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  Omen, The Better The Devil You Know
Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Leo McKern, Robert Rietty, Martin Benson, Tommy Duggan, Holly Palance, Bruce Boa
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: Five years ago, at 6am on the 6th of June, the American ambassador to Britain, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), was told that his child had been stillborn. Not wishing to traumatise his wife Cathy (Lee Remick), Thorn agreed to replace the baby with an orphan whose mother had just died in childbirth. They named the child Damien (Harvey Stephens), but now strange things are happening: Damien's nanny hangs herself at his fifth birthday party, and a mysterious priest (Patrick Troughton) insists on harrassing Thorn about the child, who he believes to be the spawn of the Devil...

This ashen-faced, big budget shocker was scripted by David Seltzer (who admitted he did it solely for the money) and was obviously inspired by two previous Satanic hits, Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. The Omen takes the nefarious goings-on to the global stage, with the origins of the Antichrist destined to bring the Apocalypse down on Earth, which means the suspense is lacking - we know from the outset what's happening, and we're just waiting for the characters to catch up with us.

And get killed when they do, because this film really showed the potential and profit for adding spectacular death scenes to your average horror film. All this doom and gloom highlights the innocence of the two foster parents, played with appropriate sincerity by Peck and Remick, who are unwittingly caught in the middle of a battle between supernatural forces. Here, the side of God is just as imposing as the side of Satan, represented by stark churches, unfriendly holy men and Troughton's crazed priest - your average human doesn't stand a chance.

The Omen caught the popular imagination at the time, but it's aimed more at the kind of people who read their horoscopes every day, rather than devout churchgoers. Basing itself on the notoriously incoherent Book of Revelations, the story conjures a mood of humourless, pseudo-religious pretension, which appealed to the part of everybody that wonders if there is anything beyond this world, and whether they should feel guilty because they are not doing much about believing in it.

The reliable British character actors in the supporting cast provide much of the backbone to the superstitious tone, and little Harvey Stephens is just the right side of creepiness to make you uneasy about Damien, although he never does anything particularly Satanic apart from some clumsy tricycling, and even that is the fault of the evil nanny (Billie Whitelaw nearly stealing the show). The setpieces, including the hanging, the graveyard dog attack and the famous decapitation, prevent boredom setting in, but the self importance of the whole thing wears you down. Scary music by Jerry Goldsmith, the film's biggest asset. Followed by two sequels, a TV movie and a carbon copy remake in 2006.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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