1976 Certificate: 18

Synopsis

Richard Donner's revelatory horror stars Gregory Peck as the American ambassador in London who believes that his son is the Antichrist. Wife Lee Remick foolishly give the kid the benefit of the doubt and as the body count mounts it's clear that little Damian is out to crucify (or at least decapitate) anyone who stands in his diabolical way. Everyone thinks that the satanic music is from Orff's Carmina Burana but it's actually the work of Jerry Goldsmith - and he's got an Oscar to prove it!

Director

  • Richard Donner

Cast

  • Gregory Peck

  • Lee Remick

  • Billie Whitelaw

  • David Warner

  • Harvey Stephens

Review

Acting as an impressively thrilling calling card from Richard Donner, The Omen firmly stated his arrival into the big boy's leagues and propelled him from being a relative unknown to the man who next brought us the iconic but rather more light-hearted Superman films.

Having pre-sealed his own fate by swapping a parentless child with that of his wife's stillborn baby, Robert Thorn (Peck) suffers the horrendous realisation that, after ignoring various warnings and multiple deaths, his "son" might in fact be the spawn of the Devil. By jove!

Indeed, without a deft touch, this sort of premise could easily descend into farcical, Scary Movie territory.

However in Donner's hands, the material is approached with utter solemnity, without even so much as a hint of mirth, which is why The Omen is so incredibly successful.

Peck is absolutely exceptional, imbuing Robert Thorn with a credible, guilt-ridden conscience, becoming increasingly tragic as the film progresses. Lee Remick, as Katherine Thorn, is also excellent, demonstrating as exquisite a portrayal of dawning horror and fear as you're ever likely to see.

Meanwhile, Harvey Stevens - probably grew up to be Ice Man after the unbelievably chilling performance he gives as the sullen and indifferent tricycle killer Damien.

Also worthy of mention and oft forgotten is the deeply disturbing turn Billie Whitelaw gives as Satan's apostle and Damien's thoroughly rancid second nanny Mrs. Baylock. "Don't worry little one. I'm here to protect you" she coldly reassures him - the epitomy of calculated evil.

Yet Donner is the real standout performer here. It is with samurai-like precision that he changes the mood from chipper and chirpy one moment to eerie and downright, pant-wettingly unsettling the next.

The death of Damien's first nanny is a perfect example. Never does he get carried away and go for the kind of gratuitously gory and all too frequent deaths that we've come to expect from soulless, modern, lacklustre thrillers, like Final Destination and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Instead, he invests time into plot and character development, expert lighting, and a ghoulishly freaky academy award winning score, all of which serve to maintain a constantly tense atmosphere so that when the deaths do happen, they deliver ultimate effect. You'll never stand behind a reversing truck again, that's for sure!

Minor plot holes are apparent, including biblical inaccuracies and Katherine Thorn's inexplicable imbecility for not realising that her stillborn child has been replaced with a considerably more lively version.

None the less, these are forgivable oversights because all said, this is devilishly good old-school horror.