Take a moment to think about The Omen. What do you remember? Spectacular
set-pieces, obviously - everyone knows what happened to David Warner
and Patrick Troughton. The spooky music, Damien himself, and the warnings
given by the shadows on the photographs? Think that's it? Well take the
time to re-visit The Omen and you'll find that it's much more than
a glossy Hollywood-funded cash-in on the success of The Exorcist.
There's some big ideas going on there (for example - here's a thought
- what's God doing during all these shenanigans? Eh? Eh?), and
it's a shame that the film series is really only remembered for upping
the violence (killer elevators and angry crows in Damien: Omen II)
and for one of the lamest endings in film history (The Final Conflict).
The thing also seems remarkably prescient these days - I mean, have you
seen who's in charge of the world at the moment? Methinks the Bush
family nursery got visited by some evil Roman Catholics 40-odd years ago
Another surprise is that the film actually starts with a graphical representation
of the iconic image of Damien at the grave of his father, too, his shadow
turning into that of a cross. It's something which doesn't mean anything
to the first-time viewer as it appears next the credits, but it will
When the Jews return to Zion,
And a comet fills the sky,
And the Holy Roman Empire rises,
Then you and I must die,
From the Eternal Sea he rises,
Creating armies on either shore,
Turning man against his brother,
Until man exists no more.
The Omen is one of those "oft imitated, never bettered"
films, which exudes class. Yes, Holocaust
2000 might be more entertaining, death-for-death, but The Omen
is the kind of film which says "do we really need to see the birth?".
If only such questions had been asked during the making of I
Don't Want To Be Born, or To The Devil
A Daughter. In this film we're simply told through a voiceover that
"The child is dead
it breathed for a moment, then it breathed
the child is dead
" as Thorn (Gregory Peck) makes
his way through the streets of Rome on June the 6th at 6am. A baby is
produced, and Thorn is told "Your wife need never know. It would
be a blessing to her, and to the child" by the priest who offers
it. "Yes, this night
God has offered you a son."
With mum blissfully ignorance of these shenanigans, Thorn gets offered
the job of ambassador to Great Britain (cue red London bus, Big effing
just once I'd like to see a classic British horror film which
has to set the London scene and doesn't resort to this). Thorn is called
"the future president of the United States" by his adoring wife
(Lee Remick) and we find that he used to room at college with the current
incumbent, with whom he's still great friends.
The scene-setting moves swiftly on from this point - Damien's childhood
years are shown as snapshots of family life, with a brief interlude where
the family, out for a walk by a river, think they've lost him. But then
he turns up. Phew.
Things take a turn for the nasty at the child's birthday bash, when the
world's press turn up only to see the boy's nanny tie a noose around her
neck and jump off the roof, the limp body smashing spectacularly through
a window. The girl's final words are: "Damien, look at me! I love
you! It's all for you!"
Thorn is then visited by Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) who sweatily
exhorts the puzzled ambassador to accept Christ into his life. When asked
what he wants, he replies: "To save you
so Christ will forgive
me! I saw its mother!"
To which, without a hint of irony, Peck replies "You're referring
to my wife!" (which in any other film, would probably be hilarious).
Brennan is forcibly removed before he can explain what "its"
mother was (a hamster?), and the next arrival is the new nanny (Billie
Whitelaw, who does "evil" very well). No-one's quite sure where
she's come from, but she seems to have the kid's best interests at heart:
"Have no fear, little one
I'm here to protect thee."
Damien's behaviour is now getting more odd - he freaks out when taken
to a church (or as Remick puts it, "he just
had a bad moment"),
and a trip to Windsor Safari Park results in all the giraffes clearing
off and the baboons attacking the car (which seems like a normal trip
to a safari park to me).
Remick is now wigging out, asking her husband: "What could be wrong
with our child? We're beautiful people, aren't we?", and she announces
that she's pregnant again, but doesn't want this baby.
Meanwhile Brennan has once again cornered Thorn and babbled on about his
son being the son of the devil and some bloke called Bugenhagen, and then
tells him that Damien must die. Understandably perturbed at this raving
crackpot, Thorn makes his excuses and leaves, setting up Brennan's spectacular
death at the hands of satanic forces (or shoddy church restoration, you
There's a wonderful set-piece when Damien appears to give fate a helping
hand by subjecting his mother to a nasty fall which makes her lose the
baby (Damien on his trike is very similar to young Danny making his way
through the Overlook in The Shining), and Thorn is approached by
another crackpot (although this time a less raving, more reserved one,
with a nice line in crevats) in the form of Jennings, a press photographer
(David "it's not a classic 70s Brit horror unless I'm in it"
Warner). He's noticed that strange shadows on his photographs have predicted
the deaths of the nanny and Brennan, and he's got an extra reason to worry
- a photo of himself has a shadow slicing right through his neck
With Mrs Thorn recovering in hospital, Thorn and Jennings take a trip
to Italy to find the hospital where Damien was born. It has burned down,
but a badly burned priest points them to a disused cemetery where Thorn's
son, and Damien's mother, are buried. The cemetery is an obvious set,
which is very Hammerish, but a subsequent attack by "devil dogs"
is extremely nasty and realistic, which isn't.
As Thorn begins to realise that all the nutters who've been approaching
him may well have a point, the deaths get more spectacular (novel use
for an ambulance, and three cheers for the plate of glass moment - although
it's far more blink-and-you'll-miss-it than you might remember). The ending
is truly disturbing ("No, daddy, no!") - after all, ask yourself
- if someone told you that a child would grow up to destroy the world,
could you kill it? Even if it was an odd-looking , blank-faced horror
by the name of Damien?
"This is not a human child
make no mistake
And let's not forget that final image, as it becomes apparent just who
appears to have taken the child under his wing
The Omen is wonderful - taught, economical and terrifying. Its
Brit horror credentials may be muddied by many foreign locations and a
serious input of Hollywood cash and talent, but make no mistake - it's
a fine English horror story beautifully told. Try to put yourself in the
mind of a viewer watching it back in 1976 and see it again with new eyes.
Rarely has a horror film been so thought provoking.