LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS – Debbie Wiseman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
As a red-blooded heterosexual man, there’s nothing I like seeing on my cinema screen more than vampire lesbians. OK, that’s not quite true, but they are still pretty high up on the list, and if you are going to watch people being brutally murdered by members of the undead, at least you should be able to enjoy a little bit of eye candy beforehand. Lesbian Vampire Killers is a new British comedy-horror, very much in the vein of recent hits such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which takes a well-established genre – in this case the vampire movie – and gives it a fresh, comic spin. Directed by Phil Claydon, the film stars James Corden and Matthew Horne from the hit BBC comedy series ‘Gavin & Stacey’ as two lovable losers who, while on a hiking holiday in rural Wales, encounter a den of blood-sucking nymphomaniacs who are threatening to take over the world. The film also stars Paul McGann, MyAnna Buring, and Silvia Colloca as vampire queen Carmilla, and has an original score by Debbie Wiseman.
Yes, I did say Debbie Wiseman. The British composer of scores for such classy films as Tom & Viv, Haunted, Wilde, and Arsène Lupin has rarely entered the realms of comedy or horror in her cinematic work to date, and has certainly never scored a film with such an outrageous title, but such is her talent that, time and again, she rises to the occasion with class and style, and confounds those with narrow preconceptions about the kind of music she is capable of writing. Of course, Wiseman does have an indirect link to the camp horror films Lesbian Vampire Killers lovingly spoofs: her teacher and mentor, the late Buxton Orr, scored several horror efforts in the late 1950s and early 60s, including classics such as Fiend Without a Face and Corridors of Blood, so in a roundabout way it is perhaps appropriate that she should take on this assignment.
In much the same way as Arsène Lupin had back in 2005, Lesbian Vampire Killers has a bold, Gothic darkness to it, tinged with a large amount of highly thematic orchestral and choral beauty, which belies its clearly comic roots. The best way to score a comedy has always been to approach it with a completely straight face, and Wiseman does just that. The opening cue, “Centuries Ago…”, is simply magnificent, building from vocalist Hayley Westenra’s crystalline solo soprano tones and sparkling, twinkly chimes into an enormous orchestral theme with deep brass chords, rich choral accompaniment, and a real sense of power and portent. Wiseman has always been superb at writing memorable themes, but this is a real tour-de-force, and sets the score up to be a stunning success. The four-note vocal theme introduced in the opening track acts as a recurring element for Carmilla the vampire queen, and appears frequently thereafter, notably with magical prettiness in “At the Olde Mircalla Cottage”, and with spine-tingling expectation and full-throated choral force in “Vampires? Lesbian Vampires!”.
The early-album action music, in cues such as “Have You Been Hanging Out with Vicars?”, “I Know Something Really Wrong Is Happening Here…” and the aforementioned “Vampires? Lesbian Vampires!” has the same kind of internal energy and forward motion that Arsène Lupin had, with strident rhythms, heavy percussion writing, slashing string work, and increasingly clever touches in the orchestration and instrumental phrasing which keeps each cue fresh and interesting. In “Full-On Lesbian Vampire Attack!” the choral performances become relentlessly staccato, as if alluding to the merciless and insidious approach of the vampires themselves, while “The Crypt of Carmilla” revisits the gloriously dark crescendos of the opening cue with great gusto and impressively potent drama.
“Carmilla, The Vampire Queen” does suffer from what may be temp-track bleed-through, with part of the cue’s underlying ostinato reminiscent by Wojciech Kilar’s score for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is easily overlooked, however, during the astonishing finale, which consists of “Whores of Fucking Hades, Prepare for Fucking Death!” (surely one of the greatest track titles in the history of film music) and “Lesbian Vampire Killers”, which is probably the best cue on the album, and which contains the score’s darkest and most powerful action music, as well as the most resounding recapitulation of the majestic main theme.
Wiseman engages in some creepily effective horror scoring in “The Dawn of the Red Moon”, in which the voices resound ominously against church organs, rolling timpanis, and dread cello chords. She even manages to insert one of her trademark swooning love themes, all lush strings and effortless emotion, into the pretty “Jimmy, I Love You”.
The lighter comedy cues – “Adv_nture”, “I Know Something Really Wrong Is Happening Here…”, “Give Me One Last Kiss” – are the only parts of the score which seem slightly less successful, making use of prancing string rhythms and droll piano and woodwind lines with jazz inflections in waltz-time, but this is only as a result of the more dramatic parts of the score being so wonderful, and on their own terms they are still very good indeed. When “My Axe Girlfriend” erupts into a thoroughly unselfconscious performance of the Galop from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, one can’t help but break into a smile.
I can’t recommend Lesbian Vampire Killers highly enough, especially when you compare it to the majority of the Hollywood fare which has accompanied genre films lately. Where are the themes? Where is all the inventiveness? Where is all the orchestral nuance and creativity and power? Where is all the magnificent music we wish Hollywood composers like Tyler Bates and Ramin Djawadi wrote? I’ll tell you where it is: it’s being written by a diminutive English lady with a penchant for oversized hats named Debbie Wiseman, and someone in America needs to hire her for a Harry Potter movie, or a Narnia movie, or ANY movie which will bring her stunning talent to a wider audience NOW. We’ve been waiting long enough.
Buy the Lesbian Vampire Killers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Centuries Ago… (3:13)
- Adv_nture (2:03)
- At the Olde Mircalla Cottage (1:47)
- Have You Been Hanging Out With Vicars? (2:18)
- I Know Something Really Wrong Is Happening Here, But Is There Any Chance We Can Just Ignore It? (2:45)
- Vampires? Lesbian Vampires! (2:56)
- Run You Bellends! (2:49)
- You’re a Virgin? (1:28)
- Give Me One Last Kiss (1:09)
- My Axe Girlfriend (1:07)
- Full-On Lesbian Vampire Attack! (3:43)
- The Dawn of the Red Moon (6:06)
- Jimmy, I Love You (1:27)
- All Grown Up (3:10)
- The Crypt of Carmilla (2:05)
- Carmilla, The Vampire Queen (3:22)
- Whores of Fucking Hades, Prepare for Fucking Death! (2:29)
- Lesbian Vampire Killers (5:34)
- Lesbian Vampire Killers It Is… Let’s Ride! (1:28)
- Under the Moon of Love (written by Curtis Lee and Tommy Boyce, performed by Showaddywaddy) (3:13)
Running Time: 53 minutes 23 seconds
Silva Screen SILCD-1284 (2009)
Music composed and conducted by Debbie Wiseman. Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Crouch End Festival Chorus. Orchestrations by Debbie Wiseman. Special vocal performances by Hayley Westenra. Recorded and mixed by Steve Price. Album produced by Debbie Wiseman.