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A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Jerry Goldsmith's one and only Oscar came for this 1976 score, the most influential and the best Hollywood horror score ever written, and arguably Goldsmith's most effective work. It is virtually impossible to imagine the movie (which is good, thanks to the music) with any other score - every chill, every scare is down to Goldsmith. Director Richard Donner's imagery is certainly striking at times, and of course there is a hell of a cast, but even the director admits that the music's what makes the film, and without such an effective score the movie would have been dead in the water. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that the movie's success is over 90% thanks to its music.
The main theme, "Ave Satani", is a chilling Latin chant, which is forever compared to Orff's "Carmina Burana"; this comparison is nonsensical. The two pieces sound nothing alike, save for the fact that they both feature Latin being chanted. Therefore, I propose enacting a new law whereby anyone who says the main theme from The Omen is "Carmina Burana" should be incarcerated forever. Sadly, I seem to have little influence with the lawmakers. "The New Ambassador" is a surprisingly tender love theme for Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. This was also turned into a song (just for the album) "The Piper Dreams", which was performed by Goldsmith's wife Carol. She sings it well and it's a pleasant song, though it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the score.
"Killer's Storm" is the piece that strengthens my argument about the music making the film what it is: it accompanies a sequence where Patrick Troughton's character is chased by demonic forces, and then impaled by a falling spike. Do this: watch the movie, and turn the sound right off for this scene. It's laughable. There is just nothing there. Then watch it with Goldsmith's score turned up in all its glory, and it becomes a bone-chilling piece of cinema. "The Demise of Mrs Baylock" is breathtakingly good - Stravinskian strings combine with massive choral outbursts to scare the hell out of you. Nowadays, anyone writing music that sounds like The Omen would be accused of sticking to clichés (and indeed, Marco Beltrami avoided doing so for the remake); but it was Goldsmith who invented these clichés. So many horror scores written since have borrowed its methods, the most effective of which is whispering voices. The album literally is one miniature masterpiece followed by another, with every track bringing something wonderful. Goldsmith was never better.
Deluxe Edition, released to coincide with the film's 25th anniversary
in 2001, presents about 15 minutes of previously-unheard music (though
there's still about as much that remains unreleased), and cleans up the
sound quality a lot. One concern with it is whether it would be able to
reproduce the wonderful, unequalled flow of the original album, which
presented the music staunchly out of film order to give the best
possible listening experience. The answer is that even though the music
is now presented largely in film order (the one, wise, exception is
that the opening and end titles are reversed) it still flows
tremendously well. Add to this the incisive liner notes and you get one
of the all-time-great film music albums. No serious fan of film music
could be without this score, a masterpiece from beginning to end.
Film music just does not get any better.