Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #53
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 6, 1976
Country of Origin: United States/United Kingdom
Box Office: $60,922,980
Running Time: 111 minutes
Director: Richard Donner
Producer: Harvey Bernhard
Screenplay: David Seltzer
Special Effects: John Richardson, George Gibbs (uncredited)
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Stuart Baird
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Robert Rietty, Tommy Duggan, John Stride, Anthony Nicholls, Holly Palance, Sheila Raynor and Harvey Stephens as Damien
Suggested Audio Candy
Jerry Goldsmith “Soundtrack Suite”
I am a very proud father. My little boy can do no wrong in my eyes; one smile at the crack of dawn can help shape my day. It’s a special relationship between father and son, I know as much from a youth idolizing my own dad, and with damned good reason. You have the exclusive opportunity to mould and shape their little minds; becoming their first positive role-model should you play it right. Fortunately I know my little boy came from good stock; he takes in all around him with wide-eyed wonder and has the simple aspiration of enjoying himself to the maximum every day of his life. Some folk aren’t so fortunate however. Be you a struggling father on benefits and down on your fortunes, or a highly esteemed ambassador for your country; a bad seed is simply a bad seed.
One such cantankerous kernel was Damien Thorne. This particular pip was sown a little too deep underneath the soil, deep enough for him to receive conditioning from the ultimate bastard. Satan, Beelzebub, him downstairs – whichever guise you know him by, one thing was barefaced. He was the very worst seed. Damien’s life had been pre-determined; his purpose clear from the offset. He was tasked, somewhat unfairly one feels, with setting the wheels in motion for the imminent Armageddon, one meticulously planned out by his true father. Poor old Robert Thorne was on a loser from the start.
So a divine conception then, although that hardly sounds like the correct terminology given Damien’s employment status. At which juncture do you decide that the fruit of your loins, or the child you imprudently whisked from the hospital in this case, is beyond rehabilitation? When your au pair hangs herself by the neck at a children’s birthday bash? I imagine that when everyone he came in contact with met a grisly end would be a fair point in proceedings to get the electric shaver out.
But he was such an angelic looking cherub right? Nope, actually the casting was spot-on. I would question his involvement with darker forces the first time those tricycle wheels creaked. Harvey Stephens gave a blood-chilling portrayal of the son of all evil; especially given his tender years (again tender appears to be erroneous vocabulary). His eyes reflected the darkness in his soul exquisitely; you believed he was exactly who he claimed to be and that was a quite remarkable feat for one so young.
Richard Donner would later become known for works like Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon but here he showed a commanding understanding of the requisites to making a decent Horror movie. In addition to the masterstroke of casting our pint-sized villain of the piece, Donner procured the talents of Gregory Peck after Charlton Heston turned down the role. Peck accepted the role partly because he hadn’t been present when his own son had committed suicide in 1975. He also nabbed Lee Remick who herself owned a rather splendid pair of peepers, David Warner and Billie Whitelaw; who played the part of Damien’s gatekeeper after his previous nanny was hung out to dry.
If Stephens was perfectly suited to his role, then she must’ve been a shoe-in for this demented defender of the devil’s realm. Armed with twin Dobermann and a deranged look which Betsy Palmer could take pointers from; she became an invaluable ally to Damien and constant thorn-in-Thorne’s side (come on you can’t deny me that one) as he discovered a little too late that her intentions were marginally less than honorable.
Thankfully he had his own bromance going on with photographer Jennings (played by David Warner). The two tag-teamed throughout; getting into all manner of scrapes together and hopping fences like they were fifteen again. It didn’t end favorably for Jennings though; those tools of Damien’s destruction led to his downfall in a standout scene, not only from this movie but from the entire epoch. What was marvellous about his decapitation was that the impish Donner toyed devilishly with his audience. The rotating head made its revolutions in slow motion, intentionally as he wanted you to look away in disgust, look back and then witness the head still ricochet off the severing sheet of glass. All these years later its impact is still stark.
By this point Katherine Thorne had met her maker after suffering two increasingly lengthy falls, courtesy of Damien on that blasted three-wheeler and Mrs. Baylock who clocked up a notch on her belt without so much as laying a pinky on her prey. If I saw that face through fabric after what she’d endured I think I would’ve jumped too.
The score by Jerry Goldsmith, which bagged him his only Oscar, still never fails to send a chill down my spine; fitting the ominous events on-screen perfectly. Suitably demonic; it created a sense of impending doom which hung in the air like a toxic fart cloud, assuring you that everything was not, in fact, going to be alright. It packed some punch let me tell you and even now has the ability to provoke a decidedly ominous reaction.
Donner’s film spawned a fine sequel (Damien: Omen II) and solid third (Omen III: The Final Conflict) before the wheels fell off the wagon in spectacular fashion (laughably inept ‘TV Movie’ Omen IV: The Awakening). A lifeless remake would prove pointless and add nothing but the devil’s work had already been done so fiendishly effectively. I still find myself questioning whether this film was actually superior to its follow-up despite general consensus suggesting that it was. The second part certainly boasted a larger body count and more of those gruesome ‘accidents’. There were also a number of game-changing scenes with the icy demise in particular causing me to pant akin to a peeping tom in a shower cubicle. It’s a close-run thing and reappraisal of the second film may shed fresh light on the debate but for now Donner’s original just edges it.
As a parent myself, I really feel for the poor Thornes as they were saddled with the offspring of a dead woman’s cursed ovaries; a young boy only a mother or horned father could hold affection for. As for Satan he was able to just kick back and survey the fine work of his minions; no fire, no brimstone, no reason to over-exert himself. Just a series of unfortunate events which would cause Lemony Snickets to prolapse.
The Omen plagued my nightmares for some weeks after first viewing at the age of ten. There were three chief reasons for my disturbed imaginings – that score, which played on repeat in my head accompanied by the visual taunting of Damien and Mrs. Baylock, two terrifying embodiments of the Prince of Darkness and his devilish plot to overthrow humanity. On reappraisal now it shows its age; possibly lost on the newly introduced young minds of this generation, it may well be too long in the tooth to compare with all that ‘found footage’ from recent years.
It will resound with two particular groups though; those who remember their very first experience from all those years ago and any proud parent. You may resist the urge to search your infant for those elusive three digits but the next time they look at you with that cheeky “look what I just did to fuck up your day” grin, you may just feel a slight shudder.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Although it all may seem tame nowadays Jennings’ cranial relocation was the reason freeze frame was invented. Thankfully, Donner saved us reaching for the remote and the result was effortlessly one of the most disarming moments in seventies cinema. It’s nonsensical that The Omen was actually once listed in one critic’s Fifty Worst Films of All Time.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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