The Omen (1976)

6 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Omen” is thought of as one of the best horror films ever made and it does have quite a few chilling moments, as well as an unsettling story idea. It imagines the arrival of the Antichrist. Read the Bible and you’ll know about the notion that someday, as the spawn of Satan, the Antichrist will rise to power and bring about the End Times. “The Omen” doesn’t tell that story. It tells the story of a married couple who learn that their adopted child is the Antichrist.

The couple—U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick)—has lost a child shortly after birth. They substitute it for an orphan baby whose mother died the same night. They name the child Damien and raise him as their own. But around the time of Damien’s fifth birthday, mysterious things start to happen. At his birthday party, the boy’s nanny hangs herself (while smiling and saying, “It’s all for you,” if you can believe it). When his parents bring him to church for the first time, he screams and acts violently before they take him inside. Baboons attack the boy and Katherine while they’re inside their car, at the zoo. Many people die around Damien, including a priest who has warned Robert that something is not right with Damien. And a big, snarling black dog hangs around the house, and is eventually brought to stay inside by the new governess Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), who while the parents aren’t around comforts Damien by saying she’s here to protect him. Damien is responsible for an incident that causes pregnant Katherine to have a miscarriage. And more.

Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) starts investigating these events after noticing a few strange things about the pictures he took of the people who died. These pictures somehow predicted how they died and Robert and Katherine could be next, as well as himself. With Katherine in the hospital, Keith lets Robert in on the discovery and they are led on a series of discoveries, each of them furthering the conclusion that little Damien is indeed evil incarnate.

“The Omen” could technically also be called “Omens,” since there is more than one clear sign in plain sight throughout this movie—the obvious early stage of the Antichrist’s human form, the pictures that predict many deaths to come, and the further looking-into of the biblical prophecy, with a comet returning, the Jews coming back to Zion, and what about the Roman Empire? “That would be the European Common Market,” Robert realizes. Oh, and there’s also the number 666 that is Damien’s birthmark, as well as the infamous Number of the Beast. And of course, since Robert is a powerful man and has connections with the President, Damien could undoubtedly follow through. We can see in the end of the movie that there’s no escaping this prophecy.

Just imagine if your kid was Damien and you knew that he will grow up to do all of these horrible things once he comes into power over the country and even the world. What would you do in that situation? What would you feel? If you knew you had to kill your own child so that it doesn’t happen, would you? That’s a pretty heavy subject, and “The Omen” uses its final act to play with that idea. It’s always a chilling idea when characters get the notion to act out certain deeds now because of what they’re afraid will happen later, but this time there’s actually a legitimate. fearful reason.

I mentioned that “The Omen” does have its creepy parts. Here are a few in particular—the dog is very intimidating, the scene in which the first nanny commits suicide is unnervingly calm, the gruesome deaths are suitably horrific, the cemetery that Robert and Keith explore to find more answers is atmospherically creepy, and Billie Whitelaw, as Mrs. Baylock, brings a great sense of unease to her performance as Damien’s personal bodyguard. And the music! The sinister, choral “Ave Satani” theme, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is one of the most unsettling movie music scores I’ve ever heard.

Aside from Whitelaw and David Warner who does a good job at mixing curiosity with fear, the acting is pretty much a blank slate. I’m sorry to criticize Gregory Peck’s leading performance, as he is such a powerful actor. But the truth is, as Robert, he’s flat, unconvincing, and probably bored—he always looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. Lee Remick doesn’t have much to show for her role, except for a few legitimate reaction shots. And the kid Harvey Stephens…well, I’ll let him slide because he is a kid and hey, at least he sells that “devilish” blank stare.

“The Omen” is a chilling, atmospheric horror movie that uses the biblical prophecy and insane ideas for some well-executed frightening moments.

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