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|4 reviews in total|
The Omen is a truly accomplished work, brilliantly conceptualised and delivered and, in 1976, released to a world that was still susceptible to all things Satanic, coming on the back of such epics as Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Indeed, The Omen represents the peak of this thematic era and has never been bettered. It is a film that works well on so many levels, taking a fantastical storyline - based around the child of a woman impregnated by a jackal - and yet somehow making it seem plausible. This is achieved through a combination of dynamics, foremost among which is the homework carried out by the writer, David Seltzer, in seeking to fulfil the apocalyptic prophecies of the New Testament Book of Revelations (principally the emergence of the Anti-Christ) through a twentieth century cinematic medium. Added to this, is the wonderful cast drafted in to imbue the scenario with credence. The film makers could scarcely believe their luck in securing the services of Gregory Peck in the lead role of Ambassador Robert Thorn, one of the most iconic stars of mainstream cinema, known for being choosy about the roles in which he would deign to appear, yet consenting to completely depart from the mainstream in this capacity, presumably because he too was inspired by the script and its potential. Marlon Brando once famously described Peck as 'wooden'. Reserved, perhaps, certainly steadfast and un-excitable, but either way - ideal for this part, serving as a well-balanced, level-headed, sensible diplomat, not at all disposed to the realms of fantasy, yet who is progressively forced to accept that he is nurturing the son of Satan due to the compelling sequence of events that unhappily befall him. Then there are the wonderful supporting acting abilities of Lee Remick - the woman he loves and so passionately strives to protect; David Warner - the photographer who pieces the mystery together, helping to persuade Thorn of the reality of his situation by coolly and clinically presenting the evidence; Patrick Troughton, who delivers possibly his greatest performance as the guilt-ridden priest; Billie Whitelaw as the truly creepy nanny - 'an apostate of Satan'; and - of course - the young Harvey Stephens, as the child, Damien, famously smiling among the tombstones at the end of the film, as all around him who have tried to thwart his diabolical destiny have been returned to dust. But above all, the film works simply because it grips the viewer on a psychological level, the intrigue maintained by excellent plot development and pacing, beautiful camera work and an unforgettable musical score throughout by Jerry Goldsmith.
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In this thought-provoking film, Eli Roth cleverly uses a polarization of human emotional extremes, as though it were something from Dante's inferno: for here we have three back-packers, Americans Paxton and Josh, joined on their rounds by Icelandic clown, Oli, all in pursuit of hedonistic sensual delights, yet concluding their wanderings in an unimaginable living hell. From one end of the spectrum we go, seeing the young males initially enabled to live out their wildest sexual fantasies, to spewing vomit as they plead to their captors for mercy in the face of drills and chainsaws. Its powerful stuff. The film is also highly atmospheric, particularly in the underworld dungeon scenes, when one can almost smell the detergent that is being sprayed against the the ensanguined walls in the aftermath of slaughter. Possibly the main factor which rather lets this movie down is the film's failure to fully exploit the link between sado-masochism and sexual gratification. Imagine the impact of the American sadist engaging in an act of forced penetrative sex with his oriental victim as he removed her eye from its socket, or the German chainsaw sadist perhaps indulging in an act of masturbation as he set about his butchery (though admittedly, this is hinted at by some of his facial expressions). Nonetheless, a movie that is once seen, never forgotten.
More than thirty years on, The Exorcist remains a very powerful film and was a cinematographic milestone in 1973. Repeated duplication of the genre has, no doubt, 'desensitized' a new generation of movie-watchers, though it remains an unnerving masterpiece. It is not difficult to understand why the film generated such a seismic global impact all those years ago, since it imposed an unprecedented sensory attack on the viewer. Regan's vile physical appearance, combined with her vile language and blasphemous diatribe sent a shock wave around the world. Moreover, many people seemed to believe the claims that the film was based on a true story and could therefore actually happen to them. Electricity consumption must have soared for several months in 1973 as people who had seen the film slept with their lights on! It is still not a film I would feel comfortable watching before going to bed. On another level, I found parts of it profoundly moving and actually cried at the end when Regan was finally released from her possessor and wept in the arms of her mother and Father Damien, having lunged himself through a window and down a precipitous flight of steps, managed to find just enough life in himself to indicate that he had retained his faith and repented of his sins by motioning his fingers in the sign of penitence when comforted by a distraught colleague. Possibly the only thing that lets the film down if one really sits and thinks about it is the underpinning concept that an ancient demon which had existed since the dawn of time should wish to possess the body of a twelve year old child and emit a string of juvenile profanities. But then the film was designed to shock all along!
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Writers of Horror cinematography seem generally to have deemed 'Scars of Dracula' to be the poorest offering in the Hammer/Lee Dracula catalogue (1958-73), based chiefly on a lack of originality. I would disagree and whilst the film may have more flaws than most Hammer films in terms of not so special effects, it has considerable merit and, in my view, a good deal of originality. Firstly, one is struck by the peculiar physiognomy of Lee - his face drawn and ashen, almost as though he has been drained of blood, and definitely looking more like one of the undead than in previous films. In tandem with this new image, Lee carries out unprecedented acts of violence: in one maniacal scene, repeatedly stabbing one of his female cohorts with frenzied aggression when he discovers her in bed with an equally doomed guest, and in another scene, sadistically branding his man-servant (Patrick Troughton/Klove) across the back with a glowing sword, drawn from hot coals. In another scene, we find the previously mentioned guest hung like a piece of meat on a hook, which impales his chest. Such violent visuals do not, of course, necessarily add merit to the film (and Christopher Lee later commented that he deplored the violent contents of this particular sequel), but again represent an unprecedented aspect of the Dracula perennials. Possibly the most original and pleasing merit of the film is the location of Dracula's sleeping chamber and the way in which only he can access it. The chamber is set high up in the castle and can only be accessed by a window overlooking an abyss, hundreds of feet above the ground. This literally is the only access, as inside we find that there are no internal doors - only walls of stone. Drawing inspiration from the original Stoker novel, we come to see how Dracula comes and goes from his chamber, as at nightfall he emerges from the window and defies all the laws of physics by crawling up the wall to a window above. Marvellous. There is also an interesting addition where we find Dracula to have developed an ingenious defence mechanism to prevent him being staked while he slumbers. Though his eyes remain closed, the lids are superimposed by glowing red eyes which, understandably, startle and ward off the would-be 'staker'. As said, the film does have its flaws, not least in that it contains more than its fair share of Hammer hum-drum (Carpathian landlords with Cornish accents type-of-thing) and visually there is much to evoke laughter rather than fear. Rubber bats proliferate the film from start to end and the shoe-string sets also inhibit proceedings. There is one point when the 'solid stone' wall of Dracula's sleeping chamber containing the window wobbles momentarily as an intruder (who has managed to gain ingress by means of a bed-curtain hung from the window above) rushes to it, on seeing the curtain being pulled back up. And, though we are given an original demise for the Count, as he bursts into flames whilst holding an iron rail when it is struck by lightening, this sequence is itself shot down in flames as we see that the figure besieged by the inferno is clearly not Christopher Lee, but a masked stuntman. But then it is goofs like this which elicit such affection among Hammer aficionados. This film is well-deserving of a place in a horror film collection and though not great, it does have aspects which make it good.