“These are knives. He wants me to stab him! He wants me to murder a child,” says Robert Thorn. Keith Jennings responds, “It’s not a child.” Thorn replies, “How can he know that? Maybe he’s wrong. It’s insane. I won’t have anything to do with murdering a little boy. He’s not responsible. I won’t do it!”
20th Century Fox’s The Omen was an important film in many ways. It served as Richard Donner’s breakthrough film as a director (after three duds) and first real hit (not to mention that it helped him land the job of directing the two-part Superman film that eventually starred Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel), won composer Jerry Goldsmith his only Academy Award (in a career that saw him receive 18 total Oscar nominations), and launched a film franchise (two theatrical sequels along with a third sequel for TV, a 2006 theatrical remake, and a TV series remake). I had seen the film several times on DVD and Blu-ray, but I didn’t get to see Donner’s The Omen on the big screen until five years ago at the Chelsea Cinemas as part of their Thursday night Chelsea Classics series. It was such a joy to finally experience this horror classic on the big screen!
1976’s The Omen follows an American ambassador to England who, along with his family, becomes surrounded by mysterious and bizarre deaths, and, after certain facts come to light, they begin to question whether or not their young child is the Antichrist. Donner brought together a terrific cast that included Gregory Peck (as Robert Thorn), Lee Remick (as Katherine Thorn), David Warner (as Keith Jennings), Billie Whitelaw (as Mrs. Baylock), Harvey Stephens (as Damien Thorn), Patrick Troughton (as Father Brennan), Martin Benson (as Father Spiletto), Leo McKern (as Carl Bugenhagen), and Holly Palance (as Holly the Nanny). Peck gives a commanding performance as the American ambassador who must acknowledge and uncover the truth about his adopted son while the people around him suffer unusual deaths. Remick is warm and loving as the ambassador’s unsuspecting wife who isn’t aware of her son’s true origins. Warner is excellent as the photographer who joins the ambassador in his quest after he discovers his life may be in danger as well. Whitelaw is innocent-looking and menacing as the nanny who may or may not serve the devil (a sort of anti-Mary Poppins). Stephens is unsuspecting as the child who may or may not be the Antichrist.
Donner’s strong direction draws amazing performances from the cast and has all of the deaths that occur staged in a way that they could potentially not be the work of Damien (the timing of the deaths could just be coincidental or not). The screenplay by David Seltzer presents a twist on cinematic Antichrist narratives, and Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography reflects the tone of the film. Carmen Dillon’s production design makes great use of real life locations, and Stuart Baird’s editing moves the film at a good pace, slowly raising the tension. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a classic, Oscar-winning score that delivers thrills and romance, dominated by a tender Thorn family theme as well as a strong chorus that places an emphasis on foreboding Latin chants (the main choral song “Ave Satani” was also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song). Donner’s The Omen is an Oscar-winning horror classic that features standout performances, a memorable score, and has become engrained in pop culture. Its approach as a psychological thriller rather than a supernatural one also separates it from the pack of other supernatural thrillers from the period. And finally, don’t even bother watching the remake, which seemed to be nothing more than a cash grab designed to take advantage of having a June 6, 2006 release date (6/6/06, get it?). Do yourself a favor and stick with the original and still the best Omen film.