Debbie Wiseman MBE

Reviews

Lesbian Vampire Killers


Jonathan Broxton
Movie Music UK

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

Debbie Wiseman has concocted an absolutely marvelous and richly evocative score for Phil Claydon’s horror comedy, Lesbian Vampire Killers which has quickly become one of my favorite scores of the year. 

The score is abundant in sweeping, soaring melodies, energetic orchestrations, intoxicating solo vocalists and massive choral intonations, bristling mysteriosos, and gorgeous, romantic and gothic lyricism – just about everything I love about film music.  The soundtrack album tops out at 19 tracks and just under an hour, plus a concluding song by Brit-pop band Showaddywaddy (their swinging 1976 cover of Curtis Lee’s 1961 hit, “Under the Moon of Love.”  The film, whose title is enough to attract most film geeks sight unseen, has to do with a pair of friends who trek to Wales for a weekend of debauchery only to find themselves in a village where all the women have been enslaved by a lesbian vampire curse. 

Wiseman’s score elevates the proceedings to the level of a gothic epic, with huge music that gives the story a pervasive Hammer-ific power as well as a muted eloquence through Hayley Westenra’s intricate, wordless vocalisms.  The music isn’t all fang-inducing power, although that’s its main ingredient.  But the score is rippling with rivulets of lyrical fragility, as in the quiet harp motif that wisps through a fog of strings in the opening of “Run You Bellends!,” the beautiful violin love theme in “Jimmy, I Love You,” or the gorgeous, crystal clear piano motif that leaves the choir behind in the quietude of its wake in the end of “Vampires? Lesbian Vampires?”   There’s also a bit of humorous shenanigans going on also, as in the pizzicato violin-driven sultry woodwind slinkiness of “Give Me One Last Kiss,” the elegant classicism of the orchestra in “My aXe Girlfriend” (which inevitably segues into a manic quote from Offenbach’s “Can Can”). 

I’ve been fond of Wiseman’s largely melodic-based orchestral scores for years, but Lesbian Vampire Killers blew me out of the water.  Just a wonderful mélange of marvelously powerful music. 


Randall Larson
BuySoundtrax.Com


Michael Beek
Music From The Movies

 

If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise… Though for Jimmy and Fletch, however, a ‘hiking’ trip in deepest darkest Norfolk offers up more than a picnic. Indeed there isn’t a teddy bear in sight; instead, Vampires… Lesbian Vampires.

This entertaining romp is a fine big screen vehicle for comedy-partnership-of the-moment James Corden and Matthew Horne, who star as the hapless and unlikely heroes. Phil Claydon’s impressively snappy film offers buckets of ‘blood ’, a bellyful of laughs and gratuitous shots of scantily-clad beauties ‘ necking’ each other left right and centre, all brought to life with the help of a frankly fantastic score by Debbie Wiseman. It is without doubt one of the more unusual titles on the British composer’s CV, but that doesn’t mean it has been attacked with anything less than someone of her talents can deliver. That of course is quite a lot and, true to form, Debbie has brought home the bacon with a rousing orchestral and choral accompaniment that could easily knock the socks off of any number of Hollywood’s current ‘epics’. Of course her tongue is firmly in her cheek here – in fact sometimes it’s poking out – as the grandiose swathes and rhythmic batter elevate the film skyward from its rather silly foundation. Helping her achieve this is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a ladies-only Crouch End Festival Chorus and soloist Hayley Westenra. Together they create an often spine-tingling score with moments of horror, gothicism, romance, action and of course a touch of humour to boot.

The score lends itself well to an album presentation, thanks to the variety of material created; therefore highlights come thick and fast. Album-opener ‘ Centuries Ago’ presents a fittingly fantasy-like, somewhat bucksome main theme, while a love theme is introduced in ‘You’re A Virgin?’ The rather pleasant love theme is given its fullest rendering in ‘Jimmy, I Love You’, though it brings the score to a satisfying end in ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers It Is… Let ’s Ride!’, while the main theme is a mainstay throughout and varied upon here and there. Typical Wiseman sonorities can be found in the latter half of ‘ Adv_Nture’, itself opening with a wonderful horn-led call to adventure (funnily enough), while comical frolics stand out in ‘Give Me One Last Kiss’ and ‘ My aXe Girlfriend’. The latter is wonderfully rambunctious and has a great physicality, borrowing from Offenbach’s famous ‘Can-Can’ to great effect. While it’s not the first time the piece has been quoted in a score, it works well against the on-screen antics.

