“The Devil has all the best tunes” is a view held by many and a saying that has been around for a long time now, many come to this conclusion because music, especially popular music, is predominantly secular rather than religious. So, this got me thinking, (which is sometimes a dangerous thing). Does this apply to film scores for movies about the Devil? And how do scores for films about the Devil compare with the Biblically slanted Epics and other such movies that tell the story of God and Jesus and all things good? So, let’s start with the bad boy shall we. Well, many movies about the Devil or Satan, Old Nick, The Beast, Lucifer, and so many other titles and names attached to the Evil One, who was cast out of heaven by God. Contain strong and powerful musical works, which is to be expected as the character of the Devil is often looked upon as a controlling, unforgiving and unmerciful individual.
Let’s not forget that the Devil was initially an angel or so the Bible tells us, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him”. So, the Devil, was at one time good? Cast out because he sought to become the overlord of paradise. “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” and I will be like the most High”. There have been many interpretations of the Devil in motion pictures, at times these have even had a comedic takes on the power that is wielded by him or is it her?
A recent interpretation is by Welsh actor Tom Ellis in Lucifer the TV series on Netflix which is now in its sixth season and has aired thus far 93 episodes which focuses upon Lucifer Morningstar, bored from his sulking life in hell, comes to live in Los Angeles. While there, he helps humanity with its miseries through his experience and telepathic abilities to bring people’s deepest desires and thoughts out of them. While meeting with a Detective named Chloe Decker (Lauren German) in his exclusive nightclub called LUX, a shootout involving him, and the Detective leads him to become an LAPD consultant who tries to punish people for their crimes through law and justice. It’s a clever concept with a witty script plus it’s a series that is a compelling and an addictive watch, with Tom Ellis being perfect in the title role and the remainder of the cast also bringing much to the unfolding storylines. The central character is at times played in a humorous fashion, but then we see at times just how powerful and unmerciful he can be when he shows his true colours as the situations call for it.
The music is credited to Marco Beltrami who began working on the series back in 2016, the music department is also credited to many performers as in bands, composers, and vocalists, which to be honest run into double figures, plus there are numerous songs on the soundtrack by artists such as David Bowie etc. The score or music is atmospheric, but often the orchestral or instrumental sections are short and to the point stabs that act as support for a stand off or a moment of violence and often are a segue between scenes or pre-announce an important stage of a storyline or indeed herald a commercial break. The soundtrack is scattered with an abundance of rock influenced songs and riffs, which do work especially because of the time slot that the series is set which is contemporary Los Angeles.
From the bustling city of angels to a more otherworldly setting, is it in the future or could it be set in a time long gone and even in another world? Well, I suppose we all must make our own minds up when it comes to Legend. The Ridley Scott movie I have always looked upon as a masterpiece, but many do not share my opinion, maybe it is because the movie was so badly cut when it finally reached cinema screens, and there were also so many different versions of the film. Some containing the score by Jerry Goldsmith others having the music of Tangerine Dream on the soundtrack.
The Goldsmith score is a wonderous collection of mysterious, poignant, and compelling thematic material, with the composer employing varying shades of darkness and light throughout, the music having to it a mischievous and enthralling persona, each of the characters having themes and motifs, and the central performers such as Tim Curry in his marvellous devil make up being underlined by a foreboding and fearsome sound, making his performance even more imposing. Goldsmith’s impish and otherworldly flourishes that are created via symphonic and synthetic performances adding even more magic and mystery to the proceedings.
The score that was provided by Tangerine Dream, is also very good, but not as effective as Goldsmith’s with the Dream’s music being more like a soundscape and at times not really being in sync with the action on screen. Goldsmith created a score that was overflowing with a beguiling and affecting richness, his music for the goblins being threatening but at the same time having comedic layers.
The National Philharmonic orchestra produced a wonderfully flawless performance with the composer mixing and fusing instrumental themes with haunting songs such as My True Loves Eyes and Sing the Wee.
