By Marc S. Sanders
The best horror films don’t have to splash blood all over my popcorn. I’m flattered that at times, a schlock monster fest will tantalize me with a half alive victim’s laced up intestines hanging out of the belly as they walk towards the camera. Oh, my how long and endless and bloody they are. Thank you so much for the garage sale autopsy. Still, I hardly get impressed with that kind of junk. Terror is most effective for me when the scares come from the mind of the characters and who occupies the surroundings.
One of the best ways to scare the bejezzus outta me is when you make a child the monster. Six year old Damien is a monster. He’s no kind of kid that I would welcome in my house, and I’d think twice before throwing the little devil a birthday party or taking him to the zoo. Damien may just be the Antichrist of Richard Donner’s 1976 film The Omen.
Gregory Peck made a long-awaited return to the cinematic screen as Robert Thorn, an American Ambassador to Great Britain. His wife Katherine, played by Lee Remick, have a son named Damien, delivered on June 6, at 6pm. Think about that point in time for a second and then maybe you’ll have an idea of where this film is going. Think about the name Damien. Does it perhaps sound like another word that’ll send shivers up your spine?
Robert and Katherine are a happy couple. They feel blessed to have a child of their own and after Damien’s sixth birthday has arrived, odd trappings seem to occur. Their nanny seems to know how to put a damper on the birthday party. Rottweilers don’t take too friendly to the Thorns, and the replacement nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), is…well…just watch the movie and you’ll see what Mrs. Baylock is like. (I shudder just typing her name, Mrs. Baylock….gah!!!!! I must forge ahead.) As well, there is a priest who keeps visiting Mr. Thorn insisting he knows something about Damien that cannot be ignored.
What works to put the scare into The Omen is that it does not rely so much on supernatural stunts or effects. It should never be so easy to presume that an angelic child could actually be the son of Satan. Leave the clues, but don’t be so overt. If it’s too obvious, then the film fails. In order for the film to work successfully, put some doubt into what is or isn’t possible.
Lee Remick is quite good as the wholesome loving mother and wife gradually turning into a woman disturbed by her own child. Try to imagine that dynamic for second. It’s perfect movie material. It’s been done before in films like The Bad Seed or in later years with the dreadful The Good Son. To pull it off, to be disturbed and frightened of your own six year old boy, requires pacing in the script and a range of performance to get to that point and understand what the maternal character is going through.
Gregory Peck is a seemingly likable politician. Unheard of, I know. I think Peck’s reputation contributes here. He’s not so quick to accept that these odd occurrences add up to something supernatural. If it is the case, he’ll find out for himself.
Richard Donner, in his first cinematic film, sets up magnificent scenes. There’s that birthday party I mentioned before. So wholesome, and innocent, and eventually it becomes unforgettably tainted. A trip to a cemetery at night never bodes well. Of course, our experience with scary movies heightens our alertness when a tomb or a grave is investigated, but still, while we can expect something to happen, it’s the not knowing what happens that leaves us on edge.
As I watched The Omen, with goosebumps all over, I was challenged with reasoning out how the film would resolve itself. Thankfully, it leaves you thinking and perhaps trembling a little bit. At least it did for me. So much so, that before turning in for bed, I had to turn on an episode of Seinfeld to remind myself that though the devil or his offspring might be nearby, at the very least I can be amused by the ongoing sins of George Costanza.