Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE OMEN – Jerry Goldsmith

THE OMEN – Jerry Goldsmith


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Bob Munger, a friend of Producer Harvey Bernhard of 20th Century Fox, suggested that he consider making a supernatural horror drama based on the anti-christ of the apocalypse. Bernhard was intrigued by the idea, and hired screenwriter David Seltzer to come up with a story, who exceeded Bernhard’s expectations and delivered a classic story. Richard Donner was hired to direct and he assembled a stellar cast, which included Gregory Peck as Ambassador Robert Thorn, Lee Remick as his wife Katherine, David Warner as photographer Keith Jennings, Billie Whitelaw as the sinister Mrs. Baylock, Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan, and young Harvey Stephens as Damien Thorn, the young boy at the center of the narrative.
The story involves Robert and Katherine Thorn, a happily married couple; while vacationing in Italy, Katherine goes into unexpected early labor. A priest informs Robert their son was stillborn, but offers him another child his stead, whose single mother had died in childbirth. Robert agrees to take the child, whom they name Damian, for both the child’s and his wife’s sake, but never reveals his son’s true origins to Katherine. After the family relocates to London, where Robert is the American ambassador, strange events unfold, including a series of deaths. After a terrifying encounter with a priest, Robert conducts an investigation into his son’s origins, and eventually comes to the conclusion that Damien is the anti-christ… The film was a huge worldwide commercial success, which was also acknowledged critically, securing two Academy Award nominations for Best Film Score and Best Original Song, winning one, for Best Film Score.

Funding for the film was very limited, yet Bernhard managed to tap studio resources to bring in veteran Jerry Goldsmith who was coming off a string of successes, which included Papillion (1973), Chinatown (1974) and The Wind and the Lion (1975). When Goldsmith was asked to offer his preliminary thoughts regarding the score he replied, “I hear voices.” Humor aside, he relates that he conceived the main theme and layout for the chorus in a single day. He added that although he only used but 16 bars of his love theme in the film, the bridge afforded him multiple opportunities to never the less utilize it. He also stated that he believed the film needed choral work, but that he was rusty in writing for chorus. As such he relied on his orchestrator Arthur Morton to assist, which he did, providing about 65% of the final choral work. As to the score itself, the Main Theme is a classic choral chant, which offers a dark and horrific power. Striking is the temporal discordance that exists between the treble and bass lines, which results in an articulation that sows fear and unsettles the psyche.

Goldsmith sought to create a satanic version of the traditional Gregorian chant. He collaborated with the London choirmaster of the orchestra that was helping him. His vision was to create a Black Mass, inverting Latin phrases from the traditional Latin Mass. Goldsmith relates that the choir-master was an expert in Latin assisted him create the chant’s lyrics – Sanguis bebimus/Corpus edimus/Rode corpus Satani/ Ave, ave, versus christus/Ave Satani – which translates as “we drink the blood, we eat the body, consume the body of Satan, Hail Antichrist, Hail Satan!”

He also provides a splendid major modal Love Theme, which speaks to Robert and Katherine’s love. Goldsmith correctly understood that for such a film, there must be light to juxtapose, to remind one of our humanity, and to offer hope. The theme is rendered many times as a bridge in the passage. It suffices to say that in its totality, this is one of the finest horror scores ever written. I offer one last insight; Jerry Goldsmith initially did not wish to attend the Academy Awards in 1976, as he did not wish to yet again suffer the ignominy of losing. Well, he had a massive smile on his face when he won what would turn out to be his only Oscar!

As the opening credits roll in “Ave Satani” we see Damien standing with red light emanating behind and his silhouette casting a shadow of a cross. We hear the dark chanting of the Ave Satani verses, which unsettles us, and perfectly sets the tone of the film. Goldsmith provides is a masterful opening. In “On The Night” Robert is devastated by the news that his son was stillborn. A priest entreats him to turn tragedy into joy, to take the child as his own for both the sake of his wife and the child. There is hesitation in the notes, reflecting Robert’s conflicted inner state, and we hear the Love Theme struggle and fail to make a full statement. Yet when he accepts the child and takes it to Katherine the Love Theme one of Goldsmith’s finest, unfolds with all its warmth and tender beauty. “The New Ambassador” offers a splendid score highlight, which features an extended rendering of the Love Theme. Robert informs Katherine that he has been appointed ambassador to Great Britain. She is overjoyed and as they tour their new residence, the Love theme in all its sumptuous beauty unfolds for a wondrous statement. We are treated to a passage where we are blessed by both its warm string born A Phrase, and longing woodwind rich B Phrase. This is Goldsmith at his finest!

In “Where Is He?” the family is walking by a stream with a strong current when the realize Damien is missing. Goldsmith sows fear as the rush to find him. When he appears from behind a tree, the Love Theme bathes us in its familial warmth and all is again made right. “I Was There” is a disturbing and unsettling cue. Father Brennan who entreated Robert to take the orphan as his own, has returned and exhorts him to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. He states that Damien’s true mother was a jackal, that he is the anti-Christ, and that he will destroy all that Robert values. After guards escort the priest out, Goldsmith scores the aftermath where he expertly sows unease, disbelief, and rising tension. The priest has revealed the truth, and a kernel of doubt has planted in Robert’s psyche. We hear the Love Theme, distorted, devoid of warmth and rendered with a fractured minor modal expression. As the priest is leaving, a photographer takes a picture. As he develops the photo, a phantom bolt appears to be piercing his torso from above. Goldsmith supports this aberration with discordant chirping woodwinds and a harsh string sustain.

