The Omen is a 1976 supernatural horror film directed by Richard Donner, and written by David Seltzer. The film stars Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, and Leo McKern. The first installment of The Omen franchise, The Omen concerns a young child replaced at birth by American Ambassador Robert Thorn (Peck) unbeknownst to his wife (Remick), after their own son was murdered at the hospital, enabling the son of Satan to grow up with wealth and power. They are surrounded by mysterious and ominous deaths, unaware that the child, Damien, is the Antichrist.
Released theatrically by 20th Century Fox in June 1976, The Omen received acclaim from critics and was a commercial success, grossing over $60 million at the box office and becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1976. The film earned two Oscar nominations, and won for Best Original Score for Jerry Goldsmith, his only Oscar win. A scene from the film appeared at #16 on Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The film spawned a franchise, starting with Damien: Omen II, released two years later, followed by a third installment, Omen III: The Final Conflict, in 1981, and in 1991 with Omen IV: The Awakening. A remake was released in 2006.
In Rome, American diplomat Robert Thorn is in a hospital where his wife Katherine gives birth to a boy, who—he is told—dies. Moments later Robert is informed of a plan by the hospital chaplain, Father Spiletto, to secretly adopt an orphan whose mother died giving birth to him. Robert agrees, but does not reveal to his wife that the child is not theirs. They name the child Damien.
Later Robert is appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Not long afterwards mysterious events plague the Thorns: A large Rottweiler dog appears near the Thorn home; Damien’s nanny publicly hangs herself at his fifth birthday party; a new nanny, Mrs. Baylock, arrives unannounced to replace her; the five-year old Damien violently resists entering a church; and zoo animals are terrified of Damien. Katherine becomes increasingly afraid of Damien and distances herself from him.
Father Brennan, a Catholic priest, tries to warn the Ambassador about Damien’s mysterious origins, hinting that he is not human. The priest later tells Robert that Katherine is pregnant and that Damien will prevent her from having the child. Afterward, Brennan is impaled and killed by a lightning rod thrown from the roof of a church during a sudden storm. Katherine tells Robert that she is pregnant and wants an abortion.
Learning of Father Brennan’s death, photographer Keith Jennings begins investigating Damien. He notices shadows in photographs of the nanny and of Father Brennan that seem to presage their bizarre deaths. A photo of Keith himself shows the same shadow. Keith shows Robert the photos and tells him he also believes that Damien is a threat and that he wants to help Robert. While Robert is away, Damien knocks Katherine over an upstairs railing to the floor below, causing her to miscarry.
Keith and Robert travel to Rome to investigate Damien’s birth. They learn that a fire destroyed the hospital records and the maternity and nursery wards five years earlier; most of the staff on duty died in the fire. Robert and Keith trace Father Spiletto to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Subiaco, where he is recuperating from his injuries. Stricken mute, blind in his right eye and paralyzed in his right arm, Spiletto writes the name of an ancient Etruscan cemetery in Cerveteri, where Damien’s biological mother is buried. Robert and Keith find a jackal carcass in the grave, and in the grave next to it, a child’s skeleton with a shattered skull. These are Damien’s unnatural “mother” and the remains of the Thorns’ own child, murdered at birth so that Damien could take his place. Keith reiterates Father Brennan’s belief that Damien is the Antichrist, whose coming is being supported by a conspiracy of Satanists. A pack of wild Rottweiler dogs drive Robert and Keith out of the cemetery. Robert calls Katherine and tells her she must leave London. He says their friend Tom will arrive shortly to pick her up and take her to the airport to fly to Rome. Katherine, sensing how serious Robert is, agrees.
As Katherine struggles to change her clothes with her large humerus cast, she hears someone behind her. She turns to see Mrs. Baylock, who then pushes Katherine out the window to her death, crashing through the roof of a parked ambulance. Robert and Keith travel to Israel to find Carl Bugenhagen, an archaeologist and expert on the Antichrist. Bugenhagen explains that if Damien is the Antichrist he will possess a birthmark in the shape of three sixes, under his hair if nowhere else. Robert learns that the only way to kill the Antichrist is with seven mystical daggers from Megiddo. Appalled by the idea of murdering a child, Robert discards the daggers. When Keith tries to retrieve them, he is decapitated by a sheet of window glass sliding off a truck, matching the shadow across his neck which had presaged his death.
Returning home, Robert examines Damien for the birthmark, finding it on the child’s scalp. Mrs. Baylock attacks him and, in the ensuing struggle, Robert kills her. He loads Damien and the daggers into a car and drives to the nearest church. Due to his erratic driving, he is followed by the police. Robert drags the screaming child to the altar and lays him down. The child pleads with his father to stop, but Robert raises the first dagger and asks God to forgive him, just as the police arrive. The officer orders Robert to put down the dagger or else he will shoot. Robert looks at them, then begins to plunge the dagger towards Damien, upon which the officer fires his gun.
