Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

THE OMEN (1976)

THE OMEN (1976). Director: Richard Donner.

"She is an apostate of Hell -- she will die before permitting this."

Undoubtedly influenced by The Exorcist, which came out three years earlier, this movie was almost as influential in its own way, and also engendered several sequels and even a remake -- and is just as sub-literate [but somewhat better than The Exorcist]. An even bigger influence on the film must have been Rosemary's Baby (1968). Ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck)  is told that his baby son has died, and is importuned into accepting another child [who supposedly lost his mother in childbirth] without telling his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), who fails to bond with the boy, Damian (Harvey Stephens). It turns out that Damian is actually the anti-Christ [Rosemary's Baby as a child?]: Satanists, in the form of nanny Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), want to protect and nurture him, while certain Catholic priests want to murder him -- a mere child! [DIGRESSION: It never occurs to anyone that there is a possibility that being raised by normal, decent people the boy might grow up to be something other than a devil. But the real problem with the movie is that it doesn't give the audience any breathing room. Damian is the devil's son -- and that's that. How much more interesting the film might have been if the Satanists and priests were all a little nuts. In fact, the priests in this movie seem quite demented.] All that being said, it must also be said that The Omen -- on its own anti-intellectual terms -- is a rather accomplished little horror film, with some interesting sequences and set-pieces -- an eerie scene in a graveyard; some flamboyant, well-handled and gruesome death scenes --  and assured direction from Donner. The acting is also generally excellent, with an intense and authoritative Peck possibly giving the best performance of his life, his sheer solidity helping the audience go along with the absurdity of the proceedings. Lee Remick, David Warner [as a doomed photographer], and little Harvey Stephens are also excellent, and Billie Whitelaw is just superb as the nanny quite literally from Hell. Jerry Goldsmith's memorably creepy score holds all of it together splendidly.

Verdict: If you don't take it seriously this is really quite entertaining. ***.

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