#TBT Reviews: The Omen (1976)

As of this publishing, this film is currently available to stream on Netflix US.

I accidentally dropped the ball last week and didn’t have a Throwback Thursday Review in time. My bad. How about I make it up by diving into a classic and influential horror film?

The Omen is a classic horror film that has the unfortunate honor of coming out a bit too close to other films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, but still manages to hold up on it’s own terms.

American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) are in Rome where Katherine gives birth to a baby boy. Robert is told that the child died shortly after birth, but that another child was born to a mother who passed. The hospital chaplain suggests that he secretly adopt the other child, but Robert refuses to tell his wife. The child is named Damien, and they all move when Robert is appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Strange occurrences begin to follow the family, though they begin as simply as having a group of black dogs near the house. In perhaps the most famous scene from the film, Damien’s nanny publicly hangs herself at his fifth birthday party while screaming “It’s all for you, Damien”, which is something that sticks with you. This continues when Damien reacts violently to approaching a church, and zoo monkeys going crazy all over their car.

Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) attempts to warn Robert that Damien comes from mysterious origins, but doesn’t get through. He explains that Katherine is pregnant and that Damien will try to stop the birth from happening. Later, a sudden storm occurs and a lightning rod falls and impales Brennan where he stands. Meanwhile, Damien rides his tricycle and bumps into his mother, knocking her over the railing and causing her to miscarry.

Robert teams up with photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) to get down to the mystery of Damien. Keith explains how he had taken pictures of both the nanny and the priest before they died, and there were strange shadows that seemed to hint at their specific deaths; he also has photos of himself with strange shadows. The two men travel to Rome but find that a fire took both the hospital records and most of the staff. The one remaining survivor is Father Spiletto, the man who helped Robert with the original birth swap. He is severely burned, mute, and partially blind and paralyzed, but he is able to write the name of an ancient cemetery where Robert can find the grave of Damien’s mother.

Robert and Keith find the gravesite, but there is the skeleton of a jackal where the mother should be. When Robert opens up the grave of his actual son, they find it has a shattered skull, meaning that the child was murdered so that Damien could take his place. They are attacked by a pack of dogs as they leave.

Back in London, the mysterious new nanny who appeared suddenly makes her way into Katherine’s hospital room and overpowers her. Katherine is thrown from the window and falls into an ambulance, killed by the fall. At the same time, Robert and Keith travel to Israel to find an expert on the Antichrist. They learn that Damien must have three sixes somewhere on his body in order to be the Antichrist, even if they’re under his hair. They also learn that he must be killed with a ceremonial dagger, but Robert is unable to process this idea and throws the knives away. Keith knows that it needs to be done and goes to retrieve them, but a truck is sent down a hill towards him, and he is decapitated by a sheet of glass, matching up with the mysterious shadow on his photo.

Robert returns home and finds three sixes under Damien’s hair, and then he’s attacked by the nanny. He kills her in the scuffle, then grabs Damien and the knives and sets out for the nearest church. His erratic driving attracts the attention of police officers, who chase him the whole way there. They enter the church to see Robert holding a knife over the child, and the scene cuts with the sound of a gunshot.

The last thing we see is the double funeral of Robert and Katherine. As the camera pushes in, we learn that the President of the United States is attending, but the young boy turns around to reveal that Damien is alive and in the President’s custody. He stares into the camera as the film ends.

Now clearly, The Omen isn’t fully able to live in the same world of quality as Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby or Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but falling to third place beneath those two all-time classics isn’t the worst spot to be in. While Richard Donner’s direction is a highlight, the lead performance from Gregory Peck is not quite amongst the best of his work. The supporting cast does a lot of heavy lifting, particularly actors like Troughton and Warner.

All in all, The Omen is a film that should see if only so that you can officially claim to have checked it off the list. It’s still an important and influential film, especially if you’re really invested in the world of horror cinema. It may not be the best of it’s kind or era, but it’s certainly still worth the visit.

Nick Potter

Co-founder of The Filmsmiths. Degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts with a minor in Cinema Studies from Central Michigan University. Pretty much the barbecue sauce of people but I'm doing my best.

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