The Bottom Line
After a tragic suicide, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain (Gregory Peck) is visited first by a priest and then a photographer, both of whom suspect the same thing: that the diplomat's son is, in fact, the Antichrist.
The Rest Of The Story
This 1976 film is one of the seminal films in religious horror, along with The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby.
It begins at a hospital, where Ambassador Robert Thorn (Peck) waits anxiously while his wife Katharine (Lee Remick) is in labor. When the doctors tell him his baby was stillborn, he is heartbroken, but is given a chance to adopt an infant also born that day. He agrees, since his wife had wanted a child so badly.
Flash forward five years to young Damien's birthday party, where in the midst of the revelry, Damien's young governess gets hypnotized by a dog and then leaps from the top of the mansion with a noose around her neck. Mind you, this is both the least shocking and quickest death scene. It will burn itself into your mind.
Soon after, a new nanny, Ms. Blaylock, comes to the house, and shows herself to be a capable nurse. However, when she is alone with Damien, we learn she has been sent there to protect him. Protect him from what?
A priest also shows up and begans badgering Thorn with wild accusations. He suggests that the boy is actually the Antichrist. He offers some Biblical scripture as proof, but Thorn won't accept it. When the priest suffers an untimely death, Thorn is baffled. Soon, an enterprising journalist Jennings (future Master Control Program David Warner) shows him a series of wild pictures: one, taken at the birthday party, shows the dead governess - with a red noose around her neck; the other shows the priest, also subject to a red mark of death. Thorn demands to know why Jennings is so obsessed with this. Jennings responds by showing him a picture of Jennings himself - also marked with red.
Soon, Thorn and Jennings are on a search for the truth, a search that will lead them to a disfigured monk, an expert in demonology, an Italian cemetery, and finally to a shocking conclusion that almost no one could see coming, and finally answering the titular question: what is ... The Omen?
Three years after The Exorcist, this is perhaps the prototypical modern horror film, combining intrigue and mystery with a calculated amount of gore and terror.
What is perhaps most impressive is that this is Richard Donner's first feature film. Though he would produce such hits as Lethal Weapon and The Goonies, they say that the first one is special, and Donner proceeds nicely where many others may have failed.
The cinematography is crisp and succinct, the acting by Remick, Peck, and Warner is superb (and the young Stphens is appropriately precocious), and the music by Jerry Goldsmith is so fantastic (it won an Oscar) that I won't even begin to describe it, except to say you won't ever forget it. Yet by far, the star of this film is the story.
In 1976, stories about religious horror were de rigueur, but simply put, this film, like its famous demonic predecessor, never wants to play lightly with its subject. There's no cleverness, no flippancy; these questions of faith and evil are met head on and with candor by all participants. At times, this can be downright silly, as when Peck and Warner end up at an Italian cemetery all alone in the middle of night - foolhardy under any circumstances, but when horror is on the phone, it's nearly fatal. But most of the time, the proper amount of reverence and self-awareness of the subject matter is present, giving the film an authentic, if not probable, feel.
Unfortunately, the story also proves to be the biggest (albeit slight) downfall. We the audience know early on that Damien is evil. We are also treated to several other inevitabilities, which (inevitably) come true onscreen. While these scenes are still captivating - and certainly tinged with suspense - the suspense is not whether or not some event will happen, but merely when.
All in all, this is a must-see for horror fans, and for the rest of you, too. It even does a remarkable job of hiding its age - this film truly is terrifying for even today's world-weary blood and guts aficionado. Compared to such passing fare as 1999's Stigmata and the middling Arnie flick End of Days, this may be your best bet for outright fear of the devil.
My Rating: 9 out of 10. Friday night date material. Guaranteed to have her squealing in your arms by the time the credits roll!
Gregory Peck .... Robert Thorn
Lee Remick .... Kathy Thorn
David Warner .... Keith Jennings
Billie Whitelaw .... Mrs. Baylock
Harvey Stephens .... Damien
Patrick Troughton .... Father Brennan
Martin Benson .... Father Spiletto
Robert Rietty .... Monk
Tommy Duggan .... Priest