The Omen

The Omen is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Omen (1976)

“Robert (Gregory Peck) and Katherine (Lee Remick) Thorn raise a boy, Damien (Harvey Stephens), in place of their stillborn infant, and all is well until it is foretold that Damien is the spawn of the devil. Soon, Robert is pitted against the forces of Hell and must make a fateful decision. Richard Donner directs; Billie Whitelaw, David Warner, Patrick Troughton and Martin Benson co-star in this classic scary tale.”

When the Jews return to Zion, and a comet rips the sky, and the Holy Roman Empire rises, then you and I must die. From the eternal sea he rises, creating armies on either shore,  turning man against his brother ’til man exists no more.”

Yes Virginia there was a brief, shining time when horror movies could win an Oscar. After the success and credibility of Rosemary’s Baby (1969) and The Exorcist (1973), Hollywood realized that horror was a legitimate art form, at least if children were evil. What could be more evil than the coming of the Antichrist?

The Omen begins with Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score playing over the credits. It won an Oscar and Goldsmith was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. The bone-chilling “Ave Satani” lost to “Evergreen” from A Star is Born. The score was essentially reused, again to great effect, in the sequel.

Gregory Peck is a great classic leading man and performs well here as diplomat Robert Thorn, anchoring the picture. Lee Remick is good as his fragile wife, Katherine. One of my favorite character actors, David Warner is smarmy but subdued here as Jennings, an investigative reporter. Billie Whitelaw is the creepy governess Mrs. Baylock.

The film does hinge on Harvey Stephens giving a believable performance as a child who may, or may not, be the Antichrist. Richard Donner was able to trick Stephens into a very nice performance. Stephens never appeared in another theatrical film until a cameo role in the remake as a tabloid reporter.

The Omen has a number of very memorable set pieces. The baboon attack is brief but impressive – check out the real fear on Lee Remick’s face. The attack on Katherine is surreal. Good use is made of locations in London, Rome, and Jerusalem. All of the deaths are wonderfully staged and I loved the photographic gimmick.

People Watch: Wonderful British actor Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey) has a small uncredited role as the archaeologist Bugenhagen. Producer Harvey Bernhard is ‘man walking across street’ in a cameo role.

Sequel-itis: The Omen begat Damien: Omen II (1978), which, while being a sequel, simply followed the blueprint of the original. It also strangely rewrites the ending of The Omen. Gregory Peck is replaced by William Holden (who had turned down Peck’s part in the original). Lee Grant replaces Lee Remick. Look for a young Lance Henriksen as Sergeant Neff.

Continuing the series downward slide, 1981 brought Omen III: The Final Conflict. Sam Neill has a lot of fun as the Antichrist and Rossano Brazzi is good but there is not much else to recommend it.

Milking the franchise for all its worth, there was a made-for-television movie in 1991. Omen IV: The Awakening. It would have slipped into oblivion had the producers not packaged it with the others in a box set. It would be like including the Casablanca television series on the Casablanca blu-ray.

Remake-itis: The Omen was remade in 2006. Director John Moore is no Richard Donner and Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles are no Gregory Peck and Lee Remick but Mia Farrow also made for a creepy Mrs. Baylock. The movie wasn’t bad – just pointless.