“Broken Vows” is a masterpiece cue and is illustrative of how Goldsmith creates anxiety, and slowly sows fear, which culminates with a horrific crescendo of terror. The Thorns take Damien to church for the first time over Mrs. Baylock’s strong objections. As they approach we hear portentous tolling bells, and a slow complex multi-faceted percussive build, accented with pizzicato strings, and a swelling pulse, which becomes ever more distressed and harsh. As Damien gazes at a statue of Jesus, he recoils in dread and the percussive line coalesces in the strings. We now begin a truly frightful crescendo of terror, joined by unholy chanting voices, which empower what is now stark terror as Damien begins a disturbing clawing attack on Katherine. Robert orders the car away as bystanders look on in horror. Wow. “Safari Park” is an exceptional study in stark terror. Katherine takes Damien to a safari park and Goldsmith offers a carnivalesque rendering of the Love Theme carried by solo flute. Slowly the line dissipates and unease enters atop unholy chanting voices. As Damien gazes at a pack of giraffe, we see them become startled and in unison flee in terror as the chanting fades away. In a scene change we see Robert leaving for work, and the idyllic Love Theme returns, but its lyrical flow is severed ominously when he again sees Father Brennan. At 2:07 we shift back to the park and see Katherine driving Damien in a car through the Baboon grounds. A percussive ostinato line rises forth and we see in their posturing first anxiety, then fear, and finally ferocious rage. Strings brutale joined by unholy chanting begin a horrific and deafening crescendo, which culminates with a massive assault on their car by the baboons. Katherine, Damien and we are terrified as they flee for their lives in the car.

“A Doctor Please” offers a twinkling piano line with strings, which usher is a plaintive rendering of the Love Theme on solo flute as Robert joins Katherine in the bedroom. As he asks about Damien the theme’s warmth sours on strings affanato, belying Katherine’s assurances. As he probes, she relents, speaks to him of her fears, and need to see a psychiatrist. The Love Theme mutates into a plaintive minor modal corruption, which informs us that all is indeed not well. “The Killer Storm” offers another score highlight, testimony to Goldsmith’s genius. As Robert watches a Rugby match, Father Brennan joins, asking him to meet him in the park tomorrow as his wife’s life is in jeopardy. As the priest leaves, the photographer again takes his photo. As he develops the photo in his lab we see the bolt piercing his torso has become more prominent. Robert meets Brennan in the park who advises him to seek out a priest in the town of Magiddo as he must learn how to kill Damien, who is the anti-Christ. As Thorn departs, a powerful storm rises with growing intensity. Lightning bolts rain down on him and as he flees, a dreadful, dark chanting chorus with wailing join and portend his doom. Horrific screeching strings amplify the rising terror, which is further empowered by pulsing trumpets. A horrific cacophony explodes with the chanting voices now deafening. Brennan tries to seek refuge in a church, but the doors are locked. A fierce string ostinato launches Ave Satani chanting, which rises in a truly horrific crescendo, joined by woodwind and horns bellicoso. A final lightning bolt hits the tower, and sends a spiked pole plunging downward, which impales Brennan (as was seen in the photos). The gruesome scene and fierce climax shatters us!

“The Fall” offers another highlight is terror. Katherine asks Damien to leave her alone and we feel her distress. She asks Robert to support an abortion, as she never wants to have another child. Solo piano offers a plaintive rendering of the Love Theme, which is joined by strings doloroso. In a scene change we see Damien riding his tricycle. Slowly the Ave Satani chanting begins a frightful crescendo, which rises with dark purpose as Damien’s pedals towards Katherine who is standing on a stool to water a fern. The chanting builds and builds to a shattering climax as he knocks her over the balcony. As Katherine falls, so to the voices descend in scale. Wow. “Don’t Let Him” offers a truly grim rendering of the Love Theme. Robert visits Katherine in hospital and is advised that she has lost the child. Plaintive strings and forlorn woodwinds usher in a solo piano, which renders the grim minor modal variant of the Love Theme. Goldsmiths baths us in despair as she tells Robert to not let Damien kill her. The statement elicits the Love Theme that struggles for the light, yet fails.

In “The Day He Died” dark drums and strings affanato, which writhe in pain, sow disquiet and dread as Keith relates to Thorn passages from the priest’s diary. He states that five years ago the Star of Bethlehem appeared over Europe on 6-6-6, the date of Damien’s birth. Thorn relates that his son is dead, and he has no idea whose son he is raising. As Keith asks to join him in seeking the truth, he reveals a photo of himself with a jagged bolt, which appears to sever his head. Harsh percussion, strikes and screeching strings strike terror in our hearts.

