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  • Stefan Riedlinger

The Omen - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

The Oscar! Finally! It was 1976, and Jerry Goldsmith won the long-deserved Academy Award. On YouTube, there is a video clip about Jerry’s joy, his shyness and his love to his wife, a really adorable clip because you can see what a great personality Jerry Goldsmith had! Even though he should have known that he is one of the best film composers ever, he is still a little shy and overwhelmed with emotions that he finally got this trophy. I am sure he never thought that this will be the first and only Academy Award he ever will win.

The movie

“The Omen” is a British-American supernatural horror film directed by Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”), and written by David Seltzer. Seltzer later wrote a novel from his screenplay, but compare to the movie the novel is not so convincing because the visual aspects in this case are much stronger. The book preceded the movie two weeks before as a marketing gimmick as I read.

The film stars Gregory Peck as Ambassador Thorn, Lee Remick as his wife, David Warner as the photographer who has the best death scene in the movie, Harvey Spencer Stephens as Damien, Billie Whitelaw as the satanic Mrs Beelock and Patrick Troughton. Here is the trailer:

I saw “The Omen” at an age of 16, and it made a great impression on me, and, of course, I had tough nights afterwards…. This movie is a hell of a good movie, and as usual, the remake of such a classic is crap. Why is “The Omen” so great? It is the combination of a very good original script, Donner’s great directing, the very good and convincing cast, and especially Jerry’s music that made “The Omen” a classic. There is also an interesting documentation about the “Curse of The Omen”, in my opinion, just a marketing stunt, but it is worth watching.

According to producer Harvey Bernhard, the idea of a movie about the Antichrist came from Bob Munger, a friend of Bernhard's. When Munger told him about the idea, Bernard contacted screenwriter David Seltzer. It took a year for Seltzer to write the script. Gregory Peck was interested in this role because “The Omen” was more a psychological thriller than a horror movie. Compare to John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, this might be true, but “The Omen” has still one of the most shocking scenes of all horror movies. I am thinking of David Warner’s death.

The music

During post-production, Donner and Bernhard asked Alan Ladd Jr., president of Twentieth Century Fox at that time, for more money to hire Jerry Goldsmith as the composer. Donner and Bernhard listened to a concert by Jerry Goldsmith in the Hollywood Bowl and were impressed. Ladd agreed to an increase of $25000 to hire Jerry, and the rest is history.

Jerry said in an interview that he heard choral voices in his head when seeing the movie, and so he developed the idea of this Latin choral. Because he had not so much experience with choral writing at that time, he asked Lionel Newman for help who also conducted the music later.

“The Omen” score is using Latin chorals like in Carl Orff’s famous work “Carmina Burana”, but it is a mistake to consider Jerry’s soundtrack as a similar work. “The Omen” is more like a black mass. The refrain "Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani" (ungrammatical Latin for, "We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan") is used with alternating "Ave Satani!" and "Ave Versus Christus" (“Hail, Satan” and "Hail, Antichrist!"). The correct Latin would be "Sanguinem”, but I think they used the wrong word because it is easier to pronounce and works better in the lyrics. Now, I impressed you with my Latin, right?

“The Omen” is not only because of the usage of this Latin words a great example of amazing movie music, it is also a masterpiece in creating suspense and atmosphere with the traditional orchestra. The way how Goldsmith uses the orchestra to create suspense and atmosphere is just perfect. You can argue what is the best soundtrack for a horror movie, Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” or “The Omen”, but for even though I love “Psycho”, I think “The Omen” is the better one.

Except of these suspense and action tracks in the score – I especially love how Goldsmith uses the bass in the track “Friedhof track”, you have one of Goldsmith’s best love themes that captures the love between Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.

I found on YouTube a great track of a live performance of “The Omen”, conducted by the Spanish film music enthusiast Diego Navarro who conducts regular film music concerts in Europe. Also, I attached the famous “Ave Satani” track, conducted by Lionel Newman. I personally enjoy very much Navaro’s conducting, he has so much fun with it, and even speaks the word while conducting.

Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Omen” and also the soundtracks to the other two movies are great examples of timeless movie music. The music to the third one is totally different from the previous ones, and the music to the showdown is more like an opera. Again a live performance:

Such a shame that it is composed to a really crappy movie, but now enjoy “Ave Satani”!

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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