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  • Composed by John Williams
  • Varese Sarabande / 1990 / 36:33

John Badham’s 1979 version of Dracula starred Frank Langella as the eponymous Count and no less than Laurence Olivier as Professor Van Helsing.  Langella had spent some time playing the character on Broadway and received a lot of praise for his performance here, though the film itself got mixed reviews, bizarrely outperformed by the George Hamilton comedy based on the same character, Love at First Bite, released at a similar time.

Dracula was the only time Badham collaborated with John Williams, who was in his golden period at the time.  There aren’t many horror films on his lengthy list of hits, but this followed only a year after The Fury and between them, the two scores show that the composer managed to make quite a notable contribution to the genre anyway.  This one is a grand, gothic romance from Williams, the sound very much in keeping with his other scores of the period and, interestingly, there are some specific foreshadowings of the score he was to start work on once he finished recording this – you may have heard of it, The Empire Strikes Back.

John Williams

The opening “Storm Sequence” is a brilliant introduction to the album, the composer weaving his grandiose main theme around various little ideas that would be developed later in the score.  It’s a wonderful theme, dripping with atmosphere, oozing romance (and interestingly, Wojciech Kilar’s theme for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 telling of this story shares more than a little in common with it).  It dominates the score, receiving its most impressive outing in “Dracula’s Death”, Williams turning it into a piece of operatic tragedy.  Needless to say, there’s a great arrangement of it for the end titles too, a piece that would appear on every Williams compilation out there if it weren’t for the endless stream of smash hits from elsewhere in his glorious career.

Highlights are plentiful elsewhere, too.  “To Scarborough” is a great little scherzo, “Night Journeys” adds some female vocals, “The Bat Attack” includes a brief diversion into dissonance for the score’s darkest moments.  It’s a terrific album, deeply routed in the vintage Williams sound – the only problem is the sound, which is frequently muffled and doesn’t allow the intricacies of the orchestration to reveal themselves at all.  Given that – and the fact that it’s been out of print for so long – I’m amazed that this one hasn’t been given the remastered treatment by any of the soundtrack labels, but suspect (and hope) it’s only a matter of time.  Until then, any lover of Williams would still be doing themselves a favour by seeking it out.  ****

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  1. Jo (Reply) on Wednesday 2 May, 2012 at 22:07

    I’ve recently started to explore some of John Williams’ lesser known scores and have been constantly surprised at how great some of them are, Dracula included. Some of it sounds like it could be outtakes from ESB (really great outtakes, mind you).

    My only complaint: I’ve been keeping an eye out for this on eBay and it always sells for considerably more than my budget allows.