One feature frequently associated with vampire movies is the ominous, haunting music. Since the late 1990s, film score composers have been putting a classic, dark spin on songs from The Mummy, Les Miserables and other beloved musicals, creating an atmosphere that is anything but upbeat. Although the trend was inspired by the likes of Christopher Nolan and The Wachowski brothers, it didn’t hit its peak until The Twilight Saga. With each successive installment, the eerie music grew in intensity, culminating in the phenomenal OST for New Moon!
The decision to go dark was a calculated one and it paid off in spades. Not only did it help to set the mood for the series, it also served as an extension of the characters, particularly that of Edward Cullen. The reserved, scholarly recluse slowly transformed into a blood-thirsty monster as he battled his urges for human blood. His transformation was accompanied by a striking personality change; from charming, funny and thoughtful to unsympathetic and terrifying. It was a complete metamorphosis, enhanced by the soundtrack, which gave voice to the inner angst that fueled his vampire nature.
While the decision to go dark worked for Edward, it didn’t necessarily translate into good sound. A case in point is Underworld Awakening, an installment in the Underworld series that is supposed to be funny. Sure, it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s also supposed to be scary as hell. Two things don’t mix well, especially when you’re dealing with bloodthirsty vampires. The first thing that went wrong is that the filmmakers didn’t have a good handle on what was funny and what was scary, which resulted in a few chuckles here and there but more often than not, the audience either remained silent or cried out in terror. Not exactly the response they were going for. The second problem is that the music is a train wreck from the start. Even before we get to the good stuff, we’re assaulted by an unlistenable cacophony of discordant notes that irritate rather than fascinate.
So, while the trend was inspired by some truly exceptional films, it nonetheless, remained a largely unproductive one. And then the genie got out of the bottle and went viral. Suddenly, filmmakers had access to an almost unlimited bank of dark material, which they could plunder for their next project. We’re talking The Walking Dead, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Hunger Games and dozens of other series and films, many of which are absolutely superb. As a result, we have a whole new subgenre of vampire music, which is arguably the most prolific and varied of its kind ever.
And it came with a whole new set of problems. While the soundtracks for individual series usually don’t reach stratospheric levels of popularity, the collective consciousness of the zombie and vampire fandom bestowed a kind of immortality upon them, which is evidenced, mainly, by the fact that we’re still talking about them years after the initial wave of popularity began to recede. The more things change, the more they stay the same. With a few rare exceptions, Zombie and vampire series have remained at the forefront of popular culture for the past couple of years, spawning countless memes, T-shirts, and Halloween costumes, which is no mean feat for a pair of films that are, essentially, strangers to fame.
Zombies Never Go Out Of Fashion
The success of The Walking Dead, which chronicled the slow rise of a zombie pandemic that nearly wipes out humanity, can be attributed, mostly, to its unparalleled score. Composed by Hans Zimmer, the OST for The Walking Dead is filled with unforgettable images and sounds, from the ominous, rousing main title theme, to the tense score that accompanies Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) terrifying, infected barbeque. Additionally, Zimmer’s work for The Walking Dead was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two.
Apart from the chilling soundtrack, there are several other reasons why The Walking Dead remains so memorable. One is the superb acting and the other is the way that the series seamlessly weaves together compelling character studies, sharp social commentary and a deadly zombie apocalypse, all in one cohesive narrative. Perhaps most significantly, it’s the way that The Walking Dead introduced a generation of viewers to the joys of storytelling through drama and the sheer genius of acting and filmmaking. And it didn’t hurt that the show featured some of the most incredible, CGI-enhanced zombies ever created, bringing life to the dead matter that Zimmer wrote about.
Vampires Never Go Out Of Fashion
If there’s one series that perfectly encapsulates the immortal appeal of vampires, it’s The Vampire Diaries. Brought to life and maintained with impressive physical effects, the series seamlessly weaves together fair isle, sparkly skin, predatory vampires and damsel-in-distress heroines, all in the quest for love and revenge. In order to understand why The Vampire Diaries remains so popular, you have to go back to the very beginning. For starters, it’s got a brilliant premise. Set in a world where vampires are real, yet still somewhat rare, the series explores the daily struggles of vampire society, particularly the prejudice that they face from the public. Additionally, the series is, essentially, a parade of beautiful people, wandering the globe, seeking solace in the shadows and feasting on the flesh of the powerless. It’s a heady cocktail of sex, betrayal, greed and tragedy that has managed to attract a sizable following, not just among those who already are fans of the Twilight films but, more importantly, even among those who arent.
Haunting, Yet Harmonious
In both The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries, Zimmer handles the sound design and the music is responsible for giving life to the undead. While both soundtracks are absolutely haunting, it’s The Vampire Diaries that truly sets the standard. One of the reasons behind this is the way that Zimmer weaves an unforgettable tapestry of sound, using a variety of techniques, from bluesy guitar licks to deep, booming bass tones and using synths and string instruments to create a sense of overwhelming horror. Additionally, Zimmer makes use of reverse bass in The Vampire Diaries, a technique that has more recently been associated with video game soundtracks than film or television soundtracks, yet it works perfectly here, contributing to the overall sense of terror.
The Mummy’s Most Elusive Score
While Zimmer’s iconic work, as mentioned above, reached its zenith with the soundtracks for The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries, the true magnum opus of his career, at least in terms of sheer volume, is the impressive array of films, both ancient and modern, that he scored for the legendary Mummy series. Bringing the spirit of the great English novelist, Arthur Conan Doyle, into existence in glorious three-dimensional sound, Zimmer’s music for The Mummy holds up incredibly well, even today, nearly a century after the first installment was released. And, in fact, it still sets the standard for modern film scores in its sheer volume alone, making it one of the most influential and most performed film soundtracks of all time.
The Rise of Vampyrotechnics
In the past couple of years, with the exception of the occasional meme or satirical sketch, most of what we’ve seen and heard from the musical world has been deeply cynical in nature. While there has been a brief respite with last year’s Oscar-winning film, Spotlight, most of the content that made headlines has been grim in terms of subject matter and tone, with moviegoers embracing the darker aspects of human nature and tragedy, particularly, through music.
Whether it’s been the rise of fake news or the continued pandemic of mass shootings, many in the media have found themselves responding to the call of social media, which is perhaps one of the main reasons that we’ve seen such a rise in vampire-related content.
Regardless of the cynical intentions of many filmmakers, the soundtracks for individual series often become standouts in their own right. Take True Blood, for example. Rather than following the tried and true path of previous vampire series, this one takes a darker turn, exploring themes of prejudice and hate rather than romance and lust. The result is a sprawling, overstuffed collection of songs that are both horrifying and unforgettable, establishing a whole new benchmark for the cinematic representation of vampires.