Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Omen (1976)

The OmenThis is a first class, gothic chiller with an outstanding cast, a riveting story line, and a musical score that will make the viewer want to sleep with the lights on! A first rate film, it had audiences riveted to the screen when it was first released in the mid nineteen seventies. I know. I was one of that audience. This film has withstood the test of time, as it is as gripping today, as when it was first released.

Katherine (Lee Remick) and Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) are a wealthy, older American couple. Katherine is pregnant and, while in Italy, gives birth to an ostensibly stillborn boy, a fact that is kept from her. Knowing how much his wife wanted the baby and the difficulty that she had in conceiving, Robert agrees to have the dead baby supplanted by a living newborn whose mother died in child birth, keeping this information from Katherine. They name this baby Damien.

All goes well for the prosperous Thorn family, until Damien turns five. A series of dramatic, unusual events begin to occur around the Thorns, all seemingly stemming from Damien. Well guarded by a self sufficient, somewhat creepy nanny (Billie Whitelaw), there are those who would believe him to be the Antichrist. By the time that Katherine and Robert begin to realize who Damien may truly be, their lives are out of control. With the aid of an inquisitive photographer, a repentant priest, and an archaeologist who holds the key to the destruction of the Antichrist, Robert Thorn becomes a man with a mission. Will Damien let him complete that mission? Watch this movie and find out. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee that you will be sleeping with the lights on and the covers over your head.

David Seltzer wrote a terrific screenplay. This first class production, which is deftly directed by Richard Donner, is played with straightforward sincerity by its outstanding cast. The casting of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick was pure genius, as their distinguished reputations infused the movie with a believability not thought possible, given the theme of the script. Playing it straight, as a couple caught in a vortex of events over which they have little control, they sweep the viewer along with them. Supported by a fine cast, there are notable performances given by Billie Whitelaw, as the nanny with a mission, David Warner, as the photographer who begins to notice that something odd seems to be going on, and Harvey Stephens, as Damien, whose angelic countenance belies his satanic nature.

This is a riveting, subtle film that, with a few well planned, shocking moments, and an effectively creepy musical score that builds suspense to a crescendo, manages to thoroughly engage the viewer. If one is looking for a blood and gore fest, there is really none of that here. Instead, look to be scared out of the seat of your pants by a superb script, wonderful acting, deft direction, and a musical score that will long linger in one's memory. It is little wonder that Jerry Goldsmith, the composer of the original score for The Omen, won an Academy Award for his efforts.

The DVD is a loaded DVD with a lot of interesting features. It provides a forty six minute documetary on the making of the film, which is quite interesting., as well as a director's commentary. There is a also an intriguing, six minute short on some of the pitfalls that beset the cast and crew during the filming of the movie. The composer also has a small segment of his own. There are the other standard features, such as theatrical trailers, interactive menus, and scene selections, as well as crystal clear visuals and audio. This is a first rate DVD of a film well worth having in one's collection. Bravo!

When The Exorcist was released in 1973 the world stood in awe at the horror and gore than was presented before their very eyes. Rip-offs came thick and fast and then came the masterpiece The Omen. This 1976 horror film scored a hit with both critics and cinema-goers alike who had embraced a deep interest in gothic horror and its history. It has a first-rate cast, superb acting, brilliant shock tactics and a soundtrack to send shivers down your spine whatever your state of mind! It's no wonder Jerry Goldsmith won an Academy Award as the composer of the theme! I first saw this film last night when it was shown on UK TV. My mum recommended it to me, as it was a favourite of hers as a teenager and I absolutely loved it.

In The Omen, Katherine (Lee Remick) and Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) are a rich married couple who move to England from America. Katherine is pregnant and gives birth to an ostensibly baby boy while in Italy. This news is kept from her. Her husband knows how much his wife has wanted a baby and the problems she had conceiving, so he agrees to have the dead new-born supplanted by another new-born, whose mother died at child birth. Katherine thinks that the child is her own, but Robert knows it's not and keeps this a secret from her. They name the baby Damien (Harvey Stephens).

Five years pass and we see the family growing up joyfully in their big mansion. They're happy and content with their lives and love their son more than anything. Everything is going well for the Thorn family until Damien turns five. A series of very creepy and unexplainable events happen around the time of his fifth birthday, which all seem to stem from Damien. The family employ a creepy and weird nanny (Billie Whitelaw) and things begin to spiral out of control. Robert and Katherine really start to think that there is something seriously wrong with their child so, with the help of a funny photographer (David Warner), Robert sets out to try and discover the truth about the mysterious events. A stubborn priest tries to warn him when these events happen, but Robert doesn't listen. It soon becomes too late when the man is murdered rather spectacularly.

