‘The Omen’ for Best Original Score

Can you hear the chanting chorus yet? In 1976, The Omen terrified theaters full of innocent, God-fearing Americans nationwide. A year later, the film took home a well deserved Academy Award for its haunting original score—because composer Jerry Goldsmith never comes to play.

Director Richard Donner was wise to bring in Goldsmith to create The Omen’s signature sound, even in spite of the film’s meager budget. The Planet of the Apes composer was coming off a hot streak at the time, having scored Papillion, Chinatown, and The Wind and the Lion in the three preceding years (1973 through 1975).

At the same time, 17 Oscar nominations and no wins seem to have taken a toll on Goldstein, who reportedly planned to skip 1977’s ceremony for fear he couldn’t handle any further rejection. The Omen producers Mace Neufield and Harvey Bernhard persuaded him to go anyway, convinced that this would be the nomination he would finally win.

Goldstein is said to have smoked three cigarettes at a time that night, but his nerves were unfounded. Not only did The Omen take home the gold statuette that night; it also remains one of the most instantly recognizable scores in Hollywood history. Goldstein would go on to score more classics, including Alien (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), before his death from cancer in 2004.

Like many horror films, The Omen would be nothing without its music, which immediately establishes a tense, at times demonic atmosphere. The choral work, which Goldstein shepherded with assistance from Arthur Morton (born Arthur Goldberg), is the most memorable top note—an unsettling, discordant motif that returns again and again. Then there are the frantic violins, the pulsing drums, the tragedy-tinged woodwinds. Requiem Mass has never sounded creepier. At the same time, Goldstein also establishes emotional depth beyond mere terror. The Omen’s love theme, which recurs throughout, threads in a brighter, necessary counterpoint to the doom and gloom.

At this point, The Omen’s Academy Awards win also feels somewhat historic. Its best original score victory came one year after Jaws took home the Oscar in the same category, and no horror has taken the honor since. (That is, unless you count The Shape of Water—which, for the record, even its director, Guillermo del Toro does not.) More than that, however, it’s a testament to horror’s emotional range, as well as its ingenuity. The Devil might work hard, but this score works even harder.

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