Haunted, based on a James Herbert novel, is a low-budget British ghost story from 1995 starring Aidan Quinn as paranormal "debunker", David Ash, grief stricken over the death of his sister Juliet at a young age. Resilient to any notion of the supernatural, he's called to a sprawling country pile by an old woman who claims she has spook problems. Soon though, David has issues of his own when he falls in love with the woman's granddaughter Christina (Kate Beckinsale). But there of course are the inevitable twists in the tale... Although hampered by low budget effects and numerous body-double shots, Haunted is still entertaining, forgoing terror for the most part and focusing on the slow-burning romance between David and Christina, as well as his feelings of regret over his sister's death. And this is where composer Debbie Wiseman focuses her attention with the score, one that is brimming with gorgeous melodies, yet all the while tinged with sadness.
Wiseman is one of an elite few female film composers working in the industry today, having focused her attention for the most part on British cinema and TV. However, her work here is accomplished enough to rival even the biggest Hollywood artists. Many composers would be happy enough to knock out just one memorable theme in a score. For sure Wiseman does this in Haunted: the main theme, for the yearned-for Juliet, is utterly breathtaking and appears regularly throughout, lending a real sense of consistency and identity. A grand overture of orchestral melancholy, it's the heavenly bridge connecting the start and end of the piece that seals it as one for the ages. Hesitant in the early stages when performed on piano and other instrumental solos, it builds to majestic heights for a full string orchestra in the latter stages, the theme acting as an epiphany of sorts for the David character.
However Wiseman isn't one to rest on her laurels, with most tracks either developing the central theme or introducing completely new ones. Underwater opens the album with spooky woodwind writing and further concessions to the story's supernatural leanings come with spellbinding writing for high pitched choir in The Ghost Appears and Spirits in the House. Interspersed are further superb pieces, a much colder, steelier piano-led melody for Beckinsale's ambiguous temptress, Christina, and a swooning "Lovers" theme that develops out of the George Gershwin classic "But Not for Me". The ghost theme eventually dovetails with Juliet's in breathtaking fashion in "Together Forever", with the finale of "Hand in Hand" and "Haunted" offering the rendition of the main theme that has been promised throughout the score, the aforementioned bridge, now on strings, rising to stunning heights.
With nary a dull moment or a wasted note, Haunted deserves a place among the classic melodrama scores; indeed, it's probably the anonymity of the film itself that has led to the music being overlooked. However, both Wiseman and her work deserve the widest recognition possible: with every track constructed with such care, intelligence and grace, it can't come more highly recommended. In spite of a re-release a few years ago, Wiseman's ravishing and appropriately haunting score can be hard to track down. That said, second hand copies can regularly be found at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.