Score Card: Dracula (1979)

Autumn has fallen and it’s time once more to celebrate the primal, compulsive instinct of fear. Rainestorm finishes its horror trilogy and goes to the well one last time to highlight 31 days of spooky scares that season the eerie atmosphere of Halloween.

Rainestorm presents its first Halloween edition of Score Card, a column dedicated to deconstructing the film score of selected motion pictures. Today’s segment focuses on John Williams’ composition for John Badham’s 1979 adaptation of Dracula.

The orchestrations of prior horror films, most notably the Hammer Studios films, were frenetic and uptempo, something more suited to an action movie today. Williams mostly avoided this zealous use of horns and frantic strings, preferring instead the sweeping romanticism that has since become a hallmark of the Dracula story. It is this telling of the classic novel that seems to have re-established the undead monster as a tragic figure looking for love, and Williams score is fervidly romantic.

Listen to the sweeping violins in the opening credits:

Williams is much more reliant on strings in this score than he usually is, though he does use horns for a few of the more action-oriented sequences. There’s no Jaws percussion, no Star Wars anthem, no Superman fanfare. In fact, it is a rare instance of a Williams score having no immediately discernible theme, though it is there and it is repeated throughout the film. It builds progressively until it goes wildly over the top in the final track, Dracula’s Death. Then it closes with its most subtle reprise.

As movie scores go, Dracula is not particularly frightening or suspenseful, but its overt romantic melodies herald what would become of vampires as the century drew to a close. It is also one of the least variant scores in Williams’ catalog. By comparison, Wojciech Kilar’s music for Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of the classic vampire is grandly operatic with its sometimes battering choral howls. Though Kilar’s composition is far more complex and works well within the context of the film, Williams’ score is much more pleasing as a standalone piece of music and works nicely as a Halloween backdrop.

Dracula by John Williams at