Legitimately exciting moments appear throughout, with Debbie making the most of the RPO’s dazzling brass section. The score blazes to life early on, with the likes of ‘Run You Bellends’ (one of several very original track titles) and ‘Full On Lesbian Vampire Attack!’ offering great rhythmic strides as the string section hack away at their instruments, aided by flares and flurries of brass. The finale cues see the composer pull out all the stops – and not just on the pipe organ – as she creates some simply marvellous, hair-raising music. ‘The Crypt Of Carmilla’ sets things off with a gloriously over the top call to arms, my favourite cue, while sawing strings march us into ‘ Carmilla, The Vampire Queen’ - itself becoming a big, ballsy set piece. The icing on the cake though is ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’ which sees more repeated rhythmic motifs for strings, tymps and brass, not to mention the choral accents throughout. After a lull, the orchestra and choir reignite for a tour-de-force denouement of epic proportions, bringing about a finale any number of Hollywood fantasy films would be proud of.

I’m always impressed by the musical heights Debbie Wiseman is able to scale; this is big music and quite a rush on album. While it continues the sizeable, brassy antics premiered in the dazzling Arsène Lupin, the sound has been re-shaped and stepped up in many ways for this colourfully gothic horror comedy. It might also be said that this is one of the most ‘Hollywood’ Debbie Wiseman scores yet and very much at home alongside any number of well known fantasy epics, including Stardust – with which it bears some resemblance in places. This could be attributed to the enthusiastic input from the director, who is himself a self-confessed film music fan. Whatever it is, there’s no denying that Lesbian Vampire Killers is a cracking piece of work and the score has one hell of a bite.

Fletch and Jimmy escape to Wales for a weekend of debauchery only to find themselves in a village where all the women have been enslaved by a lesbian vampire curse...

Well known for her lyrical style and penchant for melody, composer Debbie Wiseman has written soundtracks for countless television shows and an increasing number of films - Haunted, Flood, Middletown, Wilde, The Lighthouse, Warriors, Tom’s Midnight Garden and Arsène Lupin. In 2004 Wiseman was awarded the MBE for her services to the film industry, recognising her as one of the UK’s leading score writers.

The soundtrack to Lesbian Vampire Killers features The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Crouch End Festival Chorus and classical singer Hayley Westenra with whom Debbie collaborated on Flood.

I first heard Wiseman's work a few years ago when I reviewed the soundtrack to Haunted - an album I still dig out and listen to every now and then. I remember then thinking that there was a huge future waiting for her in motion pictures... but since then, despite the fact she's written plenty more scores, she still writes predominately for TV. In recent years I've spotted her name attached to quite a few quality productions - most notably The Passion and Jekyll.

So, it was with eager anticipation that I noted that Wiseman was the composer on this soundtrack when it arrived for review. It soon became apparent that her writing has matured since I last heard her work. Not that Haunted was anything other than impressive, just that Lesbian Vampire Killers is a more polished work.

From the opening 'Centuries Ago...' we know, thanks to a little music cliche magic, that this is the soundtrack to a vampire movie. In places, this was very reminiscent of Interview with a Vampire, but then as the movie's supposed to be taking a sideways look (with a knowing wink) at the genre, it's no surprise that the soundtrack does too.

The unexpected highlight for me was the inclusion of Showaddywaddy’s 1976 chart topper 'Under the Moon of Love'. While it's a rather tacky track it brought back a flood of nostalgia - mainly as I wasn't expecting to hear this when I started the album.

While the main them runs throughout the album, there's plenty of different styles to keep soundtrack buffs interested. There's the comical 'Give Me One Last Kiss'; 'My aXe Girlfriend' which opens like a Charlie Chaplin composition and then moves on to borrow heavily from the 'Cancan'; the hauntingly beautiful 'Jimmy, I Love You'; and the second half of 'You're a Virgin?' has a ring of Adiemus about it.

Over this album's 54 minutes of music, which are spread over 20 tracks, there's something here that everyone should appreciate. If you loved the movie then you'll want to buy this, but equally if you are just a fan of beautiful soundtracks you should add this to your collection.


Darren Rea
Review Graveyard


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