GOOD MORNING. YOU ARE ONE DAY CLOSER TO THE END OF THE WORLD!
In 1973, The Exorcist had been a tremendous hit and came to spawn copies throughout the 1970s. The most successful of these diabolical films became The Omen, a thriller that would launch the career of director Richard Donner and give aging movie star Gregory Peck a lucrative part. They would both, however, be outshone by a pane of glass.
This is the story of how a fallen angel sent his only son to the world to destroy it. Robert and Kathy Thorn (Peck, Lee Remick) move to London as he is appointed new ambassador to Britain. They have a son, Damien (Harvey Stephens), a boy with a pale face, a sullen demeanor and dark, almost black hair. Kathy doesn’t know that he isn’t really hers; her real son died after being born and the heartsick husband decided to replace him with an orphaned child and say nothing to his wife. The years go by and the family is happy, but when Damien turns six years old scary things begin to happen. At his birthday party the nanny hangs herself; the moment before doing it, she claims to do “it all for you, Damien”. The boy goes crazy when his parents try to take him to church, and the animals at the zoo go crazy whenever Damien is near them.
Something is terribly wrong; with a little help from the Catholic Church even Robert Thorn begins to realize the awful truth about his son.
A tragic horror movie
This is essentially a very tragic horror movie, almost Shakespearean. Remick is very good in one of her most memorable performances as the mother who begins to think that her child might be evil; we can truly sense her fear. Young Stephens is very effective as Satan’s son. There are times when you feel like strangling him (oh, that ingenious final shot) and there are times when you fear him. The great question of this film is of course would you be able to murder your child if you knew that it was going to grow up as something worse than Hitler? Peck’s character struggles with the question and so do we; he is in essence our representative in this story. At first, we can’t quite believe that the boy is evil but just like Robert Thorn we become convinced of the necessity of stabbing the child to death. It’s either him or humanity.
This is gruesome stuff and director Donner keeps the movie spine-chilling. The eerie atmosphere is boosted by Jerry Goldsmith’s outstanding music score. Using a choir, his ominous orchestral work is like a call for Satan, a dedication. It’s very dark and it shouldn’t be played with your lights out. There are also several terrifically staged sequences. The nanny’s suicide, the impaling of the priest, the dogs in the cemetery… but it is all outdone by the scene where the nosy, doomed hippie photographer (David Warner) is beheaded by a pane of glass. A true classic, the scene still stands as one of the great horror moments in cinema history. I am full of admiration for how well this scene works thirty years after it was made.
The Omen does owe a lot to its famous predecessor, but thanks to the talent involved it manages to stand on its own and has in turn spawned many other more or less worthless imitations. There’s a lot to be said for a film so perversely clever it makes its audience root for a father who tries to kill his son.
The Omen 1976-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Harvey Bernhard. Directed by Richard Donner. Screenplay: David Seltzer. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Gregory Peck (Robert Thorn), Lee Remick (Kathy Thorn), Harvey Stephens (Damien Thorn), Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Patrick Troughton… Leo McKern.
Trivia: William Holden and Charlton Heston were allegedly considered for the part of Robert Thorn. Followed by three sequels, starting with Damien: Omen II (1978), and a TV series, Damien (2016). Remade as The Omen (2006).
Oscar: Best Original Score.
Last word: “[The greatest hurdle] was convincing Gregory Peck and Lee Remick that what they were doing was a horrible moment/circumstance in their lives – nothing more or nothing less – that drives them both to the point of insanity. He’s driven to the point where he could have killed a child. Once I had them convinced of that – I had to come back every time they questioned it – but from there on in, I had to accomplish the feat of fear and – I don’t want to say horror – but to do that and make it look like it could be the devil, or it could be nothing more than a frightening moment of circumstance that took somebody’s life. Everything from the priest getting killed by a bolt of lightening that hits the church, to a plate a glass coming off and decapitating somebody, to the nanny coming into the room at night – you never see Lee get pushed out… she could have stumbled in a moment of panic. I did everything so it could have been circumstantial. That was the most difficult part.” (Donner, IGN)