One trilogy of movies that I think made a great impression upon cinema audiences was the movies in the THE OMEN series. The original movie was released in 1976, with two sequels in that particular cycle being added, DAMIEN- OMEN ll in 1978 and then THE FINAL CONFLICT being the last in the series hitting cinema screens in 1981. All of course charted the life of Damien Thorne who is in effect the son of the devil and his rise to power and his eventual downfall. Damien is the son of American diplomat Robert Thorne (Peck) who is made ambassador to the court of St James’s in the United Kingdom his Mother Katherine (Remick) gives birth to a still born baby in a Rome hospital, a priest approaches her husband and suggests that he replace the dead infant with a baby that has just been born and who’s Mother has died in childbirth, without telling his wife Thorne agrees. After the family re-locate to London events start to take place and strange occurrences begin to happen. The Ambassador is warned by a priest played by Patrick Troughton that his son is in fact evil, at first Thorne refuses to listen, until the priest is found dead impaled on a spike from a church steeple, after this Thorne begins to uncover things about his adopted son.
Damien’s beginnings, life and demise were all underlined by composer Jerry Goldsmiths wonderfully dark but inspiring scores for all three of THE OMEN movies. We see Damien grow from an infant into a toddler then into a teenager and into manhood and as he does he becomes more determined and focused on carrying out his real fathers bidding, gathering around him followers and supporters who are as him set on creating a world that is filled with chaos and misery. Goldsmith supports and punctuates each and every dark and at times violent scenario that is evoked or instigated by Damien and his protectors. Goldsmith’s malevolent and richly ominous AVE SANTANI chorus being the core of each and every soundtrack. The first in the trilogy THE OMEN was directed by Richard Donner and starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, with supporting cast being made up from British actors and actress’s such as David Warner Billie Whitelaw, John Stride, Anthony Nicholls and Patrick Troughton. Goldsmith developed the central thematic material for the score which was the AVE SATANI motif and also a love theme which at a later date was developed into a vocal track entitled THE PIPER DREAMS. I remember hearing the composer in interview once and the subject of the song was brought up, Goldsmith was very swift to point out to the interviewer that he was not the one who decided that a song should be included on the soundtrack, but it was his melody that was used within it.
Goldsmiths central foreboding motif and also the lighter and more romantic love theme worked well together creating a darkness and also a lighter side to the work, the composer fused the two components together throughout the score at times lulling the watching audience into a false sense of safety and security. The scene in the graveyard is particularly well served by the ominous and guttural sounding soundtrack, the fearsome voices creating a frenzied and urgent atmosphere and adding a greater impact to the scene.
The cue entitled THE DOGS ATTACK slowly builds after in the first instance creating a mysterious and apprehensive mood, Goldsmith introduces a harsher and far more urgent sound by the way of brass, voices and strings, in the build up to the more action led section of the piece the composers music acts as if it is a spectator that is watching the events unfold, knowing full well what is about to happen. As the dogs begin to appear so the musical accompaniment begins to become more agitated and grandiose percussion, strings, choir, rasping bass brass lines and plucked basses punctuating the proceedings, dark piano also is introduced adding an even more menacing persona to the cue. Goldsmiths momentous score was helped greatly by the orchestrations of Arthur Morton and also the musical direction of Lionel Newman. In fact the composer said that he felt that THE OMEN was a tribute to the talent of Morton who had based his orchestrations upon detailed musical sketches that were given to him by Goldsmith. The OMEN ended with Damien being taken to a church by Robert Thorne to be killed on the altar but police arrive just in the nick of time and shoot Thorne dead. Leaving Damien an orphan after his Mother has died earlier in the movie, which brings us to DAMIEN – OMEN ll.
