You Have Been Warned…
So said the poster for 1976’s THE OMEN. But no amount of Hollywood marketing jargon could have prepared me for the musical shock I received during the first minute and 11 seconds of the film.
An unsettling piano line hovers over sustained lower strings. Enter a lowkey chorus chanting in Latin,”Sanguis Bibimus/Corpus Edimus,” which roughly translates to “The blood we drink/The flesh we eat” (which, thankfully, I didn’t know at the time). Then a blood red light illuminates the silhouette of what can only be called a bad seed, and the shadow of a jackal from the poster has now been replaced by a cross. Forget the religious intonations in that vision. It was the chorus shrieking higher and higher–“Raise the body of Satan!/Hail the Antichrist!”–that sent chills up my spine. That it was in Latin only made it creepier. In those 71 seconds, Jerry Goldsmith changed the way horror films were scored forever.
When the Oscar nominations were announced, not only was Goldsmith rightfully nominated for his groundbreaking score, but that opening song, “Ave Satani,” was also nominated. Alongside the theme from Rocky and Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” (which won), sat this hymn for the Black Mass, sung in a dead language. Not exactly the “middle of the road” ballad that usually clogged up the category.
In his first discussions with director Richard Donner, even before shooting had begun on the film, Goldsmith was asked what he heard for the music. “I hear voices,” he replied. Voices, indeed!
Goldsmith went on to win his first and only Academy Award for the score. Ave Jerry!