Picturenose Post 666: The Omen (1976)

The devil, you say?

Thirty-seven years have now passed since Richard Donner‘s seminal (and hugely influential) slice of diabolical horror The Omen (1976) first thrilled audiences, during an era (the 1970s) when a diabolical glow emanated from the cinematic horror genre, with The Exorcist (1973) and its clones doubtless being the inspiration for the original novel by David Seltzer (who also wrote the screenplay) and then Donner’s film. And, being that this is Picturenose’s 666th post, the time seemed only right to revisit what was, at least for this reviewer, perhaps the biggest ‘gotta see’ of the early 80s, when it was first shown on TV.

The story takes the following verse from the bible’s book of Revelation as its inspiration: ‘Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.’

The ‘beast’ in question, as predicted by St John, was said to have come from the ‘sea’; Seltzer interprets this as meaning the ‘sea’ of politics – and we are taken into the lives of American Ambassador to England Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick), who have been trying, unsuccesfully, to have a child. But the film opens with their newborn dying shortly after birth in Rome. Thorn is convinced by Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) into substituting a new-born orphan whose mother died at the same moment for the dead child, without telling Katherine, which Thorn agrees to out of concern for his wife’s mental well-being, as she has previously lost several children. They name the child Damien Thorn (Harvey Spencer Stephens)…and Hell follows with him.

This was made back in the day when people were still taking horror seriously, and stars of the calibre of Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Billie Whitelaw (who plays Damien’s diabolical nanny Mrs Baylock), were not seen as ‘dumbing down’ or merely taking the money for their appearances. And it *is* scary – while it began the craze, which continued with its sequels, for ‘interesting’ gruesome deaths, there is so much more to it than mere blood-letting.

It was remade, rather pointlessly but with a certain amount of style and flair, in 2006 by John Moore (Max Payne (2008) and the upcoming A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)), but I shouldn’t bother, if I were you.

To watch the original film, click here.

111 mins.

2 thoughts on “Picturenose Post 666: The Omen (1976)”

  1. Has anyone looked at the impact of this film on boys’ names? I think that anyone called Damien from 1976 onwards was given the nickname ‘Omen’. In fact, that could be the subject of a thesis, The Impact of Film on Names. I am constantly surprised by how many people aged around 20 from across the world are called Kevin, for example, and I don’t think it is a renewed devotion to the 7th century Irish saint. I digress…

    Gregory Peck, who is almost as good an actor as Roger Moore, is well, himself. The other performances, especially Damien, are just great. The clothes, furniture, cars are wonderfully emblematic of 1970s style. They are also a good deal better than my personal memories of 70s style… 😉

  2. Could spend forever on that comment, C, thanks. 🙂 I know you’re right about ‘Damien’, and it was interesting that people subsequently associated Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with The Omen, even though this music was not used – the film, in fact, had an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score. When you refer to ‘Kevin’, then, would that be a certain Mr Costner, or another film reference that has passed me by? And nice use of irony with the Peck/Moore comparison. 😉

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