The horror of this film is based more on the shock tactics more so than the suspense factor, which doesn't make it a very scary film in terms of blood and guts, but more so in the way that it disturbs you deep down and shocks your body. The first big shock of the film comes on Damien's fifth birthday party when his nanny jumps from the top of the mansion roof screaming, "It's all for you Damien!" before hanging herself. Another shock comes when Damien goes hysterical as he nears a church in a car with is mother and father. He later drives his tricycle into his mother's stool as she is doing housework on a balcony. She falls and loses her second baby. Her long stint in hospital tears Robert apart, and her death after she is pushed out of a hospital window tips him over the edge. The death of the priest by a Church-spear is not only shocking, but rather humorous. The scenes in Italy with dogs and spikes and broken arms are spectacular, but the most famous scene comes when the photographer is decapitated by a sheet of glass that slides off the back of a truck which rolls down the hill towards him. A scene that has gone down in history!


The Omen can be a tad boring in between the shocking scenes and good parts of the storyline, but the ending is ten minutes of pure cinema brilliance. The scenes of Robert trying to cope with the world crumbling around him are also pure cinema gold, and shows a wonderfully emotional side to Peck's acting. Caught in a tornado of events of which he cannot control, he sweeps the audience along with him. David Seltzer wrote an awesome script, while Richard Donner works finely and precisely on directing this masterpiece. Essential viewing for all those who love gothic horror and truly great thrillers.

Buy The Omen (1976) Now

The Omen (horror, mystery)

Directed by Richard Donner

Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Billie Whitelaw

20th Century Fox | 1976 | 111 min | Rated R | Released Oct 07, 2008


Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Video resolution: 1080p

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1


English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

French: Dolby Digital Mono

Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono


English SDH, English, Spanish


Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film: 4/5

Modern horror movies are very different from films such as The Omen. Released 35 years ago, the movie wasn't gory and certainly wasn't a slasher movie. It relied on creating suspense and tension and was in the tradition of Hitchcock. The characters have proper motivations for their actions and we are shown what those motivations are. It justifies some of the difficult choices made by Robert Thorn (Peck) as he learns the truth about his son.

Director Richard Donner's next movie was Superman, but The Omen, was easily the biggest project of his career at that point. Peck's involvement proved to be a huge draw and the remainder of the cast was happy to join the project.

The story opens in Rome. Thorn is the American ambassador and his wife, Katherine (Remick), is giving birth in hospital. The doctors tell him that his baby has died, but offer him another baby who lost its mother during the birth. Thorn reluctantly accepts, but hides the fact from his wife. Thorn is made ambassador to Britain and the family relocates to London. Things seem normal until Damien is five years old, when his nanny commits suicide at his birthday party.

Father Brennan, a priest from Rome, pays Thorn a visit. He claims that Thorn must take communion and accept Christ if he is to fight the son of the devil. Thorn dismisses him as a lunatic.

A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Whitelaw), shows up at the house to take care of Damien, but the Thorn's realize that neither of them arranged it. She is allowed to keep the job and tells Damien in private that she's there to protect him. He smiles. The Thorn's take him to church against the wishes of Baylock, but he throws a fit and they abandon the trip. He's visibly shaking at the thought of entering the church.

Thorn realizes that Damien has never been ill for a single day in his life and considers it odd. Baylock starts to take over the running of the house and allows in a black dog which seems to be another guardian for Damien. Thorn tells her to get rid of it, but she never does.

Nothing has really happened up to this point. Donner gives us clues that there's something weird about Damien, but it's all speculation. We don't actually see him do anything, but things happen to others around him. This is developed when Damien and his mother visit Windsor Safari Park and the animals act scared and run away from the boy. Now both parents are suspicious of Damien.

Father Brennan sees Thorn again and insists that Thorn's wife will die if he refuses to hear what Brennan has to say. He only wants five minutes. Thorn reluctantly agrees to listen, but Brennan sounds crazy once more, insisting that Damien isn't human and must die. Thorn still isn't convinced, but reads about Brennan's mysterious death in the newspaper the following day. Katherine is convinced that Damien is evil and that he's not her child.

Brennan claimed before he died that Katherine was pregnant again, and that she would lose the baby and then her own life. When Thorn learns that she is in fact pregnant, he begins to think about everything that Brennan has said. He teams up with a local photographer who has more information about Brennan and the two begin to look into Damien's origins.

It's incredible how little action there is throughout the movie. Donner relies on the audience's imagination and keeps building suspense. There's very little blood in the story and Damien hardly does anything to suggest that he's evil. Any problems he causes could be genuine accidents. Baylock is a more sinister character and does take direct action when she thinks that Damien is threatened.

