The Omen (1976)
In my mind there are three different ways of telling a scary story effectively on-screen. Recent years have seen a growing emphasis on hardcore gore, in effort to disgust audiences and horrify them in visually disturbing ways. Of course, you also have the classic slow-burners which provide jump scares to thrill its audience and sustain a constant atmosphere of threat and suspense. The third style is to rely on the story itself being scary enough to leave the audience shaking in their seats without any need for added (and sometimes cheap) effects to make its mark. Richard Donner’s original classic The Omen belongs in the third category, relying only on its script to deliver its scares. With Gregory Peck commanding the screen and lending serious gravitas to the film, The Omen delivers brilliantly.
On June 6th 1976, American Ambassador Robert Thorn replaces his wife’s stillborn child with another who has lost its mother the very same night. They raise the child as their own and the young boy Damien leads a happy life, that is until his fifth birthday. Slowly but surely, a series of events bring death and tragedy to the Thorn family as paranoia and fear take over Robert’s thoughts, driving him to the point of madness as a terrible truth begins to emerge. Damien is in fact the offspring of Satan himself, and is destined to uphold the writings of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that the Antichrist will rise to wealth and power, establishing his counterfeit kingdom on Earth.
Although much of the film’s weight is carried by the imperious performance of the Oscar-winning thespian Gregory Peck, it is Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score that delivers a chillingly creepy sense of unease throughout this wonderful film. In my mind, it should be held in as high esteem as the scores of Jaws and Psycho. It sneaks under your skin, whispering to you that the outcome is inevitable. The drone of the strings serve to gently push you towards a tantalising finale, before ultimately leaving you drained and deeply unsettled.
What this film delivers is an overbearing sense of dread, yet remains completely captivating. There is not a single suggestion that this film will rise above the threat of evil. The progression of the film mirrors this, as evil penetrates the light of day during the Damien’s infamous fifth birthday, before the cinematography slowly descends into darkness with stormy weather and midnight grave-robbing, before its equally grim conclusion. Although it is common practise for this genre to suggest that the evil has still survived, The Omen’s finale still remains hugely effective, delivering a devastating sucker-punch, leaving you drained and genuinely disturbed.
This review might suggest that there is no value in watching The Omen. On the contrary, I am strongly recommending that you should. Rarely is there a horror film that is executed so well and delivers suspense without the need to shock you for the sake of it. It takes a disturbing concept and makes the very most of it, combining an engrossing family drama with a Satanic core perfectly. Now approaching forty years old, I fear that young audiences of today may not have the patience to watch this story unfold, but rest assured if you are one who enjoys this type of horror film, you should not be disappointed. A top pick for me this Halloween, and I hope that you will be watching it too.