First released in the United States on June 25, 1976, Richard Donner’s The Omen is still a compelling film 45 years later for many horror fans. Every film has its detractors, however, and this one is no exception. For example, a review from The New York Times called The Omen “a dreadfully silly film,” which will strike some as odd given the intensely dark, twisted, brooding moments that make it so iconic. It may very well be that one of the film’s angles—religious prophecy—is too much for some to take. Still, I can fully attest that even an atheist can enjoy this film.
Synopsis (in case you haven’t seen it yet):
Robert and Katherine Thorn seem to have it all. They are happily married and he is the US Ambassador to Great Britain, but they want nothing more than to have children. When Katharine has a stillborn child, Robert is approached by a priest at the hospital who suggests that they take a healthy newborn whose mother has just died in childbirth. Without telling his wife he agrees. After relocating to London, strange events – and the ominous warnings of a priest – lead him to believe that the child he took from that Italian hospital is evil incarnate.
After watching The Omen, you might never pick a baby up again.
WARNING: This trailer is bad with a capital “B.” Frankly, it makes the movie look like it’ll be terrible. Still, here it is:
The Omen: The Mood and the Curse
Robert Thorn’s (Gregory Peck: Cape Fear 1962) wife, Katherine (Lee Remick; Anatomy of a Murder), is heartbroken throughout much of The Omen, and we know why: the baby that she and her husband bring home from Rome is never hers, and not just because he isn’t her biological child. No, we sense there’s something sinister in her arms when she hugs little Damien Thorn (Harvey Spencer Stephens). There is always an element of suspense here, blended with the occasional shocking surprise.
In my honest opinion, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw: The Dark Crystal) is a bit underrated as The Omen’s human villain. While not the toughest opponent, the character is 100% committed to protecting the evil contained within Damien. To that end, she is never just a nanny but also an English governess with an affinity for Satan.
There’s another dynamic that doesn’t seem to get much attention: the Thorn family seems out of place in London pretty much from the start. No, it’s not just because they lack British accents and don’t say, “Cheerio!” It’s that Robert and his wife are merely making the best of things there as an ambassador and his wife, trying to establish a stereotypical, stable, well-to-do family. His job doesn’t inspire much passion in him, and in fact, it’s the curse of Damien that ends up giving his life a greater sense of purpose.
To my mind, this is part of what makes Robert an interesting character. Basically, he becomes immersed in the bizarre problems he is faced with, and things are so esoteric and confusing that only a few in the world could ever hope to help him out. So, we end up with elements of destiny blended with a Satanic curse. Nice!
A lot of what makes The Omen compelling is simply how the scenes come together, weaving naturally into the overall framework of the strange, dramatic tale. So many things are deeply symbolic and tied together. The characters convey pain and exasperation as the madness builds. For example, after seeing Katherine’s eyes fill with muted terror when she sees Mrs. Baylock for the first time, Thorn is terrified by what unknown horror is going to take place in his family next. After learning of his wife’s death, Thorn’s grief is palpable, and the bandages on his arm only help us recognize the damage he has suffered.
A Birthday Party To Remember
Of course, The Omen is also known for one of the bleakest, creepiest moments in all of horror: The death of Damien’s nanny (Holly Palance; The Comeback) at his birthday party. Let’s just say it’s not a birthday present for a typical child. Yes, it’s strange yet obvious now to think how her terrible death ties into Damien eventually becoming President, but curses and prophecies are never easily understood, are they? All we know is that they can sometimes harm us or even put us in the hospital (and then throw us from that hospital’s window).
The Omen isn’t a classic because we sometimes watch it over and over again, as that can be said of countless films. No, this movie is a classic for many upon its first viewing. It has a home in the horror community for so many reasons. Maybe you’re in the process of adopting a baby but are afraid you’ll fall in love with an evil one? Or, maybe you’re a successful guy like Robert Thorn who plans to marry the girl of his dreams and live a well-traveled, illustrious life? But what happens when that illusion gets shattered and something bizarre is in its stead?
Obviously, The Omen exaggerates these fears to the nth degree, rendering them fantastical. However, one can’t help but recognize what lies beneath all the treacherous Satan stuff and see the sensitive fears and regrets of a man who thinks he has it all. That being said, if you know a couple who wish to adopt the spawn of Satan, let them. It can give their lives some much needed pep. Plus, they’ll get to know how they’ll die! It might even be predicted by a one-of-a-kind Keith Jennings (David Warner: In the Mouth of Madness) photograph. Just think of how interesting it would be to see their world collapse around them, and all because they wanted a loving family. That’s just how the cookie crumbles! I would suggest not checking for 666 for them before they sign the papers, and let fate’s curse surprise them as they go.
What are your thoughts on The Omen? Let us know in the comments!