The one thing that doesn't quite ring true is how quickly Damien's parents come to consider him evil. The bond between parent and child is usually strong enough for parents to love and forgive their children. Imagine telling any parents that their child is evil or the son of Satan. The likely reaction would be anger and the parents would defend their child against such a crazy accusation. In this instance, both parents come to the same conclusion. Why are they able to see that Damian is evil? Robert does eventually question the logic when he's ultimately tasked with killing the child, but it seems too late to be authentic.

The journey to uncover the truth sees Thorn visit two other countries as he tries to piece together Damien's past. We meet some unusual characters along the way and there's a little more action when he searches for the identity of the child's real mother.

The story has a resolution of sorts, but The Omen eventually became the first part of a trilogy. The other two movies never matched the suspense of the first and didn't attract any actors on Peck's level. Peck was excellent as Thorn and the most interesting part of the story was seeing how he approached the problem.

Picture Quality: 3.5/5

The opening shots are weak and lacking in definition. Some shots are intentionally soft, but the movie is grainy and the colors subdued for the most part. Things pick up in the second half when we see more outdoor scenes. It's hard to pin down the quality because it varies so much. Some shots seem barely above DVD standard, while others border on impressive considering the age of the film. It's obviously as good as it has ever looked, so worth picking up if you are a fan.

Sound Quality: 3.5/5

Jerry Goldsmith won an Oscar for best original score and the demonic singing adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. It sounds impressive on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as do some of the more subtle sounds such as gravel crunching underfoot. The track is front-heavy and a little quiet, but it does the job. I did watch it at a slightly higher volume level than most movies, but clarity was good once I had the level sorted out.

Features: 5/5

With over three hours of special features and three commentary tracks, you can satisfy your curiosity about the movie. It's a comprehensive package.

Commentary Three different tracks.

Isolated Score Track (5.1 Dolby Digital)

Richard Donner on The Omen (14:36)

The Omen Revelations: Bonus View with Trivia Track

Introduction by Director Richard Donner from 2006 (1:55)

Deleted Scene: "Dog Attack" (1:26)

666: The Omen Revealed (46:34)

Screenwriter's Notebook (14:51)

An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen (20:17)

The Omen Legacy (1:41:37)

Curse or Coincidence? (6:19)

Jerry Goldsmith on The Omen Score (17:41)

Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

Still Gallery

The original part of the trilogy remains one of the best horror movies ever made, but it won't appeal to everyone. The pacing will seem slow by today's standards and the story relies on suspense, characterization and acting ability, rather than gore and special effects. Well worth seeing if you want to see how the genre has developed over the past four decades.

Overall score 4/5

Read Best Reviews of The Omen (1976) Here

I have a weird obsession with the first 2 Omen films, and own the DVD boxed set, so I've seen the DVD quite a few times. This special edition includes everything from the first release: Richard Donner's commentary, a deleted scene, the featurette on all the weird coincidences & tragedies that happened around the filming, and the just over 40 minute documentary on the making of the film.

The new features addednot including the spiffy new slip case cover and spooky white coverare as follows. We get a short introduction from director Donner, a 20 minute featurette that is basically Wes Craven talking about why he likes the film so much. Kind of random stuff, but the thing that made me upgrade is the new, just under 2 hour documentary. It's narrated by Jack Palancethat's worth the money right thereand goes into detail of how it started as an idea as "The Anti-Christ", then "The Birthmark" and finally the completed "The Omen."

This re-release was obviously done to promote the new remake, but they actually make it worth your while. The packaging really is nice, and for fans of the Omen or those interested in the odd happenings that surround itthis is a worthy addition to your collection. For those of you who haven't seen this film beforedon't base your judgement on the remake. This is a classy but fast-paced intelligent thriller/horror film, with amazing acting (especially from Gregory Peck) wonderful music and cinematography. The 6/6/06 date has passed, but until the world really does end you should enjoy this cool release and enjoy a time before obvious and tacky CGI jumps were considered "horror".

Want The Omen (1976) Discount?

There are few viewing experiences like "The Omen". This movie is one of the most astounding motion pictures of all time. It has all the usual good things associated with a great movie (talented cast, good music, good story line) but has also become a classic in the horror genre! The baby-faced incarnation of the anti-christ has become one of the most paradoxically-appealing characters of all time! (Harvey Stevens, the little boy that plays "Damien Thorne" does a superb job acting!)

If you consider yourself to be a horror fan, please, see this movie! While it is definately NOT a blood bath, it is a pyschological terror that will leave you thinking about what you've just seen... months after you've seen it! With confidence, I recommend "THE OMEN" won't regret it!

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