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The Omen. 1976. Directed by Richard Donner. Screenplay by David Seltzer.
Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Robert Rietty, and Tommy Duggan.
Twentieth Century Fox/Mace Neufeld Productions.
Rated R. 111 minutes.
When it comes to supernatural horror I tend to be at a crossroads most of the time. There are good and bad films in any sub-genre of any major genre, that’s simply a no-brainer. My problem is that anything with ghosts, spirits, demons (et cetera) can some times get lost in itself. It’s hard to tell where the line begins and ends with this sort of stuff. For me, anyways. That being said, there are plenty of supernatural horrors I think are great. I just feel I may have a bias against them, who knows.
None of that matters where The Omen is concerned. Ever since the first time I remember seeing the movie, on television late at night when I was but a young lad, it always stuck in my mind. Several of the scenes have never left me (think: Damien does not feel good about going to church). Then the older I get – writing this the day after my 30th birthday – the more frequently I come back to it, the trilogy in general. It’s solid horror filmmaking, classic really. From the fine acting of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick to the masterfully suspenseful screenplay by David Seltzer. Every last portion of The Omen is a horrific treat. There’s a true existential dread in this movie, wrapped up in religion and the belief in God/Satan. Richard Donner has made a couple excellent films, this certainly one of them, and here he proves his weight in tension with one of the best supernatural horror movies ever made.
After Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick) loses a son during birth, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) accepts another boy born at the same time whose mother perished. Arranged by a priest at the hospital, Katherine is none the wiser.
However, a few years down the road once the boy – Damien (Harvey Stephens) – begins to grow up, strange events start to happen. After Robert is appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, a young woman employed at their new home kills herself in front of Damien and guests at his birthday. More and more everything gets worse. Damien becomes ill and angry when approaching a church, animals at the zoo go mad and start to attack when he comes near. Alone with the secret of where Damien came from, he soon begins to wonder if his wife is in danger. Even worse he questions who – or what – exactly Damien is, and if there is any way to stop what comes next.
Is Damien the Antichrist? Unfortunately for the Thorns this realization may have come far too late.
Rarely are there scenes as creepy as some in The Omen. The first majorly unsettling moment comes after a young housekeeper locks eyes with a hulking Rottweiler, after which she proceeds to commit suicide by hanging herself from a window in the house – all during Damien’s birthday party, a ton of kids looking on.
“Look at me Damien – it’s all for you!”
Everybody is horrified, and rightfully so. There’s a moment of absolute silence directly afterwards, then finally people start to scatter. Even creepier is how little Damien and the aforementioned Rottweiler then see one another, as the kid waves strangely to the dog. You know, so quickly there’s something absolutely weird happening.
But it’s the more subtle, down played scenes – such as the first meeting between Robert Thorn (Peck) and Roman Catholic priest Father Brennan (Troughton) – where some truly unnerving horror is at play. This scene in particular, the way Brennan blurts out “His mother was a jackal” right as the security guards enter, likely only the audience actually hearing him… I find it all very spooky. The screenplay peppers in more subtle pieces with the outright scary moments to make it an even feel. Best of all, Donner works incredibly well with the suspense and tension of the story in order to make almost every single scene drip with fear. There are rarely any moments of rest between all the tense sections, which sets us up for a tragic existential horror movie.
The big horror moments are intense. From the early suicide of the young woman hanging herself, to the priest being impaled with a falling rod off the church, to Katherine’s nail biting fall. This film could’ve easily gone with all very low key stuff, focusing wholly on the mysterious aspects of the screenplay. Instead, Donner opts to give us lots of that style, as well as piling on enough creepy horror for any fan of the genre.
Possibly my favourite part of The Omen is all its fine acting. Can you really ask for a better actor than Gregory Peck to put in a mid-1970s horror film? I love the fact he’s in this because there is a sort of class which comes along with him. He plays the role of Robert Thorn well, a calm and cool sort of fellow who ends up in the most gut wrenching type of situation with the Antichrist for a child. Watching him slowly push on through the mad journey of discovery that is his search for Damien’s true identity, it is a sigh, a real experience.
Furthermore, there’s also Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw and David Warner. They’re each pretty damn great respectively. Remick has a tough role to play because it’s hard, even knowing Damien is at least slightly evil, to make us care about a mother who hates her child; she does it greatly and I think her chemistry with Peck is good, as well. Warner doesn’t have a lot to do, but pulls his weight with a minor performance. Whitelaw, though, she is one creepy customer! I thought her performance was also bang on. Even from the initial moments we see her character onscreen, the unsettling fog surrounding her is always there. So then as the scenes pass she becomes more terrifying. Without her the role might have came out hollow, instead she instills lots of fear every time she shows up.
The Omen is easily a 5 star horror film. There is a lot of human drama within such a supernatural story, yet still all its horror is so much of the strength this film has in lasting power. With acting talents such as Gregory Peck and Lee Remick at the helm, there’s no way such a creepy and utterly terrifying story could go wrong. You’ll find a good few moments of terror (think: decapitation with plate glass), plus a ton of quality filmmaking and performances.
This is perfect for any time of year, but no doubt it’s a juggernaut in the Halloween season horror movie marathon list of choices.