Skip to content

CLASSICS: The Omen (1976)

October 30, 2013

written by: David Seltzer

produced by: Harvey Bernhard

directed by: Richard Donner

rating:  R

runtime:  111 min.

U.S. release date:  June 25, 1976 

DVD/Blu-ray release date:  September 5, 2000


So let’s go big picture here, real big picture. For everything good going on, there has to be an equal and opposite bad thing going on, right? Basically any movie ever has dealt with that concept on some level — however big, however small — but at its biggest there is good (God) and bad/evil (Satan). Personal beliefs, convictions, principles aside, that is the most epic struggle of all and the setting for the classic 1976 horror film “The Omen”.

The U.S. ambassador to England, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife, Katharine (Lee Remick), are welcoming their first child when Robert is told the newborn died soon after delivery. Another baby was born at the same time, its mother with no family dying in childbirth. The staff tells Robert he can keep the baby, and he agrees, knowing the strain might be too much for his wife to handle. He doesn’t tell her, and the family is a happy one as the years go by. Now five years old, their son Damien (Harvey Stephens) seems to have weird, unexplainable things happening around him. A frazzled priest approaches Robert with horrific, life-shattering news. He believes Damien is the son of the Devil, the Antichrist, and he must be stopped. Robert can’t believe it. How could this little boy be evil? Could he?

This is an exception to the rule when it comes to horror movies. Directed by Richard Donner, “Omen” isn’t interested in surprise or “Gotcha!” moments. This is a smart, well-written and well-thought out horror-mystery-thriller. It isn’t scary in the way some horror movies are. Instead, it is decidedly unsettling. It makes you uncomfortable, and that can be scarier than anything. Serial killers, murderers, rapists? All immensely creepy. But what about something you can’t combat? How do you stop something or someone that is inherently evil? You can’t beat evil, can’t negotiate with it. You just hope to slow it down. Donner’s movie is one of the all-time greats at making an audience uncomfortable, an unseen and possibly all-powerful opponent that will not be stopped.




Now usually when a musical score is really good, I try and give it a mention in a sentence or two. I’m not much for explaining how musical cues affect audiences even though I try. For this movie though, I’ve got to make an effort. In a long and distinguished career, composer Jerry Goldsmith won his first and only Oscar for his ‘Omen’ score and did he ever deserve it. The main theme — Ave Satani which you can listen to HERE — is a choir singing in Latin, sounding like some sort of demonic cult. It sends chills up my back just thinking about it. The other main piece of music is a quieter but equally creepy sample, one that is supposed to put a question in your head, setting the groundwork for the chilling moments to come. Goldsmith had a lot of great scores through his career, but this may be the best.

When I think horror movies, I don’t think of great acting performances. And to be fair, the performances in ‘Omen’ aren’t great. They’re good at what they’re supposed to do, and it’s always cool to see some big name actors take parts in a genre you wouldn’t often associate them with. Take Gregory Peck for example, one of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Now 60 years old when ‘Omen’ was made, Peck delivers an underrated performance, a possibly rising politician who finds himself involved in something much bigger than he could have ever anticipated. His disbelief, his wavering over what to do, his worries about his family, Peck does a great job, as does Remick as the emotionally fragile Katharine. Clues point to their son being different, but in what way? He couldn’t really be evil, could he?




With the story focusing mostly on the Thorns, only a few supporting parts are even needed.  David Warner is very good as Keith Jennings, a photographer who gets involved with Robert investigating these strange occurrences. His photos taken of all those involved might reveal something darker of what’s to come. Billie Whitelaw is downright terrifying as Mrs. Baylock, Damien’s new nanny after the previous one….well, the Thorns just needed another one. That’s all. Whitelaw has a look in her eyes that just can’t be described, pure evil if you ask me. Patrick Troughton plays Father Brennan, a priest with the most checkered of pasts now trying to redeem himself, telling Robert that he believes his son is the son of the Devil.

A horror movie has to have its memorable moments, and ‘Omen’ has plenty of them. I won’t go into detail describing them because that would ruin much of the movie’s enjoyment. All of them pale to the last 10 minutes of the movie, specifically the final two scenes, shocking and surprising in a way that is hard to describe. The final shot? One of the most perfect endings to a movie ever. One of the all-time best horror movies ever. Enough said.




RATING: ****





Keeping It Reel CLASSICS is a feature that showcases movies that we deem as simply, classics.  Old or new, they somehow resonate and stand out in our cinematic memory. We invite you to discover them yourselves, again or for the first time. Others (listed below) can be found be typing in CLASSIC in the subject box in the top right.
I’m Not There (2007)
Casino Royale (2006)
Once (2007)                                                                          
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Fountain (2006)
The Orphanage (2007)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Predator (1987)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Departed (2006)
Rachel Getting Married (2008)




No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: