Written by David Seltzer
Directed by Richard Donner
Robert Thorn...Gregory Peck
Katherine Thron...Lee Remick
Damien Thorn...Harvey Stephens
Keith Jennings...David Warner
Mrs. Baylock...Billie Whitelaw
I was but a wee beatnik when I first saw this film on basic cable, and I had not revisited it since, so when I dropped this puppy into my DVD player just a little over two hours ago (as I write this), I was slightly apprehensive. I remember this film scaring me to the extent that I eyed all the other children at school suspiciously, wondering if somewhere beneath their unkempt hair lay the Birthmark of the Beast. Could it possibly live up to those childhood memories?
Probably not. They seldom do.
As I'm sure most of you are aware, this movie concerns a married couple, Robert and Katherine Thorn, whose son Damien may or may not be The Anti-Christ. Things seem to start going South on Damien's fifth birthday with the arrival of a mean-looking dog and the hanging suicide of his kindly nanny ("Look at me, Damien! It's all for you!"). She is quickly replaced by Mrs. Baylock, whose nurturing cultivations seem a little on the dark side. It takes more than the warning of some shabby, unshaven priest to convince Robert that his son may be the Biblical Bad Boy, but in the end he decides that he may be ready to make that leap of faith and embarks on a far-flung investigation with an unlikely partner, news photographer Keith Jennings. Said investigation takes him down a few dark Roman Roads, leading him to a solution he may not have the stomach for.
Religious horror is a touchy subject for some people, but when done properly, it is an extremely effective genre. And this movie does practically everything right.
Although it may be a bit slow-moving when compared to today's MTV-inspired directorial pacing, the building of suspense here pays off every time; beyond being "just a horror movie", it also has elements of the psychological thriller and crime drama. The death scenes are pretty good, too, and include a decapitation by runaway window...which is a rarity if nothing else. The acting was rock solid all around, even from the nearly-silent Harvey Stephens in the role of young Damien, whose initially innocence turns into a burgeoning deviousness by films end. The directing and cinematography brought about a very distinct look to the proceedings, and the scene with Robert and Jennings in the cemetery has got to be one of the best horror scenes ever put onto celluloid.
And then, of course, there's the music by Jerry Goldsmith which won the film a much-deserved Academy Award. The cathedral-style chants, coupled with the Roman Catholic imagery and the ever-present threat of crossing into the realm of Taboo give it all a dark and twisted atmosphere that would make it enjoyable and frightening even if the rest of the production was weaker.
The Omen, along with The Exorcist, are two of the better-known components of the Religious Horror genre, and so many people can't help but try to compare the two. But there's no comparison, really. They're like alligators and crocodiles: on the surface, they may have similar characteristics, but in reality, they're very different animals.
Alligators Vs. Crocodiles...I think I smell a SyFy movie.
So did The Omen live up to my youthful memories? Lets just say this: I've convinced my wife that we shouldn't have children.
The world is safe. For now.
United Kingdom/United States
"Have no fear, little one... I am here to protect thee."