Although a serviceable sequel, I and others felt that the film was not entirely in the same league as the original movie. However Goldsmith did not disappoint, again the AVE SANTANI chorus was in place and creating the foundation for the composers score, we hear it over the opening credits as Carl Bugenhagen is seen driving erratically through the streets of a town called Megiddo, Bugenhagen is the archaeologist who in THE OMEN gave Robert Thorne the seven daggers of Megiddo which were the only instruments able to destroy the antichrist. Goldsmith retains his AVE SANTANI theme but on this occasion it is arranged and orchestrated in a very different way, there seems to be more menace and a kind of visceral virulence to it, it has a more up-tempo background supporting the mad driving of Bugenhagen. Goldsmith employs variants and alternate versions of the themes we heard previously in THE OMEN but for DAMIEN OMEN ll he develops a different sound and one that is at times far more threatening and unsettling. The male voices for example are more threatening and with the baritones in particular underlining the arrival of the crows superbly. The composer adding a disturbing element to the proceedings via these vocal stabs as it were and combining them with low brass accompaniment made this a stand out feature of the soundtrack.
The score also contains wonderful use of a quite insistent sounding organ and there are additional sounds created via synths that fuse seamlessly with the conventional instrumentation evoking an atmosphere of pure mischief and evil. Organ and choir combine in the cue FALLEN TEMPLE which unfortunately was not used in the film, but is included on the deluxe release of the score on Varese Sarabande, in fact there are two versions, the edit from the original album release and then the shorter and in my opinion more powerfully striking version taken from the actual film soundtrack, organ underlines the choir in a frenzied fashion giving more power and urgency to the vocal performances. Again Goldsmith turned to conductor Lionel Newman and the National Philharmonic who managed to bring to fruition all of the composers stunning and original ideas. THE OMEN was and still is regarded as a groundbreaking score, DAMIEN OMEN ll is an extension of Goldsmiths writing for the original film and in many ways gave the composer a chance to develop more fully many of the ideas he had for THE OMEN. THE FINAL CONFLICT came next, in this we see Damien grown to adulthood and played convincingly by Sam Neil. THE OMEN will always be my favourite score from the trilogy, simply because when it was released it was so fresh, vibrant and original, but THE FINAL CONFLICT is I think very close to that soundtrack, Goldsmith creating a more grand sound for the final instalment of the series and also giving the music a more religious and epic sound.
Again it is the AVE SANTANI chorus on which Goldsmith lays his musical foundations, with the composer replacing choir in the opening bars of the films main title with imposing brass flourishes, then introducing choir that is supported by brass, strings and percussion, and moves to a gloriously tumultuous crescendo before segueing into a reverent and almost celestial interlude which takes the cue to its near calming conclusion. This is a score that is filled with grandiose set pieces as in track number 7, THE SECOND COMING, Goldsmith creates a beautiful piece build around a variation of the AVE SANTANI but in this case it is a heavenly and triumphant sound that we hear, although it is at times interspersed with icy whispers and threatening voices, these give way to the splendour of Goldsmiths vibrant and awe inspiring music that announces the second coming of Christ, the cue ends with the AVE SANTINI motif performed on French horns, giving the cue a fearsome and commanding finish.
THE FINAL CONFLICT is filled to overflowing with rich thematic material, imposing and affecting fanfares and flourishes plus there are still present the evil sounding verses that we recognise and relish from both THE OMEN and DAMIEN OMEN ll. This I think is probably Goldsmith largest score from the trilogy, the composer developing fully all of the elements that he may have touched upon in previous scores and adding to them, it is also a more reverent work and one that also contains a greater urgency. The highlight cues for me personally are THE MAIN TITLE, THE SECOND COMING,THE HUNT and the excellent end sequence music, which underlines Damien’ s demise and heralds the appearance of The Nazarene in all his glory. All soundtracks were originally issued on LP record, then received compact disc releases, which in the first instant were duplicates of the LP releases, then Varese Sarabande issued deluxe versions of all three scores containing previously unreleased cues. These compact discs are the ones to get with more music and excellent notes and art work they are a worthwhile addition to any film music collection.