The Omen (1976)

reviewed by
Ted Prigge

THE OMEN (1976)
A Film Review by Ted Prigge
Copyright 1998 Ted Prigge

Director: Richard Donner Writer: David Seltzer Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Holly Palance, Leo McKern

"The Omen" is a scary enough for anyone who has every read anything out of the bible and was suddenly worried that it may come true someday. It's especially aimed at those who take everything that the bible says literally, especially the book of Revelations, which predicts exactly how armageddom will take place, including the rise of the antichrist, the son of the devil (if you didn't already know that). Apparently screenwriter David Seltzer and director Richard Donner were influenced by these passages when they were a kid and decided, hey, let's make a horror flick out of them.

And so here's "The Omen," a horror film that's the first in a trilogy (actually, there's four, but few count the fourth one, as it was a TV movie that had little to do with the first three) about the rise and fall of Damien, the antichrist. And surprisingly enough, this first one is a very effective little picture, filled with just the right amount of melodrama and enough frights, chills, and little bits of intrigue to make it an extremely watchable and even creepy film.

"The Omen" opens on June 6 in Rome (the date and locale are actually important) where we meet Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), the US Ambassador to Italy who rushes to the local hospital to witness his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), give birth. However, she has a stillborn, and while under, the priest there makes a deal with him: they switch his dead child with an orphan child just born there as well. He accepts, and little Damien (played by the eerily adorable Harvey Stephens...who never made another film before or after this one) comes home with them.

Five years pass, and just when everything is going right, Damien's nanny (Holly Palance, daughter of Jack) commits a dramatic suicide, which becomes the first in a series of murders that occur throughout the film. Upon getting a new nanny (Billy Whitelaw) without much trouble, things turn really weird, as Robert is hounded by a raving priest (Patrick Troughton) who warns him about Damien, and begins to get friendly tips from a local member of the papparazzi, Jennings (David Warner), that proves that something is indeed afowl.

Evenly paced, this film starts out with little scares and overly-dramatic scenes, like one where they try to take Damien to church for the first time (uh oh!), and then moves on to introducing more and more elements into the storyline. The film begins to really take off as Robert is made more and more aware of the terrible threat he has on his hands. It seems that every layer that is pulled back on the story unearths even more vital danger, and the film becomes a rollar coaster ride of suspense, just because of how much knowledge is unearthed.

The director Richard Donner constantly keeps things moving, and gives many of the sequences an extremely dramatic feel, especially several of the murder sequences (of which there are a number of), which wreak of slow-mo shots, quick editing, and Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score, which features angelic choirs underscoring the satanic overtones on the screen and builds up the right amount of adrenalin and shock value for the audience. Yes, they're overdone, but it works just right for this film, which is basically an overdone version of the nastier parts of the Holy Scriptures.

Essentially, this is an intelligent film. It knows that many of the audience members are probably aquainted with the inner workings of the bible, and how much of Revelations is used to scare us from sinning, and it knows exactly how to prey on this general fear. It reads several of the passages, and deciphers them literally, often pointing out that many of the things that Revelations talks of has probably already happened. For anyone who is either a regular churchgoer or was forced to go (like me), this is especially scary because if Christians actually believe what they worship, this is something that could really happen.

For others, it's just a really fun horror film, filled with joyously manipulative undertones of Christian fear that we may or may not believe in. But even if we're not scared by it all and just feel cheated by it, we can always recognize the underlying intelligence this film has, in that the character Damien is unaware of his evil powers, at least in this installment of the "Omen" trilogy. If the trilogy had expanded on some of the ideas that were postulated by this film, it could have come off as a cross between a slasher film and a reverse version of Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," which postulated that Jesus may have been just a man who found out he had a terrible burden. What if Damien is the same way? What if he's generally evil, like the way Jesus was generally good, but he discovers that he's going to bring about the end of the world and people are trying to kill him left and right? Now there's an idea for a movie. But as far as this film is concerned, it's entertaining and scary enough to pass for now.

MY RATING (out of 4): ***

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