The Omen (1976): Celebrating 40 Years of the Antichrist – By Baron Craze

 

On June 25, the celebration will commence for the honoring the release of The Omen, that had major impact invoking in the viewers the sheer terror embodiment of evil and hate, from one special little child name Damien. The name, Damien, to this day, results in sinister grins, and parents checking under the hairline for three conjoined sixes, as the birthmark of the Devil himself. However, for the film, it had numerous issues, namely first many writers refused the project, flat out due the description and their beliefs, likely the same grouping from The Exorcist (1973). The acquisition of the director, and the man chosen for the job, had only helmed episodes The Six Million Dollar Man and other television dramas, none other than Richard Donner, who later went to have a stellar career namely filming the Lethal Weapon franchise.  Now 40-years later, the movie still holds its firm position, especially over the lesser and critically inferior remake, as this flick developed believable demons attacking a supposedly innocent family while instilling psychological fear and terror all surrounding one villain. A child spawned of a jackal, the director, cast and crew surround by a magnificent Oscar willing score from composer Jerry Goldsmith (passed on in 2004), came together to summon and fantastic eerie and creative movie. A must see for any horror fan definitely not a letdown!

For those unaware of the plot simply understand, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), learns one night complications in childbirth lead to the death of his newborn child, a fact untold to his wife Katherine (Lee Remick), the struggles of heartache agrees to adopt a child and pass it off as his own.  Shortly afterward, Thorn becomes the ambassador to Great Britain and Damien grows into joyous happy young boy (Harvey Stephens). All is well through Damien’s early years, a happy family, continuing a leisurely pace, but one action unleashes the trigger for unholy terror exponentially crashing down around the Thorn family. First, the nanny hangs herself during Damien’s birthday party, with first of many stellar death scenes. Then in steps a mysterious nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), of which some of her mannerism mirrored Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz (1939)). Nevertheless, Billie Whitelaw’s portrayal stands wonderfully independent, and as guardian, for Damien delivers a chilling performance still affecting audiences today. Even a cute pooch comes to stay with Damien, after all, every growing boy needs a doggy by his side to comfort, aide, and defend him. Robert continues to learn that Damien is actually bearing the Mark of the Beast: 666 under his hairline, pits a father against the forces of Hell, make a fateful choice, a life of an innocent child, who may doom for all of humanity in the future or his own soul. Parents always say they’ll do anything to protect their children, what about protecting society or their soul and wife’s life, all of it preys on his own sanity. Hencing positing the question indirectly to the audience, are these merely a series of random accidents or much deeper a meaning of Satan’s attempt for the downfall of man. The mysterious deaths begin to pile Robert and a photographer Jennings (David Warner), who acts together as Butch and Sundance, in their series of travels discovering the secrets of Damien’s demonic existence masked by innocence.

As for the casting, first the finding of Damien seem if heavenly forces prevented the location of the talent, then Stephens enter the audition given a stubborn performance, even kicking some of the adults. Damien found, and the child gave a remarkable devilish portrayal understanding the facial expression extremely well.  David Warner, a constant standard bearing for horror films with over 49 credits amongst them alone, his resume dedicates and uncanny ability of exquisite style and tone, all nicely presented with the character. Gregory Peck presents performances of his legendary career but not without a struggle, he refused the genre of horror, and needed convincing that it was family in turmoil with a father questioning his sanity and layers of psychological thrilling scenes. It all worked, and he signed on for the project, though adding a bit of footnote, Gregory lost his son to suicide in 1975, and afflicted with the guilt of consent absence while making movies, about failing family dynamics and son needing his father, gave him more insensitive. The body count in the film grows more elaborate as the movie races onward and picks the tempo and suspension pacing nicely. However, the death of Jennings still reigns supreme perhaps of all cinemas, though that might seem a bit much, the [spoiler] was Donner toying with the viewers, regardless of their attempts to avoid the hideous scene, they could not, nor ever succeeds. For that, he made sure the rotating head made the circular rotations all in a dreadful wonderful slow-motion sequence ricocheting off the glass. The impact of this film triumphantly maintains their importance and bloodshed to the maximum levels, along with a soundtrack, which echoes out from orchestras to haunted houses around the world.

This movie earned its own and legendary sinister curse, the title originally “The Antichrist” then changed over to “The Birthmark,” before settling on The Omen, and during the making of the film, many became victims to the growing curse. The animal trainers, for instance, had their Rottweilers suddenly turn on them, attacking them unprovoked and later Terry Walsh stunt double for David Warner badly injured from the dog attacks. Continuing with theme of animal’s attacks on the film, while at the Longleat Safari Park, Remick’s vehicle was viciously attack by baboons and a zookeeper maul to death by lions the day after filming ended. There were many incidents that plagued the production from freak car accidents to explosions, leading the truest sense of a curse and used justifiably by the promotions department when marketing the film. One of the true weird occurrences, during post-production special effects artist John Richardson’s girlfriend beheaded (others note vertically slice in half) on a car accident, near the community of Omen in Netherlands.

The film appears unsettling, with tilted appearance, all of it intended to have the audience have uneasiness and little queasy sensation, a form of seasickness. This all enhances the disturbing actions presented to the viewers while playing with tricks lightning and shadows, never wanting them to feel comfortable and safe. The movie never shows imagines of the devil, or demons, nothing supernatural, it all can have rational explanations, for everything screenwriter David Seltzer’s script. Donner also plays with the zooming controls though not dramatically rather slow and steady to unnerve the audience with more expressions of evil’s power to pierce the soul. Goldsmith needs the credit for his creation, using a choir, his ominous orchestral work is like a call for Satan, a dedication thanks for Damien, a very dark composition with some wonderful calming moments blare this on your speakers with the lights turned off.

I recall seeing the movie shortly after the b-movie Grizzly also releases in 1976, the movie brought no disturbing imaginary rather a soothing calmness. The Omen is a fine representation of true cinematic horror, and to me it remains in my top 13 horror films, and provides likely one of the finest soundtracks.  Donner’s movie spawned three sequels, a wretched remake released on 6/6/06 (the devil does not need a special marketing day) and a television series with another movie in pre-production called The First Omen. Not strongly recommending this, would offend the filmmakers, Damien himself, and serves as one of the most insanely wonderful rich psychological thrillers, with strong horror swelling up from the depths for the past decades.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075005