This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
The Omen, in its original form, is older than I am and considerably better regarded. Naturally this demands it be remade, but is it wise to fiddle with what’s often called the seminal horror film of the seventies?
After his son dies moments after birth, soon-to-be American Ambassador to the Glorious Crown of the Eternal Empire of Eng-er-lund Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is offered an unusual deal by priests at the Catholic hospital. A woman has just died in childbirth leaving behind a son. Why not pretend that it’s your kid as it’ll save your wife, Katherine (Lee Remick) some distress? Inexplicably, Thorn agrees, which turns out to be a bad call in hindsight. We recommend always checking babies for suspicious birthmarks before signing for them.
Decamping for London, things seem peachy until disturbing, barely explicable events start unfolding. A broken down old priest Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) starts accosting Thorn, claiming that ‘his’ kid Damien (Harvey Stephens) is the Anti-Christ. Photographer Keith Jennings’ (David Warner) shots seem to be oddly prophetic, and there’s definitely something odd about this new nanny (Billie Whitelaw).
I shan’t insult you by repeating the details; if you’ve even the most passing of interests in horror or even just films in general you’ll have seen the unholy trinity of this, The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead, and for my money The Omen trumps the others handily. Despite what Herr Doktor Mark Kermode tells us at every available opportunity The Exorcist has always been roughly as terrifying as an episode of Bananaman, and you can make up your own mind on Romero’s outing seeing as it’s freely and legally downloadable over at archive.org.
The Omen works better than, well, every other horror film for two reasons; there’s a director attached who knows what he’s doing, Richard “Superman, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged, The Goonies, erm, let’s ignore Timeline” Donner and there’s the involvement of Gregory Peck, who most certainly knows what he’s doing. Dear readers, I’ve seen more than my fair share of rank awful horror flicks stuffed to the gunnels with fresh faced teen actors who couldn’t emote their way out of a wet paper bag. Peck, obviously, is a far more accomplished actor who, although not in his most demanding role by a long chalk, makes it easier to care about his plight and dare I say it, believe in it, or at least not find it offensively stupid even if you’re the most militant atheist.
Aside from having quite the creepiest, most inhumane looking human in Damien, whose evil little smile could chill hearts at a mile distant, you can’t really get higher up the Evil foodchain than the Devil Incarnate. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, how more Evil can you be? The answer, of course, being none. None more evil. Compare this to, say, the upcoming Reeker where the resident scaremonger appears to be … a smell and you can see how The Omen gets a bit of a head start in the freak-out stakes.
There’s a design flaw inherent to horror films that stops any of them being classics, at least as far as this scrivener is concerned. The point of them, over and above being entertaining, is to scare us. I assume this is not a controversial viewpoint. While wise men tell us we have nothing to fear but fear itself, the rest of us idiots will content themselves with fearing the unknown. Films, however, in all but the rarest and most haunted of cases tend to remain the same on each viewing, thus becoming less unknown, and less fearful to our tiny monkey minds.
Familiarity, in this case, doesn’t breed contempt. What remains in The Omen‘s case isn’t the standard issue loathsome carnival of cheap orchestral stabs and gorehoundery, but a sequence of ominous warnings and events followed by a period of detective work as Thorn uncovers the horrible truth about his ringer of a son. Sure, there’s a few parts that have never sat right; Thorn seems to accept this abhorrent idea of replacing his son with remarkably little soulsearching because it’s convenient to the plot and the Metropolitan Police force seem to have inexplicably become armed in Donner’s London, again because it’s convenient to the plot. That aside it remains an interesting, if not deeply unsettling film to rewatch, a lesson Hideo Nakata would later take on board to great effect in his first Ring outing.
It’s not all sweetness and light, with a (very) few moments dating the film badly and despite respectable and certainly well above par for the genre performances from the rest of the cast, there’s really no-one else in Peck’s league here. No shame in that, naturally, but it can tend to unbalance the film a little. This, however, is being something of a pedantic, miserable curmudgeon, and by this point I trust you expect no less of me. With a cinema landscape at the moment absolutely littered with the corpses of rank awful teen oriented horror this is a shining beacon of light, or rather darkness, that remind us that this genre can work occasionally, even if it typically doesn’t.