’s a big part of the plot, but I was actually tempted to abandon everything at the point where January’s autonomy is so utterly removed from her – apparently a bit of a trigger for me. But, stick with it.

And now the good: absolutely everything else! First the language: it’s got a poetry, but without being flowerly. I wanted to capture so many little quotes, just perfect turns of phrases and lovely descriptions. The period is captured very well, alongside all the more fantastical elements. The world building is excellent – who wouldn’t want to live in a world with Doors, all those possibilities and wonders and magic? And the story itself is enthralling: believably nasty baddies, a fierce heroine, strong supporting characters.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a rare beast: a book for adults that’s full of the wonder usually reserved for children, which catches you up in a whirl of story and possibility. All in all, a sheer joy to read – and very recommended!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 7th-26th September 2019

My rating: 9/10

The Lure of the Ring – Alan James Strachan

lure of the ring cover

“Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work.”

This is an odd little book. It’s basically a treatise on spirituality, using The Lord of the Rings as an example. Not entirely what I thought I was getting, and probably not going to find a wide audience – Tolkien fans will be disappointed that it’s not really about LotR, and if you’re looking for the spiritual stuff the fantasy-source might seem flippant.

Still, I started off rather enjoying it – someone talking about LotR can’t be all bad, after all! But, after a while, the tone really started to grate on me. I would have preferred an approach of “I think”, “my translation is”, “to me, this suggests…” rather than the quasi-academic sense of certainty. Writers rarely ‘mean’ what future studies try to pin on their stories; indeed, at the end of this the author even admits that Tolkien’s letters reveal the multi-layers of allegory and meaning didn’t appear until years later.

The lecturing tone can be a little patronising, I found – or, perhaps that’s the increasing density of the subject. From easy-to-grasp concepts – what Galadriel’s refusal of the Ring says about her character, for example – by the end he’s quoting quasi-religious texts, talking about the Self that is no-Self, and at times my head was just spinning!

If this is your cup of tea, by all means give it a go. Personally, I don’t think I was fully expecting the build up to full-on ‘nondual spirituality’ and self-actualisation, and while it might have been interesting getting there I didn’t wholly appreciate the feeling of being preached at, even if the author does back away from that by the end again.

The message, though, is nice enough, and it is interesting seeing ‘just a fantasy story for kids’ (hah!) providing such rich source material.

NetGalley eARC: 87 pages / 18 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 23rd-28th September 2019

My rating: 5/10