The Omen (1976)
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Stephens, Billie Whitelaw
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666″ (Revelations 13:18)
After the phenomenal success of The Exorcist it was inevitable that some imitators would appear to try and cash in on all the “yay God, boo the devil” sentiment among moviegoers. While a number of low-budget attempts failed miserably it would be The Omen, released three years after The Exorcist, that would successfully manage to effectively compete for the coveted crown of Best Horror Film About A Little Child With Links To Satan But It’s Not A Horror Film Honest Mate It’s A Faith-Based Thriller. And that’s a highly competitive sub-genre.
The Omen follows Robert Thorn (Peck), an American Ambassador and potential future President of the United States. His wife unfortunately has a stillborn child at the start of the film but she remains unconscious for a while after the delivery and so isn’t immediately aware of this. A priest offers Robert a solution – a healthy orphan newborn whose mother has died in childbirth and has no immediate family. Thorn takes the baby and tells his none-the-wiser wife it belongs to them.
Fast-forward five years and weird things start happening. At their son Damien’s fifth birthday party their nanny hangs herself in front of all the guests, declaring to Damien that it’s “all for you”. A replacement nanny turns up out of the blue and, along with her rottweiler dog, show an unhealthy interest in taking care of Damien.
Things start going tits-up when Thorn is approached by a priest, who claims he was there when Thorn’s adopted son was born. He tells him Damien is actually the Antichrist, the Devil’s son, and that Thorn has to start accepting Christ if he wants to survive. Thorn isn’t having any of it, and shortly afterwards the priest dies in a freak accident where he’s impaled with a spear-like church spire.
A journalist called Jennings (Warner) shows Thorn photos he took of the nanny and priest before they died. Both have dark marks over them in the shape of a noose and a spear respectively. What’s more, Jennings had taken a photo of himself and in it there’s a dark line across his neck. DUN DUN DUNNNNN.
Despite the whole spooky child premise and the Satanic element The Omen doesn’t really have much in common with The Exorcist. Damien doesn’t ever really do anything in the way Reagan does, it merely seems to be the case that odd things happen around him. Instead the film feels more like a predecessor to more modern movies like Final Destination and The Ring in that it revolves around premonitions of deaths about to occur (or omens, if you will).
As a result of this, despite any suspicions you may have The Omen actually isn’t that scary at all. The fear comes in the concern that Damien is about to suddenly snap, expose himself as the devil’s son and do something evil, a concern that ultimately leads to nothing. Its few deaths, while effectively directed, are still handled in a way that they’re not too shocking with the possible exception of the film’s most famous scene, involving a stray pane of glass. Instead it’s more of a paranormal thriller, a race against time to figure out why these deaths are happening and how to put an end to them before any more occur.
Perhaps the most effective thing about the film however is the music. Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic Latin chanting and dramatic orchestral score is so effective and adds so much to the action it won him his only Oscar, impressive considering his life’s work included scores for the likes of Poltergeist, LA Confidential, Chinatown, Gremlins, First Blood, Alien, Mulan and Planet Of The Apes.
If you’re expecting spinning heads and an evil kid going on a rampage, that’s not what The Omen is all about. If you’re looking for a creepy movie with an underlying sense of unease however, rather than a balls-to-the-wall demonfest, then The Omen is a mini masterpiece.