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February 19, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #7 - The Omen

One of the first old-school horror movies I encountered in my teen years was The Omen, a recommendation from my Aunt Kelly who knew that my sister and I were always searching for more "scary" movies. Around that time the film was nearing its 20th anniversary, which wasn't a big deal to me - I'd spent my grade school years watching black-and-white horrors and had already declared the (then) 40-year-old thriller Rear Window to be perhaps my favorite movie (it still is). The film struck me as fresh, original, and engaging despite its age (and the age of its star, Gregory Peck, in one of his final leading roles), and I'm glad to say that it still holds that power today.

Billed as the third film in "The Unholy Trilogy" (alongside Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist) by horror buffs, The Omen introduces us to Robert Thorn (Peck) on a morning in which he's rushing to the hospital as his wife is giving birth. As he arrives he's informed that the child has passed, but that there's a special prize behind Door #2 - a newborn boy whose mother has died and can be theirs for the taking. I'm assuming Thorn didn't want to disappoint his younger wife Kathy (Lee Remick), as he chose the latter and we're then introduced to their new son, Damien.

The gift of montage moves us ahead five years, and we find that Robert is moving up in the world of politics. Damien, aside from an incident of wandering off alone and a friendship with big scary dogs, seems to be growing up to be a normal young boy. That is, until his fifth birthday party when his nanny makes a grand proclamation - "It's all for you Damien." - right before hanging herself in front of the entire party.

From that point forward, things go differently. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock, arrives unannounced, and seems to hit it off with Damien from the start - even predicting that Damien probably won't enjoy a trip to church. Kathy begins to notice strange behaviors from Damien that are designed to torment her, as well as a few scary occurrences like a trip to the zoo that ends in their car being attacked by baboons. Meanwhile, Robert is approached by a determined priest (Patrick Troughton, giving a fantastic little performance) and a photographer (the always welcome David Warner) who seem to be concerned about Damien's impact on others.
As the film moves forward, it becomes evident that the "it" which Damien's first nanny referred to in her last moments is the world...and that Damien is possibly the son of Satan himself. This is the type of plot that could easily become cheesy or unbelievable, but The Omen, thanks to a strong sense of direction by Richard Donner and an excellent script by David Seltzer, stays conceivable throughout. A lot of the power comes from excellent performances by Peck and Trouhgton, especially when Troughton delivers this ominous warning -

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.
Pitting man against his brother, 'til man exists no more.

- which is later deciphered by the photographer to refer to the events that occured five years earlier on the morning of June 6 - the time at which Damien was born.

The Omen is probably the least impressive member of the Unholy Trilogy from a technical standpoint, aside from Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar winning music. But what it lacks in flair it makes up for with an omnipresent sense of dread that surrounds Damien and the things he and his minions might be possible of. Young Harvey Stephens has the thankless task of portraying the Antichrist, but the film does everything it can to help make him seem a threat by teaming him with Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw, giving another great performance) and a demonic rottweiler that protect his best (or would they be worst?) interests.

It's been more than fifteen years since that excellent Aunt sent a copy of the movie my way, but The Omen continues to be one of my favorite horror films thanks to the thought-provoking story, an incredible sense of dread, and a memorable and haunting villain. Now that the film's nearing 40 and has had a failed remake (with one of my favorite actors, Liev Schreiber, in the lead), it's still as powerful as it's ever been - and is a no-brainer for me to add to the Midnight Movie of the Week roll-call.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

1 comment:

MadMan said...

Even though Rosemary's Baby is better, The Omen is fantastic. Creepy, well crafted....and overall awesome. Love the deaths, especially the decaptation scene, which is over the top but also quite shocking. I haven't viewed The Exorcist yet, though. Kudos on the review.