The Omen (1976)
the omen | richard donner | david seltzer | gregory peck | lee remick | harvey stephens | religion | devil | cult | united kingdom | united states | david warner | billie whitelaw | patrick troughton | martin benson | robert rietty | tommy duggan | john stride
Film: The Omen
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: David Seltzer
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Harvey Stephens
This was a film that I’m pretty sure I saw after the remake. For whatever reason though, it just eluded me until college when I started to seek out more of the classics that all horror fans should probably have seen. I think this is only the second time that I’ve seen this one as well. The synopsis is mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he’s raising actually be the Antichrist, the Devil’s own son?
We start this movie on June 6th, at 6:00 am in the morning. Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is an ambassador for the United States living in Rome at the time. His wife is having their baby and he arrives at the hospital. He’s told by a priest there that this son didn’t make it. An alternative is given that a mother passed away during childbirth and that she had a son. It is kind of shady, but it is decided that Robert will present his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) with that baby as their own.
It then gives us glimpses of the happy family until Robert is given the news that they’re moving to London as he’s been reassigned. His college roommate is now president and there are aspirations that Robert will be president one day as well.
The first of the odd things happen at a birthday party for their son Damien (Harvey Stephens). Also at this party is a reporter of Keith Jennings (David Warner). Things take a turn though when the nanny hangs herself, stating that it is all for Damien.
Another nanny shows up, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), but the family is confused as they didn’t reach out to the service to replace the position. Things get even weirder when a Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) arrives at Robert’s office and locks them in, telling Robert that he must destroy his son before it is too late. At first, Robert doesn’t believe him, but when things happen that correlate back to what he’s been told, he starts to fear for the worst. Keith notices some odd things about some of the pictures that he’s taking as well. Is Damien the Antichrist? Or is the stress of life getting to be too much for Robert, Katherine and Keith?
Now if you read other reviews from me, you know that I really do love when religion is played with in horror and we get the perverting of that toward the side of evil. We really do get that here with this coming out in 1976 and the height of the ‘Satanic Panic’ era as well.
This film doesn’t play its hand too early though. We get the set up of Robert arriving at the hospital to learn that his son was a stillborn, but there’s a baby without a parent born at the same time. Nothing really goes wrong until the nanny kills herself at the party. This could be chalked up to her being crazy and nothing more. It is really a slow build though to be honest. Katherine notices it first with animals being spooked when it is just her and Damien. She just feels there’s something off about it. There’s a blow up when they’re going to a wedding in a church. It just presented in a way where there are rational explanations for things, but looking at them as a whole is where you start to think something else is up. To go even farther though, Robert debates what to do until the end and I love that. He’s seen evidence, but what he has to do is pretty horrific and he questions it.
If there’s a subplot that I’m not in love with, it is with Keith. I don’t necessarily know if I like the pictures showing things. It just feels a bit forced to have Keith become a major player later, but I do like what they do with this subplot in the end. I take this more as they wanted Robert to have someone do more investigation with and who better than having a photographer, as he knows how to investigate and has an eye for detail. In general really it feels like they needed something, so I won’t say it ruins anything.
This movie is really paced in a way where it never gets boring. I like that it slowly builds to the point where as a viewer, we know what is happening. The characters are putting things together so that helps us as well. Being the runtime is 111 minutes, it doesn’t feel like it and I think it really isn’t wasted either. Nothing feels forced, rushed or it doesn’t really drag either. There also seems to be a few different self-fulfilling prophecies, which is a troupe I think is great. Do we definitely know at the end whether Damien is the Antichrist? Not necessarily, but the evidence is there and how it ends is great.
That will take me to the acting, which is looking at the cast I’m surprised with how strong it is. Peck is a legendary actor from the past and I love that he took on this role. He’s great as this politician which adds a layer to this story. He’s in the limelight because of it, so he just can’t do things as it would be a scandal. Remick is really good in descending into madness. I love that it plays with the mother intuition here. She doesn’t know things, but she feels them and I like that aspect. Warner is someone that I knew growing up for more kid friendly movies, so I love seeing him in things like this. He’s great in this secondary role he plays to drive the story. I like Whitelaw as this nanny that we don’t feel good about, but the parents don’t have a reason to distrust. There’s just the feeling. I also think that Stephens does well in his limited role. He just has a creepy look for Damien, but still seems normal as well. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
The effects are really subtle actually and I think that really helps with the atmosphere. As I’ve said, things are played downplaye so we don’t know if their fears are founded. We get to see what happens with Father Brennan, but no one else does. It looks real and I love this is done practically. I do have an issue with a death later that we can see was done with props, but it still has a bit of charm there. I think overall the effects were well done and the cinematography as well.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. It is mostly chorus style music that is done in Latin. I think this adds both the ambiance of religion, but also gives it a spooky feel that works with what the movie is going for. I’m not going to lie, I kind of what to seek it out for mood music while writing.
Now with that said, this movie is really a classic. I love just how we’re playing on the parent’s feel that their child could be evil. They don’t want to believe it and things are built on secrets. I’m not a religious person so seeing this family that really isn’t either come to terms with the facts they’re presented with is great. I think the acting really helps to bring this to life. The movie is slow in its build, but in a way where things are presented to drive the story. The effects are solid along with the cinematography and I really like the soundtrack that is coupled with everything. If there’s any gripe would be the subplot with Keith does feel a bit forced, but I understand why it is there. This is a great movie, one of the best in the subgenre for sure. I would highly recommend seeing this film for horror and non-horror fans alike as is still works even almost 45 years later.
My Rating: 9.5 out of 10