Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Omen" (1976)

Starring Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick
Written by David Seltzer
Directed by Richard Donner

What would you do if you found out your child was actually the Anti-Christ?  Damn.

Gregory Peck stars as Robert Thorn, an American diplomat in Rome.  He is told by a priest, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) that his newborn son has died, but that there is another child in the hospital whose mother died in childbirth.  Robert makes a deal with the priest to raise the child as his own, not even telling his own wife Katherine (Lee Remick) about the switch.

Five years later, Robert is now the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Along with Katherine and son Damien, he moves to the UK to begin his new duties.  Life seems to be going well until strange things begin to happen surrounding Damien.  First, at the child's 5th birthday party, his nanny commits suicide in front of the entire gathering.  Soon after, another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) informs Robert that Damien is actually the son of Satan - the Anti-Christ.  Katherine is pregnant again; Brennan tells Robert that Damien will kill the unborn child, but Robert doesn't believe him.

Something is also strange about Damien's new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw).  She's creepily protective of Damien, even going against his parents' wishes to do so.  Damien reacts violently when he gets within close range of a church, and a mysterious and vicious dog appears around the grounds of the Thorns' home.

After Father Brennan is killed in what seems to be a freak accident outside the church, a photographer named Keith Jennings begins to put it all together.  He convinces Robert that something is very wrong with Damien, and the two begin to investigate the circumstances of Damien's birth.  They discover that Damien is, in fact, the Anti-Christ, and that in order to prevent the end of the world, they must kill the child before it is too late.

"The Omen" is a really great horror-thriller.  Director Richard Donner builds a great sense of foreboding throughout the entire picture, ramping up the suspense with lots of clever use of slow-motion and disorienting camera angles.  They say the eyes are the window to the soul - Donner also uses closeups of his characters' eyes as a recurring visual motif, which can convey a lot of information.  Whenever characters are frightened or murderous, we get to see into their eyes, and the effect is quite unsettling.

There are some great twists in the story to go along with some great suspenseful sequences and a couple of really excellent kills.  Father Brennan's impalement is a jolt, even though you can totally see it coming; the way it's shot is highly effective, even if the event itself is not a surprise.  Another death later on involving a pane of glass is pretty incredible, too, but I don't want to give that one away.  The cemetery sequence where Robert finds the remains of Damien's birth mother and his own son is also a great moment, just before Robert and Keith are attacked by a pack of vicious dogs in one of the movie's more violent sequences.

Jerry Goldsmith's score is a bit over-the-top, but highly effective.  The loud Latin choral chants are creepy and disturbing, while the more emotional cues (particularly a piano cue when Robert is dealt some bad news just before the climax) are sadly beautiful.  I've always been a fan of Goldsmith's work, particularly his scores for "Total Recall" and his work on the "Star Trek" feature films.

"The Omen" is a great horror film.  The story is just incredibly entertaining and the execution of it by a fine cast and director Richard Donner and some wonderful makeup and effects work is all first rate.