“The Dogs Attack” is a stunning score highlight, a masterpiece cue where once again Goldsmith’s gift at evoking sheer terror is on full display. Thorn and the Keith have journeyed to Rome in search of the truth, which takes them to the ancient Cerveteri cemetery. It is dusk and they climb the locked gate to enter. They find a grave marker Maria Scianna, whic h in the Greek translates as “Mary of Shadow”. Dark chanting rises as Thorn lifts the grave lid and to his horror beholds a jackal skeleton. When he lifts his son’s grave, he sees his skull was crushed, confirming he was murdered. A pack of fierce dogs encircle them and Goldsmith sows fear with an orchestral rendering of the Ave Satani chant. A truly horrific and deafening crescendo of terror builds as chorus joins the orchestra in unholy communion chanting Ave Satani. The men struggle for their lives, fight off the dogs, and manage to scale the iron wrought fence to escape. Once again Goldsmith’s score is what elevates this scene and elicits our terror. In “A Sad Message” Robert is informed of his wife’s death. A gentile and tender rendering of the Love Theme returns, yet darkens atop xylophone. Robert is inconsolable and we hear the theme struggling in futility to regain the light as he confides to Keith that Katy was dead and that he wanted Damien to die also.

They journey to Israel in “Beheaded” seeking Bugenhagen who explains that the seven mystical daggers of Megiddo (Armageddon in Greek) are needed for the ritualistic murder of the anti-Christ. Thorn recoils in disgust and tosses the knives. The Ave Satani chanting begins as Keith retrieves them, and rises to a deafening crescendo with shearing strings to support the unfolding of a freak accident, which results in his beheading by sheet glass. At 0:40 we shift scenes to Robert holding the wrapped Megiddo daggers on his lap as he flies home on his private jet. Goldsmith offers dissonance and a grim rendering of the Love Theme as Robert contemplates murder. “The Bed” offers repeated Eerie strings phrases, which usher in the Love Theme as Robert arrives home. As he enters the house he is stalked by the dog, which he manages to trap. As he enters Damien’s bedroom and searches for scissors Eerie strings ascents and muted Love Theme support his progress. In “666” Goldsmith sows suspense with a rising horrific dissonant ascent as he cuts Damien’s hair to reveal the 666 birthmark on his scalp.

In “The Demise Of Mrs. Baylock”, an apostate of Hell savagely attacks Thorn to stop him at all costs. Fierce shearing strings join unholy chanting to crea te a truly horrific confluence as Thorn struggles to survive. We bear witness to a deafening crescendo as he finally stabs her to death. Regretfully Goldsmith’s score for “The Altar” scene was dialed out of the film. Thorn enters the church, drags Damien to the altar, but is shot by police before he could strike the mortal blow. Goldsmith intended to support the scene with a full rendering of the unholy Ave Satani chant, which on CD emotes initially with a fierce purpose as he drags Damien to the altar, before resolving into a powerful ritualistic reprise in all its horrific glory. “The Piper Dreams” is a song rendering of the Love Theme, which was arranged by Arthur Morton, lyrics and vocals by Carol Goldsmith, and music by Jerry Goldsmith. I thought Carol offered beautiful lyrics and I enjoyed the song.

Allow me to thank Robert Townson and Varèse Sarabande for releasing the expanded score to Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score for The Omen. The mastering was superb and the sound quality, excellent. Folks, Goldsmith provides us with a masterpiece of horror, which demonstrates his genius, and mastery of his craft. The Ave Satani chant is iconic in film score lore and has passed unto legend. With its unholy chanting, scene after scene of the film achieved a truly horrific confluence, which sowed fear and terror. I believe Donner’s film achieved its success because of Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith realized that great scores require juxtaposition – there must be light to counter the darkness, courage to counter terror, and hope to counter fear. In this regard I believe he succeeded on all counts. I was fortunate to dine with Carol at their house a few years ago. I was able to touch the Oscar Jerry won on his fireplace mantle, which makes the achievement of this review, even more special. This is a Goldsmith masterpiece, a masterwork of film score art, and what I believe to be an essential part of your collection. I highly recommend this magnificent score!

I have embedded a YouTube link for the masterpiece cue “The Dogs Attack” with its unholy and truly horrific terror: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epfIEjqnLXM

Buy the Omen soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Ave Satani (2:31)
  • On This Night (2:33)
  • The New Ambassador (2:35)
  • Where Is He? (0:54)
  • I Was There (2:25)
  • Broken Vows (2:09)
  • Safari Park (3:22)
  • A Doctor, Please (1:42)
  • The Killer Storm (2:53)
  • The Fall (3:43)
  • Don’t Let Him (2:46)
  • The Day He Died (2:13)
  • The Dogs Attack (5:52)
  • A Sad Message (1:42)
  • Beheaded (1:45)
  • The Bed (1:06)
  • 666 (0:44)
  • The Demise Of Mrs. Baylock (2:53)
  • The Altar (2:02)
  • The Piper Dreams (written by Jerry Goldsmith and Carol Goldsmith, performed by Carol Goldsmith) (2:39)

Running Time: 48 minutes 29 seconds

Varese Sarabande 302-066-288-2 (1976/2001)

Music composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Conducted by Lionel Newman. Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Robert Towson

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: