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

Blade Runner – Vangelis

blade runner OST cover

If you’re talking about film scores, the name Vangelis really should come up eventually, and nowhere better than his ground-breaking work for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, Blade Runner.

The movie has *the* sci-fi noir (practically-invented-the-genre) feel going on, and the score captures and enhances that perfectly. It includes dialog from the movie, heavy use of synthesizers (from when electronica was still rather new), clever ‘alternative’ percussion, but an underlying orchestral feel, too. And a random 1920s-esque ragtime jazz song, actually written for the movie, but totally jarring with of the rest of the mood – and yet somehow fitting perfectly because of that.

Different tracks conjure different moods. Blade Runner Blues is appropriately wistful and lonely, as is the nostalgic Memories of Green. Tales of the Future, however, has Arabesque-chanting that brings an exotic flavour married with unsettling windchimes and minor chords that just oozes atmosphere. The End Titles are sci-fi action series, dun-dun-dun-dun and everything, almost at odds with the delicacy of the rest.

Rachel’s Song, for instance, features an ethereal voice, plinky almost water drip electronica, and I’d swear I’ve heard meditation music that sounds 90% the same. It’s one of my favourites on the album, full of pathos and very otherworldly, in a mystical kind of a way. It’s followed by the much warmer (bar a few chillingly electronica chords in the middle…!), more contemporary (saxophones, really?) Love Theme – but, when you remember the awkward ickiness of one particular scene of the movie, the sleazy lounge room vibe is all the more appropriate.

Oddly, most of the score doesn’t actually conjure up scenes from the movie for me – not surprisingly, I find, as it was written somewhat independently of the visuals (but not the themes and mood). But then the dialog inclusions tie it wholly back again, particularly at the end with the futuristic electronica rebuffed with the poignant Tears in the Rain speech; a gentle, uplifting finale.

It took 12 years for an official release of the score to appear after the movie came out. There are now more special releases than I’ve counted, perhaps fittingly for a movie that also has so many versions. It still sounds futuristic, still utterly atmospheric, and still very worth a listen.

My rating: 9/10

Genre: sci-fi noir
Released: 1982 (movie) / 1994 (official score release)
Length: 57:53
Number of tracks: 12

Track listing:

  1. Main Titles
  2. Blush Response
  3. Wait for Me
  4. Rachel’s Song
  5. Love Theme
  6. One More Kiss Dear
  7. Blade Runner Blues
  8. Memories of Green
  9. Tales of the Future
  10. Damask Rose
  11. End Titles
  12. Tears in the Rain

Avatar – James Horner

avatar ost cover

James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) received mixed reviews. 3D had never been used so well, it all looked amazing, but was the story a cliche – or worse? Whatever your opinion on the film, the score fits perfectly – in my opinion – with the look and feel of the piece, becoming a regular in my listening rotation.

There’s an expansive, eerie sound to the opening that fits perfectly with the distance travelled across the emptiness of space, and can send a tingle up my spine. The second track includes the first use of a motif of major chords in ascension, that convey a swelling of joy, or hope, that again fits well. It then picks up an action pace with a tinge of other-worldliness that I don’t even have to read the title to know is Jake taking his first steps in his ‘avatar’, and into the world of the Na’vi.

Pure spirits of the forest introduces an ethereal quality, as the name sort of suggests. Can’t you just picture the scene of the light-fantastic creatures floating around Jake and Neytiri? The horns then come in and everything gets a bit more majestic, and bit more fierce.

If there are complaints to be made, it might include the fact that James Horner has a recognisable not just style, but set of sounds. I wasn’t quite as familiar with his work 10 years ago when this came out, but I have since listened to a lot of his other work and yes, there are bits that seem ‘lifted’ wholesale. Still, that doesn’t matter if you only listen to this one, and even otherwise the re-used sounds still ‘fit’ well where they are here.

I like this score when I’m in the mood for something uplifting, a little bit other-worldly, and somewhere between sci-fi and wild nature – in other words, exactly what the movie represented.

As a weird aside, I was standing at the train station not so long ago, and the noise of the incoming train sounded almost exactly like the long ‘aaaaahhh’ vocalisation used throughout this soundtrack. Weird!

My rating: 8/10

Genre: sci-fi
Released: 2009
Length: 1:18:52
Number of tracks: 14

Track listing:

  1. You don’t dream in cryo
  2. Jake enters his avatar world
  3. Pure spirits of the forest
  4. The bioluminescence of the night
  5. Becoming one of ‘The People’, Becoming one with Neytiri
  6. Climing up Iknimaya – the Path to Heaven
  7. Jake’s first flight
  8. Scorched earth
  9. Quaritch
  10. The destruction of Hometree
  11. Shutting down Grace’s lab
  12. Gathering all the Na’vi clans for battle
  13. War
  14. I See You (Theme from Avatar)