Warner’s camera never lies as it foreshadows things to come…
The American Ambassador adopts a baby after his own child dies at birth, little realising this child is straight from hell.
The Omen (1976) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers, Movieclips Classic Trailers and photos © 20th Century Fox
In the late 1970s, director Richard Donner brought two supernatural characters to life in film. Both characters were orphan boys with enigmatic births. One film featured a good kid wanting to fight evil in the American Way and was better known as Clark Kent aka Superman (1978). The other kid was evil personified, and fighting in the name of his father, the devil. This second child was Damien Thorne in The Omen (1976).
The Omen film is just one of those many spooky Devil’s kids in the movies from the 1970s. It makes The Devil’s Daughter (1973) look like a Shelley Winters’ sitcom. This film like Superman spawned a franchise, a reboot and a few TV Series. The two films also had appearances of some of those Hollywood headliners from the Golden Hollywood days with Glenn Ford, Gregory Peck and Marlon Brando amongst the cast.
The Omen starts in Rome. Kathy Thorne (Lee Remick), the young pretty wife of the (seriously) greying at the temples, and distinguished looking diplomat – and one-time roommate of the US President – Robert (Peck) is in hospital having their firstborn child. Robert hears before his wife that their child has died and he’s concerned for his wife’s reaction to this devastating news.
She has been hoping to have a child for years. A priest, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) offers Robert the chance to adopt another baby, with apparently no strings attached. Robert is told by the priest that this child’s mother died in labour and the kid has no relatives. After wrestling with his conscience, Robert grabs this opportunity, not telling his wife of this baby swap and they name their child Damien (Stephens). This baby born on the 6th of June at 6am…
Several years later, the super-rich Thorne family move to London – cue Big Ben and red London bus to remind you of this change of scenery – after Robert takes a job as the Ambassador for Great Britain. All seems blissful, they get a (far too) big house. There’s a heartwarming photographic montage of the Thornes with a wee young angelic looking Damien. All the Thornes look smiley and happy. On a family walk in the park, wee Damien disappears, but there he is hiding behind a tree next to a river. The wee scamp.
At Damien’s fifth birthday party – complete with funfair and a one-person cart mini roller coaster for this kid (which tbh looks a wee bit scary especially without a helmet) – the Thorne’s idyllic life changes. For no apparent reason, Damien’s young nanny Holly (Holly Palance) decides that Damien’s birthday party is the perfect time and place to stage her suicide. She jumps from an upstairs bedroom with a rope around her neck. Her final words are “It’s all for you, Damien”. Damien (Harvey Stephens) is sheltered from looking at this horrific incident, the wee soul.
Later Damian spots a dog and waves at it, even though this dog is a huge rottweiler with evil eyes (and every time it appears there’s spooky music). The dead nanny is photographed by Keith Jennings (David Warner). After this, you can play spot this photographer, as he follows this family everywhere and taking photographs (and nobody thinks this is creepy). The nanny’s suicide leads to the Press asking Robert questions.
A Catholic priest from Rome, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) who says he was present at Damien’s birth, visits Robert at work. He warns Robert that Damien will kill again, he speaks in an ominous tone and tries to tell Robert about Damien’s real mother. He tells Robert that he must accept Christ as his saviour to defeat the antichrist… or he’s doomed. Robert calls security and has Brennan escorted out of the building, and Jennings is there with his camera (again).
The Thorne family then employ Mrs Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), a nice Irish nanny to look after Damien. She appears at the door without them even advertising (surely that would be a wee bit concerning, but then didn’t Mary Poppins?). She tells Damien she’ll protect him and visits Damien who is alone in his room (he’s lying right next to an open fire on his own and he’s five!). Damien smiles at her and all seems right with the world.
The Thornes set off for a wedding at the local cathedral, Mrs Baylock insists that Damien stays at home as he’s too young to go. Damien on seeing the church looks more than a bit uneasy and scared seeing the church, then he starts screaming and then he goes totally ballistic. After this incident, Kathy thinks Damien is trembling so much, they should go home. Damien is fine after this, but Kathy seems a wee bit shaken. Robert reassures her with a manly hug and reassurance.
Then that dog reappears in the house. Mrs Baylock tells Robert that Damien is keen to keep this rottweiler, although Robert insists it goes. Robert goes all I’m the man of this house (and so he should, because he is) saying if Damien wants a dog he’ll get it for him.
Kathy and Damien visit a safari park (in matching velour suits) and all the animals run away from the car. A group of baboons then circle and jump on the car, this frightening Kathy and Damien. This shakes Kathy up so much, she says she’s afraid and wants to see a doctor.
Father Brennan meets Robert in a park and tells him that Kathy is in danger. He again warns him of the predictions surrounding the antichrist and tells Robert to kill his son. This as Damien is… (cue drumroll) the antichrist. He warns him Damien will kill Robert and Kathy’s unborn child, then kill Kathy and then kill Robert. He tells Robert to contact a man in Jezreel named Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) who will tell him how to kill Damien.
After Father Brennan and Robert part ways, (dramatic music starts) a freak storm begins and Brennan tries to take shelter in a church but it’s locked. A lightning rod then falls from the church roof killing him (and despite this the one time Doctor Who doesn’t regenerate so don’t listen to Darlin Husband).
