NANNY: Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!
I had heard of it way back in the day, but was never really intrigued enough to go out and watch The Omen. When the remake was announced for release on 6/6/06 (has it really been over ten years since then?), I became instantly more interested in seeking out the original film. I had to outright buy an inferior DVD version of the film in order to view it on the mythically satanic day, but felt it was necessary to get myself in the right frame of mind for the new version. While I was not terribly disappointed by what some deem classic horror, I was not entirely impressed either.
Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is an American ambassador in Italy, whose wife Katherine (Lee Remick) has given birth to a stillborn baby, on June 6 at 6 am. For the sake of his wife, Robert goes to an orphanage and adopts a newborn child. He brings the new kid to his wife passing it off as their own, never telling her of the tragic death. They name him Damien, and soon after the Thorns are moved to Britain. As Damien’s fifth birthday comes, however, a bizarre death occurs at his party. Worse yet, stranger things begin to happen soon afterwards, leading Robert to start believing that his son may be the anti-Christ, his arrival signalling the End of Days.
While the film is not particularly scary now (or even compared to The Exorcist, which it has long stood in the shadow of), it remains fairly tense. As it goes along and the death toll rises, you cannot help but start believing everything is much more real than it seems. Just the idea of the devil being born again in the body of a child is more than terrifying enough, let alone the horrific death scenes. And as a result, Richard Donner’s production performs incredibly well, even forty years later. David Seltzer’s screenplay is well versed and well-written, even though you can predict what is coming. Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score holds up even better, even if it is a touch more dramatic than it should be.
What still disappoints me most is the lack of Damien and Mrs. Baylock. This creepy pair is what everyone remembers most about The Omen, and both are barely in the film.
But what still disappoints me most about the film, considering its notoriety and their focus in the remake, is the lack of Harvey Stephens’ Damien and Billie Whitelaw’s Mrs. Baylock. This creepy pair is what everyone remembers most about The Omen, yet both are barely in the film. They are absolutely incredible when they are on screen, but their moments come too few and far between to make the impression that years of discussion has built up. I felt a little let down during my initial watching of the film, and the years since have not changed my mind (even if they still run laps around the entirety of the cast of the remake).
All this aside, if the film has anything actually wrong with it, it is the fact that there is so much going on at any given moment that it stretches the film out a bit too far. While some moments pass by ridiculously quickly, the majority feels too long for its own good. The film is interesting for the first half, but begins to get bogged down by a ton of exposition. It drags out, and what should feel really shocking ends up feeling really boring. Yes, the many moments that are supposed to be horrific remain horrific. But by the time the film hits its eventual conclusion, I just became less and less interested in what it was trying to do. And even with all the added exposition, there are still way too many questions left unanswered.
I did enjoy the film, just with caveats. It is very well-made; it just could have used additional editing. It is interesting and frightening; but grows strikingly boring all too quickly. The main cast are excellent; but my wish then and now remains the same: more Mrs. Baylock and Damien.
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Written by: David Seltzer | Directed by: John Moore
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton