Tuesday, 12 June 2007
The Omen (1976) dir. Richard Donner
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick
“The Omen” is my favourite horror film of all time. It scared the hell out of me as a kid, and still gives me the shivers today. At the time “The Omen” was made riding on the success of the “Exorcist” three years earlier. And though “The Exorcist” has the reputation as the original and better of the two, in my mind, hands down, “The Omen” is better.
Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score sets the mood instantly. A dark and rainy night in Rome, Ambassador Robert Thorn has just discovered his newly delivered son has died during birth. But at the same time a mother of another newborn has just died, leaving the baby parentless. Robert decides to adopt this other child as his and his wife’s own. Bad move.
Damien proves to be not just any other child. Thorn is named Ambassador to Great Britain and so Robert, his wife, Katherine and Damien move to a lavish estate in England. Their young babysitter assigned by “the company” is there instantly to greet them. Katherine is suspicious of the babysitter’s obsessive and controlling behaviour around Damien and quickly their relationship sours. She is eventually lets her go. Unfortunately she doesn’t take the news very well, and, ahem… you’ll just have to watch the film to see what happens to her. Problems only get worse from there. “The company” sends another babysitter, Mrs. Baylock (a creepy Billie Whitelaw) who proceeds to take in a pair of rottweiler to protect Damien. Damien’s increasing bad seed demonism becomes too much for Katherine to handle and she starts to go crazy.
Meanwhile Robert is receiving creepy visits from a Priest named Father Brennan (former Doctor Who Patrick Traughton) who thinks Damien is the anti-Christ. Thorn laughs off the accusation and dismisses Brennan. Brennan doesn’t last long either…and again, you’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens to him. Thorn then meets a photographer, who is straight as an arrow but discovers all the photos taken of Robert contain a weird anomaly which can predict the death of the people around him. This evidence leads Robert to search out the origins of the child he adopted back in Rome years ago. Thorn soon uncovers a larger conspiracy involving a group of worshippers who have helped bring Damien into the world and into the lives of the Thorn family so he may ascend to great influence in the world.
There are no traditional antagonists in the film. Damien is a child and is unaware of his “demonness”. He doesn’t actively try to harm people; it’s the people around him who kill on his behalf. Because of the religious aspects things its just scarier when a preist dies, or when its the actual devil at work. Having Jerry Goldsmith at helm of a score certainly helps too. In fact, he won an Oscar for it. When was the last time a horror film won or was even nominated for an Oscar?
The sequels are genuinely good films as well, and continually add to the evolving story of Damien. The second film, “Damien: The Omen II” takes place when Damien is a teenager and is just discovering his destiny. And “The Omen: The Final Conflict” takes place when Damien is grown up and is entering politics and expanding his influence in the world. The MOW “The Omen IV: The Awakening”, and recent remake, we shall not speak of.
“The Omen” is filled with so many memorable scenes: the baboon zoo attack, the graveyard scene, David Warner’s awesome death scene involving a sliding pane of glass, Damien’s suspenseful ride on the big wheel in the house, Father Brennan’s run to the church during the lightning storm, Mrs. Baylock’s attack on Mrs, Thorn and of course, the young babysitter’s final farewell to Damien.
The film succeeds also because of Gregory Peck who plays an American everyman so well. It’s perfect casting, an icon so well-loved in cinema, that to bring the guy who played Atticus Finch to the point of taking the life of his own son is a terrific role reversal and great finale.
In my mind “The Exorcist” hasn’t aged well because it relied too heavily on special effects for its horror. “The Omen” creates tension in more satisfying ways, through subtext, mood, atmosphere, and tension. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Omen (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Here’s a great scene with Patrick Traughton (WARNING SPOILERS):