Robert reads the newspapers and reads about Father Brennan’s mysterious death. Kathy tells Robert that she doesn’t want another child, but the next day she finds out she is pregnant. She becomes irritable with Damien and believes he isn’t her kid. Robert doesn’t tell her the truth and packs her off to the doctor.
Later at home, Damien is cycling around his room on his tricycle. Meanwhile, Kathy is perched on a table just outside his room, next to a balcony and tending to a plant. Mrs Baylock then opens the bedroom door and this leads to a nasty accident. As Damien cycles straight into the table, meaning Kathy falls over the balcony…
Jennings phones him and Robert meets him at his home. Jennings shows some eerie shadows in his photographs of the nanny and Father Brennan. His photographs show the cause of their deaths, and a photograph of Jennings implies he’s next… and if you want to learn more watch the movie…
This film was one of those 70s children of the devil films to remember with its sterling cast and a haunting score. The score Ave Santini was written by Jerry Goldsmith, who won the film’s only Oscar. Gregory Peck was – depending on who you believe – the only one for this paternal role or considered for the role alongside luminaries such as Charlton Heston, William Holden and Dick Van Dyke (!).
Gregory Peck played his role wonderfully, convincingly and naturally. Peck saw this film as more of a psychological thriller than a horror one. I do agree with him on this appraisal as it seems the horror in this film builds up slowly and then is seen only in the later parts (which weren’t reviewed) where more subtle horror is added. The later script showing moments of suspense, action scenes and ending on a cliffhanger all supporting this idea.
Peck shows this character in many ways. Conflict is also seen in Robert Thorne’s character from the start as he ponders on whether to take on this child and on hearing more of the reality of his child’s birth on whether he should kill this child.
Peck’s performance shows this man as a troubled character. He was credible as a man who wanted his wife to be happy in taking on the child. Remick and Peck had a lovely sweet flirty romantic chemistry in their opening scenes and this made you believe them as a still madly in love couple. This was later supported by a photographic montage and warm family scenes.
These moments were in contrast to later scenes, with Robert’s apparent brusqueness, when she said she wanted to have an abortion on learning she was pregnant. Also, his lack of support when she talked of her fears of Damien, leading to her request to see a doctor. Also, it wouldn’t have hurt to tell her the truth about Damien so as she didn’t think she was getting unwell with a mental health problem surely??
Despite these fears, he left her alone and vulnerable in the hospital as he went to investigate the truth of the matter in Italy. This inevitably led to his moments of guilt after more horrifying events occur to Kathy (surely armed guards at her room would be a protocol for a diplomat’s wife) and shown in Peck’s anguished performance laced with guilt.
These scenes and others showing their concerns about Damien, have Robert Thorne appearing quite reasonably to doubt these stories surrounding the child. Peck showing this reaction credibly and naturally as he moves from denial to a slow acceptance of the truth. He accepts the truth only when coincidences and predictions lead to solid facts.
These are seen in action scenes as he explores the stories surrounding round Damien with Jennings. Warner and Peck appeared to have had a strong trusting on-screen relationship during these scenes and this was reflected in their characters.
Young Harvey Stephens played his role naturally, leading you to question those concerning stories around him. I’m sure events in his storyline may be familiar for parents everywhere. Be it animals running away from you in a safari park or a kid indirectly causing an accident at home. I’m sure Damien isn’t the only child who has had a tantrum at a wedding and he won’t be the last.
This leading you – like Robert Thorne – to question the lore surrounding Damien, as much as his parents. Billie Whitelaw’s nanny was revealed as a disciple of Satan was spooky from her opening scenes. She had an air of repressed aggression as she tried to protect her charge, and to keep the dog who was also there to protect him.
The supernatural script was well written. The horror builds up slowly mirroring Robert’s (and our) understanding of his child. Damien at first seems as normal as any other boy. However, after Robert meets with the priest and those bizarre deaths start piling up, like Robert you want to learn more and get concrete evidence rather than condemn this child.
The use of effective dialogue even has Father Brennan quoting the Bible telling of the coming of this child. This often quoted text more chilling and setting the tone for the first three of these movies. Although convincing dialogue, this is a fictional quote.
The horror in this film is minimal, but the use of props also adds to those moments of suspense, David Warner’s character’s photos show those ominous shadows and these explain those apparently coincidental and unexplained deaths in a more chilling way. These deaths like the second film, appear to once more with the use of dummies. Yet somehow they seem more superior in this film than the sequel, the staging seems more convincing and their timings more unexpected. These scenes add to the horror and suspense.
The Omen has also been added to the list of cursed movies, which included Poltergeist (1982) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). This is due to the apparent bizarre and chilling events which occurred to the actors and crew off-screen while making this movie.
However, my favourite of those off-screen tales tells how after the film, actor David Warner kept the model of his head that was used in his character’s death scene. But more on this scene in another post, as for now I’ll be the bird of bad omens and head off to rewatch Damien Omen II...
Weeper Rating: 0/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film review was written for Taking Up Room‘s Atticus and Boo Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Gregory Peck in The Paradine Case. Lee Remick in The Medusa Touch. David Warner in Star Trek VI, Titanic, Doctor Who, Hart to Hart, Time after Time and The Man with Two Brains. Billie Whitelaw in Hot Fuzz and Space 1999. Patrick Troughton in Space 1999 and Doctor Who.