Goldsmith employed many of what we now sometimes call “Goldsmithian” trademarks throughout the score, brass flourishes surging, and romantic sounding strings and action led cues with pounding percussion and rasping brass that were relentless and at the same time eerie. These trademarks can be heard in any number of the composers works for film, especially in the 1980’s. However, I still consider Legend one of his best scores and like most of his film scores is like a piece of gold in a silver age.
Staying with Goldsmith and the Devil, and turning to his scores for the Omen series, The Omen, Damien Omen 2, and The Final Conflict. All three are filled with a malevolence but it is the first in the series that I return to most, the darkness and the foreboding Ave Santani still sending chills through me on each listen. The track entitled The Dogs Attack also being a triumph of the macabre and impending doom. Damien Omen ll, is probably my least favourite score in the trilogy but there again I was not over impressed with the movie. The composers Final Conflict too contained a sense of doom and disaster, but also too had a mood that was spiritual and hopeful, which came into its own in the final sequence when Damien finally is dispatched, and the glory of heaven is given centre stage with a magnificent and moving piece created by the composer.
This is a score that is filled with grandiose set pieces as in The Second Coming, Goldsmith fashioning 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 Goldsmith’s vibrant and awe inspiring music that announces the second coming of Christ, the cue ends with the Ave Santani motif performed on French horns, giving the cue a fearsome and commanding finish.
From Goldsmith to Williams, and to The Witches of Eastwick, with Jack Nicholson in the role of Daryl or the Devil. John Williams music is a mischievous yet wonderfully thematic journey through the many ups and downs of three women of Eastwick who are beguiled by the devil and wreak their revenge upon him. Williams providing an infectious collection of themes and also adding atmosphere and creating a comedic yet pulsating apprehensive air throughout.
His Dance of the Witches is an incredible composition, as is his The Seduction of Suki and the Ballroom Scene, which contains a glorious and uplifting melody.
The Devil Rides Out is a classic film, produced by Hammer in 1968, based upon the Dennis Wheatly novel, the movie starred Christopher Lee, Charles Grey and Nick Arrighi, directed by Terence Fisher the score was composed by James Bernard, it is one of Bernard’s most revered works for Hammer, and has stood the test of time well alongside the composers scores for the many Dracula movies that Hammer released and a string of Frankenstein movie creations.
Like so many of Hammers scores The Devil Rides Out remained unreleased for many years even though many collectors requested it, it was finally released by GDI records in 2002 and was the 13th CD release in that labels excellent Hammer soundtrack series. The short but highly effective opening cue from the score, strikes terror into the hearts and souls of the watching audience and sets the scene perfectly for all that is about to unfold in the film. Bernard’s chilling music for The Spirit in the Observatory too is menacing and consuming, the composer relying upon strings to fashion a sinewy, mesmeric, and apprehensive piece that is punctuated by brass stabs.
Bernard’s dark and foreboding sound was well suited to Hammer movies and increased the drama in The Devil Rides Out magnificently.
So does the evil one have all the best music as in film scores, well that I suppose is a matter of opinion and personal preference, so lets look at the other side of the coin as in Good or God and the music that has been penned for a number of Biblical tales that have been committed to celluloid. The Ten Commandments, for example, a great and rousing score by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein, triumphant flourishes, proud fanfares and stirring action cues are scattered throughout the movie, it is in every sense of the word a classic.
So, 1-0 to God on this one. What else, ah yes, the iconic music from Ben Hur, The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Quo Vadis, do I need to go on? OK, King of Kings, The Bible, any need to continue, no I did not think so.
So maybe old Nick needs to think again before he starts to think he has the best tunes, the scores for the Biblical epics I have mentioned are uplifting, gracious and celestial in their overall sound and make up, and yes Biblical scores too contain dark and foreboding interludes, but these are overwhelmed and countered effectively by heavenly choirs, proud anthem like fanfares and affecting and sweeping themes.
There is more emotion in the opening theme or Overture for Ben Hur than in many of the movies that tell a story about the horned one. Depending on your own particular taste, I would think that the score is about equal, but maybe the sound of good will hopefully triumph over the dark and foreboding choruses of evil.