The double funeral of Katherine and Robert is attended by the President of the United States. A smiling Damien is then revealed, standing beside them. Just before the credits roll, Revelation 13:18 appears: “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”.
My Personal Thoughts
I’ve never really been a religious person. I know, I’m an ordained minister and I’m not a religious person, fancy that contradiction eh? At any rate, this does have a point so please bear with me, but when it comes to popular culture I more often than not don’t really find myself giving a damn about it when its prime claim to fame is that it bases itself on religious doctrine. Sorry, but The Da Vinci Code is something I couldn’t give a damn about. So, when it comes to religious horror, how exactly do I stand?
Well, let me put it this way. If it’s a good horror movie, to begin with, I will watch it and enjoy it, because that’s all it’s based around. If however it gets its primary fears from the threat of damnation and preying upon the religious beliefs of its viewing audience, then it goes on the list of things I couldn’t give a damn about.
So, now with that long and plodding introduction out of the way, I’d like to come around to talking about the 1976 classic, The Omen. Although it’s a movie that has a lot of its roots based in Catholicism, it is still quite scary on its own right and maintains some of the most jarring imagery in horror history which makes it a classic by any definition of the word.
June 6th, 6 a.m., Rome, Italy. American ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) rushes to the hospital with the news that his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) is in labor. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches the hospital he finds out that his child died during the birthing process. everything seems to be going fabulously for the new happy family, and nothing could bring them down.
Until Damien’s fifth birthday that is. As Damien and his family are having a wonderful time at the party, a mysterious black dog watches from the fringe. Looking at the strange animal, Damien’s nanny seemingly becomes entranced, disappearing into the house and soon reappearing standing on the roof. With a smile on her face, she cries out for Damien to look at her, and that everything is his. She then violently hangs herself, smashing through a window as her lifeless body blows in the breeze.
What seems to be an isolated incident escalates into a series of strange events and mysterious, increasingly violent and lethal accidents. With the help of photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner), Robert is determined to seek out the truth about his son, and determine whether or not the prophecies are true and that Damien is none other than the antichrist. The only question is, can he stop Damien in time to save the world?
Directed by veteran action director Richard Donner, The Omen is a movie that knows how to maintain a great pace. Stylistically it never slows down, keeping at an almost breakneck pace creates as much terror as it does from its wonderful scare moments. This keeps the film not only grounded but accessible to most everyone watching it.
Bringing it into a level of the class far above many of its horror contemporaries are a top-notch cast including such great actors as Gregory Peck, Billie Whitelaw, Lee Remick, David Warner and Harvey Stephens as the young Damien.
Still, great and creepy an actor though the kid may be, the film is brought to a completely different level with the addition of Gregory Peck as the protagonist Robert Thorn. Peck has always been one of my favorite actors since seeing him in To Kill a Mockingbird, so to see him in a horror film I’ll admit to a bit of confusion at first. Then seeing him playing this role of a powerful husband and father looking to hold everything together, it all makes sense as he brings a sense of style and class to what could have otherwise been another macho middle-aged American guy sort of role. All around this film maintains a very top-notch cast.
The manifestations of Damien’s evil also deserve mention, because as of the time of the film nothing really had been seen as them. The imagery is startling, brutal and extremely violent, be it the baboon attack, the hanging, the lightning rod, or the films notorious plate-glass decapitation. The accidents that occur as manifestations of Damiens self-defense mechanism were definite precursors to the Final Destination series, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they are quite gruesome and ahead of their time I the 70’s. Jerry Goldsmiths iconic orchestral score only helps push these manifestations of evil over the top, giving them power and lasting resonance (and perhaps a sense of fear the next time you hear a choir chanting ominously in Latin; then again, when’s the last time that’s been a good thing?)
Religious though its origins may be, The Omen gets its horror from traditional and excellently executed scares, pushed over the top by wonderful performances from a great cast. Truly a classic, so let us hope the remake gets it right.
I will rate this movie 10/10.
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Produced by||Harvey Bernhard|
|Written by||David Seltzer|
|Starring||Gregory Peck Lee Remick David Warner Billie Whitelaw|
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Edited by||Stuart Baird|
|Mace Neufeld Productions|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date||June 6, 1976 (UK) June 25, 1976 (US)|
|Running time||111 minutes|
|Country||United Kingdom United States|
|Box office||$60.9 million|