The Omen

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Gregory Peck stars as Robert Thorn, a powerful politician whose wife has just given birth to a stillborn son. He keeps it from her and on the hospitals suggestion, swaps for a newborn orphan baby. But dire warnings and mysterious deaths suggest that the child, Damien, may be nothing less than the Anti-Christ.

I’ve seen this quite a lot over the years, but it’s never lost any of its power. It’s a great story, well grounded by Peck’s solid performance. It must have been particularly shocking at the time, featuring such an actor, best known as Atticus Finch, the most dependable of heroic everyman types.

I’m a sucker for any story that uses religion like this. The best example is still The Exorcist, but this, probably riding that films wake just three years later, is a very close second though far more comic book, genre filmmaking. The Bible comes with weight and reputation, so if it’s used well in albeit a romanticised fashion, a story like this can seem very legitimate. It’s also good that it involves several countries (American family, British home, Italian monks, Middle East history and artefacts) as that emphasises the world conquering prophecy.

And when it’s played out without a shred of hyperbole or exaggeration, that legitimacy can only increase. Richard Donner has always been a dependable, workman like director, who relies on the characters and script to make the impact, even in Superman. I think Lethal Weapon is him at his most ‘flashy’. Here there are no attempts to make the audience jump. The story is strong enough to linger without short-lived jumps. Scenes like Kathy being knocked off the landing by the little bastard are very clever in their simplicity. Sending the poor goldfish ahead gives a very tangible sense of peril without resulting to a single note of music or gratuitous zoom.

I just called Damien “the little bastard”, but that’s a bit misleading. Perhaps not on that very last famous shot. Then it’s justified, but until the landing scene his role is quite ambiguous. As such, he is terrifying, like a teddy bear hiding a grenade! But in the final sequence, he’s still a child after all and that makes this an agonising spectacle. It’s Mrs. Baylock, the apostle, who is the real threat for the viewer though. Her and her dog (who have hilariously expanded roles in a rightly deleted scene on the DVD).

The Omen films are strangely similar to the Alien ones: excellent, old-fashioned first instalment; more visceral, next generation sequel (though Omen II is more silly fun); crap third part that tries to close the trilogy in a commendable way; and a part 4 that ranks amongst the worst films ever made, with utterly ridiculous plot ideas. Of course, this has suffered the final insult and been remade. Do yourself a favour and look the original up instead.

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