Richard Donner made 1976’s ‘The Omen’ brilliant

Gregory Peck tries to kill the devil in 'The Omen'
Gregory Peck tries to kill the devil in ‘The Omen’

It had been years since I saw The Omen. I wasn’t quite sure how much of it I’d actually remember when I sat down to watch it the other night, but surprisingly enough I remembered virtually all of it.

What I didn’t remember, however, was how good a movie it was.

Richard Donner crafted a brilliantly intriguing religious thriller. It is wonderfully paced, with some terrific scenes and strong acting. The young boy, played perfectly by Harvey Stephens, is stunningly creepy. That last moment when he turns to the camera and smiles is chilling. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this film. I’m not a fan of these kinds of movies. I thought The Exorcistwas rather boring. Religiously-themed fright flicks just don’t interest me. But what Donner had created here, with screenwriter David Seltzer, was just outstanding.

The Omen revolves around Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), an ambassador with political ambitions, who “adopts” a young boy after his son dies at birth. He doesn’t reveal this fact to his wife, however, and things proceed pleasantly for six years. That is until their Nanny hangs herself during Damien’s birthday party. The creepy Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) arrives to care for Damien, and the boy’s mother, Katherine (Lee Remick), starts to suspect that the young child is trying to kill her. This leads Thorn to discover a dark and frightening truth — his son is the anti-Christ, and must be destroyed.

Although at the time most people probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, the notion that came to mind as I watched The Omen was this: if you name your son Damien, then hire a nanny named Baylock, you’re pretty much sealing his fate as the servant of evil.

One of the key reasons The Omen works so well is the presence of Gregory Peck. I don’t quite get why he did the movie, and unfortunately none of the behind-the-scenes featurettes really explain it, but whatever his reasons he brings a level of credibility and respectability to the film that it probably wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. The Omen had come shortly after the suicidal death of his own son, so perhaps he was in a dark place and that is what guided to do the film. Another nice little note about the actors here is Father Brennan. Dr. Who fans will recognize Patrick Troughton as the second actor to play the famed Time Lord.

I feel though that I cannot praise Donner enough. His work is really outstanding, and a highlight for me was listening to his commentary on this “collector’s edition” DVD. You don’t just get one commentary from Donner, but two. In the first he is paired with editor Stuart Baird (who has since become a director in his own rite), and with the second he is teamed with screenwriter and director, Brian Helgeland (not completely sure why, though, since he had nothing to do with this film).

This two-disc DVD set includes several other extras, including “The Omen Legacy”, a documentary narrated by Jack Palance that covers the making of the original The Omen, as well as its two sequels, TV movie and television pilot. There is also “666: The Omen Revealed”, which explores the religious elements of the film. Of course, there you have to have a short extra that discusses the dreaded “Omen Curse”. There is also a featurette on Seltzer and his experience writing The Omen, and another with horror master Wes Craven discussing the film. The DVD is rounded out by a deleted scene (with optional commentary), a photo gallery, and a featurette with the late Jerry Goldsmith, who talks about his work creating the film’s soundtrack.

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